On a recent flight home from Northern California, I dashed for my next gate with just enough time to purchase lunch at a kiosk in the Dallas airport. If there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s being hungry on a plane with no food.
“My husband doesn’t need two seats,” a petite redhead piped up in the waiting area, briskly moving a black carry-on and a newspaper out of my way.
“We’ve been in Alaska for ten days,” she continued to chatter as I settled into the seat next to her and munched on raw veggies with ranch sauce before we boarded.
After hearing the condensed version of their trip, from bears to icebergs, constant daylight to the freshest seafood on the planet, she lamented that Monday meant “back to work.” I asked her what she did.
“I’m an RN in Boston.” She’d been a nurse for years and she was now nearing retirement.
That turned our conversation to her take on healthcare regulation and all the changes happening right now. From her perspective, “it’s a mess.” Among other things: too much insurance regulation; too many tests; too many healthy people being treated like sick people out of fear of lawsuits, etc. She specializes in heart patients and as a skilled nurse practitioner, maintains she can “do everything a cardiac doctor can for less money.”
Recently, after concerns over a cough her husband had been experiencing, she took him for a hospital check-up. Before long he was submitted to a battery of tests for a heart condition his wife knew he didn’t have. “I looked at the tests and I could tell from the results that my husband was fine.” She asked to take him home and care for him–after all, she was more than qualified to do that–and they still wanted to keep him overnight for more tests.
In the end, he never had a heart condition.
This kind of scenario can lead many consumers to the conclusion that our current healthcare system is tangled up in a web of finances, fear, and false diagnoses. Physicians are sitting up to take notice, too.
Dr. Herbert Welch, author of Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health, has been researching and documenting this very problem. In a recent op-ed piece, he wrote:
“Is looking hard for things to be wrong a good way to promote health? The truth is, the fastest way to get heart disease, autism, glaucoma, diabetes, vascular problems, osteoporosis or cancer is to be screened for it.”
“In other words, the problem is overdiagnosis and overtreatment. . . .This process doesn’t promote health; it promotes disease. People suffer from more anxiety about their health, from drug side effects, from complications of surgery. A few die. And remember: these people felt fine when they entered the health care system.” (The New York Times, “If you feel ok, maybe you are ok,” by H. Gilbert Welch)
I don’t believe in turning a blind eye to undetected problems, health or otherwise. But could there be a system that promotes the protection of health so that big things don’t happen—or if they do, there’s a way to feel hopeful of a cure? What if the best health-screening involved taking a look at what’s in the mind first, not the body?
In a Wall Street Journal health blog interview, Dr. Welch makes this astute comment: “Health is much more than not being able to find something wrong. It’s how people feel, it’s a state of mind.”
For me, daily, systematic prayer has been a way to keep tabs on my in-coming thoughts and thereby my health–a way to keep common fears at bay, and feel genuinely secure.
I agree with Dr. Welch’s assessment: “For years now, people have been encouraged to look to medical care as the way to make them healthy. But that’s your job — you can’t contract that out.”
Sure, one path to healthy living is to exercise regularly, eat nutritious, balanced foods, and steer clear of harmful habits. But when you watch what you put into your thought as much as you watch what you put into your body–expect change. When thought is free of worry, anxiety, and over-concern about every possible wrong thing that could happen what’s the result? You feel happy, content, satisfied with life, ready to give and receive good.
As a way of monitoring this, I’ve found one test is to consider: Was I joyful today? Did I express compassion, kindness, forgiveness, humility, love to my neighbor? These are valuable spiritual qualities which, when practiced, protect us from potential harm.
Instead of a random health test, how about purging the system by fasting from hatred, anger, wrongdoing, self-justification? That’s a health-giving operation where the diagnosis could naturally be: “Go home–you’re healthy!”
So who else has had interesting conversations in airport terminals this summer?