The first wealth is health.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century
Every fall I make appointments to keep up with my overall health maintenance. Because I had a couple of abnormal mammograms, the last one resulting in a biopsy two Halloweens ago, I’ve been recommended to get a mammogram every year. I don’t like the procedure and I ignored the letters that I got over the summer reminding me to make my appointment. Although I procrastinate, I understand the potential risks for me, which outweighs the discomfort, and so I dutifully have the procedure done every fall.
I also get a Pap smear every year. My nurse practitioner (NP) is quick to remind me that I only need to have it done every three years, per the 2012 guidelines released by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society for women aged 21 to 65, which are based on current, available scientific evidence. (The guidelines recommend that women under 21 and over 65 need not take the test at all.) That may be the case, but here’s a cautionary tale: several years ago, the results of a Pap smear for Fiona, one of the moms in my mom’s group, revealed that she had cervical cancer. She went through chemotherapy, and I’m happy to say that she is in remission and looks great. At the time of Fiona’s diagnosis, I told her what my NP advised. And she responded, “Patty, if I had followed the guidelines and her advice, I’d be dead.”
Now, if I were told that I didn’t have to get a mammogram every year, I would run with it because not only would I be spared the extreme discomfort (given my lack of tissue) under the scanning machine but I would be spared the unnecessary radiation. While the sight of stirrups and speculum for the Pap smear procedure still makes me twitch, a quick swab doesn’t expose me to any harm. I suspect the issues in this case are the scarcity of resources, which is tied to lack of access to healthcare services, and spiraling costs. These issues are what I see every day in my profession, so the importance is not lost on me. Maybe this will be my last Pap smear until 2017. It’s a conversation I’ll have with my NP next month, although honestly I can’t think about the procedure without thinking about my friend Fiona.
I had my eye examination a couple of weeks ago after getting a notice that my last exam was two years ago. At that time, two years ago, I had racked up years of staring at my computer screen for hours at a stretch. My once 20-20 vision had succumbed to blurry vision at any distance long after I had shut down my laptop. I was especially worried when my vision was blurry while I was behind the wheel. In addition to the vagaries of technology, I thought age was another reason for my failing eyes. Two years ago, my new optometrist surprised me by assuring me that age was not a factor. The culprit was my computer screen and the remedy was taking frequent breaks to exercise my eye muscles, which were locked in to one position. I can’t say that I took frequent breaks, as the adage applies – habits are hard to break.
Since I shifted from writing most of the white papers and case studies on my job to overseeing a cadre of freelance writers, my eyesight has improved markedly because I’m not staring at the computer screen for long periods of time. My other tasks require me to be on the phone a lot for conference calls and meetings, so I can look away. What a difference that makes! I still require reading glasses while on the computer or reading, but the power – .125 – hasn’t changed at all. Bottom line is that I don’t have the blurry eyesight anymore at longer distances. At my most recent appointment, my younger optometrist pooh-poohed age as the reason for degrading eye sight – ah, how casual youth can be! And yet, after reading the eye charts and enduring sticky eye drops and the light-piercing tests, I was deemed to have 20-20 vision, which was refreshing news. So I offer this: If you have to be in front of a computer screen, it really does pay to look away often and to stand up and walk around (this is for relief for your back and legs), if moving around I the only way to stop staring at your screen.
My next examination is for my teeth, my poor abused teeth. In my introduction to my dentist to the history of my teeth, I’ll quickly rush through, out of embarrassment, the pounds of sour Jelly Bellies I consumed during the four-month crunch of conference projects that went on for about five or so years. The sugar falsely kept me up for those all-nighters I pulled, and popping them into my mouth gave my twitching arm something to do while the rest of my body stressed out. I have learned my lesson when my gums started to bleed and stopped consuming them cold turkey, but I’m still dealing with the effects on my teeth.
We may have abused our bodies through the years in the name of work, family, and other demands, but we can stop the abuse and reverse – even if it’s just a fraction – the damage that we’ve wrought. They key is to recognize the destructive behavior and change it for the better with good habits. And the other key is to schedule regular check-ups to ensure that you’re staying on track with living a healthful life.