AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
On Tuesday, December 27th, I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing the skill and dedication of the Lebanon Fire Department. Unfortunately, their skills were being showcased in my office where a leaky roof, combined with a few days of freeze-and-thaw weather, allowed gallons of melting snow and ice to find its way into my office and through my floor to the Lebanon Diner below. The Diner owners had contacted the Fire Department and they were on the verge of breaking down my office door when I arrived with my key. Despite my panic at the site of water raining from my collapsed ceiling onto my desk and adding to the standing water already covering my office floor, I couldn’t help but marvel as this organized team accessed the roof to shatter the ice that was blocking the roof drains, placed tarps over my office furniture, and began mopping and wet-vacuuming my soggy floors. Everybody loves a hero, and on December 27th I was overwhelmed with gratitude for these professionals.
I remember the rush of BEING the hero when I was still doing surgery: walking in to perform the emergency procedure to stop a hemorrhage or remove a painful ruptured cyst, wielding my scalpel to deliver a baby whose heart rate was showing signs of acute distress. In times of crisis we all need heroes and we are grateful for the help they give us.
However, all hero tales have a back story: the story about the conditions which allowed the crisis to unfold in the first place. Sometimes, a crisis is inevitable – a lightning strike to a church belfry, a river jumps its banks following heavy rains, an ovarian cyst ruptures and starts bleeding. But often the back story is one of neglected maintenance, such as our flat, leaky roof (which is overdue to be replaced) not getting shoveled after the last big snow due to a simple miscommunication. In my own experience the exhiliration of playing the hero became exhausting and was often frustrating, as I was frequently called away from my routine duties to solve a crisis that could have been avoided with proper prior attention.
In today’s medicine we still see the traumatic crises of accidents and acute physiologic events, but the vast majority of medical care is delivered due to the consequences of neglected maintenance. Many medical crises can be prevented with the appropriate preventive maintenance. One of my mentors in the study of Functional Medicine says of this model "Rather than throwing drugs and surgery at our patients as they head over the waterfall, we go upstream and convince them not to get into the river". We do this by supporting a healthy lifestyle, helping our patients to see and correct the behaviors that will lead to poor health and to nuture those habits that support health and well-being. The human body needs a few very basic elements to thrive: nutrient-rich food, clean air and water, adequate rest, and meaningful human contact. It also has a need to be shielded from damaging elements - toxins, allergens, infections, excessive stress. Preventive maintenance doesn’t happen in the doctor’s office. It happens at home, at work, at the gym, and in the grocery store. Every decision we make matters -- from how much sleep we allow ourselves, to the quality and quantity of the food we eat, from worrying about issues over which we have no control to heading to the bar instead of the gym after a tough day at work. Each action we take either supports our physiology, or it doesn’t. Even if an action isn’t downright damaging, if it isn’t nourishing then the needed buffering against the ice-dams in our lives isn’t happening.
So, while in 2017 we are fortunate to have well-trained and efficient emergency medical teams available to help us and our loved ones through crises, I ask you to think about what you can do to keep these professionals out of your life unless a truly unavoidable accident occurs. How can you modify your diet to better nourish your body? Can you commit to getting 8 hours of sleep most nights? Can you eliminate toxic habits from your routine? Can you work in your home, your workplace, and your community to preserve the quality of our two most precious resources, clean air and water? Can you nurture meaningful relationships?
At Hygeia, we like to ring in the New Year with a 28 day elimination diet. This ritual can be helpful in a number of ways. For many, it can help to identify foods which have are inflammatory or cause negative reactions. For all, it can be a “re-boot,” an opportunity to be mindful of the food-based decisions we make and how they can support our health and wellness. If you would like to join us please visit our facebook page to register. We’ll be getting started on January 23rd.
Wishing you success in preventive maintenance for 2017!