Tuesday, December 11, 2012


When I asked my sainted old mother how she was, she answered, “I don’t know. I don’t see the doctor till Tuesday.”

Well, that was that generation. Virtually worshipping science, they tended to abdicate their truth to those experts. We’ve come a long way since then. Or have we?

“How are you doing?” When you think about it, that question we routinely ask one another isn’t just surface fluff. “How” is an inextricable feature of every life. We are verbs requiring adverbs. We conduct our unique style of relationships, social processes, eating habits, stress management, exercise pattern, and so on. “How” is a whole lot, actually, yet how do we answer the question? Fine. Not too bad. Can’t complain. For all our complexity, we offer ludicrously anemic responses.

My mother had a point, though. The temple of medical science produces some important answers. Exploration of our physical parts—tests of body fluids, radiological images, biopsies—can reveal much…about “what,” but not “how.”

Most of the folks I know who received sour diagnoses suddenly shifted their attention to their life's adverbs, reconsidering their attitudes and the ways they’d chosen to be in the world.

A couple of decades ago, we bought a home that while certainly livable lacked interior window trim. After seven years, we put it up for sale. We figured it would sell more easily if we finally installed the trim. As I measured, cut, and nailed over several days, I thought, “Blimey, we could’ve been living with trim these past seven years.”

This is my modest way of suggesting that we might have a better time if we examined and enhanced our lives now, before we’re diagnosed. To me, the term “preventive medicine,” which once meant getting PSAs, mammograms, lipid panels, and colonoscopies, has come to mean instead steering toward our best life, beginning now. Then, whatever comes from seeing the doctor next Tuesday, it won’t be the entire story. 

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