Sunday, 25 September 2011

Is ignorance bliss - or plain stupid?

How much do you know about your body, your health?  How much would you want to know?  A while back I had an email asking if I’d like to try out a health screening – to get tested for cheery things like carotid artery disease, atrial fibrillation, abdominal aortic aneurysm and peripheral arterial disease.  Hmm, I wondered, would I? Should I?
Because, see, I’m one of those people who Like To Know.  As in, I like to face up to things full-on, if I possibly can.  Obviously there are things one can never know but for some stuff, the answers are there – you simply need to ask the right questions.
When it comes to health, I figure prevention is better than cure. If I’ve got fatty plaque building up in my aorta, I’d kinda like to know because then I could figure out what to do about it.  Presuming, of course, that I wanted to live.  And I do wonder about this, frankly, sometimes. Is it just me or do you all have friends and family who seem intent on some lemming-like race to chuck themselves over the cliff? 
I have watched not one, but two fathers kill themselves. Yes, beyond careless, I know. My birth father did it with fags.  My adopted father did it with fatty food and lack of exercise.  I don’t really blame the former – FFS doctors were saying cigarettes were ‘good for the lungs’ back in the sixties.  Hmm, doctors eh?  But Erik, my big bad lovely Viking Erik, he knew what he was doing.  He’d been told, in no uncertain terms, that he needed to eat less and walk more.  He chose not to and dropped dead of a massive heart attack watching the news. His last words were: ‘Bloody Israelis’.  Not sure how he would have felt about my recent trip. J
But anyway.  Some people say they’d rather not know the state of their arteries, or if they’re at risk of a heart attack or a stroke or osteoporosis.  Why? Presumably because, if they knew, they’d feel they ought to do something about it?  I dunno. 
Anyhow, I went.  It was all a bit surreal really.  James and the SP sat outside in the car while I wandered into a village hall taken over by Life Line Screening for the day (they travel around the country, it seems, so you can usually find a screening nearby).  It was a relief not having to go to a hospital (our local hospitals all have extremely bad memories for me).  I filled in a form and was then called in to get tested, passed around from station to station like a parcel.  Everyone was very efficient, very pleasant; it was all done and dusted in half an hour and off we went to Taunton to buy yet more trainers for the child with the ever expanding feet (btw, if anyone has any spare size 8 cool trainers or walking boots, please feel free to post them!).
They told me the results would take three weeks and, to the day, they arrived.  It seems I am, once again, remarkably and reassuringly normal.  Of course, human nature means I am now wondering about the things I wasn’t screened for (osteoporosis, cholesterol/lipid panel, coronary heart disease risk) – but hey…
I asked a doctor friend what she thought about this kind of screening and she was enthusiastic.  ‘Preventative screening is not 100 percent accurate but I totally believe in it,’ she said. So when, I asked her, should we start getting ourselves tested?  ‘PAP smears once you’re sexually active,’ she said. ‘And most other tests after 40, depending on your family history.’
And yes, that’s great – if you can afford it.  The basic package of tests I had (free, I hasten to add) would cost £139 and a full workout would set you back £199.  Yes, it’s small fry if it saves your life – but if you can’t afford it?  See, what really and truly pisses me off is that prevention simply isn’t seen as an important part of our health service.
I have always maintained that if doctors' surgeries incorporated nutritional therapists, osteopaths (and Alexander Technique teachers), fitness instructors and hypnotherapists (for starters) we could have a much healthier population, far less reliant on drugs and requiring far less hospitalisation.  Add in breathing, meditation and yoga workshops and, by heck, we might be getting somewhere. Yes, it would cost – initially – but those costs would be recouped quite swiftly.  A few years back, we tried to get this model up and running on Exmoor but, sadly, it didn’t come about.  At which point you have to wonder, don’t you, about what truly runs our health service – the doctors or the pharmaceutical companies? 
Okay, conspiracy theories aside, I do think this kind of screening is useful.  I just wish, so much, that it were available to everyone, for free.  And that, when the results come in and show bits of plaque build up or whatever, that people might heed the warnings and look after their poor bodies. Of course, you could also talk to your GP who might be able to arrange testing for you on the NHS. - but I think that that is a  bit of a lottery. Would be interested to know people's experiences on this/
Thanks to Life Line Screening  for organising my tests.  There are a range of packages available - see the website. And the promo vid clip belows shows what happens...


How I Like My Coffee said...

I think this type of screening is invaluable. Just over a year ago I had one with work. They found I had Leukaemia, if I hadn't gone for the screening when I did it is highly likely I wouldn't be here now. Thankfully, my condition is treatable and I continue to have a normal life. Anyone who doesn't make the most of these opportunities are just putting their head in the sand.

Zoë said...

as you know - if I hadn't gone along for routine NHS screening 3 years ago, I don't think I would be typing this now.

These days I spent so much time being screened for this and that, I have developed a healthy dislike for hospitals. But on the plus side learning these things about my health has enabled me to change my life style, and diet to ensure that I remain healthier for longer, that I don't loose my sight unwittingly, and that I am able to do things to help myself reach old age. If you get the opportunity to be checked over, take it. It just might save your life. I think it might have saved mine.

Rob-bear said...

Good for you, Jane. I get some of those done from time to time. I'm going to get a whole bunch done in a few weeks. The first round will be mostly blood tests, then we'll check on what else might be needed. Pretty much all of that is covered by medicare, here, across the pond. Some major "pushes" in process for preventive care.
Interesting your dreams about doctors and colleagues. Where my physician works, there are (besides him): a naturopath, a chiropractor (both doctor and chiro do acupuncture), a physical therapist, and a massage therapist. Interesting team, that. And somewhat non-traditioinal.

Clare said...

Vote Jane for Health Minister!!

Sessha Batto said...

Ignorance isn't bliss, but the cost of healthcare is high and growing higher. At this point with no NHS OR health insurance, knowing would only make it worse because treatment is out of reach. I fear for the day one of us becomes critically ill, and try to control what I can. Your idea is excellent, of course, you should be world health minister, we'd all be better off!

Jo Beaufoix said...

I'm with you on all of this Jane. If we spent more time preventing, guiding and supporting we'd probably be a lot healthier. I was offered the Lifeline Screening too then they realised I didn't meet the age group criteria. I was gutted as I can't afford the tests and at 36 am at an age where there's time for me to change stuff before it goes really wrong (if that makes sense??).
I might just have to start saving.

A friend of mine who is 37 recently asked for and received a 'well woman' check at her doctors so at least that's a basic thing we should all be able to get. I might try that first.

Exmoorjane said...

Muddy: Oh my...thank heavens you were tested and I'm so so glad you're okay..

Zoe: You see, your comment sums it up for me.. And, by heck, I am SO glad you had that screening, my dear friend.

Bear: and, as I understand it, quite a lot of 'alternative' healthcare allowed on insurance, yes? It needs to be freely available, imo.

Clare: feck no!

Sessha: that is what scares me about the US system... But, with the kind of tests I had, people could remedy a lot of it with diet, exercise, stress reduction (ie meditation) etc. Then again, sense should dictate we all do that anyhow - but seems like some people need that push...

Jo: I truly believe our healthcare system has it all screwed up. Really simple stuff would save lives, so many lives. Getting people eating right, exercising, learning breathing and stress reduction.. and I do think it should all be on the NHS, I really do...wrong, all wrong to have two-tier health system. :(

Frances said...

I don't really know what I think about screening, Jane.

If I might be the first in a long line of family humans to test positive for something, and am someone who is not extending that lineage, well. What do you reckon. I would not save some future non-existent human from what I might have passed on. And I might live a happier future years of my own life just not knowing.

Don't know.

Some folks with other family histories and future generation possibilities might think differently.

Oh...we could also keep in mind our various countries' medical treatments and insurance possibilities.

Life is good! Typed without irony, this time. xo

vegemitevix said...

Oh I believe in screening but like so many others can't afford it here. We have free mammograms in NZ for women aged over 40.

Jackie Buxton said...

Wonderful post, as ever, Jane and of course you've made me think. I get these screening fliers all the time and, as the cost seems too high when I'm already spending *eeek* on hearing aids, I don't give them a second thought. I'm not complacent about my health at all, have been to too many funerals of 'young' people for that, but I am a bit of the 'if it aint broke, don't fix it' variety which helps my nonchalant attitude towards this kind of thing. But, as I say, you've made me think as I would want to know because I would want to try to do something about it. Now, where did I put that £139?

Kerri @ Baby Monitors Online said...

Excellent post :) you never know, you may have saved someone by posting this.

I think it is important for people to ensure they to their regular screenings and that if there is an opportunity to get free screenings like the one you had, then they should definitely go for it.

Local Girl said...

I agree, my GP pretty much hates you going there unless you on death's door and even then they aren't too keen!.

I've had to ask repeatedly for both smear and cholesterol testing (family history of early heart attacks) because they didn't call me in for my usual checks.
End of the day it costs the NHS much less to be preventative than to allow someone to actually get seriously ill.

Anonymous said...

They say more people live with cancer than die from it. Could it be that in being too curious we are actually inviting something to take control rather than allow our bodies to do the job it's designed to do?

A test is simply a screen shot on a particular day. Our bodies can change from one day to the next.