I have never wanted to be the medical advice columnist. "Dear Dr. Leap, My feet sweat all the time. I’ve tried everything! What should I do?" Nope, I’m not your guy. Neither do I want to opine on study after study about statin drugs for cholesterol or discuss whether women should take estrogen. There are physicians who love those questions! And I think they’re fantastic. But I’m an emergency medicine physician. Which means I have an attention span only somewhat longer than a Jack Russell terrier. So as long as no squirrel runs across the room, I’ll finish my thought.
I think a lot about what brings people to the hospital. And I have come to some conclusions. If people want to live healthier, longer and better, then the solutions are not especially complex. But they involve pretty hard decisions. They don’t, however, involve pills.
Obviously some people have terrible diseases and medical events and simply can’t help the medications they need to take. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the vast number of Americans who, with a few lifestyle changes, could take no medications and be just peachy.
So here goes.
Stop smoking. No, don’t even start smoking. It does nothing but bad things. It makes your teeth decay, gives you mouth, throat and lung cancer, causes emphysema, worsens asthma and costs way too much money. Money you could spend on important medicine, or no medicine, on your kids, or could save for a trip to someplace cool. Seek out help from a physician or support group and put down the coffin nails.
Next, eat less. Being overweight is bad. I’m not "fat shaming," I’m trying to save lives. Being overweight is unsafe, since you can’t rescue yourself from danger as easily. Being overweight makes you sluggish, strains your heart and causes your hips and knees to wear out, resulting in joint replacements. It makes it harder to exercise. It contributes to diabetes. Obese patients are harder to care for when they’re ill; they don’t always fit in CT scanners and their surgeries are more difficult and take longer to heal. How do you lose weight, you ask? There are lots of plans and lots of people to help. But it starts with the decision to sometimes look at yummy food and say ‘nope, I’d rather be a little hungry but healthy.’
Now this is radical: stop sitting around. Do things. Be busy. Walk, hike, have an active hobby. Stop binge watching shows for hours (in fact, a study not long ago suggested that binge watching increases your risk of dangerous blood clots in the lung). Step away from the tablet, the television, the gaming system and go outside. You needn’t run marathons or Iron Man races to just keep moving. Humans stayed fit for millions of years before there were gyms or exercise equipment. Of course, they were busy trying not to starve or get eaten, so they had an edge on us. But they died by 30 or 40, so we have it a little better.
Also, don’t take drugs of abuse. And if a doctor offers you a narcotic, unless you have cancer or a badly broken bone, say ‘no thanks.’ You’ll be better off in the end. Drugs are killing people in staggering numbers; so is alcohol. Therefore, while you aren’t doing drugs, don’t abuse alcohol. Don’t drink and drive, drink and boat, drink and hike, drink and shoot, drink and fight; you get it. Alcohol is dangerous. Also, wear your seat belt. Or helmet if you ride a bike or motorcycle. Additionally, don’t text and drive!
For simple illnesses like colds, don’t take antibiotics. Don’t ask for them and decline them unless absolutely necessary. In fact, for simple illnesses and injuries avoid doctors, X-rays, CT scans and all of it.
I could go on. But these things alone, if taken seriously, would change the face of medicine and the financial makeup of the entire healthcare system. And the best part? They don’t involve a prescription, an X-ray or even a visit to a doctor. They’re low-tech, low-cost interventions.
Some of my favorite patients are the 90-year-olds who show up for something simple; a bruise or a cut, fresh from yard work.
‘Sir,’ I ask, ‘what medicines do you take?’
‘Who’s you're doctor?’ ‘Son, I don’t have one. Can I go home now? I have beans to pick!’
‘Well there you go. That’s why you’re 90.’