On a recent Tuesday afternoon, I started feeling flushed and hot, but with chills. I turned up the thermostat and added layers of clothing but couldn’t get warm. My body temperature showed a slight fever, but other than that, I had no typical symptoms, nothing other than overwhelming fatigue. And I mean overwhelming, which gave me pause. Do I have COVID?
Thankfully, a series of tests was negative.
OK, so it’s not COVID and I have no congestion, sneezing, or coughing. But I don’t feel great. So, what do I do about teaching Wednesday? My schedule is to drive 60 miles to Hanover College, teach classes, interact with students and prospective students outside of class, do relentless catch-up work, read submitted papers, return phone calls, address numerous emails on the computer, then hopefully leave for home around 6:30 p.m. or so. I love every minute of it and in nearly 50 years of teaching, I have never canceled class due to illness.
But feeling terrible raised a common sense versus stubbornness issue. Should I, or shouldn’t I?
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As you can imagine, my wife had plenty to say about “what I should do” as she watched me huddled in my easy chair, covered in blankets, shivering, pasty-faced with huge black bags under my eyes, looking like I had died and nobody told me. Her assumption was that I would stay home, rest and recover on Wednesday. To that, we exchanged opinions. Mine was: “Can’t do it. It’s late in the term and there is too much that needs to be done.”
Her opinion was more logical, right on target, and summarized as: “You are being ridiculous!”
Why ‘pushing through’ an illness only delays your recovery time
Now, to my fellow males out there. Did I stop a moment and revisit the countless times I ignored my wife’s health advice, often to my extreme detriment? No, of course not. I dragged myself out of bed early Wednesday morning, determined to show her there was no need for deviation from my iron-clad daily regimen. And so it went and I accomplished all I needed to, but at a substantial price. Yes, I soldiered through, feeling progressively worse and weaker as the day wore on, and hating the thought of the long drive ahead of me. But I managed, then collapsed in a heap when I got home.
My wife never said a word. The “look” was enough.
As I lay there feeling sorry for myself, I contemplated writing a column about this experience and I conjured up some familiar quotes. This one is from Hippocrates, a Greek physician and considered to be the father of modern medicine: “The wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings.”
No doubt and these words of wisdom sure hit home at the moment.
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Is heart disease preventable?
Next, I took my situation and applied it to something bigger and much worse. What if I were in bed suffering from a heart attack or stroke? If that were the case, and I am a typical American, is it likely I could offer up a litany of things I could have or should have done differently to avoid this tragedy?
You bet! Experts from the Cleveland Clinic tell us heart disease and stroke are preventable in 90% of cases by adopting a healthier diet, doing regular exercise, and not smoking. This striking statistic begs the question. Are you investing in your health? Or is your attitude about your health typical of the average American, meaning you take it for granted until it’s gone?
In other words, it’s all good until it isn’t. In the meantime, you likely believe you are getting away with it because you have no symptoms, and all is well with no need for changes. Unfortunately, that’s a very bad assumption because symptoms associated with heart disease and stroke, if they occur at all, typically do not occur until the process is very advanced and disaster is right around the corner.
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Why being ‘too busy’ is an excuse to avoid healthy habits
So, here we are, Joe and Jill America, acknowledging that, yes, our diet is garbage and we have too many pounds of fat on our body, especially around the waist, plus we never exercise. What’s more, our blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels are too high, but we have pills for that. And sure, we’d love to be healthier, who wouldn’t? But who has the time with packed workdays, commuting, parenting, household chores, watching TV, etc.
Is being too busy a rock-solid, bona fide truth, or is it a convenient alibi that permits us to avoid responsibility for our health?
What if you were to confront a health disaster in the near future, a stroke perhaps, but thankfully you lived through the fear and many months of arduous rehabilitation. Would you embrace a second chance do-over, like George Bailey in the classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but this time your health would be a priority and you would find time for health to avoid such a disaster?
If the answer is “yes,” and you want that 90% preventive factor on your side, why wait?
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Good health should never be taken for granted. So, start the year off right by investing more time and effort into your health. And unlike the stock market of late, the more you invest, the greater the returns.
Reach Bryant Stamford, a professor of kinesiology and integrative physiology at Hanover College, at [email protected].