On personal health

Health according to the World Health Organization is not just a person’s physical state but the whole make up of the individual, that is, mental, emotional, physiological, etc.  Using this framework, disease, say, cancer, is not attributable to just one cause like, food, for example, but to a complex interaction of things an individual is exposed to and predisposed with.  Acceleration of the interaction which produces a state of toxicity may be triggered by a simple cause like food, or by a more complicated one such as a combination of food and stressful living.  What this implies is one can’t exactly pinpoint what caused the final unhealthy state.

Why am I writing about this?  A former colleague died of cancer recently.  Before her, a few others, also colleagues, went by the same path.  When you have people in your circle dying from cancer you can’t help worry and do incantations like God, please spare me.  But I imagine God asking me, alright, give me one good reason why since I didn’t even spare my saints?  I imagine myself stumped for justifications.  Why indeed when I’m no better than my neighbor who I think is worse.  Can I just say basta with matching stomping of feet?

I worry because I haven’t been in the pink of health lately.  I guess it’s because this year I was all work and no play so when the temperature in the City suddenly dipped to very chilly from oppressively hot, my system just collapsed. Incidentally, dear HR managers, could we now please recognize weather instability and climate change as justified causes for employee absence?

The timing of my illness was so off but still I roused myself.  I had requested a week before a meeting with a senior executive in Manila in connection with a study I planned to conduct and calling him a couple of days to the date in order to reschedule was out of the question.  He might not make himself unavailable the next time.  So I got up, dressed up, got on the bus, and several hours after, went up to his building for the appointment.

In the meeting room with him finally my inflamed tonsils didn’t cooperate and I barely relax my neck.  I could only manage to utter monosyllables as the state of my throat felt like I was treading on nails barefoot.  There was this great itch inside my chest and I did my best to hold it in by imagining letting out a very unladylike cough.  My temples throbbed like hell.  My body temperature swung from hot to cold.  The conference table appeared to me as if it’s beckoning for me to stretch out on it.  I looked at him in long silences that belied what was happening inside me.  He waited.  I stretched my dry lips into what I assumed resembled smiles and wanted to kick myself right afterward. I was sure I looked stupid just smiling at him when I should be passionately presenting my proposed study.  I expected him to kick me out and that gave me a scare which further stressed me.  I mustered all my remaining strength to speak but for once my bodily pain has already gone up my head clouding my mind and when my mind has shut down I’m really gone.

What a showing up!  What was I thinking?  I should’ve rescheduled!  But he was kind and patient, in short he didn’t bellow at me for that strange meeting nor did he kick me out of the room.  The meeting ended well actually and if I could paint ‘grateful’ it’s that.

Zipping back to my place in Baguio City, I permitted myself to be sick and crawled into bed without getting out of my travelling clothes.  A couple of hours tossing around on the bed, I suddenly remembered my other commitment. I said I’d help my former colleagues in the translation of field data for a longitudinal study then on it’s third year.  The documents have been emailed to me and were waiting to be opened.  I thought of calling to say, hey, know what, I’m sick but I knew that was unacceptable and I knew the work ethic there.  So I did the first batch of translation in bed, my tonsils inflamed not to mention the incessant coughs.  Soon though I forgot about myself because from the documents I read about this young village girl who was a research participant.  The interviewer asked her if she takes milk or perhaps Milo at breakfast, and she replied “Coffee Mate.”  Interviewer: “Coffeemate?  You mean coffee?”  Girl: “Coffee Mate.”  Interviewer: “Coffee Mate with coffee?”  Girl: “Coffee Mate.”  At this point, it finally dawned on the interviewer that the girl was really just having Coffee Mate (local brand name for a creamer) for milk. At this information I straightened my spine up a bit because if that young girl does not complain about having Coffee Mate for breakfast milk then I surely will endure my illness and discomfort.

On the other hand, maintaining one’s health is not as simple as one two three nor an illness curable by one-prescription-fits-all treatment as health policies seem to imply.

Another colleague who died of cancer reported to work until a few days before her death.  The worse thing was no one among us suspected because she seemed to be without pain.  Another colleague who has somehow at first overcome the disease chose to continue working as well.  In both cases they argued that extended bed rest at home made them worse off as they then would have plenty of time to imagine inappropriately hence worry.  True.  But this brings me to the first argument I’d like to pose here, that certain individuals such as my colleagues have in them this shall I say superhuman will and strength to go on working without any special considerations which does not unfortunately hold true for everyone.  My second point is, is it worth it, to go on with life at the usual pace which may result to a hastened death whereas by embracing that bed rest one may gain a little more days of life?  My third and final point is, the prescription for the restoration of health should also involve the sick person because he or she would know her body and that health is a personal choice.  But also above and beyond personal choices, personal health like the raising of children is a function of a community’s collective action and support.


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