Jane Brody, long-time Personal Health columnist for the New York Times, writes a personal story about her brother, who recently had heart bypass surgery for a critical narrowing of a coronary artery, despite staying active and taking his medications. She gives three key pieces of advice:
Don’t assume that your coronary arteries are clear just because you are trim and athletic and you live a healthy life.
Don’t ignore potential symptoms of heart disease.
If you need open-heart surgery find the most experienced surgeon who operates at a hospital with the an excellent coronary care unit.
This is wise advice, at a certain level. But it also exposes real challenges in health and sickness care that we must confront. First, there is a key phrase that we could easily gloss over. Ms. Brody writes that her brother paid attention to his health “up to a point.” Namely, “he’s lean, physically active and takes medication” to control his cholesterol and blood pressure. That is certainly better than many people do. But it is a pretty low bar. In order to really remain disease free and fit into one’s seventies will probably take much more than that. We cannot fully escape our genetics. We can minimize the potential negative effect of some deleterious family history, but it likely requires deep dedication to very physical activity, diligent avoidance of the bad foods, and adequate sleep day after day for years. It is a simple recipe but it hard work and takes time that most of us are not yet committed to pursuing. On the sickness side, if illness does strike, Ms. Brody unintentionally exposes real gaps in our system. There is no meaningful way today to find the best doctor or the best hospital. She tells a story of still depending on reputation and referral among other doctors to find the best. Better to not get stick: start the training program to achieve peak health and performance.