Hepatitis C taught me a lot. One thing it taught me was to notice ways that I am close-minded or dishonest with myself about my health. These lessons continue even though I don’t have hep C any longer. Here are three examples.
The past isn’t always a predictor of the present: I was talking to a close friend who is having stomach problems. She also struggles with chronic pain, and takes many medications. I noticed that her stomach problems kicked up after a bout of pain in which she took higher doses of pain pills. Brainstorming with her, I said, “I wonder if the medication you take is bothering your stomach.” She responded, “I doubt it, they have never bothered me before.”
Observation #1 Just because something hasn’t been a problem in the past doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be a problem now. I wouldn’t expect my car to work perfectly as it aged; why would I expect the same of my body?
Half-truths are not the truth: I gained some weight this year. I tell myself that I eat a healthy diet, exercise nearly daily, and I can easily lose this. That could be true, except for the fact that I gained this weight because of those times that I ate too much or ate something that was calorie-laden. I have proof that I ate at least one hot dog this summer because I took a picture of it on my smart phone. Plus, I don’t lose weight easily – it is much harder now that I am older.
Observation #2 Rationalizing doesn’t change the facts. Telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth helps me to see the problem, and thus get to a solution. To verify if I am telling the truth, I can look at my photos, social media postings, and credit card receipts. Apparently my phone is smarter than I am.
Verify, even if you think you know it all: During a conversation with a medically savvy friend, she told me that she takes all her medications and supplements at once. “Even your thyroid medication?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied. This is a big no-no. I suggested that she use a drug interaction checker to see if any of her medications interact, and if so, how she can adjust the times so she can take them as directed. I also suggested that she talk to her doctor and pharmacist. It turned out that she was taking several minerals and drugs that she shouldn’t have taken with her thyroid pill.
Observation #3 Just because we think we know something doesn’t mean we do. Regular consultations with our doctors and pharmacists can help us know if we need to make changes.
Challenge your thinking, even if you think you are open-minded: Recently, I was suffering from back pain. It was bad, so bad that I had moments when I couldn’t move. However, my experience with back pain is that if I give it a couple of weeks, it will go away if I ice it, am patient, and avoid extensive sitting.
It occurred to me to take slow-release acetaminophen, but since acetaminophen is only mildly anti-inflammatory, why should I bother? Surely, it would be useless. Instead, I took ibuprofen and slowly watched my stomach get upset. After two weeks, I gave up and tried acetaminophen. My pain went from seven to one, and I had the best night’s sleep. In the morning, I decided I was cured, until the pain returned. I took another dose of acetaminophen, and it worked again.
Observation #4 Challenge everything I think is true until I find the real truth.
Being honest and open–minded isn’t as easy as it sounds; humans have complicated defense mechanisms, such as denial and rationalization. I try to be honest, but in the end, it is my friends and community that keeps me honest. The bottom line: Surround yourself with people who have your best interests in mind, and heed their observations.