Defining what health truly is

I read an interesting article by Jason Luban, a licensed acupuncturist, on why so many patients flock to alternative practitioners. Mr. Luban brought up an interesting question, “What is health?”

Is health simply the absence of disease?  If it is, there certainly aren’t very many healthy patients in my neck of the woods.  Most of the patients I take care of have something that’s not quite right.  I only know one perfect person and I married her.

In Mr. Luban’s article, he writes, “Health may simply be the flexibility to adapt to circumstances and to continue to have an acceptable quality of life.”  I instantly liked this definition.  If you change the spelling of the word, “disease” to dis-ease, then illness boils down to a lack of “ease” with your condition.

In the thirty some years I have been practicing medicine, I have seen patients with horrible illnesses who were healthy despite being ill.  These individuals had one thing in common:  they refused to allow their “disease” to put them into a state of dis-ease.  Mr. “Q” suffered from a neurologic disorder that had progressed to the point where he was confined to a wheelchair.  Despite his crippling disease, Mr. “Q” lived life to its fullest, painting, joking with his friends and family, and running a successful computer business.  Mr. “Q” was at ease with his condition and therefore was healthy.   Over the years, I have met many patients who, despite having what should have been life changing illnesses, remained “healthy” due to their attitude.

I have always believed that, if you could make something good come out of something bad, the bad was not so bad after all.  On my last trip to Puerto Vallarta, I met an artist who was born with no arms.  His paintings were intricate and beautiful.  Each brush stroke was meticulously done by the artist while holding the brush in his mouth.  He was at ease with his physical condition, having found the gift in his otherwise disabling birth defect.

Unfortunately, I often see individuals who, while otherwise healthy, are not at ease with their human condition.  One common cause of dis-ease is weight.  I’m not talking about the patient who is 50 pounds overweight.  I’m talking about the young lady who is unhappy with her figure because she is not built like the models the media use to set societal standards.  Eating disorders represent a tragic example of dis-ease and the loss of “health” caused by not being at ease with your human condition.

Health should be defined as “the flexibility to adapt to circumstances and to continue to have an acceptable quality of life.”  Health is a state of mind.  Often, as we age, disease intervenes in our lives.  If it’s not our heart, then it’s our lungs, or kidneys, or diabetes, or sores.  Being at ease with whatever the affliction nature deals you makes all the difference in the world.  As doctors, we need to help our patients find ease with their human condition.  That “ease” cannot be found in a pill!  Ease comes from knowledge and understanding.  Imparting knowledge and understanding takes time and, unfortunately, there is never enough time.  As doctors, we need to help our patients by providing them with reliable sources they can use to learn about their condition.  We need to provide our patients with counseling and understanding.  It all starts by defining what “health” truly is.

I normally end my articles with, Be Happy, Be Healthy!”  In the future, I will add, “And be at ease with life!” 

Stewart Segal is a family physician who blogs at Livewellthy.org.

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