When the King of Saudi Arabia needs specialized medical treatment he does not fly to Paris, London, or Havana. He comes to America. If you have all the money in the world you can have the best. In the medical arena, the best is in America.
We are justifiably proud of our medical expertise. And yet, our prowess has been woven into a narrative in which lives are saved by the ministrations of brilliant, dedicated medical professionals. It’s today’s version of salvation.
Whether it is Marcus Welby or Ben Casey or Gregory House or Meredith Grey, these fictional American doctors can cure just about anything. No matter how sick you are, how ugly your symptoms are, how mysterious the diagnosis, America’s doctors will cure you… on television, at least.
We all know that fiction and reality are not the same thing, but far too many of us behave as though we are auditioning for a leading role in one of these rescue narratives.
We sit back with diet soda and chips waiting for the cavalry to arrive. We do not think about the fact that a great patient receiving great care is spending most of his time on his back, with needles and catheters stuck in him, being cut open or X-rayed, in an attitude of complete and utter passivity.
If good health requires you to be active, to work hard, to socialize, to eat a balanced diet, and to engage in regular strenuous exercise… then doing what is best for your health will ruin your chances to star in your own medical reality show.
As a people we are hyper-conscious about our health. Especially about different ways it can fail. We possess boundless information about the myriad of possible meanings of our aches and pains. And we are well aware of what we need to do to improve our health.
At the same time, in a seeming paradox, we are arguably the most obese people on the face of the earth. While we still have a reasonably good longevity-- thanks, I assume, to medical heroics-- still, we are not even within waving distance of good health.
The obesity epidemic forces us to spend far more than we need to on medical care. If we had a better relationships with our bodies, if we were more interested in health and less interested in the dubious pleasures of eating junk and not exercising, then our medical system would surely function more efficiently.
If it were not spending so much of its time treating lifestyle-induced illnesses, it would surely have more time to work with patients whose illnesses are not induced by their inactivity.
If people were not so anxious about their potential catastrophic illnesses, perhaps they would not be filling up physician’s offices with spurious complaints.
Beyond that the anxiety and stress induced by medical information must produced higher levels of cortisol, and, as we all know now, this is bad for our health.
And, it is worth mentioning that a body that is a breeding ground for disease loses a great deal of its erotic potential.
Increased awareness of illness is not intrinsically a bad thing. Some preventative testing has certainly saved lives. I am not advocating that we become blissfully unaware of the possibility of illness.
Everybody talks about a health lifestyle. I suspect that it is mere lip service. Sometimes it seems that the more often we hear about diet and exercise, the less the terms mean and the less we feel that they apply to us.
How does our culture try to address the epidemic of morbid obesity? By making people obsessed by thinness. It declares war on our appetite for food, and attempts to replace a bad habit by another bad habit, a compulsion to eat with a compulsion to diet.
In either case the human body is taken to be a cauldron of out-of-control impulses. If you do not rein them in, they will take you over and drive you toward perdition. If that is the message that the culture is sending us, it's no wonder that we have an unhealthy relationship with our bodies.