Thursday, April 18, 2013

Listen, listen

My body likes to tell me to eat lots and lots of dessert made by Abe!
When I was a kid I had a couple of impacted canines. These teeth were supposed to come in to my mouth so I could use them for biting and chewing just like the other adult teeth God gave me, but for some reason (probably had to do with my huge teeth and small mouth combo, leaving little space to erupt) they did not come in on their own and were “stuck” down in my gums. After years of waiting, I finally had surgery when I was 15 to have these teeth exposed and they were brought into place with braces.
Years later, during dental school, I was undergoing routine xrays only to discover one of my canines that had been brought in place surgically/orthodontically had died. I guess it wasn’t able to survive the surgery and the movement. This meant I had to undergo a root canal. This tooth had never caused me any problems. (except for needing surgery and braces). I felt annoyed that I would have to undergo a potentially painful and unpleasant experience to have a root canal (which wasn’t bad, actually). It was inconvenient to find a time during my school schedule to have the procedure done. And I certainly wasn’t excited about paying the large bill that would accompany this silent problem. It was tempting to pretend the tooth was fine and ignore it but I decided to proceed with the root canal. Looking back I am happy I took care of the problem as I know it was a ticking time bomb for an infection even though it caused me no trouble. My body was unable to “feel” a problem with the tooth because the nerve, or feeling part of the tooth was literally dead.
That leads me to my point: I feel like there is a big push lately to “listen to your body.” While I think this is great and can be an important part of personal health, I don’t believe it should be an excuse for ignoring otherwise good medical care or practices.
There are times when I think this can be helpful or important. I do think my body talks to me. I think if I listen, I can tell my body is happier and healthier when I choose to eat a salad instead of brownies for dinner. I think if I listen harder my body will tell me I am feeling stressed rather than hungry; that I am thirsty; that I could use some extra sleep at night; that I am pushing myself too hard. Likewise, I see a lot of patients with tooth pain (a message something is wrong) who put off dental care for weeks until it finally “goes away.” They sometimes put off care because it “didn’t bother” them anymore, only to end up with a more serious problem. If they would have listened the first time, they would have prevented some larger problems later.
But I think there are a lot of things our bodies probably can’t tell us. Just like my tooth was unable to communicate to me a problem, there are some potentially serious medical issues that cannot or usually are not detected by listening or increased mindfulness. People have heart attacks without ever knowing –they are called “silent MIs.” Most diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart blockages, cancer, high cholesterol aren’t detected through symptoms until much later and the damage is already done and sometimes irreversible. It is not uncommon to see patients stop taking much needed blood pressure medications, insulin for diabetes, or heart pills because they “feel fine” when that is certainly not the case.
I see instinct used a lot as an excuse to disregard medical advice during pregnancy because “women have been doing this for thousands of years,” forgetting the number of women and infants who died in the process along the way. “My body will know what to do.” I hope that is right, but I also hope you will not get angry with your physician when she makes recommendations that work for most people or even if strict or excessive, will prevent problems in people prone to problems and she can’t tell if that is you or not.
Heck, some people grow huge tumors out of their faces without catching the message.
I’m not meaning to sound judgmental or critical. I hope we can all pay more attention to what our bodies are telling us. But I also hope we can realize there are parts of our bodies that just don’t have a good way to give us the information we need. And even if they did, we obviously miss the call a lot. Nature is great but science has added a lot along the way.
And besides, if I always listened to my body, I don’t think I’d ever get out of bed!


Abby said...

I agree, I think.:)

I think there are definitely ways our bodies cannot communicate, but I also think that they communicate more than most of us are probably aware because we're too busy, unhealthy, etc. to know.

And pregnancy in particular, is a function of the body where I think it DOES tell us a lot. I totally agree that this is no reason to forego medical care--I'm all about medical care, but I do feel like when I'm pregnant by body tells me what's up. In fact, I feel like the body gets pretty dang bossy--what to eat, how much to sleep, how much exercise is too much, when labor is imminent, and how to get that baby out--these are all made very clear when I'm pregnant. And I think doctors are aware of this, because they always advise me to "listen to my body" when I'm pregnant. You docs are pretty smart;)

Wow that comment is long! Sorry.

Erin said...

I think pregnancy is an amazing process Abby! I think our bodies really do very often know what to do. I like that your doctor encouraged you to take an active role in your pregnancy and delivery. I think that makes a big difference.

I just hope people can see where their doctor is coming from, even if they feel like what they are being told isn't what they think works for them. I don't think you have to do everything they say but you should at least ask for reasons behind their recommendations, especially if you don't understand why.

And I have to say, I come from a reality where most of the docs I know are quite trustworthy. I know all doctors are human and so that can't be true for them all, but most doctors take their vow of "Do no harm" seriously and are there to help.

Erin said...

And Abby, I love long comments! Thanks for sharing.