As I write this, one of my daughters is in the hospital recovering from elective, but nonetheless somewhat urgent surgery. She will be fine, and likely come home later today. Still, the native rhythms of Katz family holiday preparation are much disturbed by worry, and the logistics of a family member in the hospital. When another of our daughters came home from college yesterday, my wife wasn't there to greet her. We did the best we could, but it wasn't the same.
Surgery in one child would be unsettling enough, but there has been much more going on than that. This has been one of those pothole-strewn stretches in the road of life we all encounter from time to time. I will spare you superfluous details -- I'm sure you've got your own challenges. I will note, though, that another of our kids just had elective surgery; and yet another is in the queue after an acute sports injury. When it rains, it pours.
And that's just the humans. Two of our dogs are in the hospital as I write. We are not yet sure what's wrong, or exactly the level of danger to them. They were both perfectly healthy until the first of them started vomiting all over the house the day before yesterday. As I write about them, think about them, and wonder about the uncertain danger to them, I confess I feel that irritating tingle of incipient tears. I confess it without shame, though; they are my sweet, devoted friends -- and I love them quite as lavishly as they love me.
As I process this constellation of worry -- which I hope, and mostly trust will all prove to be a tempest in a teapot -- I fully appreciate why for most of us most of the time, today is what really matters. Today is all that matters.
That's a bit of a Gordian knot for a preventive medicine specialist. Most of what I do, and write about here, pertains to safeguarding tomorrow. I have written any number of times about treating health like wealth -- and investing today for the sake of tomorrow's great return.
Making the case has not been easy, as indicated by popular, perpetual interest in fad diets, quick fixes, and pixie dust; and the persistence of hyperendemic rates of avoidable ills, from obesity to diabetes to dementia.
Today, though, I can understand why on any given day we may choose to let things like eating well, or exercising, slide. There are more immediate concerns. And sometimes, they are rather overwhelming. I really get it. All that matters to me today is today -- and the people (and other creatures) I love -- getting through it okay.
But then again, reflecting on this taxing day, it also validates the very reason I fight so hard for using what we know, and preventing the preventable ills to which we are all subject. The reason I am devoted to what matters every day -- is because of what matters to me today. It's because of the skin we all have in the game, and all we can do to protect it. It's about the skin of those we love most in the world.
We can't guarantee their safety, of course, as my current plight makes plain. But we can shift the odds massively in our favor. The odds of truly bad things happening to those we love (and ourselves) can be slashed a stunning 80% by using what we know about health promotion and disease prevention. It truly is a short, accessible list. We can get there alone with skillpower; we can get there together with culture change. But we can get there.
And should, because those same strategies cultivate vitality. They make it far more likely that if we are struck by one of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, we will weather the blow better than most.
In fact, I just heard from my wife -- and our daughter is doing beautifully post-op, and just arrived back at home (I'm at my clinic, in between patients). Her post-operative resilience owes much to her general good health, which in turn owes much to how we have all lived, and the care we have taken of ourselves. Healthy people do, indeed, have more fun. They also have better post-operative recoveries.
My career is devoted to propagating messages about what matters to health- and the skin we have in the game -- every day. What matters most to me today is the immediate fate of the small group of creatures (human and otherwise) I love most in the world.
But in the end, they prove to be separate strands of a single truth. It is what really matters today that best makes the case for what matters every other day. We all have the capacity for "take care" to be more than a vapid salutation. We can make it a strategy we embrace every day for the sake of what matters most on any given day: those we love.
What really matters most to me today is not my mission, but my family. Because that's probably true for all of us every day, the mission matters all the more. The mission is to add years to life, and life to years. When the lives and years belong to someone we love, it's the most important thing in the world.
With that in mind, and hopeful of good outcomes all around here on the home front, I wish you and yours wonderful health and happiness for the holidays and beyond. And I invite you, with yourself and those you love in mind, to take good care.
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP is having a rough day.
Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center; Griffin Hospital
President, American College of Lifestyle Medicine
Editor-in-Chief, Childhood Obesity
Author: Disease Proof