Two and half hours of my life I’ll never get back. That’s what happened last week taking my mother to the cardiologist. The waiting room was about the size of my home (yes I live in a small house but bigger than a tiny house!). Scattered throughout the room were brown leather sofas and chairs. The leather furniture certainly raised an eyebrow and the large flat-screen TV mounted in the corner of the room raised the other one. What made my draw drop, however, was that the movie Patriot Games starring Harrison Ford was on. I knew I was in trouble if a doctor was playing full-length feature movies in his waiting room.
Disconcerting as all that was, what made it worse for me was during the entire two plus hours spent in the waiting room, the people who were there had changed but the number of available seats had not. As soon as someone got called in to see the doctor, someone new walked through the front door. I started to wonder if there was a line in the hallway and a neon sign blinking “Next” as soon as there was an empty seat in the doctor’s “theater.”
I’ve never seen so many people gathered in a waiting room before. Without much else to do, I looked around and became riveted by what I saw. Regardless of size, sex, or color, it was clear that these people were not healthy. For some, it was their pallor that gave them away; for others it was the slow shuffle as they were bent over their walker; and others it was just their body shape and overall demeanor. I felt like I was looking at a slice of America and what I saw really disturbed me. We are not a healthy nation.
There’s a constant debate over food and whether it’s organic versus local versus GMO versus cold-pressed versus hydroponic versus whatever else you want it to be. The micro-splitting of what’s coming from where and what may have been in the raindrop that fell on it as it grew is becoming exhausting, and to be honest, a little boring. Of course, I care about the food I eat and the naturalness of it but as the same arguments rage on, I think we are going too far in the wrong direction—we are overly concerned and obsessed over what’s in our foods and the type of foods we put in our bodies rather than what we do with our bodies once the food is in there.
We are a health-obsessed nation and yet our health is still declining because we are a nation not on the move. We are still a sedentary bunch in our cars, our jobs, our evening television watching. Many of us are not eating from our stomachs anymore—we’re eating from our heads and our emotions. I love food as much as the next person, but I think we’ve made food a pastime. Eating is no longer something we do because we’re hungry but it is something we do when we’re bored, upset, angry, happy, celebrating or saying good-bye. Eating has become an event.
We can eat as healthy as we want but if we don’t use our bodies for even the token minimally suggested 30 minutes a day, our sedentariness can be just as deadly as if you ate a full-on “I don’t care what’s it in, just give me more” meal. I really believe it’s this static lifestyle that has become the larger contributing factor to standing room only specialist waiting rooms. If what I saw was only in a cardiologist’s office, I can’t help but wonder how often this scene is replayed in the waiting rooms of gastrointestinal, pulmonary, and rheumatology doctor offices.
Our bodies seem to be morphing into softer, rounder shapes than ever before. Look around and you can see how the average person’s body shape has changed. Even people who are not overweight have a changed shape—shoulders are little rounded, neck is bent forward, posture is stooped. There’s more accumulation of softness around the belly area than ever before for both men and women.
The fact that our habits are killing us is nothing new. Being with all those people in the waiting room that day, and hearing the coughs, the wheezes, the heavy breathing I knew that the cardiologists behind those closed doors are going to take their vitals, ask them how they’re doing and refill a prescription. To have a waiting room full of people who are sick due to colds, the flu, or some other kind of virus or malady is one thing but to have a waiting room full of patients who are clearly ill and some who have trouble walking let alone breathing, be there due to preventable issues was unsettling.
Yes, I am generalizing here. I don’t know the history of each person that was sitting there and yes, there are circumstances unique to each individual but I simply do not believe that every one of those people’s issues started out as life-threatening. Cardiovascular diseases can be controlled and prevented. Not everything can be blamed on genetics. It’s the combination of what we do and what we don’t do that is so deadly—food, cigarettes, sitting. This combo is lethal but also preventable. Believe me, today’s Focus is a result of my own struggles and observations—in my life I’ve smoked, drank, eaten when I’m not hungry, and chosen parking spaces closest to the store because I didn’t feel like walking far. Been there and done all that, so believe me when I say I’m not here pointing my finger without knowing full well that there are three fingers pointing right back at me!
The preventability of illness and general malaise never seemed as apparent as it did from that afternoon in the waiting room. Yes, those were two and half hours of my life I will never get back, but I have also spent two and half hours in front of the computer; in my car; watching television that I will never get back either. What about that time? Does that loss of time make it less offensive because I was doing something I enjoyed? Was it only because I was in a place that was not the result of something from my own pleasure did I feel resentment about?
We live at the whim of our own hand and we are becoming victims of our own lifestyle. But to say we’re victims indicates that we have no choice, that our unhealthiness was put upon us by outside forces and to some that may be true—up to a point, but it’s not true for all.
We can read as many diet books and articles on health as we want and it’s terribly easy to say that we will eat better and move more but somehow we always end up starting tomorrow. It took a lot of tomorrow’s for all those people at the cardiologist’s office to get to where they were that day. Don’t wait.
Today’s Friday Focus is about letting today be your tomorrow and changing the full-length movie showings in doctor waiting rooms to 60-second sound bytes instead.