"Less than 19 percent of Americans can be classified as completely healthy, physically and mentally, at any given moment."
-- Emory University researchers
Perhaps it's my independent, "mother-please-I'd-rather-do-it-myself" nature, or a long-standing aversion to lolling half-days and nights away in the emergency room, that accounts for the pile of self-health books in my home library.
No matter what the symptom, I can usually find information about what's wrong with me and what to do about it in one of the following: Time Magazine's Medical Reference Library; a 14-volume, New (1964) Medical and Health Encyclopedia; my mother's 1979 and surprisingly current Pill Book; Lawrence Galton's 1001 Health Tips; The Old Farmer's Almanac's Traditional Home Remedies; or a handful of other sources.
But a couple of weeks ago, when Harvard Medical School's Family Health Guide told me the hip-to-knee pain and numbness in my right leg fit the classic symptoms of sciatica, but didn't tell me how to relieve the pain or get a good night's sleep, I swallowed my pride, grabbed a pile of non-medical reading material and sought professional help.
Luckily for me, it was a slow day. Folks don't flock to emergency rooms during Masters Week, and I was greeting my affable, lady physician in just over two hours.
I thought she'd be impressed with my self-diagnosis, and in a matter of minutes I'd have instructions on activities to avoid, exercises to improve mobility, medication to relieve the pain and time to reclaim my day.
She laughed. Yes, my umbrella diagnosis seemed correct, but she was hardly bowled over with "your medical degree from Good Housekeeping." An hour-long lecture later, I at least knew how to sit, stand, walk and sleep with my bum leg, plus assorted prohibitions. The authentic doctor in the room also scheduled follow-up sessions in physical therapy if needed, and gave me the anticipated medications for inflammation and pain. No waiting on the latter. I hobbled to the nearest water fountain, downed the first dose of meds on my late-afternoon, empty stomach -- and barely made it home before I threw up the whole batch.
I can't blame the doctor for missing the instruction to "take with food." She probably assumed I knew that, too. After all, I told her about my mother's Pill Book which, unfortunately, I didn't consult until after vomiting session No. 2.
It's now a couple of weeks later and my leg -- and my arrogance -- are both improved. But while I was flat -- or rather, doubled up and pillowed -- on my back, I read my newest self-health book, Dr. David Niven's The 100 Simple Secrets of Healthy People, which may turn out to be the best resource of my lot.
Rather than list diagnoses and remedies, Niven's book suggests what not to do for a variety of ailments and leans heavily toward disease prevention. For example, it's doubtful we'll live a day longer or look more than a few days younger by aiding the annual, $15 billion anti-aging industry, whose products frequently lack credible testing and, in some cases, are known to cause harm.
Niven also gives convincing reasons for avoiding high heels, hostility, tanning beds, household pesticides, an obsession with perfection and my favorite: spring cleaning, because if you have seasonal allergies, you're probably allergic to dust, too. Clean some other time, or hire it done: doctor's orders.
In summary the author says, "An interest in health is a very useful thing. An obsession with health, however, is a dangerous thing. The best approach to health is to minimize health problems, not eliminate them" (page 199).
I may never completely learn that delicate balance, but if I've learned anything with my leg episode it's this: Sometimes even a lot of knowledge is a dangerous thing, and often the best treatment is a good dose of someone else's medicine -- with food, that is.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.