No, it’s not a ravenous armadillo attack, kumquat poisoning, or vending machine impalement.
Believe it or not, you have a conceivable chance of getting sick, injured or even dying just by seeing a doctor, pharmacist or going to the hospital. That’s right, the third biggest reason Americans will die this year is by visiting places designed to keep them from dying.
According to a study at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, more than 250,000 people in the U.S. pass away each year from medical errors (other estimates are as high as 440,000.) That’s 10 percent of all U.S. deaths.
And what 100 percent of us like to call W.T.F.
How is this possible? How in a country that spends roughly twice as much per person on healthcare compared to other wealthy countries could our citizenry be so vulnerable to such egregious error - or dare we say malpractice?
It’s not that there aren’t decent physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals dedicating their lives – and even risking them – to save yours. The dilemma is a complex one filled with all sorts of problems such as inconsistent care protocols, communication breakdowns, technical failures, human error, whoever produced General Hospital, and greed … to name just a few.
We could talk forever about what got us here. The question is, what can you do to avoid becoming a statistic of the worst kind? Of the countless ways to answer this, let's focus on the following three:
1. Ask yourself how badly you need medicine or surgery in the first place
Of all the industrialized nations, Americans are perhaps the most conditioned to putting convenience before health. At the first sign of a headache, we far too often gulp down Tylenol or Ibuprofen like they're Ben & Jerry's after a break up. Meanwhile, your poor liver is all like, "Great, now I got to work overtime with your kidneys to kick these toxins to the curb when you could of just meditated for five minutes or prayed to Oprah."
We have to learn to think more about systems, and less about symptoms. We must evolve to see the body as an interconnected whole, not a series of parts that don't talk to each other as if they're Brad and Angelina.
This means perhaps trying yoga for back pain, instead of having a surgeon cut open your spine and risk severing a nerve. Case in point: a student of mine was able to avoid back surgery and walk pain-free after just three months of a tri-weekly yin practice.
Assuming you're not having an medical emergency, always consider natural remedies first. Remember that medicine is always toxic, even when it works.
2. Question your medical team
There are, of course, plenty of times when medicine or surgery is the right answer. But don't automatically take your medical provider's recommendation. It's perfectly reasonable to ask questions to make them validate their reasoning, especially when your need or condition surrounds life-challenging circumstances.
Helpful questions to ask your doctor or pharmacist include:
- Why is this prescription the best option?
- What are the side effects of this drug?
- Would you take this pill or have this surgery if you had the same condition?
- What other options can we consider for the specific need I have?
- Should I not sleep with someone who has more problems than me?
3. Realize that health and healthcare are not the same thing
Too many people mistakenly think that technology is a panacea for everything - especially when it comes to medicine.
I went to high school with a kid who was smoking two packs of cigs a day by age 16. He once told me - between puffs - that he wasn't worried about his health because he figured by the time he'd need help "they'll invent something to fix it."
Not exactly channeling Socrates.
The unfortunate reality, however, is many people older and with more life experience than my former classmate have the same ill-begotten view. They lay awake at night dreaming of a day when microscopic lightsabers will be injected into their arteries to go tit for tat with cancer cells and cholesterol.
Yes, advances in medical technology are remarkable. But healthcare is not magic and doctors are not wizards. We can’t eat Doritos for breakfast and expect the medical community to give us a pill that Harry Potters our problems away.
So take responsibility now for how you live, move and eat. Realize that wellness is the best form of healthcare. Pretend that medicine doesn't exist and ask yourself, "What's my best option for not getting sick or hurt in the first place?"
In the meantime, we must work to improve hospitals while helping (and never judging) anyone who ends up in one. Above all, let's hold our medical system accountable for the avoidable errors that cost the lives of up to 440,000 innocent Americans each year.
“All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.” - Sophocles, Antigone