There’s a saying that ‘if you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything’. It may not be true in the literal sense, but the gist is that your good health is your most important asset.
It’s a sentiment most people would agree with, yet many New Zealanders put off going to the doctor even when they suspect they have a problem. In some cases it can be a dangerous gamble – this country has one of the highest death rates from cancer in the Asia-Pacific region – but whatever the diagnosis, the earlier the condition is dealt with, the better for a longer, fuller life.
So why do we play Russian Roulette with our health when a doctor can help prevent a small problem spiraling into a much bigger problem if caught early enough? This month at familyhealthdiary.co.nz we investigate why some of us choose avoidance over health.
My doctor’s changed
Some people blame the loss of the old-fashioned relationship between doctor and patient, where the doctor doubled as a friend and confidante, for our reluctance to make an appointment. These days people move, doctors move and it’s hard to maintain a history that spans decades.
Our advice: If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to your current doctor, choose another one or ask your friends for a recommendation. If your doctor listens to your concerns, answers your questions respectfully and helps you feel at ease, then he or she is probably a keeper.
This is weird, hopefully it will just go away
Is that what you’re thinking? What if it doesn’t go away? Turning a blind eye is a choice made by many, but even something as innocuous as a mole should be checked out. Melanoma is a cancer of the skin’s pigment-producing cells, and it kills thousands of people every year.
Our advice: Resistance can be linked to a fear of what the doctor might say, so try to be brave and take action soon. Doctors report that patients can be afraid of hearing the worst, but bad news can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if treatment is delayed.
Avoiding a lecture
Recent studies have shown that people who know they have health-endangering vices (like smoking or drinking) put off appointments because they do not want a healthy-living lecture.
Our advice: It’s easy to see why you may want to avoid your doctor if you know you’re not treating your body well, but a doctor could help you get the support you need to take the next step towards good health. Perhaps they could refer you to a support group or advise you on a product or treatment. An appointment also ensures your doctor gets the chance to assess you properly and to take action if it’s needed.
I’m too embarrassed…
Oh shucks, yes, there are some symptoms you just don’t want to talk about, and when you do pluck up the courage to discuss them you are rewarded with, perhaps, a rectal exam or breast check.
Our advice: Chin up, don’t let feeling embarrassed stop you from seeing the doctor. They are professionals, who deal with people, bodies and illness every day. When they examine you they won’t see anything they haven’t seen before – you can’t shock them. However, if a female doctor would make you feel more comfortable than a male doctor, or vice versa, speak up and change doctors if necessary.
Getting an exam can be very important in finding cancer and the earlier cancer is found, the greater the chance of successful treatment. Bowel cancer, for example, is curable in 75% of people if caught early.
An Otago University study revealed that the number one reason that women put off doctor’s appointments was financial, even though women suffer more chronic illnesses than men.
Compared to men, women were also more likely to defer collecting a prescription because they could not afford it.
The study by Professor Peter Crampton and Dr Santosh Jatrana looked at 18,320 adults who took part in an add-on health survey to Statistics New Zealand’s Survey of Family Income and Employment.
Our advice: Yes, going to the doctor can be expensive. However, if something seems ‘off’ with your body, you are worried, and not having the money is the only reason for not going, perhaps you should put pride to one side and ask for help from a family member or close friend. After all, those who care about you want you to be in good health too.
An idea for future medical costs is to set up a bank account that you put a little money from every pay into. When it comes to your next medical cost, you can dip into this account. It’s a lot less painful than having to pay a fee in one go.
I’m too busy
Everyone’s lives go through hectic periods, and sometimes it seems easier to put our own needs on hold.
Our advice: Hang on, putting your health needs on hold may not be doing anyone any favours – not even your boss if you end up really sick when you could have nipped the problem in the bud.
Many doctors’ surgeries offer early or late appointment times so it’s easier for patients to get in and see them. Give them a call and check their opening hours. Failing that, find out whether you can speak to a doctor over the phone. However, you may end up just having to make time to see your doctor and juggle your other commitments – it’s important.
Be a little kind to yourself
Facing up to your fear, embarrassment, guilt, or tendency to focus on others’ needs rather than your own, could be a lifesaver. Good health can easily be taken for granted, but those who have lost it realise just how precious it truly is.
So, be kind to yourself and don’t put your health on the backburner. Make it a priority to do what you can to achieve a bright future with family and friends.