It’s a typical busy day in the Emergency Department. Physicians, nurses, and other staff members are bustling about doing their best to care for those that came through our doors. I walk into the room to greet my next patient and find an uncomfortable appearing man sitting up on the stretcher holding his chest.
“Hi, I’m Dr. Piriano. How long have you been in pain?”
“Hi, doc,” he replies after a long exhale. “For about an hour.”
“What exactly are you feeling?”
“It feels like someone is standing on my chest.”
“Do you have pain anywhere else?”
“Yeah, my left arm is kind of aching.”
“Any other symptoms?”
“I’m having some trouble breathing, and I’m also a bit nauseous.”
Before I have a chance to speak again, a technician rolls an EKG machine into the room and begins placing stickers onto the patient’s chest.
“We’re going to take care of you,” I tell him. “We’re going to do our best to make you feel better.”
I start my physical exam while the technician enters the patient’s information into the EKG machine.
After the EKG prints out and I review it, I note some worrisome findings. Although the EKG does not reveal evidence of a heart attack, it does raise concerns about a possible blockage of a blood vessel supplying his heart with oxygen and essential nutrients.
An IV is started, blood is drawn, and medications are given to my patient that help to alleviate his discomfort. He is eventually admitted to the hospital for further monitoring and evaluation by a cardiologist.
As I sit down at my computer and reflect on my patient, I have a bittersweet experience. I am happy that we were able to make him feel better and admit him to the hospital so that he may receive further care. I am also sorrowful that he had this experience. Thinking about him more, I feel that this episode could have been prevented.
He is fifty-three years old. He also takes five prescription medications as “treatment” for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Given his underlying conditions, it was likely only a matter of time before a complication manifested itself.
The truly unfortunate thing is that the gentleman with chest pain is not alone. He is representative of so many patients that I care for in the Emergency Department. I see patients with conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, and cancer many times in a shift. These individuals have lists of prescription medications numbering three, five, ten, or even more.
Is this really what we have come to? We appear to be a society where so many of us take poor care of ourselves and subsequently develop lifestyle-related diseases. We then take multiple prescription medications to “treat” our illnesses. Many times, of course, the medicines do their jobs and help us manage our afflictions. However, are they addressing the actual underlying cause of our condition? For instance, if you have diabetes due to a poor diet and being overweight, are prescriptions correcting the underlying cause of your diabetes? If you have high blood pressure secondary to obesity, physical inactivity, and excessive salt intake, are your blood pressure medications fixing the root causes? Are medications truly healing you, or are they just bandages attempting to prevent things from getting worse?
There is an abundance of scientific research telling us that living a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent and even reverse many of the diseases mentioned above. Wow!—eating wholesome foods, including an abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, and getting adequate physical activity can prevent and reverse diseases. This is remarkable knowledge. Believe me, I appreciate that it is so much easier to take some pills than to change your lifestyle. I also understand that many people are trying to change, and that’s fantastic. I applaud you, and I know that we can all be better.
My one parting thought is this: Is your wish to give your wounds the opportunity to heal, or are you satisfied with keeping them as they are and just covered up with a bandage?
***As I said, living a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent and reverse many illnesses. However, it is essential that if you are a mostly sedentary person or are currently under a doctor’s care, that you speak with them about your desire to change and do it under their guidance. Furthermore, never change or discontinue any prescription medications without your doctor’s approval.