The first part of the book Natural Causes explores the over testing for certain diseases. I think in some cases the testing can offer a sort of relief from those with anxiety, particularly anxiety about a particular disease. For others, certain tests can increase the anxiety by putting a disease on their radar, so to speak, and the worry that a doctor thinks they might have it.
Because testing was not in my scope of practice as an acupuncturist, I’m going to use pets as an example. It used to be that after about twelve or so, cats would get annual bloodwork. It would help vets determine how well their kidneys continued to function and to see if there were any other problems that could be caught early enough for effective treatment.
Recently, I had a vet want to retest my cat using a test that didn’t tell us much (and has a lot of detractors) every six months. I said I wouldn’t change anything based on those results. She agreed that we wouldn’t change anything. So I asked why the testing. Realize, this is a cat. Cats don’t like change in routine and hate being out of their territory and are not fond of car rides. All of this would have stressed him.
But she was adamant. I didn’t go back. Because the results of the test would have changed nothing in the cat’s life. It might have stressed me out worrying about him, but there were no effective treatments at that moment. It was merely a monitoring test. Further, my cat would have been more stressed and hated the semi-annual trips. Not to mention what my wallet thought of them.
I listen to people doing fluids for cats with kidney failure for years. I read about people agonizing over kidney disease and wondering what else they can do. Ultimately, as cats get older, their kidneys begin to fail. Ultimately, like all of us, a beloved cat will die. I hate it. I do. I love my cats but I am also aware that their deaths are part of loving them and having them in my life, unless, of course, they outlive me. And as they’re cats, I doubt they’ll feel any guilt over my death, even if it comes from tripping over them and falling down the stairs.
It strikes me that our culture is not just afraid of death and wants to hide it, everyone is busy denying, assuming that if we test and watch (think of the new health monitors that people can get and how popular they are–which is great for those who have a medical condition that needs to be monitored, but I’m not sure the rest of us need all of that information on a daily or even hourly basis), and do everything “right” we won’t die. Unfortunately, no matter how much we do or test or monitor, we still die. We only increase anxiety and perhaps limit ourselves in ways we wouldn’t have if we didn’t know.
And the question I live with is, is always knowing what’s going wrong really worthwhile? Is it really that comforting to know what’s going right if in the next hour you could find something going wrong?
Maybe if we all lived as if we needed to make the most of each minute, we’d be less focused on avoiding death and more focused on living the life we dream of living.