Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Denial about death from chronic diseases

Back in Minnesota, we used to have this crusty lives-in-a-cabin-with-an-outhouse old babysitter, "Sam," whose husband, "Mr. Sam" was this quiet iron miner who smoked like the proverbial chimney, ate tons of ice cream, and started to show signs of degenerative disease pretty early on.

When we kids would say, "Stop smoking, Mr. Sam!" Sam would say tell us to leave her spouse alone, something about "After all, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow, you know!" And she'd hand him another bowl of ice-cream, which he'd grasp with his tobacco-stained fingers.

(I should also mention that under Sam's care, I broke my arm, and later, one finger on each hand--various cabin and bike accidents, and Sam would take us fishing on a LIVE railroad trestle that spanned a river--and yet my mom sent us back there!).

So I can't remember exactly--heart disease or lung cancer--but Mr. Sam did indeed depart somewhat early from us, and Sam needed to babysit more than ever to support herself.

I finally found what I think might be an explanation to why a majority of people are able to eat Krispy Cremes while the death toll from chronic diseases piles up around their feet, and rising.

In this marvelous book, The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz says,
"Respondents [in a study] judged accidents of all types to cause as many deaths as diseases of all types when in fact disease causes 16 times more deaths than accidents...dramatic, vivid causes of death (accident, homicide, tornado, flood, fire) were overestimated whereas more mundane causes of death (diabetes, asthma, stroke, tuberculosis) were underestimated."
I just watched a medical malpractice case where the deceased was a man who worked hard to support his family, became super stressed at work, ate at ton of junk food, was overweight, ignored a 20-year history of high cholesterol, etc., and subsequently died of heart disease in his mid-forties. The family blamed the doctor (for not installing that fancy internal defibrillator-thingie Dick Cheney has that costs $32K?), but I they really should have been suing McDonald's. And the jury did agree that the doc could only do so much against the onslaught of tranfats, corn syrup, GMOs, toxins, etc. It was sad all around--the sad widow also had lung cancer on top of all this (both had been smokers). I kept gazing at the children through the trial, sending them telepathic messages to not eat junk food.

So I guess the lesson is, in the absence of flood and fire, you may want to tell the FertilityBitch to shaddup, wanting to eat your tube of Pringles in peace and leave cleaning up your health habits for another day. But that habit is sixteen--(16!) times more likely to kill you than getting hit by Sam's proverbial bus...


David said...

We watch what we eat, exercise, etc etc...but along the lines of your post, I think back to my great grandfather who lived to 103. He smoked, drank, had desert for dinner, and rarely exercised. And he was "healthy" until he died.

Sometimes, its just in the genes I guess. But yea, people do think they will die in a plane crash, not from heart disease. Weird, huh?

GreenFertility said...


Hey-ah. BTW I bet your Gramps ate a lot less processed food, didn't get 1000000 vaccines, use a ton of antiperspirant with aluminum, etc. He also sounds like he enjoyed life--my husband had a great aunt just like that, smoker, ice cream eater, but very *not* stressed (never married...hmmm...)

My prediction is we're going to see a LOT fewer people living past 100 (ex. maybe Dick Cheney, when they got that secret stem cell bodily regeneration thing up and running). I mean, in my friend's Alzheimer's group, there are people in their 40s in it!

The Worsted Witch said...

Thanks for the rec--going to check out that book.

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Statistics give us more and more pieces of information that are bound to worry us, to make us react and change something if we can. More and more people and in earlier and earlier stages of their life die of a heart disease. Statistics, only in the US, are extremely alarming:
- Every 30 seconds someone dies because of a heart disease;
- More than 2.500 Americans die daily because of heart diseases;
- Every 20 seconds there is a person dying from a heart attack;
- Each year 6 million people are hospitalized because of a heart disease;
- The number 1 killer is a heart disease.
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