I am a hypochondriac of sorts. I worry about my health a lot. I went through a four-year period in which I had terrible PVCs (benign but very, very annoying heart arrhythmia), and I saw my father die a horrible death of heart disease. You could call me a heart worrier. I’m not the kind of worrier, however, who likes to go to the doctor. When I had my problem, they basically could do nothing but help me worry with tests.
It’s great that technology can save so many lives these days. I work as a medical interpreter, and recently I was in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) a lot helping a family whose baby was born at 31 weeks. President Kennedy’s baby was born five-and-a-half weeks premature in 1963 and soon died. Breast cancer surgery and treatment is a lot better than it was just 10 years ago. And so on.
OTOH, I feel compared to, say, the early 1970s on backward in time, we are inundated constantly with negative information about health:
• Know the risks of a heart attack! Which can be, um, pretty much any symptom you can imagine. (Great for heart worriers like me.)
• Know the risks of every other effin’ disease under the sun. Take precautions! Examples: skin cancer, drinking too much, eating too much, diabetes, strokes, high blood pressure, STDs, etc. etc. And don’t you dare fuckin’ smoke you dumb fucker!
• You’re gonna die die die DIE and you’re just generally kinda fucked.
You know what I’m saying? It’s like in your face all the time, and the vibe is grim. But if we go back to the early 70s and before…
It just seems as though media were just more positive about health and what your prospects were. You know, go get your yearly physical (which many now claim are pretty useless, which seems probably true to me) and your biannual dental checkups, and things will be fine. Promise! Docs had a handle on things, and Jesus Christ is probably watching over you and protecting you. Drug commercials certainly made it seem as though Bayer and Geritol and Alka-Seltzer were going to work wonders for your health.
I know there were warnings. I was watching a episode of “What’s My Line?” from the 1960s, and John Daley gave a quick PSA about undiagnosed diabetes. But it was gentle in tone.
I know a lot was fucked up, and a lot was just pretending. The ignorance about smoking, indeed probably the worst thing you can do to your health short of a speedball, was appalling. But I’m not talking about the actual practice of medicine, which I said at the outset was a lot worse. I’m talking about how managing one’s health and one’s likely health outlook were portrayed.
I’m sick of worrying about health. I want someone to tell me that it’s going to be OK. But that’s not what we hear about these days. It’s doom and gloom and living wills and Altzheimer’s and DNR and death.
I could be wrong, however. Maybe you were alive in the 50s or 60s and didn’t feel secure at all. Tell me how things were.