What a strange week I have had. I was sitting down for lunch in my office at the health department, eating some left over ribeye steak (the best cut of beef, in my opinion) and I bit down on what I thought was a bit of bone.
It was not bone. A quarter of my back molar now sat in my hand and lunch was canceled for the day.
Revelation number one: I am getting old, and slowly turning into my father.
It seems like every time I have something odd come up with my health, Dad chuckles and says, “Oh, I have that too.” I have tried to get a list from him of things to expect as I age, but I think he gets some enjoyment out of seeing me discover the joys of his genetic heritage.
I wonder what else I get to look forward to?
I scheduled a trip to the dentist office across from the health department. As I filled out my entry forms, one question asked for the date of my last dental exam. My mind searched through the past few years, then a bit farther, until I finally gave up and sent a text to my wife. Turns out the last time I was at the dentist was about 10 years ago. After getting some well-deserved grief from the excellent dental hygienist, Maureen, I got my filling and was back to normal.
On Friday that same week I was helping my dad replace a part on the bottom of his washing machine. In order to remove the faulty metal sleeve from the plastic tub basin, the instructions show a technician forcefully prying the sleeve up using a screw driver.
Dad and I positioned ourselves shoulder to shoulder over the bracket, and we started to lever. After straining for a few moments and getting nowhere, a sound like a gunshot filled the room. One of the metal tabs had broken off under the force of our prying, and had shot up like a bullet and punched me in the eye. I expected the worst, but as I pulled my hand away from my eye, there was only a little blood. The concerning thing was that the entire left eye was cloudy, like the room was full of fog.
As I sat in Dr. Kiesling’s optometrist chair later that afternoon, I got my second well-deserved lecture of the week. It had been about 10 years since I saw the eye doctor also.
Revelation number two: I am part of the problem.
One of my “go to” talking points at the health department is that our county-level cancer rates are at or below state averages. But, our cancer death rates are much higher than the state average, especially among men. This is because we don’t generally do well at preventative healthcare in Highland County. In many cases, we go to the doctor when that nagging problem that we have ignored for a year finally gets bad enough to keep us up at night. Our poor cancer mortality rates mean that we are finding our health problems too late in the game.
The return on investment for preventative healthcare is an easy case to make. A 2016 study in California found that for every $1 invested in county public health services, a $67 to $88 return was observed. A Health and Human Services report from 2013 calculated a six-to-one rate of return on preventative health investments.
The science and math is there to support the simple idea that Benjamin Franklin shared a long time ago: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
I am going to have to change the way I look at my personal healthcare, especially as I creep closer to 40. As a county, we need to make it a point to get regular health screenings, especially as we age.
Preventative healthcare is important. It saves money, and it saves lives. Talk to your doctor or call the health department and see what preventative healthcare steps you need to take. I will see you at the doctor’s office.
Jared Warner is the Highland County Health Commissioner.
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