I was sitting at a Portland coffee shop this morning going over my news feed and I came across an article explaining that we’ve created a robot that passed the self-awareness test. Without a doubt it’s an impressive achievement but the article inadvertently struck a note of fear and impending doom within me. Scenes from I-Robot started playing in my head. But then the barista brought me my latte and I started feeling more optimistic.
Then I thought to myself, I wish those programmers could do something like that for people. It’s been my experience that the majority of people simply aren’t aware of the most important thing of their lives – their health. Knowing what’s going on isn’t difficult, it’s just a matter of listening to what your body is trying to say and knowing how to interpret it.
Here’s something I come across every day. Just because something is usual doesn’t make it normal. I had a patient who had minor headaches every day for two years. She didn’t think much of them (she came to see me for knee pain) and they were never too severe so she decided to just live with them – they were her normal. A headache every day for two years?!? Come on. A headache is a sign that somewhere in your body – something is going wrong – and your mind doesn’t know how to interpret it. If her car made a funny noise every day for two years, you can bet she would have gone into the mechanic. But why didn’t she bring herself into the doctor? -Because she was unaware that her body was trying to tell her something.
The body’s signaling systems range from soft to loud and usually pain is the signal that gets the most attention. But the body has other ways of communicating. Have an insatiable sweet tooth or can’t stop craving dirt? -Maybe you’ve got a mineral insufficiency. Did you just eat dinner but you’re still hungry? -Try a glass of water. The list goes on and on. I know it isn’t normal for most people to be able to decipher and differentiate these messages; that’s why doctors exists. To take it back to the car analogy, I don’t know what the noise coming from my engine means but I know it’s not normal and I know I should get it checked out. It’s the same thing with our bodies. The ability to discern normal from abnormal is a HUGE first step to preventing problems down the road that are impossible to ignore. How many diabetics would have benefited earlier in their lives from a knowing what sugar addiction feels like?
The body does such a good job at telling the story that when I take a patient’s chief complaint history, I just keep quiet and let the patient explain things in their own words after prompting them with a few questions that force them to look within and pay attention. You’d be amazed at what you’ll learn, especially from your body, if you just quiet your surrounding and be self-aware.