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Debating minutiae and health

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From the New York Times:

“I was crossing Third Avenue yesterday and I was coughing so hard I had to stop and barely made it across,” a patient told me last week. “I’m really scared I’m getting the avian flu.”

I just looked at him. What could I say? He has smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for the last 50 years. He has coughed and wheezed and gasped his way across Third Avenue now for the last 10 years. His emphysema is not going to get any better, but it might stop getting worse if he were to stop smoking.

He made it clear long ago that this is not going to happen. When it comes to the whole cigarette/health question, his motto, apparently, is “What, me worry?”

But the avian flu — now there’s a health scare a person can sink his teeth into. So scary and yet, somehow, so pleasantly distant. So thrilling, so chilling, and yet, at the same time, so not here, not now, not yet. All in all, a completely satisfying health care fear experience. Unlike his actual illness.

In another example, she notes the following:

We looked at each other. It was an impasse. The fact that logic was on my side mattered not at all: evidently the real was just a little too real for her. How much better to find another illness to be scared of, obsess over, get treated for, get rid of.

Read the entire NYTimes essay, or my original article on debating minutiae.

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  1. people just do crazy things. I use to smoke too, it was a habit I got during college. I quit for health and economic reasons.

  2. This is something my wife and I have been discussing lately.

    The wet dish rags by the kitchen sink are a much bigger health hazard than (at least many of :) the additives in our food. And the stress that we get from worrying about the additives in our food probably does our body more harm than the additives do.

    (Not that we shouldn’t try to minimize such stuff in our diet!)