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Five Post Holiday Gifts for Every American

Here are the five gifts you can give yourself and in so doing benefit the whole country.
My contribution to these cyber-pages is usually hyper-focused on health issues specifically aimed at pilots. However, as we embark on a new year and a new regime in Washington, I want to get you thinking about some resolutions because there is an elephant in the room and I think someone is eating it. This issue is so important that it transcends our role as fly-boys and girls and focuses on our role as, well, boys and girls. 
 
You see, I just got into hot water and it got me thinking. Explaining to some folks how their loved one had died, I noted certain factors that had, in my opinion, played a contributing role. He was 62, smoked, had high blood pressure that he did not take seriously and was obese.  
 
The not-so-hidden message from your correspondent was that this chap had not taken ownership of his health and was at least partially to blame for his demise, contrary to the family’s view that his death was entirely down to incompetent doctors. That I had the audacity to mention his weight was the straw that literally broke the camel’s back. Misery loves company and the entire gathering was overweight. And here was me thinking “I will deliver some surreptitious advice that could help them,” but instead I got a lecture about how being “heavy” was okay and was “not unhealthy.” As for smoking, well heck, that’s just a lifestyle decision and not something I should be poking my nose into. 
 
I remember a pal of mine educating me about the cochlear implant, a marvelous piece of technology that allows the profoundly deaf to hear. Turns out that when it came to market, certain people in the hearing-impaired community railed against it maintaining it attacked deaf culture and that being unable to hear was not a disability. While I respect the right of people to view the world through their own optic, I am certainly not alright with those actions being deleterious to others. And, quite literally the rising cost of healthcare is unsustainable and no sleight of hand on Capitol Hill is going to stem the tide, we all have to do our bit – not just to save our own lives but to save our healthcare system. 
 
Data, facts, are very clear. Failing to respect your body by eating a healthy diet, keeping weight under control, exercising, avoiding bad habits, like smoking, leads to disease and early death. And consumes massive amounts of money. That. Is. A. Fact. I know I repeat this message but simply put, such things make the biggest impact on our health as individuals and the financial health of our nation. Healthcare costs a fortune, people consider it a right and with a new regime in Washington, DC there will be many heated discussions but ignoring the role you as an individual can play is asinine. 
 
As pilots, we like numbers and the percentage of aviators who lose their flying privileges – or life – due to self-inflicted harm is in the majority. Let’s look at some other numbers, quoting from some recent data in the Economist magazine. 
 
The US spends about 1% of GDP on critical care, the care provided by doctors at intensive care units (ICU) with lots of machines that, to quote Monty Python, go “ping!” All G8 countries have high ICU spending, mostly on the elderly. In 2008, America's Medicare program spent $50B providing care to patients in their final two months of life. That number is almost certainly higher today. The US transfers 29% of ICU patients to long term care facilities, the U.K. , my old country, transfers only 6% of ICU patients. American ICUs claim daily costs of about $10,000. Lots of patients hang around for months.  
Life expectancy across the G8 has increased dramatically but the death rate remains one per customer.  
 
Staying the heck out of ICU is likely indicative of living a healthy life and is doing your bit to keep the costs down. 
 
Additionally, we need to seriously address end of life costs. Do you know how often doctors stare at a slowly dying patient, desperately doing everything we can, costing a fortune and missing one very important piece of information; is this what the patient wanted? When you are unconscious and desperately ill you are in no condition to decide on levels of care and it is wrong to have your family put in that position.  
 
There are other perspectives to these situations – every year thousands of Americans die because there is a lack of organs for transplantation – kidneys, lungs, livers, hearts and so on. The sad loss of a loved one can at least be softened by the knowledge that many other people might gain a new lease on life. 
 
So, here are the five gifts you can give yourself and in so doing benefit the whole country: 
 
1. Make a commitment to control your weight and keep it under control; 
2. Make a commitment to look after your health proactively. Pilots stay ahead of the airplane, so do the same with your body; 
3. Make a living will and discuss it with your family so they understand your wishes; 
4. Become an organ donor and again, discuss with your family; 
5. This is going to bore you rigid, but before taking out a new health insurance policy read it! You might be surprised what you are paying for. Or not. 
 

Jonathan Sackier

Dr. Jonathan Sackier is an expert in aviation medical concerns and helps members with their needs through AOPA Pilot Protection Services.
Topics: Pilot Health and Medical Certification

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