Health and Money: The Power of Independent Steps

Doctors at the General Assembly - photo by Waldo JaquithSeveral months ago, I visited my doctor during the process of figuring out an illness that was sapping a lot of my energy. One of the first things he did was to order a general blood panel, just to see if one of several common things popped up.

While we never did figure out the illness (my energy recovered a few months later and it was decided that my illness was caused by a mix of a virus and seasonal affective disorder), the blood tests did reveal an unusual number related to my liver, which, frankly, scared me quite a bit. My family has a history of liver problems, and my grandfather and my uncle both died of cirrhotic livers.

After several additional tests, I went to the doctor for a final appointment, where he informed me that I had a fat streak in my liver that would make me more susceptible to cirrhosis in the future, as well as much more susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes (again, a worry, because there are multiple cases of this in my family tree).

Instead of asking for a cure or for a prescription to “make it better,” my first question was quite simple. “What can I do on my own to help improve this?”

He listed several things: make some simple diet changes, avoid excessive alcohol use (though a beer or a glass of wine a day is fine), start a simple exercise regimen that focuses on aerobics, and keep a close eye out for any signs of early type 2 diabetes.

Each one of those steps are things I can do on my own. They don’t require expensive equipment. They don’t require prescription medications. They just require a willingness on my part to make myself better and to work for it.

Since that appointment, I’ve lost around forty pounds (about a pound and a half a week or so) thanks to a better diet and some exercise (lots of walking and simple aerobics). I have only two drinks of any kind a week – and only one on any given day (I thoroughly enjoy an occasional homebrew beer and a glass of wine with some meals, and my doctor encouraged me to keep those in my diet). I’ve also kept an eye out for any other signs – but nothing at all has popped out.

On the other hand, my numbers were out of whack enough at the start of this that I likely could have been prescribed a medication (like metformin). Instead of doing that, though, I actively chose to try steps on my own to see what might happen – and I feel better now than I have in a long time.

At first glance, the savings on prescription costs are obvious. I’m simply not paying for a medication that I might have otherwise paid for.

But the savings goes much deeper. Following my doctor’s instructions for taking independent steps improved my health in general. Exercising more, eating better, and avoiding alcohol (given my family history) are all choices that go beyond simply solving this immediate situation. They help to prevent or minimize other potential health issues and they make me feel better on a day-to-day basis.

Those changes directly lead to additional savings – fewer colds, fewer doctor visits, and more energy to accomplish more things during the day.

Whenever you’re faced with a medical situation, by all means, visit your doctor and ask for help. Don’t forget, though, to ask about the steps you can take on your own – and then act on those steps. At the very least, those steps will help battle further deterioration of your condition – quite often, it’ll help you save on prescription costs and improve your overall health.

Good luck!