So you may or may not have noticed that I have not been blogging. As it turns out, being a hospital resident is a bit more than just a full time job (the understatement of the century). Besides, being on a busy surgical team played right into my ADHD tendencies: brief ward rounds (“Morning, how is your pain? Have you opened your bowels? Any nausea or vomiting? You are doing great, see you tomorrow morning”) and suddenly anything over 140 characters of writing seems impossibly long. But now that I am back on the ward and have to ACTUALLY TALK to patients, I am finding my brain starting to slow down from the hectic pace of the last few months.
Something that I have become increasingly acquainted with in the last few months is the health habits and the lifestyle of my esteemed colleagues and other health professionals. And let me tell you health has nothing to do with it.
Educating people on healthy diet and lifestyle choice is widely considered a panacea for the today’s obesity woes. Those poor Mums buying McCrap for their muffin-topped offspring just don’t know that this is not particularly good for them. Let’s horrify them with the consequences of not eating broccoli and the world will be right again, yes?
The same logic will tell you that healthcare professionals should be the healthiest people on the planet, right? The combination of a higher socio-economic status and specific education in disease prevention should almost guarantee them svelte figures, long life and no chronic disease struggles.
Health professionals KNOW better and they can AFFORD better. Is that the reality?
Here are real-life conversations I have had in the hospital with doctors, nurses, physios, etc. in the last few months:
- I am always tired, every day, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t even feel like training today. – How often do you train? – (puzzled look) Every day.
- (in a hospital cafeteria) I’ll have a banana bread and a skim extra large latte. No, no butter of course.
- I am doing a double shift today. It’s a shame the cafeteria closes at 6.30pm. I really need a few more coffees to last me to midnight.
- (11pm) Oooh, l just can’t say no to baked treats on a night shift.
- I really need to exercise more. I tried going to the gym after my night shift at 7am but I just can’t make myself do it. I am so naughty.
- I don’t know why I am always so cold. I might ask to have my croissant warmed up.
-I was good yesterday and had a salad for lunch and salmon for dinner. But for some reason I really crave sweets today. I’ll just have this TimTam and then I can always go for a run after work.
- Whose birthday cake is it? I thought Ann was yesterday? Ah, that was Michelle’s. Yum. Did I tell you that I started buying Flora ProActive for my husband because his cholesterol is through the roof? And he still has bacon and eggs for breakfast!
- I always put exercise as my number one priority before sleep. After I finish my night shift at 7am, I have a 2 hour nap and then go to the gym. If I don’t go to the gym I feel lethargic and cranky. Although recently I went to my GP complaining of increased breathlessness. Turns out I am really anaemic.
(This last conversation left me with my jaw dropped to the ground. And probably served as the catalyst to writing this blog post. Thank you, Sarah. )
Probably a repeat of conversations you hear at any office, workplace, any water cooler and tearoom. What strikes me every day, apart from the obvious natural fat-phobia (which is nothing new), is the ridiculous amount pressure these people put themselves under.
It is understandable that seeing sick patients riddled with chronic disease makes us determined NOT to end up like them. We are more aware (=more paranoid?). Most health professionals go about it by reducing junk food. Sure, you find lots of “healthy” baked treats on the wards, homemade cakes making a resurgence in light of Masterchef and everyone is suddenly a gourmand. But to be fair, you won’t find many doctors in a line at KFC.
The next thing to be screwed up tight is exercise. And when health professionals get into it, they don’t hold back. Triathlons, marathons, bike rides before dawn, fitness classes at 6am. Exercise has become part of our healthy identity. The number of hours in the gym is the matter of competition, sports injuries are a badge of honour.
I don’t know at what point we have decided that exercise is going to solve our problems? Our lack of sleep, horrific work hours, shift work, mental stress, lack of sunlight, excess stimulants, daily exposure to pathogens, indoor lifestyle and, frequently, disconnect from nature and natural environment. Is exercise a cure-all or is it really a punishment that we impose on ourselves for failure to address other issues?
Hey, let’s face it. Exercise can (and should) be fun: cycling, yoga, surfing, bushwalking, kayaking, weights, rock climbing, having sex. If you need to guilt trip your way into any of those, maybe some other part of the equation is missing.
On the big scale of HEALTH vs DISEASE, where your ideal food intake is on one side and your crappy busy indoor work lifestyle is on the other, where do you think daily exercise is going to go? Will it add to your positive balance and compensate for that last 18 hr shift? Yes? Wrong answer.
Ignoring the pressures of work and lifestyle or hoping to willpower your way through them doesn’t work. Period. Even with the best nutrition strategy (no, a low fat muffin isn’t one of them) and the best intention of maintaining physical activity, you are always playing catch up unless you recognize all other areas of your life that have the ability to derail you.