As physicians we should be healthy examples for our patients. Let me put down my cheeseburger to tell you why.
I become irked when physicians tell their patients to eat better, stop smoking, and exercise more while practicing all the same bad habits.
I decided to get into shape to battle my own personal hypocrisy. How, you ask. I took up professional yodeling. OK, not really, but that would have caused significantly less harm to my body than what I actually did … P90X.
I wrecked my body in just one week doing workouts I had no business attempting. The DVDs had several warnings to try to save me this agony. The program advised seeing a doctor before starting. Pssh, I thought. I’m a doctor; I know what I’m doing.
Important life lessons are sometimes painful.
My body had so much lactic acid that when I cut myself shaving, a single drop of blood burned through the sink like that scene from “Aliens.” The workout leader, Tony, encouraged me to work harder, but I was done. Also, I now hated Tony.
I learned later that several nurses who had tried the program shared my hatred. They loathed Tony’s superfit helper more. I’ll call her Brenda.
Tony teaches you to hate Brenda and channel that rage into exercise. I was about to vomit after 15 minutes of this torture, only to have Tony tell me that Brenda straps an extra 200 pounds of weight to her so she can get her heart rate up during the workout. To his credit, this does make you want to work harder.
Tony: “Come on! You can do it! Brenda does back flips and runs marathons! Brenda ran her last marathon while 38 weeks pregnant. She went into labor at mile 18. Then she self-delivered the baby in a single push, shooting the baby and placenta into her husband’s waiting arms. She did not even break her stride! She won the race just in time for her family photo with the kids!”
Seriously, how can I compete with that? Stupid, amazing Brenda.
I almost feel sorry for Brenda. She likely cannot go into public without a sea of somewhat fit zombies with excess lactic acid lurching after her in rage and agony. Granted, she can easily get away. I think perhaps Tony could expand his audience. Perhaps obstetrical exercises?
Tony: “Oh, look, Brenda is using charcoal briquettes to do Kegel exercises, and she’s turning them into diamonds for her children. Isn’t she great? Keep those pelvic floor muscles strong, gang!”
Getting in shape is only the tip of our hypocrisy iceberg. I know pulmonologists and respiratory therapists who smoke cigarettes like chimneys. How can we expect patients to follow advice we ourselves ignore?
Mark Twain said it best, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world to do. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”
Any person with an IQ higher than a doorknob knows that smoking is terrible, but I have changed my intervention practice in the ER. Instead of lecturing, I quickly explain that smoking makes you die. Then I use the whiteboard to outline how much money the patient spends in a year. One pack a day? That will be $2500 dollars a year. Maybe that will help convert some patients and hopefully some health care workers.
And our diets? I have pursued the starve-till-ravenous-then-eat-whatever-you-can-find diet for some time now. What is that? A three-year-old tapioca pudding and graham crackers that could be used as drywall. I’ll wash that down with a leftover carton of half-finished chocolate milk left over from the unmedicated psychopath. Sounds like a healthy dinner to me.
This is where I would love to try to make fun of vegan diets, paleo diets, gluten-free diets, or Krispy Kreme diets, but my own terrible diet would cause my brain to explode over the hypocrisy. All of those diets are superior to my own, which is the Poor Impulse Gorging diet (PIG diet).
Starting small is the only way to go for lasting change. Trying to go from nothing to a perfect diet, no smoking, and exercising 90 minutes a day is unrealistic. Just make one small change, and go from there. It is fine to fail from time to time. I learned to start small. Instead of the P90X level, perhaps I needed a P23J? Or perhaps a short jog? A long walk? I decided to celebrate my new wisdom with a sleeve of Oreos (kidding).
We should strive to fight hypocrisy and to be excellent examples for our patients. We must try our best not only to tell our patients to do what is right but also attempt to do ourselves. Small steps, friends. And, if that fails, you can at least learn from your mistakes or at least you can learn from mine.