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Column Beurskens: Do something unhealthy for a change

Jan and Marie come into my office. Both are around seventy. Lately Jan doesn’t know everything that precise anymore. He never finds things again after he put them away and what Marie tells him he doesn’t remember after a while. Marie pays a contribution to the Alzheimer foundation and she has undergone a dotter procedure herself for the second time. They lead a quiet live and they walk a lot. Now we have been living so healthy and still we get this! says Marie.

Many people put a lot of energy in staying healthy. Magazines for old people are full of advice about health. Seldom one sees something about memento mori. That would be fatal for subscriptions anyway. Especially Germans give each other medicines as a present at birthdays and Christmas.

Alternative medicine, like for example homeopathy, doesn’t relieve the task of the ordinary doctor, while many in my profession had quietly hoped that the surge in alternative medicine would alleviate some of their workload. The opposite happened. Health can be bought, or so it seems, and every effort to get it appears to be well-spent.

On the other hand many don’t do anything for their health. They don’t give damn and live like God in France, like we put it in Dutch. A human being can handle a lot without getting ill I sometimes think when I see how many medicines some people manage to get down every day without suffering adverse effects. I sometimes am quite astonished how old people still become with a lifestyle, which fairly continually gave rise to tales of doom by many a prophet, of which several even earlier exchanged the temporal for the eternal.

What could plead against the case to put all that energy in staying healthy? On the one hand much less than we think can be organized at will. It has good reason that the Alzheimer foundation puts so much emphasis on automatic payment. One out of three people gets cancer and usually they couldn’t have done anything about that at all. Health is not for sale. Often it’s only just a gift.

On the other hand there is of course the story of Achilles in Greek antiquity, when his mother immersed him in the Styx holding on to him by his ankle. The prediction was then that his live would be short and meaningful or long and boring. I am reminded of this when I see some people, often unhappily, residing in between their superfluous pills and ointments, which again isn’t meant to condone for example the people who drink like a sponge or the ones who otherwise mock fate.

When we wish each other Happy New Year we often add especially good health. The rest comes by itself. It sounds like as long a I stay healthy I’ll keep myself amused. Thoughts about health seem to surpass thoughts about purpose in live. That is the reversal one often sees in our times. Health is a purpose on its own, not just only a means.

Man however has the possibility and even the propensity to adjust to unusual circumstances. That is not only convenient when something goes wrong, but once in a while it is even indispensable for health. If you live like you are in an incubator, you in the end are susceptible to any threat to health that comes across. And about diet in diabetes my old colleague used to say the deadly sin is not as bad as the daily sin. In evolution that creature survived which could best withstand the attacks from the outer world, as Charles Darwin found out. The hothouse plant is finished. And this reversal of purpose and means of our times might give rise in my opinion to another ‘programming error’, which has something to do with the cause of cancer. This seemingly peculiar and eccentric remark is best explained another time though.

A human being needs to get out of line occasionally. There is something healthy about doing something unhealthy once in a while. Intuition tells us that being preoccupied with health all the time is not only boring, but also very unhealthy.