Sometimes adults tune into the health frequency when they witness a parent have a personal health catastrophe, or have one themselves. Then off they go in pursuit of a “magic bullet,” some kind of quick technological fix. Magic bullets may alleviate symptoms, but they do not eliminate the underlying causes of degenerative conditions like heart disease or diabetes, that may have taken twenty years to manifest.
Well, if adults are reluctant learners about where poor health comes from, how might you get a child to decide health is a subject worthy of contemplation?
When my grandson Alex came to visit, I conducted an experiment to see if I could get him to develop awareness about the importance of his own health.
I knew my personal program to build and maintain health would be of little interest to Alex, so I never produced a litany of do’s, or don’ts.
Instead, I took advantage of a lesson my father learned on his visits to my mother following her surgery for a tumor on the periphery of her brain.
He found each visit to the convalescent hospital to be unsettling and depressing—and he would say so. Every visit entailed coming across a contingent of people who had lost their mobility and independence—and many of these people did not qualify as “geezers.”
So one day, in the midst of my comings and goings with Alex, I pulled our car into the parking lot of a “health care” facility.
“Why are we stopping here?” “Because I want to show you what happens to people when they neglect their health.”
Proceeding inside with me, Alex was hit broadside by a room containing 25 to 30 folks in wheelchairs.
When we stopped at the front desk, I engaged a gentleman in conversation about “my options for the future.” He suggested I talk with Sue, the Director of Admissions. Tagging along, Alex followed the two of us into Sue’s office.
I explained to Sue that I was “concerned about my future,” and that I had Alex along as “some day he might be responsible for me.”
Sue produced a brochure indicating the monthly cost for various rooms at her facility. Next, she advised that due to the interval that might transpire before I took up residence, there would be a big increase in monthly fees. I turned the brochure over to Alex, pointing out the current fees.
With Alex looking on, Sue and I launched into a conversation about the various services available for victims of stroke, heart attack, diabetic amputation, etc. When I brought up the subject of Alzheimer’s disease, she let us know they were not taking in victims of any kind of senile dementia.
I thanked Sue for seeing us, and we headed out, getting a look at the facility’s rooms and more of its inhabitants.
Alex is 14, not a genius, but no dummy. When I asked him to tell me what he thought about the things he had seen and heard, he told me we had “visited an expensive storage facility for sickpeople.” I was happy to confirm his observation:
“Yes, this is where they store folks who learn, too late, that once you lose your health, you can’t find it in a doctor’s office. Here, these poor people also learn that drugs will not restore their health; and that, for a hefty price, the health care system is happy to manage most of their diseases, but does not improve their health.”
In retrospect, what got my grandson’s attention was not exclusively his first-time visit to an unusual environment, but also the cost of it. Kids learn, at an early age, the ‘stuff’ they want has a cost. Clearly, they are capable of recognizing the flip side: the ‘stuff’ they don’t want also comes with a cost–a growing, hefty cost.