Choosing which doctors to listen to can kill you off, or ensure your thrival. Choose carefully.

“Trust me, I”m a doctor.” Sure, Sparky. Sure.

And with that, we hand our health away.

Look. To be fair, there are plenty of good docs. The problem is finding one. Or two. And as you and I age, even harder, because, well, ageism. Sexism. Racism. I could list a hundred reasons. First, because doctors are above all deeply human, frail, susceptible to bullshit as we all are, but given massively more agency because of the moniker, “doctor.”

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Choosing which doctors to listen to can kill you off, or ensure your thrival. Choose carefully.

“Trust me, I”m a doctor.” Sure, Sparky. Sure.

And with that, we hand our health away.

Look. To be fair, there are plenty of good docs. The problem is finding one. Or two. And as you and I age, even harder, because, well, ageism. Sexism. Racism. I could list a hundred reasons. First, because doctors are above all deeply human, frail, susceptible to bullshit as we all are, but given massively more agency because of the moniker, “doctor.”

Those of you who know my writing know that I’ve got a bone to pick, if you’ll forgive the pun, with the medical industry. This article was inspired last night by a piece by a fellow Crow’s Feet writer, a retired doctor of 72, who reinforced some very whiskered, backwards and life-snuffing notions about aging. Of all the people who have no business doing just that, there you are. That of course is my opinion, but research bears me out.

However, this precisely underscores my point. The fact that this person has a medical degree doesn’t make them any more wise than you or me. They have skills, sure, but they are technical.

That’s not the same as well-researched, up on the latest, well-informed. That’s not the same as wise, motivated and engaged. In fact.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but for my healthcare dollar, I am a lot more interested in can-do messages vs. give it up, you’re just getting old.

Health care workers are not particularly healthy themselves, as this past year has underscored. Vast numbers are compromised themselves for far too many good reasons. Long hours, lousy food, no exercise. This past year, Covid forced far too many into retirement just to survive, but before that it wasn’t any better. I’ve spent too much time in hospitals for various procedures and from injuries. Any quick scan of the bodies of the health care workers who wandered in and out of my room tells me how well these folks are caring for themselves.

Too many health care pros bark at us about diet and exercise.

Look in the mirror, Skeezix.

My mother’s doctor smoked like nobody’s business. Died young. He’s hardly alone. That was forty years ago. It’s much worse now.

To that:

Health problems in healthcare workers: A review
Much has been written about the well-being and quality of patients in recent years but little attention has been…

From the article:

Galen the Greek physician (130–200 AD) had said, “The physician will hardly be thought very careful of the health of his patients if he neglects his own”.

As an aging athlete, and a woman, I’ve been watching the quality of my healthcare get pummeled over the last few years. Increasingly, as I have had to lean more on the services of orthopedic surgeons- by god the most arrogant lot of assholes I have ever encountered in my entire existence-I’ve also noticed how many of my aging friends have reported poor-to-awful healthcare. Add the element of color, and holy shit.

It’s not limited to surgeons, for whom a God complex is a genuine problem. Last year I was on a Zoom call with my primary care provider (PCP), a female nurse, at the local VA. She has been pushing me to join the local veteran’s wellness program, which involves nutritional training, exercise advice and meditation and mindfulness training.

Pardon me while I barf, will you?

After having told me to do this on three separate occasions, and after I kept telling her that 1) I’ve been doing these things all my life already and 2) I have taught a great many of those things, my PCP leaned towards the camera and intoned with that wink-wink-nudge-nudge way that says, “I know I speak for us both here:”

You know, we health care providers tell everyone to eat right and exercise, but we don’t do it ourselves.

Okay, Skeezix. You go ahead and drop your pants in public, have at it. But because YOU do that has nothing to do with me. Kindly. I would never ever EVER write about something I don’t do myself. That’s out of integrity. That doesn’t seem to bother many folks these days, which is why when I find really good writers who are also doctors on Medium, I follow them.

There’s one doctor whose work I really enjoy, because he walks his talk: Michael Hunter MD.

First, he does his research. Second, he does the work. He writes about his results with honesty. That’s a good doctor.

I love his stuff. He’s not alone, but he’s one of my faves. He writes about the science, speaks to his own health and how he applies it.

THAT is good doctoring. The term doctor comes from the Latin doctore, to teach. A truly good doctor never stops learning or researching, and s/he never stops applying what they have learned to themselves so that they have direct personal experience. For my patient dollar, that is what earns my respect. Those are the folks I take seriously.

Dr Mehmet Yildiz is another who writes about health, although he is not a practicing medical doctor per se. Shin Jie Yong is a researcher whose brilliant articles are incredibly informative. Dr Joel Yong, PhD is another. These are people who research, write about and put into action what they are learning. That makes their work legitimate.

As it relates to aging, the article that irked me last night was one of two I’ve read recently over on that publication which troubled me greatly. Both were, to my mind, statements of simply giving up as we age. It hurts. It’s weak. Oh well, you’re just getting old. Have a seat, watch movies, get weaker, older, and ensure your frailty, disability and ineptitude. PLAN to be disabled.

Photo by Valentin Balan on Unsplash

Well you please. For God’s sake, people.

While I get it that your average Joe will write something like this, it seems to me that a doctor has no business whatsoever underscoring such pap. Because it IS pap. There is a massive amount of research readily available which underscores what happens when you change your diet, move more and make positive lifestyle shifts. But that takes work. Doctors can be as lazy as anyone else, and that makes their advice damned dangerous.

In fact, obesity and lifestyle-related illnesses are very real issues among health care workers. From the NIH study:

Morbidity Status of HCWs (Health Care Workers)

Metabolic syndrome and obesity

Metabolic syndrome and obesity are risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer. There is evidence worldwide of the high prevalence of these pathologies in HCWs. Even though HCWs are a group considered to be well informed about etiology and risks of overweight and obesity, studies conducted in most countries including USA, Mexico, South Africa and Nigeria have consistently found them to be disproportionately having a higher risk of overweight and obesity compared to the general population. In a cross-sectional study in England, obesity prevalence was high across all occupational groups including nurses, (25.1%) other healthcare professionals, (14.4%) non-health-related occupations (23.5%) and unregistered HCWs who had the highest prevalence of obesity (31.9%).[6] In another study from Botswana, 34% of the hospital HCWS had metabolic syndrome, 28.7% were obese, and 27.3% were overweight. Female gender was found to be strongly associated with metabolic syndrome.[7] In a study from India, Ramachandran and colleague surveyed 2499 doctors from urban and semi-urban areas and found that these physicians had a higher prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors (obesity, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and impaired glucose tolerance) compared to age-matched individuals from the general population.[8]

So you will forgive me if I listen to a doctor with a jaundiced ear, since I bust my ass to be healthy. If you’re going to give us health advice, Skeezix, you might wanna look the part. Act the part.

Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

The exceptions to the rule

To that, just to make a point, in four hours I’m going to be watching about sixty drug-free bodybuilding competitors on stage at the local Cecil Phillips Classic. One of those competitors is 66 yo Charlie, a retired vascular surgeon. I’ve mentioned him before but lemme do it again in case you missed it. Several years ago he was some forty pounds overweight, fatigued, and his spirits were very low. Long story short, his wife Julie barked at him to join a training gym.

Here he is, on the right, standing next to a 70+ gentleman who works at a senior facility.

Julia Hubbel

In person, Charlie looks fifty or less, has the energy of a kid, as does Don on the left here. You tell ME that it’s all downhill. For this doctor, who is building a vineyard and who can easily lift a 200-lb piece of machinery, you tell HIM how aging is nothing but decrepitude.

You see my point. Who do you think I am more likely to listen to? The jock doc? Or the slop doc?

The title doctor is earned, of course, but far too many folks who have finally been spat out the other end of a brutally difficult and expensive education stop educating themselves. As a result, too many rest on laurels with the half-life of a fruit fly. The science they bank on gets old, and in getting old, their advice gets dangerous.

A classic example is the now-debunked BMI. The now-debunked RICE injury treatment. Debunked. Yet a month ago my PCP told me to RICE my elbow. I ignored her. You have to.

Doctors are famous for being fat-shamers, fat-phobic, grossly under-trained in nutrition, horrific about telling people to exercise more when that isn’t a weight loss program, oh I could go on. They are too often clueless about the microbiome (for real expertise on that please see fellow Medium contributor Maria Cross).

Oh and by the way, in the photo above? The woman on the left is a nurse. She’s 59. Just saying. She used to be a firefighter. Police woman. She said that learning to to train properly was one of the hardest things she has ever done. I know the feeling.

And while this gentleman finally did pass away, he was also a doctor, and didn’t begin lifting weights until 87:

Lessons From A 95-Year-Old Bodybuilder
Dr. Charles Eugster grew less and less active as he aged. The athletic glories of his youth gave way to sedentary…

And just to make the point that it ain’t all guys (and yes, this is a huge sales pitch, but please enjoy the story):

Be Empowered By Your Age!
A guide to renewing your life and becoming vigorous, healthy, and happy. Dr. Josefina's mission is to help you realize…

There are people in my life, in my immediate circle and in my sphere of influence who have earned my respect. Not all of them are doctors. In fact, the health care workers I lean into these days are more often nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants and others who are in the field but who live their work. They exercise, eat well, practice what they preach. They are focused on answers, not excuses. They more often eschew meds and go for healthier alternatives.

My Medium buddies who are grey, going at full tilt and living out loud are already on board. However, if you’re reading folks who have medical degrees who are effectively saying “if it hurts, hang it up,” to my mind, that’s malpractice.

That of course is my opinion. However, I have made liars out of every aging (all too often) white male doc who handed me a sentence: you’ll never quit smoking. Yeah, I did. You’ll always limp. No, I don’t. You should be happy with an 80% knee. Tell me that at the tops of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya, Sparky.

My Medium threads are full of stories of folks who had to defy their doctors and live better lives. Those doctors might have been well-meaning, even well-intentioned. But that doesn’t mean their advice was good, particularly if they aren’t following the best protocols for vibrant health themselves.

If my hands are getting weaker, I take out my grip strengthener and work my hands (please note I do not get money from links, these are for your information). If I feel my upper body losing power, I do pullups in my doorways. If my thigh muscles aren’t strong I do Bulgarian split squats.

If I am afraid of falling, I practice falling and getting back up until I’m fearless.

You can see how this is all over the Internet. There is absolutely NO excuse for ANY doctor to bark about how when things start to break down, sit down and stop because, age.

Kindly, sit that shit down and shut the f*ck up. If you’re not willing to do the work, fine. But how dare you misuse your doctor’s degree and give lousy advice to people who are likely to give you agency because of a piece of paper hanging on your office wall.

For god’s sake people. For god’s sake.

The medical community is populated with too many ill people. That makes it damned hard for me to take their advice seriously. So you will forgive me if I see the Dr. in front of a name, then read about how if your hands hurt, you stop using them.

Really? My hands hurt like a bastard. I have CMC arthritis in both. The way I respond is to tape lidocaine patches to them, wrap them up in splints and go take an aerial silks beginner’s class. I’ll have to have surgery eventually but meanwhile, I do not have time to sit on my ass and complain about my hands. I am running out of somedays, tomorrows, maybes. Too many of us assume tomorrow. Decades. Lots of time, as if we’re immortal. Until, well, you know.

I’m getting ready to head back to Africa, Covid allowing. This is what I do with my hands:

A buddy in Ethiopia Julia Hubbel

Sure they hurt. And I am not staying home.

I’ve got a life to live, years to fill, articles to write about a life well-lived. That is not going to happen if I listen to the advice of far too many folks who call themselves doctors and who don’t live healthy lives themselves, then offer deeply questionable advice to others who assume that the title doctor makes them experts.

I beg to differ.

What you do with your knowledge is what demonstrates expertise. Aging is part of life. Decrepitude is the result of crap choices. Doctors make crap choices just like everyone else. But for my Medium dollar, don’t offer unsolicited, bad advice to others who will take it as gospel just because you’ve got a degree. Apply the knowledge about diet and exercise to your own life and THEN tell us what to do.

We will eventually diminish. We all eventually die. Even the good Dr. Eugster gave up the ghost. The point is how will we get there? What is the quality of the journey?

The old phrase “physician, heal thyself” is from Luke 4:22. It speaks to the beating heart (pun intended) of the notion that you and I must heal what is wrong with us before we advise anyone else. However I’d take it a step further. While we need specialized advice, especially as we age, when it comes to overall vibrant health, increasingly I would argue that this is in our hands alone. We have to doctor ourselves, teach ourselves, study our bodies and our bodies’ unique needs. You and I are solely responsible for the health we’re in. Part of that means that we choose our health advisors carefully. Listening to the advice of medical professionals who are themselves very ill, out of shape or whose research is decades old is a prescription for lousy living.

I agree: Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. You betcha. But check your doctor’s VO2, pulse, BP and how many pushups they can punch out before following their advice.

Just saying.

Photo by Arek Adeoye on Unsplash