Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Listen to this Hypochondriac: Get an Annual Physical

Let’s right away identify the elephant in the room. I’m a hypochondriac. At least that’s what Gilda and some of my friends believe, based on all my kvetching about assorted aches, pains and ailments, real and, according to them, imagined. Okay, if that’s how I am to be typecast, so be it.

But to look at me—tall, thin, standing erect, active when I want to be even as I approach my 66th birthday in seven weeks, one would be hard-pressed to think of me as damaged goods. Yet underneath my epidermis danger lurks. I have high blood pressure. I am a diabetic. I have high cholesterol. I have high triglycerides.

I tell you all this not to evoke your sympathy but rather to prompt your attention to the need for annual physicals, especially in light of a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece entitled “Skip Your Annual Physical” (

Written by Ezekiel J. Emanuel, an oncologist and a vice provost of the University of Pennsylvania, the article implied limited benefit from regular checkups in the absence of compelling symptoms.

Don’t listen to him. Take my conditions, please (sorry, couldn’t resist that small homage to Henny Youngman—if you don’t know who he was, google him). Diabetes. High blood pressure. High cholesterol. High triglycerides. They are all silent invaders. Without routine blood tests of the annual physical they would not have been discovered until debilitating illness or even death might have come knocking at my body. Instead, with the aid of medications, changes in my diet and exercise routine I am able to combat and control the invasions.

Are annual physicals costly? For sure. Do they mostly reveal nothing? Yes. Dr. Emanuel argues a paltry few patients benefit from annual physicals. I am one of them. I have known intelligent, even brilliant, friends who skipped annual physicals and have paid dearly for enabling silent but deadly diseases to fester inside them. 

Consider the alternatives, not in some abstract way. Consider what it would mean to you and your family to know you are healthy or not, and, in the latter case, that you detected your condition early enough to live with it.