The Medical Wisdom of Keeping Yourself as Healthy as Possible for as Long as You Can
There are medical miracles that are launched every day for one or another medical condition. There are many women who, in the past, died of breast cancer but that today could be cured. Kidney and other organ transplants save hundreds of thousands of people every year. We each know of someone who died twenty or thirty years ago that today could have been treated and saved. And now this COVID-19 pandemic teaches us the lesson again. The healthier people are, the more likely they are to survive a SARS-CoV-2 infection. If people were able to survive until the vaccines come along, the vaccines could protect many more people from hospitalization and death. By staying as healthy as you can for as long as possible it’s more likely that, when some medical condition does befall you, there might be a good treatments that will save your life. It’s a lesson to remember and practice lifelong. It’s a way to achieve a long and healthy life.
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This Page Is Not Really About the Pandemic, It’s For All of Life: Stay Healthy Until There Are Better Treatments
The pandemic examples below are just that, examples. This concept is much bigger that the pandemic. It’s a life lesson. For your whole life, guard your health, exercise, and eat healthy foods. Leave time at night for a good night’s sleep. See your doctor for regular checkups. Go to the dentist for a cleaning every 6 months (periodontitis can cause pancreatic cancer and other GI cancers). Stay socially connected with friends and family. Plan recreation time and go out and have fun doing what you love to do. Stay as healthy as you can for as long as you can. That way, when you do come down with some illness (and everyone does eventually), it will be more likely that medical science will have found a better treatment, maybe even a cure.
Example: COVID-19 in March 2020 vs. February 2022
Here’ an example. Think about the medical care that you would have gotten if you had fallen ill with COVID-19 when it first hit the US full blast in March of 2020. It was a new virus, a new and unknown infection, that your doctors had never seen or treated before. The best treatments were not known and medical care, even in the country’s best hospitals, involved a lot of guesswork. Does the SARS-CoV-2 virus affect everyone the same? No one knew. Can we depend on the NIH and the CDC to be the first to have all the correct answers? Most people thought so. Is obesity a risk factor for poor COVID outcome? No doctor would have guessed so. Doctors and nurses scrambled and did the best they could. Studies were quickly started to discover which treatments actually worked and which ones didn’t help.
It Took a Long Time to Find What Worked to Treat COVID-19
The “learning curve” was steep and progress on more successful medical care was slow. But, gradually, month by month, scientists and medical doctors learned. No one believed you could get an FDA-approved vaccine in six months. Everyone struggled to get ventilators and expand the intensive care units. Old available medications were tested to see if any helped. Would plasma from COVID survivors contain enough antibodies against the virus to help people in the hospitals with the acute illness? For a while it seemed so but then maybe not so much. Courageous doctors and nurses did better than their best and saved lives. Medical scientists started looking for new medicines. Survival rates began to get better.
A Successful Vaccine Against the Virus in Six Months
For whatever you think of President Trump, he fired the starting gun in an all-out race to develop a vaccine. The Trump administration pumped billions of dollars into his Operation Warp Speed, the seed money to create a miracle in an astonishing short time. The little new biotech who had never made and launched a drug, Moderna, and the massive multinational pharmaceutical juggernaut Pfizer, hit the ground running. They had the idea for a new kind of vaccine. They competed on early stage testing, then both launched huge phase 3 clinical trials. They raced “neck and neck” and hit the finish line in a photo finish, producing successful vaccines at record speed. By December 2020 the FDA granted Emergency Use Authorizations for both company’s mRNA vaccines.
Vaccines Shield Everyone Who’s Willing
Those people who were able to wear masks, keep social distances, shelter at home, use hand sanitizer, and wash their hands frequently survived until January 2021. And then, like “shields up” on Captain Kirk’s Starship Enterprise, there was protection. As 2021 rolled forward, the vaccinated were safe from hospitalization and death. By the summer of 2021 the only people admitted to the hospitals and dying, with rare exception, were the unvaccinated.
But Even Unvaccinated, If You Got COVID in January of 2022…
But consider now a vulnerable individual, who for whatever reason is not vaccinated. And he gets ill, tests COVID-positive, gets worse, and is admitted to the hospital. What do you think his medical care would be like in January of 2022 as compared to March of 2020. While they still can’t save everybody, now nurses and doctors know what to do, what works best. It’s known which medicines help and which do nothing. And, brand new medications have been developed, like the antiviral drug remdesivir (Veklury®) for adults They know whom to admit to the hospital and who can be sent home with medication. For admitted patients, they know when to send them to the ICU and when to intubate and put them on a ventilator. This person now would have a much better chance to get out of the hospital sooner, and a far better chance to live and not die.
The Value of Those Masks, Socially Distancing, Washing Your Hands
So, we’re all still here. Or at least those of us that are still here are still here. If you’re one of the people who put on a mask, kept a good social distance, used hand sanitizer, and frequently washed your hands, you did well. You kept yourself out of danger while all the physicians and scientists learned what to do and while the pharmaceutical industry was developing the vaccines. And realize that now, today, even if by some terrible stroke of bad luck you catch the SARS-CoV-2 virus and get sick with COVID, you will have much better medical care and a better chance to survive than you would have had in March of 2020.
A Reader Asks:
But it robs your quality of life to do all this stay healthy stuff and when you get sick there still might not be a cure.
You’re right, sort of. There are some who might feel that staying healthy, eating well, exercising, sleeping soundly, and avoiding harm is adding to your quality of life, not robbing it. But if you want to eat junk food, be a couch potato, and stay up all night, then you’re right, trying to stay healthy would rob you of this lifestyle. It’s like the risk with buying insurance. Many people pay for homeowner’s insurance all their life and never get anything back because nothing ever happened to their home. And, the money that was spent in some way lowered their quality of life. They had less to spend on fun. But for those who had homeowner’s insurance when their house burned down, it made all the difference in the world. Staying healthy is insurance. Each person makes their choices and increases or avoids risk.
There’s a New Medical Treatment Every Month
There are so many new things, almost miracle cures, there’s no way to write a complete list. Medical science has devised targeted cancer treatments where doctors take your cells and the cancer cells, train your cells to kill the cancer cells, and put your trained cells back into you to chase down and kill the cancer cells. Gene editing is being used to fix people who inherited problem genes, like sickle cell anemia. Doctors can now cure sickle cell anemia. Not just treat it, cure it so it’s gone. Stem cells will make it possible to repair and replace vital organs. The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine will save the lives of 270,000 women a year who won’t die of cervical cancer from the virus. Since the list is almost endless so we won’t go on and on. You get the idea.
Consider the Case of President Jimmy Carter
President Jimmy Carter is 97 years old. When he was 91 he had metastatic melanoma cancer that had spread to his brain and liver. That’s always been a death sentence. In addition to the usual surgery and radiation therapy, he was able to have a newly-developed immunotherapy. His immune system was made to keep fighting to find and kill every single cancer cell. The immunotherapy medicine is pembrolizumab (Keytruda®). The FDA had just approved pembrolizumab in 2011, 4 years earlier. His immune system killed all the melanoma cells. Every one. Gone. Before this it was rare for a person to survive metastatic melanoma. What if President Carter had lived a less healthy lifestyle and got the melanoma 10 years earlier, in 2005. He’d be dead. He would not have lived long enough for the medicine to have been invented and to have been there when he got the cancer.
So Keep Yourself Well and Healthy
So keep yourself well and healthy so that all those scientists and physicians will have found the cure for the next maybe-fatal illness you will get. If your health is poor and you get the fatal illness and die too soon, well, no cure for you.