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September 23, 2014 / 28 Elul, 5774
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Are You Playing Russian Roulette With Your Life?

I recently attended an out-of-town simcha. Among the guests were several acquaintances whom I hadn’t seen in several years. Most looked the same – a few wrinkles here and a extra few pounds there, but no noteworthy differences. However, the vast change in the husband of a friend who had passed away shocked, saddened and angered me. Though still middle-aged, he looked as if he had shrunk. His clothes did not fit properly and his general look was unkempt. His deep emotional grief was reflected in his disheveled physical appearance. He was lost without his wife.

The distress I felt was the kind you experience when someone you are fond of does something foolhardy and ends up damaged, like failing to wear a seatbelt and becoming paralyzed in a car crash. I felt anguish because this was a tragedy that might have been prevented.

My friend – this grieving man’s wife – had suffered from a serious problem which was not heeded. She had a lump that should have been investigated, but she ignored it for a very long time. It was almost as if my friend had resurrected and embraced the childhood belief that if you close your eyes, the monster does not exist. If you can’t see it, then it isn’t there. But that does not work in the real world. Refusal to acknowledge danger signals do not make them go away.

Months later, when she was wreaked by physical weakness and pain, she opened her eyes. By that time, the monster had grown and was difficult to ignore. It is hard to say if early intervention would have made a difference in the ultimate outcome. But I do know that it is easier to put out a small campfire than a forest fire. The devastation of her family could have been postponed.

The price of deliberate obliviousness is very high – emotionally, physically, socially, and financially. Widowed spouses buckle under the heavy responsibilities and burdens of day-to-day living. Simchas are minimized by empty chairs, and grandchildren are deprived of creating memories because magic moments cannot be shared with those who no longer are there.

Sometimes, the inclination to take care of a potential problem is there, but there is a lack of medical coverage. This too can be deadly.

In the case of another friend, her relative – a diabetic with no health insurance – delayed getting treatment for a small cut that ultimately infected her whole body. Her first grandchild, born a few months later, was named after her.

There are so many middle class families who are playing Russian roulette with their lives because of a lack of health insurance. Getting coverage should be their number one priority. In far too many cases, money that should be set aside for health coverage is used for important but not crucial expenses – expenses that have more to do with vanity than with actual needs.

Unfortunately, people think that if they feel well, then they don’t need to go to the doctor, dentist, or optometrist for an annual check up. (Brain, eye, facial, tongue and throat tumors can be revealed during routine eye tests and dental work). But that’s exactly when you should go. Because if you are feeling well when a medical problem is discovered, chances are that any problematic find can be resolved successfully because it is still just a “low-flame” – and not yet a conflagration.

I recently had a series of medical tests, including a colonoscopy, which were not the most pleasant. I had to refrain from eating solid food for about 30 hours, and gulped down three rather unsavory liquids. I had to be hooked to an IV, and while the actual procedure took about 20 minute, I had to be in a hospital setting for several hours for pre- and post- procedure workups. I really rather would have been doing something more pleasant. Like taking out the garbage.

When I was asked by the nurse taking my medical history why I was getting a colonoscopy, I told her that this was just a screening (like a first mammogram) as I had reached the age when it was considered prudent to get one. And thank G-d, I now can have peace of mind – at least in that department - for a decade. The patient next to me, however, was there because she was experiencing worrisome symptoms. Like many people, she opted for a medical examination when she was already not well. Another patient was told he had polyps – a usually benign growth that can predicate cancer, a disease that in his case could likely be prevented. His decision to have a screening probably saved his life.

When a shidduch is being considered, there are so many questions posed by both sides. I strongly suggest that a key question is whether the young couple has medical insurance.

What good is yichus, looks, or midos if there is even a slight possibility that a lack of health care can take the person away prematurely, leaving broken-spirited survivors?

It is crucial that young, old and in-between have health insurance so that they can follow Hashem’s commandment to preserve their lives. Health care is a must, not a luxury. Borrow, beg, or give up your car or move into a smaller place if you have to, but make medical coverage your number one priority. And when there is coverage, be scrupulous about getting your annual checkups and screenings.

If you suspect a problem, if you are experiencing symptoms, don’t close your eyes wide shut. If the problem persists, investigate it. There is no need to panic at every little bump, lump or ache. You don’t have to run to the doctor the minute you have a headache. But if it feels different than normal, or lasts longer than normal, don’t hide your head in the sand.

You may be stoic and say you don’t want to upset your family. Don’t ignore warning signals in a misguided attempt to “protect” them. Because your avoidance, your delay, can have serious, non-reversible consequences. Then, who will protect them?

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