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Don't Worry, Be Happy

I can't tell you how many people I've seen in an emergency room who are panicked about a high blood pressure or cholesterol test they've taken in a drug store; or are having fantasy symptoms after having read about the side-effects of their current medication in the latest "drug book." For some people, just worrying about an illness is enough to make them sick.

And whose fault is this paranoia? Well, it's probably mine. As a writer, I've learned that few things bring home the impact of a story more than quoting big numbers. That's why I often add statistics to my articles. It's interesting to tell about my mother-in-law's battle with cigarette smoking but it somehow gives more "oomph" to a story to add that 50 million Americans still smoke and half a million die each year from smoking related ailments. And so I've fostered fear in every smoker with a cough.

Recently, I reviewed several of my old articles. In an effort to lend credibility to my stories, here are just some of the statistics I've quoted.

  • 11 million Americans suffer migraines
  • 40 million suffer degenerative joint diseases
  • 12 million suffer depression
  • 1 million whiplash cases
  • 3.7 million chicken pox cases
  • 4 million with Alzheimers, and
  • 20 million cases of herpes.

And then sometimes, of course, I use percentages.

  • 50% of men over 60 develop prostate disease
  • 1 in 10 women develop breast cancer
  • 5% of us will develop colo-rectal cancer, and
  • 10% have gallstones.

Based on those kinds of numbers, simple arithmetic has to tell you that everybody in America has or is going to have some disease soon. And I have yet to write about a myriad of other diseases that diminish the quality and length of our lives.

It is the statistics in my articles and in medically related magazines and books that incite people to worry about their health. And the operative word is "worry."

Certainly, reasonable concern is good. But who can help not thinking they're a potential victim when I and others are busily mentioning that millions are suffering from this or that.

Just glancing over the statistics, it might not be unreasonable to conclude that we are a terribly "sick" society. However, I've come to the opposite conclusion. The vast majority of us are pretty healthy. The statistics aren't wrong. I'm just convinced that it is a select unfortunate few who a plagued with a bounty of ailments. For example, rarely will I see a patient with a history of simple migraine. More often, that same patient will have migraines and endometriosis as well as gallstones and herpes, or hypertension and renal failure with psoriasis and ulcers. And bad luck seems to accompany bad health. That same patient will probably complain of whiplash from a recent auto accident too or some slip and fall injury.

So, what's my point? Well, despite the shocking statistics that millions are suffering from this and that, the numbers don't mean a thing. I'm convinced that just as there are a few multi-millionaires who have most of the wealth in this country, there are a few really sick people who have all the diseases. All I have to do now is find some statistic to back up that theory. In the meantime, as an old philosopher once said, "DON'T WORRY. BE HAPPY."