As we launch our new “Wellness Medicals”, Ted has written this fictional diary of Tom, to share some of his experiences of how (and how not!) to thrive in humanitarian work. Here is part two – read part one here. Thrive President Ted Lankester wrote the Traveller’s Good Health Guide. As a doctor, he’s supported countless humanitarian and aid workers through the physical, emotional and spiritual toll that their work can sometimes take.
Entry 6:Belt too tight
My belt is now on its last hole. My partner Mandy stares at my middle in a worrying sort of way, and I noticed last week I’m breathing quite heavily when I run up stairs. So in an unusually reflective frame of mind I’ve started asking myself if my health is OK. I used to play county rugby, so I’ve always assumed I’m fit, but actually I’m not really exercising any more. I tried the gym, but it didn’t work for long. I was just too busy. I tried running a few years ago too, but my knees hurt afterwards. The occasional walk with our dog doesn’t seem to be doing the job.
Then I remember at our recent Christmas party that for some un-festive reason we got talking about blood pressure. One of my colleagues had the nerve to ask me if I ever get mine checked (she was a nurse so I forgave her). Then I realised I hadn’t seen a doctor since a motorbike accident five years ago. She said my blood pressure was a bit high and so I should have it checked regularly. I never got round to it – I was feeling fine, so I guessed it couldn’t be all that serious.
Entry 7: I’ve made a decision!
Mandy notices I’m a bit distracted and asks what it’s all about. “I’ve made a decision”, I tell her. “I’m going to ask my agency to have a medical”. We’re entitled to one every two years, but most of us never take it up (they probably would if HR sent us reminders).
Karen in HR turns out to be very helpful and even asks me if I would like to have a “psychosocial appointment” as well. I say “why not” – it sounds a bit more friendly than “counselling”. Now I’m back from the extra trip abroad my line manager sent me on, I’m facing these appointments with dread, but also a degree of self-congratulation for being so personally responsible.
Entry 8: The day has come
I arrive in time for the medical. I actually filled in most of the form online the night before (late). The premises were nice, the doctor was on time, and thank God he was friendly and welcoming. They even had a coffee machine.
The consultation goes well. The doctor is actually interested in what I’m doing (he worked for a few years in East Africa). He asks me surprisingly relevant questions, examines me carefully after explaining what he’s about to do, and why he’s doing it. And, relief, no finger up my bum!
“Just jump on the scales and we’ll do your weight”, he says. My first thought was “do I really have to have to do that?”. A slightly awkward silence develops as the doctor works out my BMI: it’s over 35 which he explains puts me into the “morbidly obese” category (what a horrible term – it sounds evil!).
“I’ll just do your blood pressure” he then suggests. “Put your arm on the desk in an arm-wrestle position”. (I’m tempted to say “let’s have a go” but think better of it). A moment later a frown on the doctor’s face accompanies his advice that I’d better buy myself a cuff as it’s a bit up (I think he said “160 over 110” - not sure what that means). But he was decent enough to say that doctors tend to increase people’s blood pressure as well as measure them! A glimmer of hope perhaps.
Next it’s the blood tests. I was meant to do a urine test too but went just before coming so had to drink some coffee and wait. The blood tests would be back in three days with an explanation if there were any abnormalities. My veins behaved well, and I thanked the doctor for a kind and thorough examination.
What would I tell Mandy? I decide not to say anything until the blood tests come back, and after I see the psychologist the following day. The thought of it puts my blood pressure up, but a calm and helpful appointment reassured me I wasn’t going mad yet, but I should give some serious thought to my “work-life” balance.
Entry 9: I like the health team, but not the test results.
The tests came back three days later. I was a bit alarmed to see a few of them were starred. One was the blood sugar – which I got the gist of. Another was something I had never heard of called an “HbA1C”. Alarmingly it indicated I probably had developed Type 2 Diabetes. Yikes. Another star was the cholesterol and in particular one called “LDL” which seemed to be the bad type. It apparently increases the risk of heart attacks and probably strokes. That reminded me that heart attacks were present on both sides of my family.
Then one more test had some stars next to it too – something called “LFTs”, which I gather measure how well our liver is doing. The accompanying letter suggested it could be because my blood fats are high and/or because I’ve been adding a a couple of glasses of wine to my normal Gin and Tonic most evenings!
That evening, for once, I was dead honest with Mandy about what the tests showed. She didn’t seem surprised, but then I’ve always felt she was unusually intuitive.
Entry 10: So did I make the right decision?
This story has a good ending. The doctor helped me set up an action plan. He asked me if I would like reminders every three months. I’ve dropped my BMI to 26! I started with some regular brisk walks most days, and tried running again as I used to do for rugby practice, and found the knees didn’t seemed to hurt so much. So now I do five miles at the weekend (well, most weekends).
I’ve cut out cheese, red meat, burgers and cakes (usually) and when I had a re-test last week the doctor said I probably won’t need to take Statins, but we’ll have to keep an eye on things, so I need to make sure I have a medical every two years. And believe it or not my diabetes seemed to have been cured by all my healthy new habits! And my climate-aware kids actually congratulated me on my birthday for almost becoming a vegetarian. They also (very generously) gave me a nice piece of kit called a “Fitbit” – I’ve started using it and it really helps.
I feel better! I have more energy! I’m not so ashamed of my body. Mandy even says it’s improved my sex life! I still have some pretty awful schedules at work but have negotiated having one day working at home and no more than two months a year travelling. And yes, we do have regular family holidays, and we do put on our walking shoes. I’ve even started to dance again but it’ll be a few years before I apply for Strictly.
My colleagues have noticed the difference. They say I look a whole lot better. “Yes you’re right” I say, and I explain why. I finish by saying “have you thought of having one of those health checks yourself- you might be surprised at what they find”.
Stay healthy and book a Wellness Medical today by emailing email@example.com.