November 3, 2012
A couple of years ago, I read a study indicating that, for those diagnosed with heart disease, diabetes and other major chronic illnesses, it took an average of three hospitalizations for complications from the disease before patients finally accepted the diagnosis and began following their doctor’s recommended medical regimen. Some people, of course, accept the diagnosis and regimen quickly and learn to live normal lives within the restrictions the disease places on them, while some never do – and pay the ultimate price.
Other studies over the years have shown that the reasons for this non-compliance are, not surprisingly, varied and complex. Some of the reasons are:
The patient, while superficially accepting the diagnosis, may have trouble internalizing the presence of a disease that can radically alter how they see themselves, especially if diagnosed at a stage when they do not yet feel “sick”.
The patient doesn’t understand, or hasn’t been made aware of the chronic nature of a disease they must learn to live with for the rest of their lives.
The regimen may be too complex for them to handle without outside assistance.
They may receive conflicting information about the disease or treatment from others whom they trust that “lets them off the hook”, so to speak.
I was reminded of these studies again this week, as hurricane Sandy headed up the east coast and, pulled inward by a low-pressure storm system from the west, wreaked havoc on parts of fourteen states, nine of them among the most heavily populated in the country – especially the states of New York and New Jersey.
Forty years ago, in their Limits to Growth report, the Club of Rome diagnosed the world with several serious and chronic diseases, warned us of the consequences of these on the world’s economic health if they weren’t addressed and prescribed a regimen to avert or mitigate these coming disasters. Among the “diseases” were overpopulation, resource depletion and anthropogenic climate change.
Over the last twenty to thirty years we’ve had a stream of increasingly dire reports on climate change from universities, national agencies such as NOAA and international bodies such as the IPCC. Last month, Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer, issued a report indicating that climate change had caused a five-fold increase in weather related disasters here in North America alone over the last thirty years.
Yet here in the United States, we are still arguing over whether climate change is even real, ignoring pleas to “take our medicine”. Seven years ago, we were rushed to the emergency room with hurricane Katrina, a 250-mile wide storm that decimated the city of New Orleans and much of the gulf coast. Last year, severe droughts and forest fires in the south and southwest, another hurricane, Irene, with severe flooding along the east coast and huge winter storms across the northeast and mid-eastern states sent us scurrying for treatment again. This year, increasingly devastating fires in the west, severe to extreme droughts across nearly fifty percent of the country and, last week, the thousand mile wide hurricane Sandy have landed us in the emergency room once more – sicker than ever. And, I suspect, for many of the same reasons as the patient with the chronic disease who refuses to take his medication or stick to his regimen.
At what point do we finally wake up, look around and say, “You know, the doctor’s right. I’m sick and I’m going to have to swallow my pride, take my medicine, quit eating all this fossil fuel crap that’s clogging my arteries and sending my blood sugar sky high and deal with this.”
There’s an old adage, that “the third time’s a charm.” Will it be? Or, will we continue to dally and dodge until we wind up in the cemetery of history with nothing left to our children and grandchildren but an increasingly hostile environment that will inevitably lead to the end of our reign as homo sapiens, the so-called wise apes.