A doctor, writing in the Catholic Digest, asks "Who is the healthy person?" The dictionary meaning of health, often cited and generally thought to be accurate, is to be free of mental and physical ailments, and to have a robust constitution. According to this definition, the doctor says he would have to exclude many friends, acquaintances, and patients he considers healthy. He gives examples of what he means.
of his, another doctor, who has a crippled leg from polio, doesn't
hesitate whenever his patients need his help, often being the first one
to be at their bedside. At home, though often tired from long hours at
work, he plays hide-and-seek with his daughter--not an easy game for
someone with a crippled leg. And when his son, like all inquisitive
children, asks a difficult question, he always takes
the time to respond thoughtfully and appropriately. Can we say, he asks,
that his friend does
not have good health.
A man in his fifties, having recently
climbed one of the highest peaks in Korea, was told a few days later
that he had stomach cancer. Are we to think that from the moment he had
diagnosis he no longer was healthy? That he somehow lost the health that
enabled him to climb that mountain? Or for that matter, should anything
in the natural world that once was young and vigorous be described as
having lost health as it ages?
A 78-year old diabetic
grandmother, overly preoccupied with health, leaving the doctor's office asked: Doctor are you in good health? She just completed a physical exam, and yet she wants another MRI, just to make sure
she's healthy. Can we say she is in good health?
We don't normally
consider anything old as being healthy. But
even in the natural world, taking as an example an old persimmon tree.
Yes, it was once vigorous and producing fine fruit but now is producing
small, ugly fruit, eaten only by birds. Who would consider the tree as
not being healthy? Some of course would, but not our doctor.
clearly has difficulty with the generally accepted meaning of health
that restricts the word to a period of life where physical growth and
fruitfulness are most evident, and that describes the period of life
where physical powers decline as a lack of health. To focus solely on
the physical manifestations of health. he says, will lead to many
Instead of saying that health
is the absence of any physical and mental problems, the doctor would
prefer to say a person who lives his daily life without insecurity, and
enjoys physical, mental and spiritual peace is the healthy person. This
more holistic understanding of health includes even those who take
medicines to control their high blood pressure, those who
have been operated on for cancer and are living a normal life, those
who are taking medicines to control depression and yet are able to work
helping others, those who are handicapped and are out there teaching
others--all of them could be considered healthy, the doctor insists,
despite their physical problems.
A grandfather, after x-rays revealed the possibility of TB, was told to undergo more tests to
be sure. The doctor did not want him to take strong drugs that may not
be necessary and may prove harmful, but the grandfather
wanted to start taking the drugs, not for his own health but not to endanger the health of his grandchildren. He had lived a full life and the health of his
grandchildren was now his primary concern. Can we say the grandfather was not in
He gives us another example. A 45-year old man who
diabetic and obese, not wanting others to think he was unhealthy,
refused medicine but decided to exercise 4 hours a day, eating only the
best food. During the weekends, he would go golfing and mountain
climbing. He also cut down on his weekly workload and avoided foods he
previously wanted to eat. The family did not enter into the picture and were very much upset by his decision. Let us suppose, the
doctor says, that everything turned out normal after his efforts, can
we say he was in good health?
The doctor suggests that a
first step in correcting this misunderstanding of true health might
start with changing how we greet one another, which would also help rid
us of what he calls the "health neurosis" of our society. Better than
wishing other people good
health, which is normally understood to mean physical health, he wants
us to get into the habit of wishing them "Joy of life," "Be filled with
graces," "Be happy," 'May your wishes come true"--all stressing the
importance of mental and spiritual health. It is our narrow
preoccupation with physical health, he says, that deflects many of us
from pursuing the health that counts, The real health that makes any
physical ailment of little significance.