You probably wonder what on earth I mean by the headline. Who would choose to be sick? Doesn’t everyone want to be healthy? Isn’t that an obvious choice? Well, on the first take, yes, but if we look at how society sets things up, we might do a double-take.
Let’s start with childhood. You have to go to school, no matter what. If you ever have a day where you just really don’t feel like going, that is not a good enough reason, and you have to go. Except if you’re sick. Ah, then everything changes. You get to stay home in bed, or wherever, and watch TV all day. Your mom or dad might even stay home with you, and bring you books or games or special yummy foods. Your sickness is rewarded, you get extra attention and cuddles, and you don’t have to do what you don’t want to do that day.
When you grow up, it’s not so easy. But you can have a nice job, good pay, and good benefits. Among your benefits are sick days. You get sick, you get to stay home, and you get paid anyway. What a deal! Who wouldn’t want to get sick once in a while? Fortunately, if you did that every day you’d get bored, so work is then a welcome entertainment. But you’re going to make sure you get to take every single sick day you’re entitled to. Otherwise, you’re losing money, no? So here is another very common way in which sickness is rewarded.
Then comes the biggie: insurance. Health insurance. What a great concept! And what a great name. Your health is insured – assured, in a way. You feel covered, protected. You pay a certain amount of money, and if (or when) you get sick, the insurance company pays all the costs associated with that. Now let’s look carefully at that set-up. In essence, when you pay the insurance company, you are making a bet. Your bet is that you will (note: will) get sick. The insurance company bets you won’t. If you get sick, you win. Of course, you don’t win any money, as the money goes to all the people who profit from your sickness. But you will feel, “OK, at least I’m getting my money’s worth.” So buying health insurance also rewards sickness, if you’re the one who’s paying. Now if you have a job where the company pays, then the company is making that bet, and you’re somewhat removed from it. If the insurance pays for even the smallest things, people think that’s great; but that comes with ever-increasing costs. It’s like getting car insurance for oil changes. To my mind, insurance should be for catastrophic events, not for little daily things. Curiously enough, the HMO’s and insurance companies have more of a stake in you being healthy than the healing professions (as long as you keep paying your premiums, of course).
There has been a lot of complaining about HMO’s in that they drag their feet in paying for certain medical procedures, and people have a hard time getting covered or reimbursed. I’m sure there are many cases where people have suffered because of that, no doubt. On the other hand, nobody ever notices, or mentions, that the HMO’s tend to protect us from excess medicine, which used to be a big problem; and considering that medical and drug treatment is the fourth leading cause of death in this country, that may be a really good thing.
There are other situations that reward sickness. The medical and pharmaceutical industries (note: industries) make a lot of money from people who are, or think they are, sick. These industries thrive on sickness. They’re called the “health industry,” but don’t let that fool you. If by some magic wand all of a sudden the entire population were made healthy, this would not be a good thing for doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, drug companies, and so on. Even the “complementary and alternative” healing professions would suffer, although they might suffer less if people use them as they should be used, for prevention, rather than cure.
I often hear radio ads for hospitals. They focus on what a good job they do about one sickness or another. Sometimes they talk about their beautiful settings. But the truth is, they have to fill the beds! They hope people will get sick so they have something to do, and a way to pay the bills, and the salaries of doctors, nurses, orderlies, dietitians, and so on. Of course, they’re not as callous as I just made them sound – the hospital people don’t hope that we will get sick, they just hope that if (or when) we do, we’ll pick them for treatment. But way in the back of the institutional head, you know what goes on. That is why hospital food is so bad, and why it seems perfectly reasonable for them to invite the big fast-food chains to run their cafeterias. Hospitals don’t want you healthy, they do better if you are sick.
Here is the big problem we have in our society regarding health. For cash flow and the health of the stock market, sickness is a good thing. It keeps the “health care” industry thriving. On the other hand, people in the workforce should be in reasonable health in order to do a good job and be productive. Society rewards sickness in many ways. But good health is often taken for granted, and not really rewarded, even though people are admonished every day to take care of their health. What a push-me/pull-you situation! I’m in it too, you realize: if everyone were healthy, I would have to find another line of work.
But you know, I wouldn’t mind. I personally like health and like to encourage people to be healthy. It feels good. With my children, I didn’t reward them if they got sick. I took good basic care of them, but I didn’t buy them goodies or whatever or give them any more hugs than I usually did. On the other hand, if they ever had a day when they didn’t want to go to school, I would let them stay home just on their say-so. They didn’t have to pretend to be sick (nor did they abuse the privilege). So for that reason or others, they got sick very seldom, and if they did, it was for a very short time.
When I was on my own, and a sole proprietor, I didn’t buy health insurance. I decided that rather than paying every month in advance for something that might or might not happen in the future, I would pay for whatever after it happened – they always let you pay things off. Therefore I was very motivated to keep myself and my children healthy because I didn’t want to spend the money on curing ourselves. That meant, however, that I spend money on good food, on massage, on chiropractic, and so on. But that was, and still is, very much worth it to me, because eating health-supportive food and getting a good massage feels a lot better than taking medication.
Later on, when my business became a corporation, we did get health insurance, because everyone wants it – but at least it is the corporation paying. And of course, the premiums go up every year, why wouldn’t they? But we don’t have sick days – we have “personal days.” That is, if you need to take your cat to the vet, you don’t have to pretend it is you who is sick.
So what is your choice? What does society ask of you? What gets rewarded in your life, sickness or health? Are people nicer to you when you get sick? Do sick people take advantage of you because you’re healthy and you can do more work than they do? I think we should be mindful of the strange paradoxes we have created for ourselves around the issue of health. And if health is our choice, we need to make sure we are rewarded in some satisfaction or another, in addition to the fact that health is its own reward.