By Tomlin Paul.
You are on a narrow, cramped ship coming off the Guinea Coast. A little more than 300 slaves packed in the dark under the deck like books on a shelf. All night you go in and out of sleep, stifling with the heavy odour of stale urine and faeces. Just before dawn you wake to find that the man shackled next to you is cold and stiff. He had been roasting with a sweaty fever for the past three nights.
A few weeks later, on the plantation in Frome, you start your seasoning into forced, hard manual work. Despite frequent running belly and sore muscles, you are whipped daily. Over the next two years, more than 80 of the 270 who landed in Jamaica have passed away. Your spirit is broken and choices limited. At 28, you do not see much hope that you will make it to 50 years.
An easy 50!
Making it to 50 years in today's Jamaica, in spite of the modern-day threats, is almost taken for granted. Similar to how you expect at least a 50 from Chris Gayle in a one-day match!
The freedom of choice that you have today to achieve the goal of living longer and better is huge compared to back then. You have a lot of information in the media about health and disease and 'Dr.Google's' office is busy! Medications are generally available, with the National Health Fund giving good help for the major chronic diseases. Some of you have even tried alternatives such as herbs, reflexology and acupuncture, to name a few.
Even with the hard economic times, you are living longer and better than your forefathers did back in the 18th century.
Every day you are making choices that will affect your future years and quality of life. Although you feel free, there are some shackles which limit the making of healthy choices. Stop and take a good look. Your environment encourages you to eat more fast foods with high grease and salt, to sit and watch more television or use your computer or phone for long hours, to snack on high-sugar foods instead of fruits, to work long hours and to have alcohol for a fun time. You may have some personal ones which also put you at risk of disease.
A new emancipation proclamation!
My patients often say, "Doc, I am trying but ... .". Making the healthy choice is not always the easy choice. Our social, cultural, emotional and even physical environment can push us away from healthy living. The way life and work are organised, the competing messages out there, the food and recreational options, or lack thereof, the hustle to make a living and the loss of community spirit are all competing to steal our gains. We need family, friends, church, community and, indeed, all of Jamaica to work together to make the healthy choice, the easy choice! It's time for a new emancipation proclamation this August morning!
Dr Tomlin Paul is a family physician at Health Plus Associates in Kingston; email: email@example.com.