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Bracing for life's health storms!

Published:Wednesday | November 7, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Tomlin Paul 50 and living better

The World Meteorological Association has a policy of permanently retiring the names of really destructive hurricanes. So we can rest assured that we will never see Gilbert passing this way again, and Sandy is likely to meet the same fate given her recent awful behaviour.

At this stage of life, I am sure you can talk about many experiences with really bad weather. However, you might have also experienced a personal health storm! And although you can't easily spot these storms on life's radar, there may be one coming off the coast in your future life.

The assault of disease

In a general sense, a storm is a violent disturbance or upheaval. When the functions of our minds and bodies are disturbed, we call it disease. Some diseases behave like 'tropical waves' and bring a little rain in our lives, while other conditions would qualify more as storms, given their assault on the functioning of our lives. Cancer, stroke, heart attack, organ failure (heart, kidney, liver) can all fit the bill as health storms with potential for major impact. You may add to this list based on your personal experience.

The disaster and emergency response

Whatever the condition, our health storms do force us to respond. We are familiar with Jamaica's ODPEM and the USA's FEMA, which are key to responding to storms. Okay, so here is a guide to organising your own Personal Health and Emergency Management Actions (PHEMA).

1 Start with mitigation. Do what you can to prevent a crisis or to reduce its damaging effects. We trim trees and clean gullies ahead of hurricanes. We must also carry out regular preventive checks and work to keep mind and body healthy. Reducing personal vulnerability is key!

2 Be prepared. Do you know what to do, where to go, or who to call for help in the event of a major health storm? Do you have funds put away or health insurance to cover you for that MRI, surgery or expensive medication? Look at where you are now, your past and family history, and make plans today. Don't wait for a crisis.

3 Respond in good time. This is what you actually do when the health storm strikes. Seek help early, for example, when you see blood in your stool or find that breast lump. Your family doctor can help you to coordinate your response.

4 Manage recovery. It can be very challenging and depressing after the storm when you are left with effects such as weakness from a stroke or amputation of a limb from diabetes. Big changes may have to be made in your life as you knew it. Just like cleaning up after a hurricane, you may have to throw away or give up some things which were a usual part of your life.

Restructuring for a better life

Responding to a personal health storm calls for thinking ahead, considering the 'what-ifs' before they happen, making and putting specific plans in place, and reacting in a quick and sensible manner. Remember, not all storms wilfully cross your path. Lastly, keep your faith and be open to restructuring your previously robust life, keeping the expectation that you can still live better!

Dr Tomlin Paul is a family physician at Health Plus Associates in Kingston; email: