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Hope and Health

I read a quote once that spoke to me profoundly. I don’t know who said it, but it was that “People hope for a better life until the day they die.” For me, the quote was both enlightening and saddening. Hope is universal. Hope is what keeps us alive. Hope is what makes us strive to do better and be better. If we continue to hope until we die then we believe that it’s never too late for our desires to come to fruition. Sadly, the quote also invokes an image of a person who lies passively hoping and he literally dies waiting for good things to happen.

I’m always pleased but also surprised when patients tell me that I’ve given them hope. They have hope again that they will get better, that their chronic pain issue can be alleviated or resolved, and that as a result, their quality of life and livelihood will be better. Hope is synonymous with optimism; both come from the soul and are not gifted. Sometimes we forget about the reasons we have to be optimistic and need a reminder. Physicians can encourage hope by giving objective and accurate information about the medical condition and setting forth a treatment plan.

In order to have hope we should be ready to take action to make what we desire come true. Nothing good ever comes about from doing nothing or not mobilizing positively towards a goal.

Whether it’s hope for better health, financial stability, relationships, or emotional stability, hope alone is not enough. For example, I may give a patient reason to believe that their pain can be alleviated by something I can do for them, but they in turn need to have hope based on what they can do for themselves. I can perform an injection for knee pain, but if the patient is overweight, the knee pain will return more quickly. The absolute treatment is to fix the source of increased strain on the knee joint which is weight loss.

I had one patient tell me that “I’ve been overweight all my life and I’ve never had knee pain before.” She didn’t believe that was the cause of her pain. I explained to her that in her case, her weight gain was gradual and steady enough to allow her body to change to accommodate the increased stress. The bones including the joints and spine will respond to excess weight by increasing in size and density. Ultimately, this will negatively affect the function of the bones and associated nerves and tissues involved. In the knee, the joint spaces will become narrower and the cartilage will be compromised such that the joint is forced to move unnaturally which causes pain.

Having hope is to believe that actions can affect the future. We make decisions every day that can and do and will affect our present and future health, lifestyle and emotional well-being. The more positive actions we choose, the more likely we are to have our hopes and desires become a reality.

As a physician, I appreciate that I can encourage hope by outlining the correct actions a person can take to improve his health. Certainly, there are treatments that I can offer for pain relief; however, the best action is that of caring for yourself. A healthy lifestyle is a choice and it is a long-term endeavor.

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