I know that sometimes I can seem like a grouch. I don’t do it out of meanness. I was very fond of being one of those super-positive, saccharine people who always see the glass half full. I will say even more: that is my natural state. But I chose – I chose! – not to embody it.
Being positive is not a necessity. It’s not a rare specialty – the only requirement to be a positive, happy-go-lucky fellow is to be ignorant! The world has more than enough human material to meet its needs for positivism.
And then, it’s also a practical matter. If I take the best view of the world, and defend the position that it’s all unicorns and rainbows, then when the sky begins to crumble, I’ll be running around like a headless chicken – like everyone else.
Assuming the worst, on the other hand, helps me be prepared. So if disaster strikes, someone is prepared. And if the future proves me wrong, well, it’s a mistake I make with pleasure. It’s always good when things go better than expected!
Premeditatio malorum, I believe was what the Stoics called it: the rehearsal of the worst circumstances, so that the setbacks of fortune would not catch them off guard.
It seems to me like a wise practice, and not in the least contrary to living the good life. Skepticism is not ingratitude; on the contrary, it is the recognition that when things can so easily go to hell in a hand-basket, the fact that everything works out fine in most days is a miracle worth recognising.
Here’s something that no-one wants to talk about: physicians are regular people. We like to put doctors on a pedestal because they are in charge of our health, and we’re like to feel that our health is in the hands of the best, but the best are very few, and it’s improbable that you’ll be assigned even a good doctor on chance alone.
As is the case of most professions, physician quality follows a normal distribution. A few are very bad at their job, some are merely bad, most are average doctors, some are good doctors, and again, a few are very good at what they do.
By merely showing up to the hospital or clinical practice, the law of averages will assign you an average physician. You might like to think it is otherwise, that your doctor is the best, but that is just you being delusional. And average is fine in most situations. You don’t need Hugh Laurie to prescribe you a flu shot or mend a broken arm.
But if you’re in a situation where something is wrong with you, and you’re not quite sure what it is, average doctors will either not know what’s wrong with you, or will default to the most statistically probable diagnosis. That’s not a great system for health care.
You can identify a good doctor by:
Time spent on your appointment. This is especially relevant on the first appointment, or the first appointment about a new situation. Anything less than 30 minutes is not acceptable. Good physicians will regularly spend a full hour with their patients. They will make thorough examinations and ask a lot of questions.
Ability to answer questions and explain things. A good doctor will tell you the why’s and the systems behind what’s happening. If a physician can’t explain why it’s important that you get a specific blood marker under control, for example, but merely states that you should, that’s a sign that he doesn’t understand what it’s for, he’s just following a cheat sheet with average values. Most doctors will tell you that you should lower your cholesterol, but they are stumped if you ask them what cholesterol does.
To Get The Right Diagnosis, Look For a Third Opinion
People are still not used to asking for a second opinion. Again, they mistakenly believe that they were assigned the best person available. As I pointed out above, this is statistically incorrect.
Depending on the severity of your situation ( and a good way to judge it is the level of discomfort it causes) or the level of violence of the proposed treatment, you might want to get a second opinion from another doctor.
If the second doctor concurs with the first one, that’s pretty decent. You can probably go ahead with a modicum of safety.
If not, then you need a tie-breaker. Yes, you need a third doctor, a third opinion. I mean, you have little other way of making an educated guess about which of the previous two doctors knows best.
I understand this is very annoying. Doctors are expensive, and appointments are time-consuming. What about people who don’t have the money to go to a private practice?! Yeah, I don’t have a good answer to that. I’m giving you the info because I believe that it’s better to know than to not know, but I realize it’s difficult to act upon.
Philosophy exited my life after I was done with the required readings at school. I had no reason to keep at it. It was taught to me as a duller version of history: this person thought this, that person claimed that. There was no rhyme or reason behind it all. There was no goal in learning it besides getting a better grade and being cultured. The latter was of little interest to a 17-year-old.
As I went through life, I was as unprepared as anyone else for the trials and tribulations of adulthood – loss, adversity, existential dread, dealing with tyrannical structures, resisting temptation, fear of all the possible futures that end in absolute disaster, etc.
A friend lost his mother a couple of months back. Most of us are going to go through that. It is an entirely predictable event in most lives. Yet my friend found himself dreadfully unprepared, as are most of us.
Why are we not taught how to deal with stuff like this in school?
After a lengthy detour into the personal development (or “self-help,” as they dislike being called) industry, I finally came back to philosophy, via Marcus Aurelius and other Stoics. That’s when it dawned on me: there was a place for people to teach us about how to conduct ourselves in the face of life’s challenges. That’s what philosophy class was supposed to be for.
Someone messed that one up, badly.
That’s part of what I’m trying to do here, with some of these essays. I’m trying to take back philosophy, to rescue it from the classroom and bringing it back to where it belongs: to people’s lives.