Recently I was asked, rather politely as it turns out, to be part of a clinical trial. It involved an interview and then an allocation to one of two subject groups. One group had access to an internet app that logs your medical numbers, allows you to set targets and activity reminders all around a dashboard that lets you know how you are tracking. The other group didn’t get the flashy app.
At random, I got the app. Lovely.
As it happens my medical numbers are pretty good for a bloke of a certain age. My BP readings always bisect the middle of the range, my cholesterol is under control and I have never smoked a cigarette in my life. Not even a drag on one. I do, however, have a genetic predisposition to furry coronary arteries.
The flashy dashboard reminds me of this with the needle on the dial resting at a sobering 25% chance of heart disease in the next 5 years.
Now if I set some goals, such as reducing my bad cholesterol levels by a third I can get my percentage chance down to, wait for it, 23%.
Now some people might want to put in the hard yards and the statins to gain that 2 percentage points of benefit. But I work with probabilities and I know that all the dietary effort and the mind-numbing statins [cholesterol reduction does affect the brain because neurons are sheathed in the stuff] are not worth it for such a modest reduction in what starts as a one in four chance.
And then I got to thinking.
Since my bypass surgery, I have been careful with myself. I eat well and exercise often and my slightly overweight body has tipped the scales under 90 kilos for 30 years. I am also very careful not to talk about my arteries to myself or anyone else. Most people I know have no idea what has happened.
This is not denial. I know what it was like to be close enough to smell the end. It was real but I choose not to give it any more energy than it soaked up at the time.
Once the rehab was through and my annual check ups come and go, the episode and its legacy are out of my mind.
Of course, I am fortunate. The surgeon’s skill and few complications mean that I am actually healthy, fit and strong. Not everyone with a heart condition is so blessed.
But I contend that not agonizing or constantly reminding myself of what happened has made a difference too. Remember the mind has trouble distinguishing a thought about something as positive or negative and the only way to stop it running away with thoughts is to not have them. So for most of the time, I don’t.
Now, of course, I have an app designed to remind me all the time and I don’t like it. In fact. I think it will be psychologically damaging for me.
I doubt if the researchers who designed the app and the trial have thought about this. Their objective would be to deliver more responsibility to the patient and, with luck, reduce their anxiety. The wanted side effect being fewer visits to a healthcare facility.
Only I was not anxious, at least not until I got the app.