The Number One Killer

What would you say is the number one people killer in America? Cancer? Heart disease? High blood pressure? Alcoholism? Drug addiction? Auto accidents? Diabetes? If you chose any of these, you’re wrong. Holding strong in the number one position—with virtually no competition—is stupidity. Let me explain. 

I just learned that Teno, a gentleman who worked for my company as a janitor/custodian, died of a massive heart attack several Saturdays ago. He was in his mid-fifties and one of the nicest, most cordial men I’ve ever met. Always polite, always smiling, he was a pleasure to work with. I ran into his workmate this morning and chatted with him about Teno. He told me that several days before he died he was sweating profusely, was extremely tired, and was experiencing chest pain. This went on for several days. Teno told his workmate that if his symptoms didn’t improve by Saturday, he planned to seek medical help. 

Teno never made it to the doctor. He died in his home before he had a chance to consult a doctor. Now tell me, isn’t that utterly stupid? What makes it even more ridiculous is that a couple of months ago, Teno’s fellow janitor/custodian, Miguel, suddenly died of a heart attack as well. Wouldn’t you think that Teno might have learned a lesson when Miguel died? Wouldn’t you think that feeling severely fatigued, sweating excessively, and experiencing chest pain—particularly because Teno’s good friend and workmate died of a heart attack—would compel Teno to seek medical treatment? 

Need more evidence? My Uncle Frank died a few years ago from multiple problems. He had colon cancer, heart disease, kidney failure, coronary artery disease—you name it and he had it. But Uncle Frank wasn’t a victim of genetics or the luck of the draw. He was the architect of his own demise. Over 30 years ago he had an eye examination and the optometrist warned him that there were many broken blood vessels in his eyes, which likely meant he suffered from hypertension. He urged him to see a doctor. What did Uncle Frank do? Nothing. 

Uncle Frank, who was a bricklayer all his life, lean, muscular, a strong man, died emaciated and frail. Having ignored his high blood pressure for all those years eventually caught up with him and sent him to an early grave. Could anything be stupider? 

I run to my doctor for everything. In fact, I know that she believes I’m a card-carrying hypochondriac, and perhaps she’s right. But I’d much rather pay my $10 co-pay and have her tell me that the pain in my gut is gas, than ignore a symptom and end up in the morgue. It’s a no-brainer to me. Yet the world is overflowing with the likes of Teno and Uncle Frank. I just don’t get it.



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4 responses to “The Number One Killer

  1. Ken

    man this hits home, not long after I met you on the plane I returned home to Norcal to find my brother-in-law dead in his bathtub in our rental unit at the ripe old age of 35. His work had called when I was visiting my ex-wife at our house and said they had not heard form him for two days. My ex asked me to go do a welfare check on him, but we both knew almost instantly it was bad. He had high high blood pressure that exceeded 200 on the high end and he chose not to treat it despite having medical coverage and knowing his mother and father both died in their 50’s of cornary artery disease.

    As I cleaned out his apartment in the aftermath I would talk to him just in case he was still there in spirit. When I found his medical card with a co-pay of 15.00 on it I cursed him. Even though my ex and I are divorced his death touched us both deeply and he was my ex’s last living relative she has no family but mine now, so I still gladly invite her to our gatherings so she doesn’t have to feel alone on the holidays.

    • Daniel

      Ken, sorry my post opened a wound. It’s reassuring to know that you can get past your divorce and offer a safe harbor for your ex-wife. You’re a class act.

  2. poolagirl

    I know you don’t believe in metaphysics, but I do. Everybody comes into this world with an agreement. The only one we can understand is our own. Teno’s choices were part of his plan. Yours might be to become a successful, health-fretting novelist. Mine might be to write about clown shoes. Who knows? We are all teachers and we are all students.

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