Saturday, October 13, 2012


Saul knew his numbers.  He knew his HDL.  He knew his LDL.  In fact, he kept track of just about every measurable parameter.  Daily weights, mean body temperature, blood pressure, blood sugar, nothing was left to chance.

He bounced into my office with spreadsheets in hand.  He highlighted the numbers and pointed out peaks and valleys, trends and outliers.  He had every lab value graphed to the most detailed minutia.  He once called me to discuss a change in percentage of neutrophils from his complete blood count.

Saul wasn't crazy, he was afraid.  He was hoping that by tracking his own physiology he could escape the inevitable. Unfortunately, his fears had driven him to obsession.  He spent more and more time and energy pouring over measurements.  It eventually became unhealthy.

When a message flashed across my EMR to call Saul immediately, I was unperturbed.  Likely he found another minor aberrancy needing an explanation.  I listened to the dial tone, and waited patiently for him to pick up the phone.  Recognizing my number on the caller ID, he began speaking immediately.

Dr. G, I'm having chest pain!

Thirty minutes later, I was walking into the emergency room.  His EKG screamed the diagnosis before I physically evaluated him: acute myocardial infarction.  I grasped his hand as he was being whisked off to the cardiac catheterization lab.

You're gonna be just fine!

And he was.  But it all makes me wonder.  This quantified self movement is nothing new.  Whether it be blood pressure or blood sugars, there have always been those with an interest in self knowledge through technology and self-tracking.

The better question is what do we do with the data once we obtain it?  How do we know what measures are meaningful and which are complete rubbish?  And what are the mental and emotional consequences of such vague self knowledge?

I think if your goal is to be healthy, my advice is to concentrate on the unquantifiable.

Eat well.


Don't smoke.

Drink a little alcohol everyday.

Cut down on stress.


Do something selfless to further mankind.


Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

You have said it so succinctly; I agree that doing something Outside ourselves everyday is the best way we can widen our world.

I receive wisdom from your blog regularly and I want to thank you.

Gwen said...

I came here to say the same thing as Lynda did. I don't think I can say it any clearer. I really enjoy your stories. They touch the secret hopes and fears that I have. I enjoy coming here and freeing my mind. Thank you for an oasis of joy and sadness.