Ironically, a destitute person in a wheelchair may get better health advice than his wealthy counterpart. Why?
Take my friend John. He has a progressive disability. Facing worsening paralysis, John has 'retired' to an upscale community. He gets healthcare from a prestigious clinic and sees some of the best medical specialists in the country.
The problem is that no one is showing John how to stay healthy. He has fallen several times. It took him two years to get a decent wheelchair. He has skin rashes and bladder problems. John has no exercise program. He has no program period. Understandably, as his disability worsens, John is getting depressed. What is the answer?
John could actually get better health advice from a good nurse practitioner at a county hospital. There is no cure, or even treatment, for his underlying condition. But John can get help in adjusting to life in a wheelchair, both practically and psychologically. Some basic tips on safety, diet and exercise would make an enormous difference.
As for me, after decades with a severe disability, I am good at taking care of myself. However and this is key I didn't learn self-care on my own.
No one does. That's the idea behind places like The Center for Independence of Individuals with Disabilities in San Mateo. Here, disabled people share their experiences. They get professional help when needed. When not needed, they help each other.
Forty years ago, Dr. Walsh at Britain's National Spinal Injuries Centre insisted on seeing me every six months. On each visit, he gave me a quick check up and asked two questions. How was my sex life? Was I working? After years of this, I had a question for him. Why did he want to know such irrelevant, nonmedical details?
He explained that for long-term disabled people, these issues were key to health. Meaningful work and human connection. These are key to John's health too. This amounts to practical know-how, the fruits of everyday experience. It costs very little, can have great impact on human health and often saves lots of money. It's not rocket science. It's also not part of John's health care. Why?