The Saguaro cacti are impressive, strong, large plants that are native to the Sonoran desert. They are a must see. Growing vertically, albeit rather slowly, the Saguaro cactus is mighty, resilient and perseveres, frequently aging from 150-200 years old. Hanging above my office desk, I have two photos of Saguaros. Both are close up. One offers the predictable: a close up of a giant cactus. The other is not predictable: a close of a giant cactus covered in snow.
It was February 2019 and my husband and I were on a winter getaway in Arizona. Our three little girls were snowed in at home in Connecticut and we were lounging pool side… or at least we thought we were going to be lounging poolside. We woke up to snow in southern Arizona.
The mighty Saguaro cacti are striking in and of themselves, see them snow covered and you’ll be blown away. The improbability of snow on a cactus caught my attention. Improbability… this word has stuck with me since then. As I sit writing, I am now in a situation that would have seemed improbable just two short years ago. Up to that point, I lived my life in a fairly predictable manner. With my career, I did what I expected and what others expected. I went to a big name college, followed by a big name medical school, followed by a big name residency and went to a big name academic medical center for my first job. There is something comforting about the probable, the predictable.
The image of a snow covered Saguaro cactus is intriguing and starkly out of place from what is expected. From this point forward I chose to pursue a path that was far from expected. I loved the academic world I was once in, but I was finding that I needed to take a less predictable approach. In dealing with a few personal health issues, I embarked on a journey that led me to my current situation: part time emergency physician with a dual certification in lifestyle medicine dedicated to improve care for my ED patients but also help young people understand principles of a healthy lifestyles as they set up the foundation for their future health.
Modern medicine is amazing, but we have done a disservice to our patients, and to ourselves, by trying to bandage everything. In emergency medicine, I know far too well that modern medicine can make you feel better fast! It can be incredible to watch and facilitate. It satisfies all of those needs for instant gratification. It encourages young people to take risk and assume they will bounce back from anything. Unfortunately, these quick fixes are often transient and a majority of the time we aren’t actually fixing things.
My introduction and fascination with Lifestyle Medicine has its origins here. Given the unpredictable world we currently live in with the pandemic, no greater a time has existed where we need to make the critical decision of transforming our health at its roots. We are at our core the sum of what we take in. Treat our bodies poorly, they will behave poorly. Treat them well, they will behave well. My hope and vision for this movement in its infancy is two-fold:
- Go to an emergency department complaining of non-specific abdominal pain or chronically achy joints and you’ll find an emergency physician who will sit and chat with you about your diet, sleep, exercise, stress, substance use and social interactions.
- Equip young people with the knowledge to understand the implications of health decisions and build roots in healthy choices.
I keep both photos above my desk, partly because they are aesthetically pleasing but more-so because they remind me that the probable is comforting and necessary, but the improbable can be exciting and fun to consider. My two aspirations may seem improbable now, but just like a snow covered Saguaro cactus, they can happen.