Maureen Pratt

“I just don’t want to know,” someone said to me recently, of not wanting to see her doctor about an ongoing symptom.

The remark was not an isolated incident. A certain fear seems to be building up among people in many corners of society, a fear that is difficult to quantify yet expressed in sometimes oblique, sometimes direct ways. It is the fear of becoming sick, and no wonder.

In advertisements for medications, the enumerated side effects conjure up all sorts of horrible images, often sounding so dire it makes one afraid of the drugs.

The ongoing debate about health care changes and what these will mean for patients and medical professionals certainly has some people worrying and asking many questions. We will have access to health care, but whom will we have access to, if there is a drastic shortage of doctors and nurses? Women will be given contraceptives, but will an otherwise fit 70-something person be approved for a pacemaker? Medical advances have provided us with better medications, tests and procedures, but who can afford them?

There is enough sour health news and information to raise everyone’s blood pressure.

But, stress, like that which comes from fear, can have negative effects on health. If taken to the extreme, yes, we could become “sick with fear,” and be so paralyzed that we don’t take action when necessary. We need to seek the answers and care we may need.

When we or someone we know becomes resistant to seeking medical help, it usually does no good to launch a personal attack (“You’re being stupid,” for example). However, challenging the fear can be helpful. How do we know that we’ll find out we have something serious instead of something benign? How can we be sure that we cannot afford a treatment, or that we need it at all? What makes us think that our drippy nose is identical to our neighbor’s pneumonia?

Other aspects of health care can be addressed in a similar way. Instead of stewing in silence, we can overcome fear by talking with our doctors about concerns with our medication, what a treatment is for, its duration, and any potential side effects.

Financial concerns can be tackled by asking about patient assistance programs, which are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and provide medication to people who cannot afford them, or payment plans for extensive doctor bills.

Sometimes, reminders of the solutions to what ails us are the solutions themselves. Think we have a torn ligament? There’s help for that. Are your allergies off the charts? A good allergist can bring nose and throat back into balance. Feel bad now? Not getting help could mean feeling a whole lot worse.

There are some fears over which we have no control. It does no good for us to stay awake at night worrying about bird flu in China or whether the bag of lettuce in our crisper is contaminated. However, we can take positive steps to minimize our exposure to infection, keep current on the news about food recalls, and do as much as we can to protect ourselves.

Finally, we can also rely on faith, which is more powerful than any fear. Even if we have an illness, or quake at the sweeping changes to health care as we have known it, God is great and gives us all we need.

With that, in mind and heart, why are we afraid?