Thursday, October 1, 2009

October Frugal Action Item: Preventative Medicine

This month's Frugal Action Item may cost you money. There's an old saying that, "the first wealth is health." So this month I'm going to recommend that you invest some of your money in safeguarding your well being. There's hardly a safer investment, after all. Come inflation or deflation, the health of you and your family is always going to be priceless.

Tetanus shot Even some of the anti-vaccination folk are accepting of tetanus shots. I don't think there's any downside to this particular vaccine. Puncture wounds can happen to anyone, even those of us who don't travel to faraway places with odd diseases, and even to those of us who don't rub shoulders with hundreds of strangers in the course of a given day. Get a tetanus shot if you haven't had one in the last ten years.

I know not everyone believes in getting a flu shot. Having once had influenza (the real thing, not the common cold that people call "the flu"), I do. I'm not going to argue the pros and cons of flu shots here. I will say that if you have no objections to such things, don't let inattention or procrastination be the reason you go without one this year.

Self examinations This one won't cost you anything. If you've never been one to do the routine but recommended medical self-checks, it's time to change that. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit that for too many years I neglected my own breast checks for any lumps that ought not to be there. Nor do I keep track of my moles as well as I should. (I have constellations of moles.) This is simply stupid on my part. Self checks cost nothing but a few minutes of my time on a regular basis, and this sort of negligence could mean the difference between having a small tumor taken care of at an early stage, and death itself. Not to mention the expense. Money ought to be an afterthought when it comes to battling cancer or some other disease for your life, but that's just not a reality for many people. Major medical conditions do no favors to even the best padded bank account. Do your self examinations. It's a matter of valuing yourself and showing fundamental self-respect. If you have dependent children at home, it's also a form of providing them with the best possible future.

How to do a breast self-examination
How to do a testicular self-examination
How to do a skin self-examination

Dental care If you've been ignoring a low-grade dental health problem, now is the time to get on top of it. A few conditions, like gingivitis, can be conquered with improved dental hygiene and perhaps an extra couple of professional cleanings. If you've got a toothache, unattended cavities, or gum disease, these problems are not going to clear up on their own. Get to a dentist and have these problems addressed before they turn into something much more serious. And painful. And costly. I know this is a serious expense for those without insurance. But in this case nothing is gained by delay. Dig deep and find the money in the budget, then keep up with your hygiene.

Speaking of gingivitis, get on top of your flossing. A healthy mouth is an asset, and if you've got a healthy mouth, it's cheap to maintain it. Yes, dental floss costs money. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is one area where you really should spend the money to maintain your health. Again, it's about valuing yourself. You'll thank yourself later if you start doing this before you're old enough for a sugar-heavy western diet to catch up with your teeth.

You know it as well as I do. Exercise and diet are the cornerstones of good health. We've all heard it so many times before. Every day is a chance to start a new healthy habit. So skip the sugary sodas and chips. Prepare healthy meals based on seasonal vegetables and other real foods. Get outside every day (yes, you'll get a pass for blizzards, hurricanes, and nuclear war) for some productive or recreational activity, or at least an aimless walk. If you live in the city, skip the car or bus and walk as much as you can for your errands. Take the stairs. Park as far out in the parking lot as you can, and always walk your grocery cart back to the store. Or carry a hand basket instead of using a grocery cart for some weight bearing exercise. Walk your dog farther and more often. You needn't pay for a fancy health club membership to add more activity to your life. But I do recommend giving high quality food a very high priority in your monthly budget. Cooking from scratch as much as possible will help you eat well without spending a fortune, even if you pay a premium for fresh, local, chemical- and hormone-free foods.

Routine screening tests, such as a pap smear, mammogram, prostate check, colonoscopy, dental cleanings. Many people make a conscious choice not to have mammograms and other radiological checks, even if their insurance will cover the test. Again, I'm not going to argue health care philosophy here, and I do think some routine annual medical tests are probably unnecessary for a lot of people. But most likely there's a regular exam that makes sense for each individual. If family health history places you at high risk for any diseases, schedule a routine check. Don't put off such tests simply because they're unpleasant. Budget for the tests that make sense for you and get yourself to those appointments.

If there's an herbal cold remedy or immune system booster that you believe in, stock up on it now. Cold season is coming for us northern hemisphere types. If your home gets very dry during the winter months, think about ways of adding some moisture to the air of your home without resorting to an electric humidifier. Dry air probably contributes to the common cold by drying out the mucus membranes in the nasal area. So keep a pan of water on the woodstove or the radiator. Or hang your laundry to dry inside. After a shower, set up a fan to blow moist air out of the bathroom and into the rest of the house, rather than venting it outside.

Advanced Frugal Action Item: If you're an ambitious sort, or simply enjoy gardening, consider planting a few medicinal herbs to have on hand for your family's use. I recommend you begin with safe to use and easy to grow herbs such as peppermint (used to treat fevers and headaches), chamomile (stomach aches, ear and eye infections), lemon balm (insomnia and tension), comfrey (skin conditions, burns, and wounds) or sage (sore throat, canker sores, digestive complaints). Obviously, this is an enormous topic that I cannot begin to cover here, and you should consult a professional herbalist or health care provider to address any serious medical situation. But there are many resources to guide those with an interest in herbal medicine. Growing a few of your own medicinal herbs is a great step on the road to both self-sufficiency and frugality. As with the food you eat, it's always nice to know where your medicine came from.

New to these Frugal Action Items? More here:

January: Compact Fluorescent Bulbs & Hot Water Pipe Insulation
February: Kitchen Competence
March: Rein In Entertainment Spending
April: Go Paper-less
May: Solar Dryer
June: Increase the Deductible on Your Auto Insurance
July: Stay Cool Without Touching that Thermostat
August: Repair It!
September: Insulate
November: Frugal Holiday Wish List
December: Plan Next Year's Garden


MyBulletinBoard said...

Kate, I am interested in herbs for medicinal purposes. Would like to grow my own. Could you recommend a good book for both the growing and the using? Thanks, Liz

jake said...

My niece is in the Marines, about three months ago she got the swine flu vaccination and two days later she drove to see her mom (my sis) for my sisters birthday. My sister, my wife, my dad and a brother all got sicker than a dog.

My sister has had two flu shots in the past 5 years, both times ending her up in the hospital with super high fevers.

Im staying away from most vaccinations becuase of personal experiences before anything else. But now becuase of personal experiences I am concerned about vaccines as many of them still contain mercury and other adjuncts that arent healthy.

My wife is from Europe and her nephew had vaccination shots... only a couple of them, like when you or I were kids here in America. But the vaccines they are injecting now here are much more than when we were kids.

It doesnt hurt to side with caution and ask questions.

Who knows what our government is capable of, heck, they put Americans of Japanese decent into prison camps and put them to work on top of that while making them all pledge allegiance to America... with "liberty and justice for all".

Michelle @ Find Your Balance said...

With all the talk about healthcare reform and the associated costs I just want to underline your point about diet and lifestyle. We'd avoid billions of health costs if folks considered a whole foods diet and exercise as vital as it really is.

Anonymous said...

Good post. As a practicing physician I would like to add one item to your "prevention" list. Check your blood pressure at least once a year. This screening is often available for free at your local pharmacy or at a Health Screening fair. Untreated hypertension is a leading cause of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. One in four adults has hypertension and it is often without any symptoms until damage is already done.

Kate said...

LizBeth, sorry, I'm exploring this right now myself. I'm looking for a good seed-to-doseage herbal guide that will help me grow, maintain, gather and use herbs as medicine. When I find it, I'll let you know.

1916, congratulations! You're apparently the only one of my readers who realized, when I said that I wasn't going to debate health care philosophy - twice in a single post - that it was really a secretly worded invitation for my readers to do exactly that in the comment section, rather than using their own blogs for such relevant anecdotal evidence. All the best.

Michelle, thanks for stopping by an leaving a comment.

Anon, thanks. I'm pleased that as a practicing physician you find the post useful. I may edit the post to add your suggestion for an annual blood pressure test.

Anonymous said...

We go to a family doctor that does homeopathy/ herbs and other natural solutions. Not only do we save money, we actually recover from illness and have a 'professional' opinion. Naturally.

Wendy said...

My favorite book regarding using herbs is Andrew Chevalier's Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. I really love the way it's set up with an index of plants, but also an index of ailments.

The other day, my neighbor burned her hand on her curling iron, and her husband came running across the street to see if we had anything for it. We've given them aloe in the past, but my aloe plant died. So, I consulted Chevalier's book and found that calendula, which I just happen to have growing in my yard (as an "edible flower"), is a good burn remedy. I gave him an infusion of that with instructions on how to use it, and a couple of days later, when I asked how she was, she said that it didn't even blister (which she says it normally would have) .... Anyway, it's my favorite resource, and one I use often.

As for what to grow, it really depends on one's family. I wouldn't add certain plants to my garden, because my family never uses those, but others (like feverfew for headaches and yarrow as an antiseptic) I would make sure to have on hand. That said, most of the "medicinal" plants I grow also have culinary uses (like sage and garlic), and if I were still testing the waters with regard to herbal medicine, I would stick with things we know to be "flavorings", but that also have medicinal value if prepared properly. That way, I'm not wasting space on a plant I know nothing about. You'd be amazed at the number of plants that have a dual purpose.

ThiftedBliss said...

Great post Kate-I would like to add if you are going to get a tetanus shot ask for the combo which includes whooping cough protection. As whooping cough is making somewhat of a comeback this is a good thing to do. A friend of mine got whooping cough 4 years ago, almost died twice and his voice has never been the same. Scary stuff! That said, here is to everyone's good health this winter!
Karen in CT

Karen Anne said...

Although I am now very wary of vaccinations, I have had the tetanus combo shot (DTaP) with no problems. Working on my house, I feel it is a necessity.

Having said that, I had my first ever flu shot last fall, was sick as a dog for six days, and had neurological complications which were quite severe. Fortunately as I near the one year mark, most have reduced markedly.

The neurologist's assistant said they see a lot of people with reactions to flu shots, and the doctor said I was never to have another one, as my reaction would be worse.

I also happened to be in my hematologist's office a few weeks ago, and her nurse said they are recommending their patients not get swine flu shots. I was too busy to ask why, since nothing on earth would induce me to have another one anyway.

Karen Anne said...

p.s. If you have a burn, putting your hand in very cold water for awhile can help reduce damage. I have held my hand against cold stuff like bags of frozen vegetables in the freezer also. Of course, for a severe burn, you need medical attention.

Kate said...

Wendy, thanks for the reading suggestion. I'm in the process of screening such books via the inter-library loan system at my library. I'll add that one to my list. So far almost all my medicinal herb growth has been incidental. I planted the stuff either for eating (garlic, sage, etc.) or for attracting pollinators (calendula) or other garden uses (comfrey). But it's definitely a subject that I plan to explore more fully.