When Body Parts Go Bad

We live in a world of easy replacements. If your phone, TV, computer, or any appliance decides to self-destruct, you can get a new one pretty fast. Thanks to the shortages brought on by the pandemic, it may not be exactly the make or model you wanted, and it’s priced higher than you anticipated, but contrary to The Rolling Stones song, you (usually) can get what you want.

Human body parts are a little different. Amazon isn’t carrying them online yet (though I fully expect this to happen in my lifetime; Prime membership will be required for speedy delivery), but the range of replacement bits is becoming a long list. So far, I know individuals with replaced ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, hearts, lungs, teeth, noses, jawbones, skin, kidneys, bone marrow, corneas, and middle ear.

It’s amazing how we got here. Forty-five years ago, when my father died of a heart attack after years of self-inflicted heart disease, doctors had given up on him well before that last of three heart attacks. There was no hope and no help for someone so far gone. Now there are stents, pumps, valves, and surgeries to clear the arteries (and yes, the patient still plays a part in keeping disease at bay) and the means to replace the heart when everything fails. My fellow swimmers, runners, and cyclists continue competing for years with artificial hips, knees, and ankles and repaired rotator cuffs. My sister-in-law’s father lived to see grandchildren thanks to a double (heart-lung) transplant gifted from a grieving but saintly family.

We are still not living our healthiest life: death rates rose, according to the US Census, primarily due to COVID, but our life expectancy also decreased by a half-year, due to the prevalence of heart disease, our number one killer, along with cancer and accidents. We have the science to make a lot of new body parts, but not always the smarts to care for the ones we already have. Slowing down for self-care can work with exercise and good eating and sleeping habits. Stress is always going to stalk us; some level of stress is good for keeping us moving forward and seeking new solutions. Too much creates problems rather than solving them.

Balance every day like it’s the only day. I am finding this mantra is the only thing getting me through right now.

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