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In my last two posts I began to talk about a topic near and dear to my heart and my being: health. “As long as you have your health everything will be fine” is a quote that I grew up hearing from my parents and to this day still occasionally hear from my dad. Maybe that little sentence that was often spoken to me or in my presence was something I heard and integrated into my philosophy of life. I think so.

Spending precious time with my Baba (grandmother) several times a year and for extended periods during summer vacation added to my healthy living philosophy.  Not only did she grow most of her vegetables and some fruits (remember the raspberries?), she relied on an informal system of exchange with her friends thus having access to grains, chickens, eggs, beef, pork, and wild fowl. She fed her large family well with fresh food. Her work kept her active and naturally in shape. Going to a gym or anywhere to exercise would have seemed ridiculous to her. Her natural attention to her health even when she had mishaps was something to learn from. I remember when she had inadvertently slipped and cut open her forehead on an open cupboard door. Of course it bled a lot, as foreheads do, but her response was to quickly try to stop the bleeding by applying pressure with a washcloth and when the bleeding had slowed she cut up little strips of packing tape and secured the wound. It did the trick and left her an ever-so-faint scar. Later when I saw “steri-strips” being used I always thought about my Baba. I do not remember her being ill. I am sure she had her days but she was never really knocked down for very long. Her health was also impacted by her extensive participation in her community through both the church and the town management. Her contributions to the community and to the individuals of the community were vast. She was busy, was needed and belonged. Generosity took the form of openly giving of her time and skills in organizing and carrying out many a church and community function and quietly giving to the people in the community who were experiencing hard times by waiving payment for groceries and other necessities that they obtained at her General Store. Strong companionship with others after she lost her husband at an early age continued to keep her vibrant. It was not until after she lost her foundation, first by moving away from her community and her garden, then by losing her only ever-present friend and becoming isolated in her little apartment that her health suffered. Even so she spent most of her 93 years in good health.  

all good

I loved her stamina, her vitality and resourcefulness, that was her health. It became my gold standard. This is my concept of health and something I care enough to write about

I want to make it clear that my intent is to explore this wonderful and sometimes elusive thing called health. What is it? What makes us healthy? How do we get to a state of health? Are we able to help others to experience health?

My intent in noting that the pursuit of personal health and the “health care system” are on two diverse disconnected paths is not to disparage the “health care system” but to draw attention to and recognize the system for what it is.  My perspective and knowledge about the “health care system” moves me away from it in my journey to uncover the path to true health and well being.

good stuff


I have often called the “health care system” the “illness industry” for two crucial reasons: it has become an industry and it focuses on illness. It is that simple. Let me elaborate.

First I do believe that intentionally or not the “health care system” has developed into an industry.  Given the structure and payment systems as well as the current operational model- the “business-growth model” it has become a growth industry. Let’s face it, we all have heard that health care costs are continually increasing in Canada and other countries. Health care discussions of governments and the government funded organizations that operate health care services within the system are concentrated on issues of sustainability of the system in terms of acquiring additional funding for an ever expanding and expensive system. The discussion points focus on the business of the “health care system” and not on the philosophical foundation for the system or the quality (other than managing waiting lists) of the services for that matter. Decisions are mired in the economic model and not in the pursuit of a healthy population.

Secondly, the major and ultimate focus of the “health care system” IS on illness, disease, trauma and the management and treatment of the same.  This attention precludes adequate attention on a more expansive definition of health or the promotion of health or even extensive prevention of illness and disease. There has been relatively new attention given to the management of chronic disease as being within the purview of the “health care system” but this still retains the focus on illness and disease. Furthermore any attention on the promotion of health or prevention of illness that does exist is poorly funded and usually narrowly focused on physical health or biology and illness. It does not take into consideration the other factors that we know have an incredible impact on our health and our ability to maintain it. This takes us beyond the emphasis on physical health, physiology and disease to also truly consider: nutrition; income & social status; the availability and strength of our natural social support networks; level of education; employment & working conditions; social environments like safe communities; housing that is safe and secure; access and support for cultural activities; personal health practices and coping styles; promotion of healthy child development; and gender. It takes us beyond the focus on our access to health services.

not always the right focus

I want to emphasize that I know that the “health care system” is staffed by a multitude of well intentioned and well trained and highly skilled individuals.  In their particular focal area most if not all do an amazing job. The bottom line is that they do their amazing work within the system that has become a growth industry and that narrowly focuses on illness, disease and trauma.

My interest remains the exploration of what this thing called health truly is. What is it? What makes us healthy? How do we get to a state of health? Are we able to help others to experience health?


Irene McDermott © 2012