Revisited: Internet says I’m in good health

I must say, I think I’m in pretty good health for a 54-year-old male in the modern American South. This has been confirmed in the form of an 89 rating I just got from the online health assessment we’re required to take as part of our annual health insurance enrollment at work. I guess I shouldn’t say “required to take,” as we do have the option of skipping it if we’re willing to pay an extra $1,000 in premiums for not participating in this wellness initiative. So, in other words, we’re required to take the assessment unless we have no regard for the value of money.

I received the 89 rating – the Wine Spectator might describe me as a full-bodied white with just a nuance of ripe plums – for answering a series of inquiries about my health and well-being. I didn’t quite get what the two questions I answered as I was signing on for the exam had to do with how well I’m taking care of myself. The fact that my mother’s maiden name was Johnson and my first car was a Chevy Vega don’t seem terribly pertinent, though perhaps I got some kind of credit for surviving the Vega. But the rest of them, on subjects like cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, etc., did make sense, assuming I answered them truthfully, which I was under no obligation to do (except I believe I read somewhere that the Internet can tell when you’re lying).

So what this website does basically is assign values to the 50 or so questions you answer, apply some kind of intricate algorithm to the results, and come up with a profile of where you can stand to improve yourself. Because I reported that my weight was 220 pounds, for example, it somehow calculated that I needed to lose a few pounds. Because I said I didn’t floss as often as I should, the results I received at the end identified me as a member of the cohort that should floss more often. It’s amazing how they come up with such accurate insights.

When it comes to the part that lists the dozens of possible diseases you might suffer from, I’m always careful to read through every one of them in spite of the fact I know I’m going to answer no, no, no, no, no. I feel a little guilty not having had any kind of cardiovascular problems or mental breakdowns, so I’m eager to find some category I can admit to having. Sometimes I’ll agree to cancer, since I had a small skin lesion removed from my ear about 20 years ago, or perhaps asthma, since my mother claims I had this as a five-year-old. But it seems so inadequate when there’s so much misery in the world to choose from.

What I do suffer from are three maladies that I find to be pretty bothersome, even though actuarial exercises like this one apparently don’t think so. They’re not life-threatening, nor would you think they contribute all that negatively to my quality of life. They probably annoy my family, friends and coworkers more than they do me, so I actually consider them something of an asset.

For example, every tenth or twelfth breath I take, I feel the need to make it an extremely deep one that sounds suspiciously like a self-pitying sigh. I’ve had this odd pulmonary habit for as long as I can remember, and even mentioned it once during my annual physical. My doctor dismissed it quickly as being any cause for concern, pointing out helpfully that different people breathe in different ways. For example, I guess, creatures that inhabit dark-watered lagoons don’t even have lungs, and gills are notoriously difficult to sigh through (it’s really more of a rattle than a sigh). If I can’t catch this deep breath every few minutes or so, I’ll feel like I’m not getting enough oxygen. I don’t hyperventilate or pass out or anything like that; I find that if I sneak up on the sigh and turn it from a regular breath into a deep one at the last second, I can fool my lungs into cooperating. The problem, however, is that anyone within hearing range thinks I’ve become frustrated with someone or something, and that I need to tell the world about it in some sort of passive-aggressive format. Maybe I should ask for a note from the doctor that I could flash whenever I’ve annoyed a neighbor.

Another condition I endure is Restless Leg Syndrome, or RLS as it’s known in the acronym community. For as long as I can recall I’ve felt the irresistible urge to wiggle my feet when I’m trying to relax in the evening. I didn’t realize it was worthy of syndrome designation until just recently, when I discovered there’s a whole subculture devoted to the fight to conquer RLS. I’m sure the pharmaceutical industry had something to do with the mainstreaming of this condition, and I’ve tried several of their products to address the issue, but they just don’t work on me. I admire the well-dressed individuals I see in the magazine ads for these medicines – they’re reclined in their well-appointed sunrooms apparently not moving their legs (or at least the photographer was unable to capture the blur) – but I think I’m more envious of their sunrooms than I am of their tranquil limbs. Still, I don’t regard the malady as particularly difficult to live with. If you’re going to have body parts that twitch involuntarily, I’d say that legs are better than kidneys or tongues or brain stems.

Finally, I have to mention my occasionally overwhelming need to stretch. We all experience this feeling as we force our muscles into various uncomfortable configurations during the day, but what I experience seems to be of a different degree altogether. It may be related to the RLS or even the sighing, I suppose. I can accommodate the upper body stretches without drawing too much attention to myself. Throwing back your shoulders, bending your elbows high above your head and letting rip with a good stretch is not all that unusual. But I have these parts of my upper legs, specifically the muscles inside my thighs, that frequently demand the kind of extension you can’t really perform in polite company. I’ll have to excuse myself to the men’s room and hope no one comes in as I take turns placing each foot on the sink and thrusting forward in a rhythmic motion that can only be described as bizarre. I’m going to have a lot of explaining to do if I’m ever surprised in the midst of this exercise. Please drop me an email if you have any suggestions that won’t make me sound like the unfortunate love child of Larry Craig and Mary Lou Retton.

If I can ever figure out how to quantify these strange physical aberrations in the radio-button format of an online questionnaire, I’ll probably feel less guilty about being in such relatively good shape for my age. I may have to forfeit my 89, but it’d probably be worth it for the peace of mind.


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2 Responses to “Revisited: Internet says I’m in good health”

  1. GoingLikeSixty Says:

    First, it kinda sucks that the insurance co./business puts such a high premium on a self-rated system. You can lie, right?

    I have RLS too, and take a drug for it because it was diagnosed during a sleep study for apnea and they couldn’t get that fixed until my legs stopped moving.

    I would bet your stretching is related

    Odd. definitely odd.

  2. Phillip Donnelly Says:

    Yes, pretty good shape indeed!
    My long-lost friend insomnia returned to me tonight, and I’m not at all glad to see him again.

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