Is All the Sacrifice Worth It? A Lesson from a Patient Who Died

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” I saw this quote somewhere a couple weeks ago and thought “that’s pretty profound.” My mind kept coming back to it, because I obviously can’t control my thoughts. I started to ask myself some questions:
How does someone live like they will die tomorrow? They would probably get rid of all responsibility and eat whatever, do whatever, take major risks, spend all their money, etc. But what happens if they don’t die tomorrow? Then they are screwed! So, is it possible to live like you were to die tomorrow and still have life be great tomorrow if you do wake up?

That led me to my story about a patient. I will call him Bob. Bob was a diabetic and came to me because he wanted off of his medication. Bob did amazing in my program, got off his meds, reversed his diabetes (type II), and couldn’t have been happier. In order to do this, Bob had to change some things that had become habitual in his life and maybe partake in certain indulgences a little less often.

The following year I get an update on Bob. He died. Not due to his health, but in a car accident. When considering the quote above, I asked myself “I wonder if he still would have done my program if he had known he would die the next year?” After all, he did give up some convenience, some indulgence, and some comfortable habits to improve his health, but he likely would have still survived past that year without changing a thing. I’ll never know the answer to that question.

This is often an argument I hear in regards to healthy habits. What if I die tomorrow? We will all die of something. I ask “What if you don’t?” Are you willing to sacrifice your ability to live a good quality of life later for the excessive amount of pleasure today?
I could ask this same question about money. If you spend it all this year because you never know about the next, what happens when next year comes and there’s no money?! But what if next year doesn’t come and you saved every dime and didn’t enjoy things as much as you could?!

It’s balance. You want some indulgence, some excitement, some pleasure, but not at the loss of your ability to experience that over a lifetime. You also don’t want to limit pleasure in hopes you will live forever. Because the truth is, you really just don’t know when your last day will be.

When I work with patients, it’s always been about creating an unwritten balance. Not in the way of “if I eat a salad, then I can have this donut” because that’s not the point. It’s about creating balance within a LIFESTYLE that allows you to enjoy today AND tomorrow. When people end up on my doorstep, many times it’s because they have recently realized that tomorrow will and did come, and they didn’t live yesterday in a way that will make a pleasant quality of life in the future. I want people to indulge, to experience pleasure, to create excitement in their senses, but I also want them here doing the same thing tomorrow, next week, next year, and for their lifetime. Unfortunately, there is no known way that one can live like they will die tomorrow and not have a rude awakening in the morning. So, seize your moments and enjoy life as if it is short but remember how much sweeter life will be if you can do these things for a lifetime and not just one day.

*geeky side note: When teaching physiology, we would always go over a concept of sensory adaptation, and we have all experienced it. You walk into a smelly room and in 5 minutes, you don’t notice is nearly as much, if at all. Or you order a piece of cheesecake for dessert and you take a bite and go to heaven. By the time you reach bite 4 or 5, you are actually not that excited about it and are just eating it because it’s there. The culinary world knows the magic happens on the first couple bites. That’s why they create small plates and dessert shooters. They want you to leave with the pleasure and desire for MORE, but it actually decreases your pleasure when you do have more! Sensory adaptation is the ultimate temptress, the tease, the thing that everybody loves to experience. Biology ultimately tells us that this heightened pleasure is NOT prolonged. However, it can be experienced over and over if there is enough gap in between. In the long run, this creates a lifetime of pleasure instead of continued behavior that never quite reaches the dopamine surge of the first bite. Food for thought.

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