Sickness, Unsickness, and Wellness

Sick, Unsick, and Well

 Exactly what is “wellness”?  I imagine if we took a camera crew into the mall and interviewed a dozen different people about what “wellness” means, we would get nearly a dozen different answers.  Some would say it is being a healthy weight or being physically fit.  Some might say it has something to do with health food.  Others might say that it is the absence of disease.  Without a clear definition of wellness, how do people know if they are truly well? 

 Over the years, as I have had discussions with people concerning health and wellness, I have discovered that many people will say that they are relatively healthy, have a good diet, and exercise some.  But when I dig a little deeper, I find that they are not as healthy as they say they are, do not eat as well as they think they do, do not get enough exercise, and are living a high-stress lifestyle.  So, I have found it necessary when coaching people as they seek “wellness” to first discover what their own definition of wellness is, why they desire wellness, and then spend some time exploring a theory on wellness that I learned from a trusted doctor, George Wootan, M.D.

 Dr. Wootan is a family medical doctor in the state of New York who has had a unique journey in his medical career.  He began over 4 decades ago as most doctors, with a full schedule of seeing sick patients and giving them prescriptions to help them recover from their sickness.  Business was booming.  One day he had lunch with beloved pediatrician and author Robert Mendelsohn, who challenged Dr. Wootan in the way he practiced.  I won’t go into all the details here, but as a result of his conversation with Dr. Mendelsohn, he began to change the way he practiced.  He started doing classes and seminars to educate his patients and put the responsibility for their health back into the hands of the patients or their parents.  As a result, instead of his patients being in a cycle of getting sick, going to the doctor, getting better, getting sick again, going to the doctor, etc., his patients stayed healthier and his paycheck began to dwindle.  Being committed to the health of his patients, he had to seek out other creative ways to supplement his income so he could provide for his large family of eleven children while helping his patients achieve wellness.

 When I heard Dr. Wootan’s story, I decided to take his course “Pediatrics: A Course for Parents” when he came to Virginia in the mid-1990s.  The following is just a small piece of what I learned from him that has hugely impacted how I view health and wellness and how I coach others who are seeking wellness.

Wootan’s Theory on Wellness
“On a continuum between sickness and wellness, there is a third condition that falls right in the middle: unsickness.”

It is very easy to see the difference between sickness and wellness, but the difference between well and unsick is a little bit less clear.

A well person will go to the store and come home with a bag of groceries.  An unsick person, on the other hand, will come home with the groceries and a virus he picked up while shopping.  The well person’s immune system took care of the virus without him even realizing it, but the unsick person’s immune system wasn’t up for the fight.  In his book, Take Charge of Your Child’s Health, George Wootan states, “When you’re well, you generally stay that way (although even the healthiest person is susceptible to disease sometimes).  When you’re unsick, illness is as close as the nearest germ.”  He also lets us in on the secret that doctors are not trained to help people go from sickness to wellness, but that they are experts at taking people from sickness to unsickness.  The responsibility of achieving wellness is on the shoulders of each of us as individuals.

If a person is ready to embrace that responsibility and is willing to take a holistic approach to achieving wellness, he has already taken a giant step in the right direction and it is time to set some goals.  He will likely succeed.

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