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  • Writer's pictureSiria Contreras

You Come First

For some, life has really sped up in the past few months, we see it in our social feeds and we see it out in the world. Hiring also is starting to pick back up as the COVID-19 Vaccine continues to be administered to a larger percentage of Americans.

For many, this faster pace is quite welcome after over a year spent in an unforeseen state of suspension. One area that many have become a bit more vigilant around though is their health, after all we were all facing quite the threat to our own mortalities. While we will need to continue to exercise caution for a while longer, many are starting to return to some of their pre-pandemic activities. However, as the pause button is released we are likely taking at least one or two (or many more) of the healthier habits that we may have adopted during this stay-at-home time.

Really, any or all of the below might apply. If you did, congratulations! If none apply, there’s no need to feel bad as it wasn’t a requirement that while in quarantine you had to establish any healthy habits:

  • More regular sleep routine - with commutes eliminated, this may have given you extra time in bed each morning. However, the uptick in device usage and screen time you may actually not have succeeded at this.

  • Better work/life balance - although with everything being virtual, this actually may still pose a challenge for many for some time to come. There are others, present company included, that can easily fall into workaholic mode (of course, I definitely still manage to have fun and take time off, but sometimes projects need a lot more of your time or also like me your brain might be constantly full of new ideas that you want to put into motion).

  • Developing a fitness routine or better eating habits - As gyms closed, more home gyms sprouted as orders of treadmills, free weights, Pelotons, and so many other fitness gadgets and equipment skyrocketed. Even if you couldn’t afford cost-wise or space-wise to create your own home gym, being out in nature was one escape that everyone could take advantage of for either walks, runs, hikes, or other social-distanced activities. Working from home also made eating healthier a bit easier as well as lessening the excuses for skipping meals.

  • Quitting smoking or other vices - Prior to developing a dependency on anything there was a psychological reason why those addictions were developed. Most people that I know that smoked, typically started off doing it in social situations and it either became a way to befriend people or to deal with anxiety in social situations or stress in their lives. I tried it briefly in college, but the truth is I don’t really like the smell--the smell of smoke while people are smoking doesn't bother me, but it's the lingering smell that I don't enjoy. However, with the data showing that COVID-19 could cause severe lung damage many had a very strong incentive to quit things like smoking (although, no concrete evidence ties higher risk of contracting the virus as a smoker, the danger comes in more if you do happen to contract it.) However, on the flip-side of the coin with the stress and potential financial duress that many experienced during the past year, it may have become even harder for some to quit some of those bad habits.

  • Establishing boundaries - I think this is still one of the most important areas that any of us could’ve strengthened in the past year. Whether setting boundaries professionally, with toxic people, or even with friends and family. This past year really drove home the fact that while you are capable of amazing achievements, that you are still just one person and you cannot be everything to everyone.

Recently, I was feeling quite fatigued and chalked it up to environmental allergies and having worked quite hard, juggling many things (all by choice), in the past year. While I definitely know how to disconnect and definitely take time for device-free moments in my days and even longer stretches of r&r, I’m just naturally a busy person. My curious, analytical and creative traits paired with an ability to execute seem to result in what can only equal the definition of busy. I enjoy this state though and while I may be quite productive I know that most people aren’t like me and therefore I don’t expect others to have the same output that I have. Yet, sometimes that busy-ness can take a toll and so to stop this from happening I definitely do integrate other types of activities to better balance the Work/Play in my life.

Sometimes though it takes our bodies sending signals that we might need to look after ourselves a bit better. So, as mentioned I was feeling a bit tired and so I decided it might be good to have a regular health check-up. One area I won’t get into now that is still such a challenge in the U.S. is healthcare. I am quite lucky as I am lucky enough to have great health insurance (if any of it can be described as great) and can afford to pay for my own medication, doctor’s visits, etc. I know this is not the case for many Americans.

In 2021, we have many options for our primary and specialized care. From the traditional in-person visits, to telehealth and virtual visits, and in more recent years subscription services. I’ve made use of all three, but especially the latter two this past year, still a bit wary of going into actual larger doctors offices unless I have to. I’ve used the Plushcare platform to have virtual visits with a doctor and have my prescriptions filled, which charges me the same co-pay as an in-person doctor’s visit, without the stress and worry of going into an actual physical location during this time. They can also order lab work as needed and you can select which doctor you see based on your needs. Plushcare is not a subscription service, and only charges you each time you schedule a visit with a doctor.

Out of curiosity I also explored another subscription service, Parsley Health, and while I liked their approach of having a full team dedicated to you as well as the fact that they automatically also integrate a holistic healthcare specialist into this team, I found it wasn’t for me as I don’t need to schedule as frequent visits as I felt like they wanted me to schedule. Yet, definitely would still recommend it if you need or desire that level of “extra” attention and care. All of the visits were virtual--just like any other Zoom meeting already on your calendars.

Lastly, one subscription service that I have maintained off and on since 2018 is that of Forward Health. In-person I love the convenience of being able to schedule an appointment via their app, show-up, and never have to wait for more than 5-10 minutes to be seen by my doctor. Many of their services are automated and run by machines, from signing in at the lobby to heart rate, blood pressure, weight, and height that is captured by the body scanner after you check-in and auto-updates your “chart”.

I first became aware of Forward while conducting research for marketing campaigns when we were launching a new short-lived medical drama on CBS called “Pure Genius”, starring the lovely Augustus Prew as a tech-billionaire who built a tech-based hospital to help treat normally incurable diseases (something that he also was suffering from) back in 2016 and news of this new way of healthcare was making its way into San Francisco. So when a location opened in Century City in 2018 (of course next to Peloton), I decided to try it and have continued with them off and on through present day.

While you’re in your visit with your doctor another form of technology automatically takes notes and updates your chart and displays it on the wall (not unlike “Pure Genius”).

I also really love that you can get your blood work done on site and the results are typically ready during your same visit. Even if you have to see a specialist, they usually have some great recommendations for you as most of their doctors are of high-caliber, many recruits from places like UCLA Health and Cedars Sinai, etc. They also have an integration with many fitness smart devices and implement technology in your monitoring as well as gene testing integrations with 23andme, mental health monitoring, and much more. The monthly subscription fee is $149 and does not replace your health insurance, but if you’re monitoring a chronic condition or just like the ease of being able to quickly see your doctor and having a one-stop shop experience, I’d actually highly recommend this company. The backers and advisers range from of course experts in medicine from Stanford or Cedars Sinai to Google c-levels, to Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, and one of the names most synonymous with tech startups in the past decade, Ashton Kutcher. Unfortunately, Forward is still limited in reach as their great in-person experience is only available in larger metropolitan cities across the U.S. like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, I believe Seattle, and it’s flagship in San Francisco.

However, even just the convenience of having all of your medical history available in a convenient app is super-helpful. Although, I don’t list that as a selling point as many other health practitioners have also come a long way in making your health data available online and in apps. Funny enough, my partner in our online radio station and podcast distributor, Dr. Katrina Miller, way back about 2009-13ish was spearheading this digital revolution for Cedars Sinai and getting other hospitals to also come into the future with their patient information accessibility.

So back to my feeling fatigued and feeling like I could sleep for days a few weeks back, it ended up just being my iron levels and Vitamin D levels that were extremely low.

Those are two levels that tend to fluctuate for me and it is funny how our bodies can quickly go out of balance when facing any deficiencies. I don’t eat enough red meat for the iron issue to be a constant area that I have to monitor. In all honesty though and to perhaps persuade you to definitely check-in on yourself if you’re ever not feeling 100 percent, about a decade ago, I went through a big health scare of sorts when actually because of very low iron levels and having become without knowing very anemic, I actually almost died. I don’t share that story often, but most of my close friends recall that time as I was fine/my usual busy self one minute and then quite ill, mostly exhausted all of the time although I still worked as much as I probably do now--something I’m not entirely certain of how I did it.

I wasn’t as good then at getting regular health check-ups as I usually felt healthy and rarely fell ill so just didn’t make it a priority, which is what most of us do. Long story short, I only decided to into my doctor’s office after I kept feeling winded from just walking from the parking lot at work into my office (I think faint is more accurate than winded) and also feeling like I wasn’t getting enough air which I wasn’t sure how to describe as I never have suffered from asthma or panic attacks which I imagine might be closer to what I felt then. I later learned it was because my red blood cell count was so low and the cells were so small, affecting my oxygen intake. My initial blood work showed my iron levels and cell counts in such low single digits that my doctor went straight into immediate action mode ordering more tests and later sending me twice for emergency blood transfusions, putting me on two forms of birth control to ensure that I wouldn’t get my period as I couldn’t afford the blood loss, and testing me for other things like Leukemia, Sickle-Cell Anemia, etc.

Apparently, my body wasn’t absorbing nutrients properly thanks to this imbalance as well. Constantly, she would ask me how I was still functioning? Dressed, groomed, walking, making doctors appointments versus just laying in bed. I had no idea how bad my situation was, as I knew I felt terrible but didn’t know that this gave me permission to just put everything on hold. Anyhow, it took about a year to get my anemia back to a lower normal count and a lot of monitoring and doctor visits, and for about a year I was still getting winded on walks and had to stick to exercise like Pilates and Tennis, but I am grateful that my own health woes have not been as severe as what many others have experienced. Some of my friends still recall this experience and check in on me and at times chastise me when they start to see that I’m becoming overly busy, but since this incident I have done a better job of keeping an eye on my health and especially my Iron levels.

One thing that this experience did expand within me was my empathy for people on a daily basis while I don’t care about what assumptions others may make of me, I do try not to make any of others. This ordeal, made me a lot more patient in certain cases as I always have the thought in the back of my head that I cannot even begin to guess what everyone that I encounter might be going through or what it took for them to get out of bed that morning. One thing that my doctor said to me early in our tackling this issue was, “Siria, people don’t equate youth and beauty with death.” What she really meant with those words was “don’t expect people to feel sorry for you if they don’t know what you’re dealing with.” However, I was fine with that, as I didn’t need people to feel sorry for me, I just needed to get myself back to better health at that time and as I mentioned, I was lucky that as weak as I might’ve felt, it could’ve all been much worse and I recognize my privilege.

So now that I’ve shared one of those trying moments in my life like the ones that everyone experiences at least one of those of, I will wrap this post up by saying that if you’re someone who is putting off getting something checked or even just haven’t had a health check-up in a long time it is easier now than ever to find the right approach be it virtual, in person, etc. Also, just as I’ve said about the digital world, technology in healthcare is also a good thing and the area of more healthcare platforms with a la carte services like Plushcare or subscription services like Forward will continue to sprout just like streaming and content services will continue to make their way onto our Smart TVs and devices.


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