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When Prevention Goes Too Far

md mahdi lQpFRPrepQ8 unsplashIn the movie, “What About Bob”, Dr. Leo Marvin goes crazy trying to take a vacation. Bob, one of his insane patients, will not leave him and his family alone. At his breaking point, Dr. Marvin takes Bob by gunpoint into the woods, to tie him up, strap him to dynamite, and blow him up. When Bob questions what he is doing, Dr. Marvin’s response is “Death therapy, Bob. It is a guaranteed cure.”

With my sick sense of humor, I often use this quote when people ask me how they prevent an injury or illness from ever happening. By virtue of the fact that we are mortal human beings, we are susceptible to injuries and illnesses. There is no guaranteed way to avoid everything except for death. We can do things to lower the probability of injury and illness, but we have to make sure the measures we take to avoid the risks are not worse than the risk itself. It seems some have forgotten this type of reasoning in the world today. 

I’ll use a personal example to explain. About eight years ago I ruptured the ACL in my left knee while also tearing both the medial and lateral menisci. I was playing soccer when it happened. The argument can certainly be made that if I had not been playing soccer that evening, I would most likely not have hurt my knee. In truth, it was a non-contact injury so there is nothing to say that I would not have hurt it some other way. A stronger argument can be made that if I had never played soccer in my life, my knee would still be fine. Should I encourage youth to avoid playing sports like soccer because they might tear their ACL like I did? 

Similar questions can be asked about other sports injuries and also potential exposure to viruses and other microbial. Does the benefit of physical activity outweigh the risk of potential injury? On the flip side, does the risk of inactivity justify the decreased risk of injury? We certainly need to look at the type of activity, the terrain, the opponent, and the list goes on. Beyond injury you also have to consider social lessons, mental health, obesity, etc. The same can be said for infectious agents. Knowing that our bodies rely on microbes, is it worth killing all because of the risk of some? Is avoiding human contact for indefinite periods of time, closing businesses and schools, sanitizing everything, and requiring masks worth it? 

Don’t get me wrong, prevention is not a bad thing and there are times when extreme measures are, in fact worth, worth it. However, we need to weigh risks and benefits so we do not go too far. There has to be a balance between the extremes. Otherwise, we are just substituting one bad thing for another. Life is, by its nature, risky. Risk brings rewards and consequences. Prevention has consequences, as well, but the rewards are not typically great. We cannot always choose the consequences but we can decide if a risk is worth it. Prevention is not always the best course especially at the greatest extreme even if you are as annoying as Bob. 🙂 

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