The Best Medicine

Shark in the Gene Pool?

It’s not unusual for friends, or even people I’ve just met, to turn to me for medical advice once they learn I work at a hospital. I might be asked for my thoughts regarding a potentially cancerous mole, my recommendation for treatment of back pain or even something as simple as how to interpret a blood pressure reading—about none of which, of course, I have any clue. I work in marketing—I don’t have any actual practical skills.

But that doesn’t stop people from approaching me for help. A couple of weeks ago a good friend walked up to me with a look of extreme panic. He said he just learned my hospital had hired a genetic counselor (see article on page 20), and he wanted to see if I had any pull to get him an appointment immediately.

I was concerned because I didn’t know he was worried about any potential health issues. When I asked why he was in such a hurry, he said his family was driving him crazy and he didn’t know how much more he could take. His mother was texting him nonstop, constantly using acronyms like OMG and LOL, regardless of context (example: “It’s sunny here today, OMG, LOL”); his sister had just gotten engaged to a mime despite her complaints that they had a hard time communicating; and his little brother was thinking of going into politics. He felt that if anyone needed genetic counseling, he did.

While I don’t know much (see above: “marketing”), I was able to explain that a genetic counselor works with individuals who are at risk of an inherited disorder and advises them of the potential consequences and issues related to the disorder. Our counselor helps provide her patients with the information they need to better understand their health risks and make informed decisions. She has nothing to do with counseling on how to deal with the craziness of people who happen to share your genes.

My friend noted that medicine is always evolving, and perhaps one day hospitals would expand their definition of genetic counseling. As he walked away, it started me thinking of ways in which I would personally like to see the field of genetic counseling evolve. I’d love to see the day when genetic counselors can work with our individual genes, as mine definitely need some help.

The first thing I would do is sign my genes up for counseling to help them understand that they don’t always need to be eating. For example, I tend to snack constantly throughout the day, so unless there’s a shark somewhere in my family tree, I’d like my genes to be counseled so they understand that the concept of three meals a day isn’t some sort of Greek myth.

I would also like to sign up my motor-skills genes with a professional counselor to see why they’re such underachievers. Maybe I can finally discover why it is I trip over smoke, or why sometimes I have trouble just walking or chewing gum, let alone trying to do both at once.

I do recognize, though, that the work our new genetic counselor currently performs has a far more significant impact on the lives of the people with whom she works. She deals with important health issues, and her counsel helps individuals in ways that can be life-saving. She can also provide a level of understanding of one’s health risks to help alleviate stress and anxiety.

So I do recognize that I’m being selfish by looking for help with my own small personality defects, but I guess that’s just me. I think it’s genetic.

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