Dr. Erika's TedX talk

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted even more than ever how broken our healthcare system is. But preventive health advocate Dr. Erika Schwartz shares in her TEDx TaraBlvd talk that it also opened a huge opportunity that is within our immediate and total control: We can all start owning our own health.

Dr. Erika says it’s high time we focus on prevention. Start by changing simple daily habits one small step at a time and prevent and reverse our bodies’ deterioration so we are no longer sitting ducks for chronic disease.

When we take responsibility, we become empowered, we strengthen our bodies and minds, we create healthy communities, and we become part of the solution to shift our world to become healthy and sustainable.

View Transcript

[Music] [Applause]

I bet you, like most of the world, spent last year thinking and worrying about COVID-19. I’m also going to bet very few of you spend much time focusing to see if the way you were living your lifestyle was fighting off the virus or inviting it in.

When you were drinking that third glass of wine did you make that connection when you packed on the 15 pounds during quarantine? Did you make that connection when you couldn’t stop the negative thoughts in your head? Did you make that connection they are all connected whether consciously or subconsciously? It’s about the choices we make, and do you realize some of those choices put you more at risk, not just for COVID but for any disease.

We only have one body, one life, and yet many of us are squandering it.

That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news. Today, we’re going to change that.

This is the new essential you and your health come first.

It’s not too late. It’s never too late.

We know our health care system is broken. It’s a disease-centered system. We wait until something goes wrong before we even think of fixing it and even then we don’t focus on prevention or finding the root cause of the problem. We just treat the symptoms.

We spend three trillion dollars a year on health care yet America is rated number 50 in quality of care. Two-thirds of the money – 750 billion dollars – our nation spends on health care goes to treating the results of our own bad lifestyle choices.

But the good news is we, not the health care system, but we each – one of us – can change this. We can take our power back. We can make our health better. I will show you how.

I’ve been a physician for 45 years. I was born in communist Romania to parents who are Holocaust survivors.

When I was seven my mother became very ill. The doctors were certain she was going to die. I slept in bed with her praying I could somehow make her better. My father worried that if she died he couldn’t afford to care for me and would have to give me up for adoption.

Miraculously, my mother survived. I wasn’t given up for adoption and I found my life’s mission to heal.

At 16 my parents brought me to America. I went to the university searching for a path to become a healer. Medical school seemed the  obvious choice. My training was excellent but I didn’t realize until much later how flawed it was.

My first job at 28 was Director of Emergency Medicine at a busy trauma center outside New York City. We were saving lives every single day, but i was missing the healing part, the human connection. The reason I became a doctor in the first place.

So five years later I went into private practice thinking that was the answer.

That was even less fulfilling. You see, I was doing what I was trained to do. I was practicing ping pong medicine. I would refer to specialists or their tests, prescribe medications, and bring patients back for checkups that treated the symptoms but never got to the root of their problems, so that is when I decided to do it my way.

I dedicated myself to prevention and healing, to listening and understanding my patients, and giving them the power to be their own health advocates.

I shifted gears and focused my practice on three things:

  • hearing my patients
  • showing I care about them
  • and most importantly empowering them to take control of their health and no longer be bullied by a broken system that keeps them sick

And then my patients started taking responsibility for their own health. This was the key. What I began to see was an awareness shift when I listened to them. They listened back. They began to engage in dialogue, a conversation that was filled with ideas, problem solving, and genuine care for their bodies.

I began to see my patients connect their mind to their heart to their body. Out of this triangle of connection came the most powerful change. My patients began to develop a deeper connection to themselves and took ownership of their decisions to prevent disease.

I never miss the opportunity to tell my patients they are in charge. I’m only there to serve them today.

I take care of 600 people in my New York City practice. They range in ages from 16 to 79. Some have been with me for decades, others are new. They all have one thing in common. They are my family. I love them all with all my heart.

Since the pandemic started last year, only 10 of my patients tested positive for COVID. Not one required hospitalization.

Five years ago one of my patients, I’ll call him Mike, became very sick – a heart valve stopped working.

He was hospitalized for two weeks and I saw him every single day. He stayed so optimistic, so positive, the nurses taking care of him thought he’d lost his mind. They even called the psychiatrist to evaluate him.

Mike was sure he’d be all right even when the doctors weren’t. The psychiatrist confirmed he wasn’t crazy.

You see, Mike took ownership of his health. He believed in himself. He knew he would get better and he did.

When you own your health you stop being a victim of the system. You become your own advocate.

Unlike Mike, we don’t have to wait until we get sick to access that confidence. Let’s start by abandoning the old, outdated paradigm that the doctor knows best.

Let’s replace it with a new paradigm, the patient knows better.

You live inside your body, the doctor doesn’t. They never did. They never will.

Another patient of mine, I’ll call her Monique, was a victim of her dysfunctional work environment. She was drowning in stress. She couldn’t sleep, ate poorly, drank too much, was exhausted. She wasn’t taking care of herself.

A single mother of two, she couldn’t even care for her kids.

When an ultrasound found strange nodules in Monique’s breasts, the doctors wanted to biopsy them following conventional medical protocols. She came to me because that route didn’t sit right with her. I heard her and encouraged her to trust her gut.

Monique took a medical leave to give her body a chance to heal. She quit drinking, started eating a clean diet, started sleeping better,
and began to meditate.

Two months later, a repeat ultrasound showed no trace of abnormality in her breasts. The doctors had no answers. Self-healing had happened.

Mike took ownership of his outcome when he became sick, while Monique took ownership before she got really sick. You can take
ownership of your health anytime.

I’m not saying to ignore medical advice that is good, just put it into perspective see how and if it applies to your situation and decide without fear or doubt.

We are all unique. No two people are the same. One size fits all medicine doesn’t apply to the individual.

There are so many variables we must take into consideration to make correct decisions that no one outside us can. The importance of this
was never clearer than during the pandemic, which hit hardest people with obesity, hypertension, adult-onset diabetes – mostly self-made, mostly correctable problems.

What’s making us sick are poor diets, sedentary lifestyles, lack of sleep, and chronic stress.

They were killing us before the pandemic and they will continue after the pandemic unless we use this moment to take ownership of our health.

Albert Einstein said it, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

So why continue to go to the doctor who doesn’t know you and just keeps prescribing pills and tests and you wonder why you never feel

I think most of us know how to be healthier.

Cut back on alcohol and coffee, eat better, get off the couch, move, sleep eight hours a night, breathe.

Sounds too simple.

It can’t be that easy, but it is.

Only you live inside your body. No doctor, friend, not even Google can tell you what’s going on inside you.

You have the power to heal yourself. Spend time learning to listen to your body. Above all, be kind to yourself. Address your relationship with your doctor. Unless you feel heard and supported, walk away. Find a doctor who cares. There are plenty out there.

When my mother lay close to death I believe she willed herself to live to save me from adoption. In doing so, she changed the course of my life.

Mike and Monique chose to live healthier, better lives. Their decisions change the lives of those they love.

You too can change the course of your life and the lives of those you love.

You must own your health. You can do it!

Let’s do it now. Start today.

Thank you.

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