The joke used to be that “you know you’re old when you start talking about your health”, but health issues
aren’t just a complimentary add-on to middle-agedom anymore. The rise of healthy eating and fitness comes
as an attempt to balance increasingly sedentary lifestyles, which has resulted in the emergence of different
health patterns and, consequently, life spans. But how can you be sure you’re doing what’s best for your body?
Doing regular health screenings is an effective way to find out.
What Is A Health Screening?
If you’ve done a urine test or a chest X-ray to apply for a visa or as a condition of employment, that’s just one aspect of health screening. In isolation, one or two tests make it difficult for doctors to extract accurate information about your health. That's why an array of tests is needed to get a holistic view of your health.
Ideally, adults over 30 should get at least one health screening done, and those over 40 should be doing it annually if not twice a year. There are many procedures within a health screening package; basic procedures include blood and urine tests along with chest X-rays, but older people may want to add mammograms, ultrasounds, stress tests and more depending on their condition.
I opted for a Basic Health Pack at Beacon International Specialist Centre, which involves a blood, urine, eye and electrocardiogram (ECG) test, a chest X-ray and consultations with a doctor and nutritionist. While the medical screening process has sped up significantly over the years, people still opt to do it as early as possible in the day as even the basic procedures can take up to two hours if the centre is busy. After fasting from 12am (water is allowed), I turn up at 8.30am on a Monday morning, and there are already patients waiting for their next test. I register at the counter and change into a teal hospital gown, which offers scant protection against the air-conditioning.
Being Put To The Test
The first three tests – blood, eye and ECG - are done in adjoining rooms. Before or in between these tests, you’ll be given a urine specimen cup to collect urine for analysis, which you then leave sealed in a basket. There’s no polite way to say it, so here it is: drink a good amount of water beforehand so you won’t have a problem filling the cup, but don’t make this your first bathroom visit of the day as concentrated liquid can produce an inaccurate result.
The eye test is what you’d expect from any optometrist, and the ECG test makes me feel like an experiment with all the sensors attached to my chest as I lie still. As for the blood test, while the staff member is perfectly professional as she draws 18ml of blood from me in three vials, something about the sensation of blood leaving my body makes me light-headed and nauseous when I stand up.
I’m allowed to eat and relax in the lounge with hot Milo, soft boiled eggs and sweet buns, offered on free flow. I feel better with some food in me, and when I’m ready, another staff member takes me for my chest X-ray. Soon enough, I’m pressing my chest against the machine while holding a lead apron to shield me from radiation; it only takes a few seconds and I’m escorted back to the first floor when it’s done.
Normally, results will take around four hours to process. Visitors can wait in the cafeteria or head elsewhere until the hospital contacts them. I wait until my name is called and I sit down nervously with a doctor, who takes me through a quick explanation of my results. I’m generally in good health except for the absence of a Hepatitis B vaccine, a slightly low platelet count (which could be hereditary) and a slightly high bad cholesterol count. I was also recommended to get a Hep B vaccine as the first shot can be done immediately at the hospital. While mulling over these results, I lie on the examination table for a quick check on my bowel and kidney health, as well as an examination for lymph nodes and chest lumps.
All’s clear, and the last step before I collect my results and leave is to meet a dietician, who's more
concerned about my cholesterol level and after interrogating me about my daily diet, concludes (unsurprisingly) that no, an hour of Zumba a week won’t cut it – I need more high-intensity exercise, at least 150 minutes a week. I should also stop eating the high-in-trans-fat goodies we get at the office, replacing them with food high in omega-3 content to reduce bad cholesterol. Leaving Beacon International Specialist Centre, I feel like I’ve just passed a big test, which it is, in some ways.
Why Do It?
Let’s face it: health screenings aren’t the cheapest to do yearly at RM500 to over RM1,000 a pop, which might make them tempting to drop if you’re saving up for a big trip or a new house. But that’s the wrong way to think of them. They should be seen as an investment in your health that can save you pain and money in the long run by helping you make informed choices, especially if you have any hereditary diseases that could unknowingly be passed on to your children.