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January 11, 2013 at 10:41 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0


By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

A Tedious, Minor Act

I picked up some medication at the pharmacy today - 1500 anti-worm pills for an upcoming medical trip to Kenya. Since the medication isn't readily available in the U.S., it needed to be made up special at the pharmacy from bulk and placed in individual capsules. 

I thanked the owner of the pharmacy for this service, and he asked if I would say a few words to his team of compounders who tediously packed the capsules. He wanted his employees to understand the impact of their work. Their efforts at preparing a medication will likely snowball into a significant benefit for Kenyan orphans who commonly experience malnutrition, abdominal pain, poor performance in school, and even complete obstruction of the bowels because of intestinal worm infestation. A tedious, minor act contained the potential for a significant, but unapparent, impact.

I left wondering about all the potential impacts we have on a daily basis, both good and bad. It's humbling to know that our actions have the potential to snowball one way or another into significant factors in other people's lives.

Speculative Suggestions

As a primary care doctor, there are several moves I make with my patients that may have significant impact. It's speculative in the present. In fact, I often play the odds, relying on research studies which reveal trends. I have men over 50 take a daily baby aspirin. Heart attack prevented? I educate people on lowering cholesterol and sometimes prescribe medicine to get the numbers down. Stroke prevented? I talk with children about wearing bike helmets. Brain injury prevented? Who is to say what impact this will have, or if I'll ever even know?

Pay It Forward

Another way that impact is unseen is the growing trend of "paying it forward."  Acts of kindness are randomly performed (like at a drive-thru), and the beneficiary is giving the option of turning the favor to another stranger. Things like this restore faith in humanity for all who are involved and even those who become aware of the actions.

Sometimes the impact is more tangible. Actions have reactions, and it is nice to see the benefits of our actions more immediately. Smiles of gratitude are positive rewards, as are kind words. Uplifting feelings from making a positive impact are healthy and spur positive trends.

Sometimes a negative impact is so simple, but can have large effects. This morning, my daughter woke up on the wrong side of the bed. She was upset about something. She yelled and slammed a door waking up our youngest. The little one got so worked up she vomited. Things snowballed from there - bad moods, a mess to clean up, and tardiness. The impact was still felt this evening among the members of the family. My daughter had a difficult lesson to learn about the impact of fleeting anger.  In such ways feelings get hurt, laws can get broken, and bodily harm can happen. It's important to remember that our actions, good and bad, have consequences.

In conclusion, be reminded that every action has a reaction. In so many ways each day, we impact those around us. It's impossible to account for every such instance. We will never be aware of most impacts we have in our lives. But know that they are potent, just like that tiny capsule of worm medicine that I will be carrying to Kenya.

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