Rising through the ranks: The most dreaded tests


A few months ago I stopped in at my old department as part of my new job. I was in a pretty good mood when I arrived and was downright depressed when I departed. The reason? During my conversation with one of the Lieutenants, I found out that six or seven officers had suffered a stroke, heart attack, or some other serious illness since I left. Additionally, other officers had to undergo angioplasty to open clogged arteries. This was a high percentage when you figure that we’re talking about a 43 officer department. It was this visit that got me thinking about physical fitness as a function career advancement.

Contrary to how we like to see ourselves, police work is not a job of high action. Truth be told, for the vast majority of the time we sit in patrol cars waiting for that moment of action to come around. A sergeant I once knew described police work as “ninety-nine percent boredom punctuated by one percent of sheer terror.” Given the disparity between how the job actually is verses how it’s perceived, it’s not hard to understand how we can let ourselves slip a little and then have a major physical problem on our hands.

Not only can these major physical aliments affect the quality of life after retirement, but they can also play a major factor in your ability to survive until you reach retirement as well. Y ears ago my department had the LETN network. One of the series that I remember well was a thirteen part series on Officer Survival narrated by Dave Smith. This was one of the best officer survival series I ever saw, and it was a big reason why I became interested in all aspects of officer survival. I still have the pre-tests and post-tests to all thirteen episodes and one of the questions on one of the tests dealt with physical fitness and stated quite emphatically that physical fitness plays a major role in any officer survival situation.

Take a moment to think how deeply that statement runs true in police work. If you’re physically weak, you can be overpowered and killed. If you’re not aerobically conditioned to some extent, you run the risk of suffering a heart attack during physical exertion like running or wrestling. If you’ve let yourself run down physically, you can overlook something during an encounter and be killed because of your lack of observation. The possibilities just go on and on.

So with all this in mind let’s begin by talking about some of the medical exams you should be getting to stay in the game and to have a great retirement after the game.

Now, I’m not a medical doctor, I just talk to a lot of them. So before you try anything in this, or any other article, make sure you talk it over with your medical doctor to make sure it’s right for you. Using that as a lead-in, let’s go:

Yearly Exam
This should include a lengthy interview process where your physician asks questions about your health and any changes that might have occurred. Also, included in this yearly exam should be an EKG to see how your heart is functioning. Your physician should also give you a prescription for a blood work-up to check for sugar levels, cholesterol levels, tri-glycerides and all vitamin levels. For the men out there, your yearly physical should also include a prostate exam. Yes, it is not pleasant but neither is having prostate cancer at an early age and having it go undetected.

Special Exams
In addition to a yearly exam, there are at least two special exams that, in my opinion, are incredibly important. The first is a Colonoscopy. Like the prostate exam, not a happy day in anyone’s life, but I've seen the importance of this first hand. In our department we had an officer who, on the surface, was the epitome of physical prowess. One day he went to the doctors and went immediately into emergency surgery where they removed a softball sized tumor from his abdomen. That was when he was 42. At 44 we gave him a first class funeral. Need I say more?

The second special exam was one I didn’t even know existed until my doctor asked me about it. It seems if you’re a smoker or ex-smoker over the age of 40 you might want to consider an aortic ultrasound. They’re finding out that in smokers or ex-smokers, especially men, the aorta, which is the main artery from your heart, could swell and lead to the aorta busting. The problem is, this is a recent finding and they really don’t know what percentage of individuals this occurs in. I decided to take no chances and had the test, which takes around 10 minutes. I passed with ease and don’t need the test again. Done.

So, that’s it. Not bad really: a physical once a year, a scan you only need once in your life, a test that you need only take every five years. In my opinion, not a great demand on your time when you consider just how much time these few simple tests can give you.

About the author

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, Jim Guffey began his Law Enforcement career in 1977 with the Pennsylvania Capitol Police. In 1980 was hired by the Ross Township Police Department. He remained there until January 1, 2002. During that time he worked as a plain-clothes detective, on the traffic division, and was promoted on 1996 to Lieutenant. He remained the Administrative Lieutenant until his retirement. Not satisfied with retirement, he became the Chief of Police in Blairsville Borough in August 2003 and remained there until July 2004.

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