Friday, January 11, 2013

Use common sense. Please?

Germs are not always, or even usually, the bad guys, believe me. Or don't believe me, believe Michael Specter, who wrote this fascinating article in the New Yorker last year. If not for germs, we'd be dead. From the article:

We are inhabited by as many as ten thousand bacterial species; these cells outnumber those which we consider our own by ten to one, and weigh, all told, about three pounds—the same as our brain. Together, they are referred to as our microbiome—and they play such a crucial role in our lives that scientists have begun to reconsider what it means to be human.

Weird and cool, isn't it?

I'm thinking about it today after reading that this year's flu season is already rampant in the U.S.

Please don't let the bad news about this year's flu season lead you in the direction of antibacterial soaps and cleansers which do nothing except kill the weak bacteria while helping the strong bacteria become more virulent, OK? And skip the hand sanitizer which has been linked to muscle pain and weakness. Here's a link to an article from Smithsonian magazine about the dangers of hand sanitizer. It kills the weak bacteria, strengthens the virulent bacteria, and wrecks your hands.

Please do wash your hands with plain soap and warm water. Don't just rinse your hands, work up a lather, then rinse thoroughly. Washing your hands is a great way to avoid the kinds of germs, both viruses and bacteria, that will make you sick. Use common sense: when you come in from being out and about, wash your hands. Before you cook, that sort of thing. You don't have to be OCD about it. Remember there are lovely bacteria on your skin you actually need to stay healthy.

If coming down with the flu was only about contact with the virus, then virtually everyone would catch every flu. That is never true, though. There are other factors at play. The how and why some of us get sick and others don't is in most ways mysterious even to the greatest medical minds in history. We are complicated beings!

If you ask me, an aggressive flu season calls for aggressive self care. Please make sure you're getting sufficient sleep, stay warm, try not to overdo it at work or at home. Stay active but don't go crazy at the gym. Eat real food. By taking extra good care of yourself, your body will be primed to meet and defeat the invading virus should you come into contact with it, which, if you live around other humans is bound to happen.

If you should succumb, and believe me, it happens to everyone once in awhile, get in bed. Eat soup, drink tea, watch old movies and sleep as much as you can. Please don't go on about your business as if you're not sick. It's reckless behavior that will not help you get well any faster, nor will it make you more popular at work. Be reasonable. Stay home.

While you're sick, let your fever rise. Fevers are so beneficial, they are beginning to treat even diseases like cancer with hyperthermia. Don't let it get too high. For adults, a fever of 101-102 F. is about as high as we can safely go. If it spikes above 102 F., take two aspirins.

After a few days, in almost all cases, the congestion will begin to clear, and your energy will begin to return. To me, it always feels as if the clouds have parted after a storm. It is a glorious feeling, also a relief, to recover even from a minor ailment like a cold.

The following is not common sense, it is Reya sense. The last step in healing from the flu, or anything actually, involves purposely taking in beauty. Before you go back to work, take an afternoon to visit a museum and gaze at beautiful paintings, or listen to beautiful music. A visit to the conservatory at the U.S. Botanical Gardens, which is always warm and humid (to accommodate the plants), is an excellent way to finish the healing process after a respiratory illness.

The last day of healing is not ideally suited to taking in provocative art or music; we're still too raw to contend with anything jarring. Beauty brings harmony to the emotional and spiritual body, and I bet it's actually physically good for you, too. Wanna bet?

I have never heard another healer overtly suggest the pursuit of beauty as the final step of healing, but it really helps. Our species is wired to appreciate beauty. Illness is discouraging. We need beauty to fully recover.

Be kind to your body through this flu season, please? It's doing the best it can.

Be well. Gesunheit. And shalom.


The Bug said...

Last week I thought I was getting the flu (I had a fever of 101.4 when I got home from work - no wonder I felt lousy!), but it just turned out to be a head cold. I still SOUND sick, but I feel MUCH better this week. Perhaps you're correct - my day long fever must have kicked that bug to the curb! Thank goodness it didn't occur to me that I had a fever or I might have taken something for it.

I haven't had the actual flu in so long that I'm not sure I've ever had it. I think it's because my dad finally convinced me to start taking my vitamins once I reached my 30s :) (And although I firmly believe that me wearing an orange shirt will cause the Cincinnati Bengals to lose their game, I choose NOT to believe that talking about the flu will make it happen to me!)

Reya Mellicker said...

Comment from a scientist friend - great information!

Great piece and I love the advice about beauty and healing. One quibble: it's not hand sanitzers that are the problem, it is antibacterial soaps and other things that contain triclosan. That's what the NYT article you link to is talking about - things like Dial and Softsoap antibacterial handsoaps. I hate the stuff because it gives me eczema, and it is pretty useless in the long run. (It's also what is in all those "antibacterial" countertop wipes and things. Yuck.) About the only thing is does well is pander to people's fear of germs. In contrast, hand sanitizers like Purell use isopropyl ("rubbing") alcohol, which kills germs by, well, by making them explode. Because it kills them mechanically rather than biochemically, they can't develop resistance to it. Hand sanitizers have been found to work pretty well and they are good to use when you can't get to a sink (or you can but the water is cold and there is no soap).

Angela said...

I like this post and the common sense in it, Reya. I totally agree. Handwashing with soap is a routine for me, no extras, just a plain cake of soap. And my daily walks with Paco keep me sane and healthy. I also got a vaccination against the real flu, but I haven`t even caught a cold yet. So keep on spreading word to the people who listen! Angela

Jessica Wade said...

I love the idea of taking in harmonious beauty on the last day of recovery!I will practice that for myself and my children.