Thursday, October 23, 2014

Medicine, sports, and superstition

Health and sickness are more a matter of luck - good and bad - than anything else. We have to try to figure out how to stay healthy, also how to heal when we're down and out. We are curious animals and we do not want to suffer.

Even though the healing arts have has been practiced for a hundred thousand years, still, what "works" - as we say - remains mysterious even to the most brilliant medical minds of all time. We're just guessing, prone to trends of the moment. We have to try! Looking back on some mainstream, accepted practices in the past can be alarming.

Blood letting.

Doesn't it make you wonder what medical procedures we are currently
 using that will seem as ghastly in a hundred years? I wonder.

There are treatments and medicines that work much of the time, though there is no medicine that works well for everyone in every situation. The placebo is certainly effective, not only in the form of the sugar pill, but also in surgery. I read about a massive study in which they were able to determine that if the pill was green, people felt calmer, if it was red they felt energized, blue helped people sleep through the night. We are so suggestible!

However, even a placebo doesn't always cure us. The mind is powerful, but not all powerful. We are much more than chemistry sets that only need balanced numbers in order to work optimally. We are complicated beings.

Because healing is so mysterious, medicine is an extremely superstitious art. I'm talking about every kind of medicine.

Remedies for the common cold abound. The reason there are so many is because there is no cure. I think the body takes on a visiting virus every now and then, to flex its muscles, to become stronger and better organized, to cleanse the body of detritus. There is no cure. It's a systemic detox in the Reyaverse at least. It's not the virus's fault. We take it on every now and then.

Once ill, you can hamper some of the symptoms, you can rest and eat chicken soup, you can power through it - everyone has their own approach - but you can not avoid it. It has to run its course.

Still, everyone has a remedy they swear by. You HAVE to eat raw garlic mixed in honey, or you must have this soup or that juice. At the first sign you must take zinc, or the homeopathic stuff. If you guzzle Nyquil and sleep 10 hours, you will wake up well. Etc. Could go on and on, right?

I have my own ritualized behavior for contending with a cold, of course! Don't you?

I'm thinking about this because of the World Series. Watching a tiny part of the first game, it came to me that professional team sports are sacred dramas that enact the immune system when it's fighting off a virus or bacteria. That's why sports team loyalty is so powerful and addictive, and always has been, ever since the first stadium was constructed. The Colosseum is an early one but it might not be the oldest.

In sports, just as in medicine, the superstitions abound, among the players but also powerfully among the fans. They have to drink the right beer or wear a certain color or watch from a specific place. It's intense, and unlike other kinds of ritualized behavior, sports superstitions are welcomed in my society. It's interesting.

Winter is right around the corner in the American midatlantic. That means flu season. May you somehow avoid colds or the flu this winter. May it be so. If you should catch something, remember you are playing in the World Series and must be at the top of your form. Just the way athletes pray right before they play, pray for the victory of your immunity over the invading horde. Send in your best players, whether that's a hot bath, a hot toddy, or a jigger of Nyquil. Follow all your own best advice. May you prevail! May it be so.