Category Archives: Health

In Wonderment, I Look

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This is a weird composite of thoughts, much like the one I wrote last Sunday. I’m still very optimistic overall, for ‘us’ as a whole. I have my doubts that some of us should be trusted to use toothpicks, though.

I’ve been around a few people who need a dose of Negan. Some have been angels. I’ve been a right bastard myself a few times. I used a character from The Walking Dead purposefully, though I abandoned the show a while back. This won’t be the last pandemic we face. It’s a good blueprint for how we’ll do if we don’t substantially snap the heck out of our inability to give everyone good healthcare. Though I’m a liberal, I think our biggest enemy is ‘us.’ Not because we’re separated into nations and interests, but because each of us is part of a collective which pushes the urge toward militancy and diminishes the embrace of things which make our individual lives better. Healthcare, education, and stability continue to bow in service to defense.

Who knew a virus would observe our trillions of dollars of military might worldwide and laugh? Now that we’ve winced long enough at the mercy of an invisible enemy, can we take back a slice of our resources and dedicate it to the prevention of the next one?

Given the presence of asymptomatic carriers, universal precautions are the only means to protect yourself until the bubble pops. Despite doing everything perfectly yourself, you are only as safe as your weakest link. Contact with anyone or anything outside your perfect bubble is a non-zero risk. Universal precautions are not possible on a long timeline. Those that tell us this might be angry when they do so, but they’re not wrong.

Given the false negative rate of the covid test, people who tested negative are not necessarily negative. We have to use the only test we have available, whether it is approved for that use.

If you’re one of those people who are essential and travel in the world, the probability that you’re going to be exposed approaches 100% on a long enough timeline. The Venn diagram of you amidst all the potentially contaminated people and places makes the math irrefutable.

Those who resume their careers in patient care, whether they’re nurses, doctors, aides, or therapists, need a little more praise in the ‘after’ of this. Surviving this cost them invisibly. In the future, everyone in the medical field will have to swallow their fear a bit more, as they agree to stand in the unknown.

We’re all fallible, even those with perfect intentions. ‘We’ rely on people who have to get out into the world while we’re in the bubble. I’m one of those people who have to get out of the bubble. It rarely worries me because I’m almost individually powerless to foresee, much less avoid, danger. I don’t stick the gun in my own mouth. As I tell my friends and family, I earned the right to expect the plane to fall out of the sky onto my head. I don’t walk with my head cocked in anticipatory fear.

As for those who practice perfect isolationism, you’re going to be exposed at an eventual rate of 100%. Time and necessity will insist on it.

If you experience symptoms, it will be very hard for you to get tested – no matter who you are and where you work. We’ll change that by the next pandemic. For this one, though, don’t make the assumption you can get a test. It isn’t true for most people with symptoms.

Even if you are tested, not only are you going to wait days for your result, but at some point you’re going to wonder if you are a false negative. What will help you get over the unease of being an unwitting carrier? Focus on the fact that you were going to be exposed one way or another, anyway. Much like the denizens of The Walking Dead, they discovered they were already walking around with the disease. Unfortunately for us, our condition is that we are genetically no match for the types of viruses that include the coronavirus.

We’ve been focusing on protecting the most vulnerable and of ensuring that our medical system doesn’t collapse.

Despite it being repeated a million times, this was never about guaranteeing you won’t be exposed to the virus.

You will, as will every person you’re accustomed to seeing in your daily life. All of them.

I’ve emerged from my personal experience with some strange observations about my fellow human beings; some bad, some great.

In the ‘after’ of this first wave of the new coronavirus, we must wait to see the data that we’re allowed to see: hospitalizations, intubations, # of those tested, # of those refused tests despite being symptomatic, total deaths, total deaths attributed to the virus, and a mountain of other data.

Reverence for data is important; incorrectly deriving unsupported ideas from raw numbers is to give leeway to manipulation. Science doesn’t demand perfection. It demands a relentless pursuit of ‘better,’  revision, and admission of the need to take another look.

Science can admit its error even when humans cannot. Some of us, myself included, will walk into the ‘after’ in need of more willingness to trust those with expertise to at least throw the dart closer to the target than our limited knowledge can. We’ve moved away from this a bit in the last few years.

We’ll look differently at some of those around us. We’ve  listened and watched as they’ve surprised us. Some with great acts of informed compassion, others with callous disregard. When we catch our breath, literally and figuratively, we will need to deal with what we’ve seen people around us do and say.

Those with means will have different views about the pandemic that those without savings, credit, or the ability to remain inside.

Those with family members suffering from underlying conditions will emerge with ideas, too.

Those who lost family, friends, or livelihoods will reach a distant beach, one that will take some time to come back home from.

Those with fixed ideas and hardened hearts will be untouched by the ability to consider this pandemic from the perspective of the world.

That, without a doubt, is our biggest disease.

 

 

 

It Was A Real Nail-Biter

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A lot of people bite their nails.

Nail biting even has a fancy-pants name: onychophagy. The existence of such a word grants the habit legitimacy. Many people don’t know that cigarette addiction also has a Latin-based word to describe it: marlboroism. Okay, that’s not true. In my defense, it took cigarette companies decades to admit they were lying about cigarettes. By lying, I mean how delicious smoke tastes and how delightful a house smells after everything is coated in a vile sheen of yellowish slime.

It’s more common in kids and teenagers, but a surprising  number of adults are nail-biters. I should know. I’ve written before that I’m one of those ignorant dolts who is guilty of doing it. My fingers sometimes resemble the talons of an angry dragon trapped in the bottom of an inescapable well. I’ve stopped sniffing glue, being comatose by a method of self-chloroforming, and narrowly avoiding the craziness of alcoholism that has ruined the lives of literally all my immediate family. But nail biting? You’ll catch me gnawing on my nails like a starving monkey, sometimes even doing the ‘typewriter,’ a word used to describe going from one nail to the next like a crazed typist after a four-hour coffee break at a Cuban coffee shop.

“1/3 of nail biters say they have a family member who does the same,” say some studies. Which leads to the question, “Why don’t they bite each other’s nails?” It’s no surprise that the tendency to bite your nails might be genetic; that’s true of a lot of disreputable behavior, along with addictions, sneezing when exposed to sunlight, and voting for people with insanity issues. (Although I’m struggling to think of any such people in the last few years. How about you?)

If you cringed, you’re not alone. Nail biting is great for movie visuals or as a cliché, but terrible as a personal habit.

Given the hyper-focus that our unfriendly worldwide pandemic has caused, we’re working to keep our fingers out of our mouths. (Except for politicians, who are exempted, along with their feet.) Before patting yourself on the back, though, if your nails are longer than short, you’ve created a repository for everything bacterial or viral you touch. You might not touch your own face, but you’re marking your territory as you live your life.

Irrelevant note: most men are uninterested in women’s fingernails. The pandemic gives you the right to stop concerning yourself with the time and money invested in decorating your fingernails like they will be featured in Architectural Digest. If it makes you happy, please feel free. If you’re looking for an excuse, you have it.

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Some Unhelpful Tips To Stop Biting Your Nails, stolen from websites and headlines:

Amputate the tips of your fingers.

Just don’t think about it.

Dip your fingers in the dung or the blood of your enemies.

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According to science, it’s hard to distinguish the line between harmful compulsive nail biting and regular nail biting. A good rule-of-thumb, though: if you find yourself individually flavoring your nails as garlic, lemon, chocolate, pepper, and Parmesan in anticipation of devouring them, you’re probably in need of some therapy.

When I was young, I would get irritated at my mom, who delighted in punching me, slapping me, or putting her cigarette on my arm when she caught me biting my nails. I think the irony of her irritation with me failed to register for her. That I also wet the bed, was beaten like a dirty Victorian rug, or was screamed at for otherwise normal behavior, all those things seemed to overtake biting my nails as important. I forgot to mention that the rampant alcoholism and smoking seemed relevant too. I made the mistake a couple of times by saying, “I’ll stop when you put out the cigarette.” Although you would think she responded sensibly, given the track record I’ve painted of her esteemed and cultured biography, it was more reminiscent of George Foreman’s first loss to Muhammad Ali.

When I was young, I’d find myself biting my nails regardless of what I’d been doing. Disgusting as it was, it probably granted me limited immunity to a variety of illnesses. You’d be horrified to know how true this is. Since you might remember that I loved eating ashes and burned food, maybe it isn’t a shock.

I went through long phases where I conquered my impulse to bite my nails. Heroin helped me for a while. That last part’s a joke. Heroin didn’t help at all. It made me edgy as hell, not to mention unable to afford cocaine.

You’re probably going to doubt this, but I tried the bitter paint-on polish more than once. As bitter and nasty as it was, I liked the taste and aftertaste.

At more than one point, I’d decided I’d need dentures. It’s difficult to bit one’s nails with dentures. (And even harder to do so without.) I was about to buy the inserts you can put on your teeth to make it impossible to chew with my teeth. I don’t remember what stopped me. But it was probably laziness. For people who wear them, they are immensely effective.

Maybe this world-wide pandemic will grant me the motivation to figure out what techniques can help me make this habit a thing of the past. I’m sure there’s a perfect combination of timing, technique, and application. Otherwise, I’m opting for finger amputation. Is finger-stump licking a thing?

 

Love, X

X’s Observations on COVID

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If you’re being screened for COVID19 and you see that the screeners are using temporal (forehead) thermometers, you need to check your temperature with an oral thermometer. Despite what some might say, an oral thermometer will eliminate environmental variables, assuming you haven’t been chewing whole ice cubes. While the absence of a fever doesn’t preclude that you have COVID, it occurs in the majority of cases. I’ve personally witnessed a 2 or 3-degree temperature difference between oral thermometers and other types. (*Generally speaking, of course.)

If you don’t own a pulse oximeter, you should purchase one. If you are infected with this virus, the flu, or have other health conditions, your 02 level is one of the single biggest ways to answer the question: “Should I be concerned?” It will signal that you’re deteriorating or at what point you need to call 911 or go to the doctor/ER. You should buy one of these even after our current virus crisis is over.

Additionally, the number of medical people being tested is artificially limited by how willing screening clinics are in administering the test. All those saying we haven’t tested nearly enough people are correct. You would be surprised by the number of people refused tests, even those working in the medical or emergency services fields. We don’t want to squander tests needlessly, of course. With anyone in the medical field or those who must be ‘in’ the world on a daily basis, it should be automatic with symptoms. The same guidelines for the general public don’t translate to dealing with medical workers.
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In Northwest Arkansas, there isn’t a big scarcity of testing kits available, compared to other regions. Our bottleneck seems to be the number of labs at our disposal to perform the lab tests. Some people are still being told it might be a WEEK before getting their results. Senator Rand Paul had to wait 6 days for his, and he’s a United States Senator, and he didn’t self-quarantine during that time. (That’s not a criticism of Senator Paul, by the way, in part because he is a Senator and his job duties are critical. *Someone correctly pointed out that he did go the gym and do some stupid things in the meanwhile, though.)

If you are tested, you are now required to self-quarantine until you get the test results, which is of course an improvement over the previous policy. However…

Those who have symptoms or are turned away then return to their jobs or their families, often with the misguided belief that if the screening methodology indicates they don’t need to be tested, that they are in fact, not positive and pose no risk. For the purposes of this post, assume that those who are turned away or discouraged from a test work in the medical field or another field in which their presence is ‘essential.’ They return to their lives, potentially infecting many more people. ‘Not tested’ does not equate to ‘not infected.’ For public health, these cases should be treated as positive, even absent a test, as it is the safest course of action for society as a whole to prevent needless spread of the virus. In a crisis in which the virus spreads so easily, it’s obvious that anyone working in a critical field should be tested immediately, even if their symptoms only include a fever – but do not rise to the critical level. If our medical system did become overwhelmed, which I do not think it will here in Northwest Arkansas, we’d have to reexamine that policy.

If you’re already quarantined, this won’t affect you on an individual level.

By not quarantining even potentially suspected cases as they arise, we’re creating an expanding circle of exposure. (Obviously, I’m referring to those who can’t be at home each day.) We all know that we’re almost all going to eventually be exposed to the virus. It’s not about being able to sidestep our eventual exposure. All of us will ultimately step up to the fact that we’ve been exposed.

Another concern that people are misunderstanding is the tendency toward a false negative test. (You have the virus, but the test shows that you don’t.) A false positive might scare you, but at least you’ll think you have the virus and take immediate and drastic measures to avoid spreading the disease. In the case of a false negative, the opposite occurs. Given the way the tests are performed, the margin of error is actually quite high. If you google “Bayes’ Rule for COVID19,” you’ll see that false negatives are the biggest threat for how we deal with the virus.

The truth is that many organizations say that all those tested should be quarantined on the side of caution, even though who are tested negative. In the short term, it may cause needless isolation. That needless isolation of critical medical staff will statistically reduce the spread of the virus. We already know that up to 1/3 of all negative tests are incorrect, depending on the variables in the testing system. For every 100 people testing negative, it is possible that 30 of them are actually positive.

After having said all that, a significant portion of the population has been infected and has no symptoms at all. It gives us a sense of false confidence as we proceed with our lives.

Even though you’ve not read my definition of a public place, here it is: any place outside your house where anyone other than the people you’ve been with for the last 14+ days has breathed. If anyone ‘new’ has entered your house, your house is public for 14 more days.

I don’t personally feel alarmed, even if it kills me. Many of us all are doing to do everything perfectly. Yet, it’s going to hurt someone of us badly. I read your posts and hope that we can get back to being pissed off at each other for stupid reasons.

We’re going to get a vaccine, eventually. It won’t be permanent, though. We’re going to need to invest in and trust researchers and science. We’re going to have to stop pretending that anti-vaxxers have a valid viewpoint. Maybe we’ll finally get universal healthcare. Maybe we’ll manage to achieve a cohesive non-profit nationwide collective of clinics and hospital making decisions from the viewpoint of public health.

Our hospital system will not be overwhelmed here locally. I also don’t think we are going to run out of PPE or necessary medical equipment. You would think I’d be cynical about this. I’m not though. I think we are incredibly more prepared that many areas around the United States. No matter what happens, I hope you remember after all this that I was optimistic in our ability to diminish the impact.

We’re lucky we live in Northwest Arkansas. Comparatively speaking, it’s a great place to be quarantined – and an even better place to be if you find yourself needing immediate medical care for the virus. We have an incredible confluence of food, resources, and medical clinics/hospitals to help us get through this.

P.S. Although a few people missed it, much of my post indicated it referred to those in the medical field or those who go out into the world because they are ‘essential.’ Taking this into account quells many of the comments people might make. ‘Err on the side of caution’ is a cliché precisely because it is true and fits the commentary here.

W E

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On Saturday, Dawn and I watched 1995’s “Outbreak,” followed by 2011’s “Contagion.” Whether it sounds ridiculous or not, watching the movies made everything better in a way that probably sounds ludicrous to a normal-minded person.

Even the opening graphic for “Outbreak” seemed fitting: “The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on the planet is the virus.” (Joshua Lederberg, Nobel laureate.) For a movie made 25 years ago, it still has much to say.

I’m amazed by how quickly the dynamic of the entire world has changed. Each of us is attempting to find a stable landing place, one from which we can find a sliver of tranquility. I know many people who are barely cobbling together the ability to move one foot in front of the other. I know many who are guilty of conspiracy theories, hoarding drugs and essentials that take it from the hands and veins of those who actually need it. I see it every day.

For my part, I’m forced to go out in the word daily because of my job. I’ve never feared exposure. Everyone around me has heard me say that I assume I’m exposed every single day I walk around. I don’t wish to needlessly expose others to the virus. But I have to say, my personal efforts are dwarfed by the decisions of large agencies and businesses around me, ones who’ve made questionable choices. I’m at the mercy of every person I intersect with. It’s always been that way. The only thing that’s changed is that the reality of it is now one that can’t be ignored.

We are all our weakest link.

Dawn and I didn’t hoard anything from day one. Looking toward the horizon, it’s pointless. We are not islands. If you hoard, you are hurting the people that don’t have what you have amassed, whether it is a can of tuna or a vial of Hydroxychloroquine. If our situation deteriorates, only those who embrace a total dedication to taking only what they need will survive. If the situation morphs into a worst-case scenario, no one will be able to thwart the madness that will take what you have.

If you are looking for a silver lining, I can only hope that this results in all of us appreciating science and education more, as this is a warning shot that shouldn’t be ignored. To embrace the idea that we are dependent on one another, a dependence that surpasses our local hospital, state line, or national border. To understand that the person cleaning the floor is as integral to our survival as the three piece suit who seldom gets his hands dirty but makes triage decisions about our supply systems during emergencies.

There may be no silver lining to this. It might just be a harsh lesson. We already had the tools needed to lessen this crisis. We took too much time and effort fighting for our fiefdoms instead of looking toward the world map and seeing ‘W E’ spread across all of it.

Of all the hopes, I hope it leads us to stop bickering over oil, sand, and land, or that we find ourselves able to willingly give everyone health care without regard to payment. If we forego war and aggression, we can pay for it. Our economy will not look the same once this fades. Everything we’ve learned will be meaningless. Hard hearts must soften.

I’m already looking beyond the peak of this emergency.

It’ll be us, still. I hope it is a different us. I think most people were dissatisfied with what we were, for wildly and contradicting reasons. Some of the facade of our differences has vanished. Each of us looks toward the microscopic threat of a virus and wonders what will become of us.

Whatever ‘that’ is, it is our choice.

It’s always been our choice.
Love, X

Avoidance, Part Two

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As with the post two days ago, this is personal. Don’t gatekeep me or question my motives. It’s my story to tell. Although it happens with less frequency now, I remind anyone with gatekeeping tendencies that such criticism reflects on those doing it rather than those accused by them. (Gatekeeping arises either from silencing behavior or apparent superiority, neither of which reflects well on those doing it.)

I wrote a post about my personal take on struggling with someone prone to alcoholism. Anticipating tsk-tsking, I expected a bit of passive-aggressive blowback, along with a few people surprising me by sharing something personal. It surprised me to see that several people shared their own personal stories in the ways they did. Some wrote in the comments, while some shared with me in other ways. Those who commented on the post itself would be astonished to read the range and emotion of those who wrote me privately. Alcoholism and addiction have ruined a lot of lives, most families, and destroyed the possibility of relationships among those around them. Alcoholics and addicts are ghosts who haunt us, whether they are dead or alive.

We’re wasting a lot of our time with this issue. Time wasted on those who won’t help themselves or each other is time we can’t recoup. In an ideal world, this is easy: if you need help, you get it until you’re better. Anything else tells us you’re not in control of your mind or life. Any of us can succumb to addiction. No matter who we are, we all need to get help, whether we are the addict or the person standing next to them. In my ideal world, society gives such help freely and for as long as needed.

No one escapes this. You can fool yourself if you want to. It’s your right. But the lingering effects of addiction stay inside those around the addict.

Conversely, it’s why we are so joyous when someone gets help and leaves addiction in the past. It reminds us of our frailty and also of our ability to live better lives. I could have easily drowned in addiction. No good person turns their nose up at someone who had the ability to rise above.

For every such post I write, I’m amazed at the depth of things all of us seem to share. One person surprised me with the depth of what she told me. Though I wasn’t seeking affirmation, she gave it to me and reciprocated by telling me that what I wrote needed to be written. The pathology of secrecy seems to have angered her as much as anything else. She identified with the crazy-making of being expected to pretend that her life wasn’t affected by a deep undercurrent of pathology. She’s like me; she needs to understand it and talk about it. Not everyone in her orbit sees it that way. That disparity angers her. We can talk about the weather if we need to fill the minutes of our lives. Doing so to exclude the more important and difficult conversations leaves only damaged people in its wake.

Another person who reached out failed to engage meaningfully with the gist of the post. It’s easy for me to judge why that happened. I’d probably be wrong. It’s not wrong for me to admit it disappointed me and rang a broken gong in me to have it sidestepped. She has the power to reach out and heal herself and many people. It’s her story to tell – or not, though. I don’t know how she manages. I would have lost my mind already. I’m hypocritical about my opinions on this. It’s not cut-and-dry.

Most people interacting with me, especially those who did so privately, insist that the only way to live a good life in the shadow of angry alcoholism is to save oneself when they angrily fight the world to continue their addiction. All universally insist that the pathology of such alcoholism ruins everyone who tries to mitigate the effects instead of fleeing it. One woman compared it to domestic abuse and with the same consequences. Most males who are angry alcoholics are guilty of abuse. It’s no secret.

Interestingly, I think most saw the difference between an angry alcoholic and a garden-variety alcoholic or addict. While it might not be easy to put in words, it’s easy to recognize when you’re dealing with one.

A couple of people told me that they had to abandon everyone around the alcoholic too, even when they were close to them. They said that the enablers felt cornered and inevitably lashed out, too, in defense of their choices and their allegiance to the alcoholic, whether based on love, secrecy, shame, or necessity. One person told me she had to learn a new set of skills to deal with the manipulations, accusations, and fallout. Only talking to a therapist made her realize that she couldn’t rescue the alcoholic or those around him – and that she’d lose everything positive in her life and herself if she tried. She still misses someone she once shared much of her life with. Her old friend is still alive. She’s ruined and bitter, but still alive. She blames the world for her choices.

I’m hard-wired to cut out the danger of staying in the sphere of people who have demons they refuse to address. It’s a dance I’ve done several times, in large, looping cycles with different family members during my life. It took me most of my life to hit the wall with my mom. I’ve dealt with the backlash of other family members telling me the same tired “it’s your family” nonsense for my entire life. There’s no obligation to allow biology to demand allegiance that strangles me. It’s possible for everyone to live their own lives if they can release the pathological need to require obedience to family. (The same family that damaged you.)

When I was younger, I was fooled often by the demands toward family allegiance. I fought it. It is that very kind of groupthink, though, that enables families poisoned by shame or secrecy to perpetuate it. If we demanded authenticity and open discussion of everyone in our lives, family included, none of this nonsense would survive very long. Our excuses would be outed immediately. Those who needed both intervention and accusation to get help would be forced into the sunlight quickly. We don’t do that. We whisper in the shadows and tolerate otherwise unacceptable abuse.

I’ve read hundreds of stories of people who’ve successfully burned their bridges. All of them say that the only way to succeed is to burn the bridge and stop looking at its remnants once it is gone. People will judge you in the best of circumstances.

I’m guilty of ignoring the necessity of consistency. As we get older, our lives become narrower and the number of people we’ve shared our lives with shrinks. I don’t know how others deal with knowing they’ve chosen to reduce their lives when people show they can’t behave like we need them to. It’s hard to excise a family member, no matter how other people might characterize your decision.

Until someone can be honest and bridge the gap between reality and fiction for me and I can stop being forced to roleplay, I will stay away again. I’ll work on my guilt. I’m not abandoning the alcoholic. Rather, it stops me from lashing out in anger because of the crazy-making. People had the ability to bridge the gap but chose not to. They’re just dealing with their lives in their own way. Those are their choices. I wish they chose otherwise. To me, it seems as if the alcoholic is still controlling all of us who don’t put our foot down, abandon secrecy, and live for those who aren’t reducing us.

I don’t want to be reduced anymore, or dreading a phone call or random, strange texts at all hours. That’s not joy. That’s disability. I’m messed up enough without feeling obligated to do this dance.

If I can’t tell reality from fiction, I’m out.

Continuing to let the shadow steal the minutes from my life is pure absurdity.

No, You Didn’t Get a Cold From Your Flu Shot

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My apologies in advance. Evidently, it’s impossible to get people to stop spreading incorrect information.

Reactions to flu shots are not contagious.

You do not get a communicable cold from the flu shot.

I can’t believe I still need to preach at people about this.

It’s an old and inaccurate wive’s tale that you have a cold because you got a flu shot. You have a cold because you were already exposed to another virus.

If you get a flu shot and exhibit fever, cough, runny nose, or body aches for any length of time, you need to treat the episode as if you have been contaminated with another virus. It didn’t come from the flu shot, and you certainly didn’t get a cold of any magnitude from getting the flu shot*.

It is possible to get a flu shot after being exposed to another virus, one which could be the common cold or any number of a variety of other viruses. You don’t “get” a cold from the flu shot. If you develop a fever, cough, and other more pronounced symptoms that persist, especially with intense symptoms and duration, it’s because you were already exposed to another virus – not because you got the flu shot. Flu vaccines do not contain live viruses. Rather, they contain dead viruses or gene pieces that trigger an immune response.

You don’t get a persistent fever, cough, runny nose, and watery eyes from the flu shot. Some people have mild reactions such as soreness and low-grade fever that dissipates quickly. You do not get a cold from getting a flu shot, just as you can’t get the flu from a flu shot. In blind studies, people who got either salt-water injections or the flu shot, the only differences in symptoms was increased soreness in the arm among people who got the flu shot. There were no differences in terms of other symptoms.

There are many myths about the flu shot.

I would apologize for being so preachy but it’s agonizing to see people fail to take basic precautions when they are infected with viruses unrelated to their flu shot.

It’s exactly how other people get your viruses.

You can ask your doctor, of course. That’s how science works. Knowledge defeats old wive’s tales, no matter whom you hear them from or how long they’ve been passed around.

We All Have Our Jar of Snake Oil

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The Quackery Commentary Inhibition: an individual’s reluctance to honestly share his or her derisive opinion about another person’s ridiculous beliefs, usually under the mistaken assumption that our own views are beyond reproach. Each of us wears clown shoes in some sense.
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It’s a treacherous path when you wish to express your opinion about some topics. People’s interests, beliefs, and attitudes overlap to a degree based on tribe, religion, or geography. Each of us has our crazy tangents, however, ones which often trigger a disproportionate defense mechanism when someone brushes against them, either accidentally or in mockery.
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If you’re going to put your foot in your mouth, it’s easier if you’re not wearing clown shoes when the opportunity arises.
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The fact that we convince ourselves we need to tread lightly is in itself a powerful demonstration of how unattached we are from reason and logic. It’s a certainty that many of our friends and family silently mock some of the things we follow or believe. Anyone claiming that their beliefs perfectly match those of all their family and friends is in a cult, not a society; even then, I doubt it’s possible.
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“Truth is not flavored by opinion.”
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That may be true – but opinion often throws a left jab into truth’s teeth.
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With the goal of not slaughtering any sacred cows, I’ll ignore the overall question of religion, which is the most glaring example of personal beliefs that shape people’s otherwise logical framework of living. Anyone paying attention can see that the disagreements caused by religious differences are a constant source of irritation, anger, and amusement among people. Any framework demanding certainty is already saddled with an inherent disregard for the next guy’s version of the same.
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I have my own blind spots, many of which aren’t logical or defensible. I’ve learned to recognize their fragility when I feel irritation when given contradictory information. No one likes to eat a hamburger carved from their own sacred cow. If you are going to do so, though, you might as well break out the mustard and pickles and figure out an easier way to swallow it.
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In the last few years, I’ve been astounded to learn that I was wrong about a few things, ones which seemed set in stone before. Among them were cornerstones of liberalism. Facts did not support them. My insistence sufficiently silenced the contradictions until a new truth materialized. Given that some truths have given way to others, it is only logical to conclude that I have other blind spots which impede me.
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Horoscopes, ________________ , homeopathy, psychic phenomenon, Bigfoot, ghosts, ESP, witchcraft, MLM schemes of all sorts (yes, even the one you’re thinking of), and other subjects are prone to evoke a snort of derision from me. Each of them presents an opportunity to examine their veracity, as well as a reciprocal reminder to consider what lunacy I might believe in.
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*I’m not making an equivalency argument here regarding the mentioned subjects. One of the defects of listing such topics is that people will immediately and erroneously make that incorrect assumption.
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People reading this are already jumping to a mental defense of one or more of the subjects mentioned above, their intellect turned to the purpose of hurling denials back at me. Their time would be better suited by simply ignoring whatever I have to say. Echo chambers at least offer a safe haven, even as they stunt growth. It’s impossible to reason someone out of a belief they didn’t reason themselves into. Most adherence to such belief systems is self-fortifying and tends to radicalize when a perceived contradiction is introduced. A while ago, I wrote about an acquaintance who believes that all cancer is mental. It’s not just ignorance – it’s dangerous and demeaning to those who suffer as a result of disease. Challenging the acquaintance on his stupidity will only cement his mistaken ideas.
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A symptom of whether I place any credence in a particular belief is how I respond to humor or satire involving the subject. The faster I laugh, the more likely it is that I find the entire issue to be ridiculous or subjectively impossible to be sure of. I’ve also become a fervent believer in the fact that those who noticeably lack a sense of humor about a particular subject are indicating cognitive dissonance in its regard. If they otherwise have a definite sense of humor and yet belligerently respond to any commentary or critique of their particular belief, it’s a certainty that it is a belief that can’t withstand scrutiny. This observation applies to me, too; if I find myself mentally lashing out, it’s a sign that I’ve hit the crossroads between belief and sustainability.
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Irritation becomes the carpet under which unsupported beliefs are swept.
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The problem arises when we share our disbelief with people around us, especially people full of humor and intellect. Throwing a dart at their dubious reverence invariably causes a medical condition known as “pissing them off.” More dangerous than the Carpet Viper is the angry intellectual. Even more fatal than the fierce intellectual is the knuckle-dragger. There are few people enlightened enough to look the other way without anger if their beliefs are challenged.
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When we don’t or can’t share our disagreement, it infects other areas of our lives and makes us less authentic. We become avatars and shadows on a stage, playing roles which deny what motivates us. Over time, we lose the real connection we have to one another, even if the link reveals profound differences in belief. If I can’t make a face every time you throw salt over your shoulder or claim to have seen a ghost, neither of us is getting a real connection from one another.
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It’s a fool’s errand to apologize in advance if I’ve stepped on toes. In honesty, there’s no way that you don’t listen to me or read some of my posts and think, “That guy is missing a few bolts.” It’s hypocrisy to wish to shout me down and simultaneously refuse to agree that you do the same thing, even if you don’t want to get caught in the act.
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All of us, each day, roll our eyes at the idiocy our cohorts believe. To simulate this experience, watch a couple of hours of Daystar television.
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Everyone should take a moment and find the Wikipedia pages for Donald Gary Young, Daniel David Palmer, or the Barnum/Forer Effect, among others. Regardless of the modern incarnation of whatever it is you might find worthwhile about a particular subject, many of the things I mentioned find their genesis in doubtful science. Whether they’ve evolved is subject to opinion. The people involved were not the type of people I would find myself agreeing with, nor their beliefs compelling.
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I could be wrong.
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Can you?
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More importantly, can you tell me you think some of my subjective beliefs are wrong?
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I won’t get too bent out of shape about it if you do – but don’t expect me to go to a chiropractor for the bend if you do.
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Vicks Recipes For Southern Survivors

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Vicks salve was invented in 1905. The same person Frenchman who invented BenGay was ultimately responsible for creating Vicks VapoRub, as he inspired a pharmacist here in the United States to modify the recipe for BenGay.

On a personal note, I’d like to say that I l-o-v-e the smell of Vicks. I like the smell of creosote and diesel, too. None of them are good on a sandwich, an ice cream float, or on a spoon on its way to my mouth, however. As anyone who ever used Vicks in steam can attest, the aroma is inescapable and rich. If eaten or allowed to melt in one’s mouth, it manages to embed itself between teeth and the gums for several hours. If you’ve never eaten Vicks, get a slice of Dominos pizza and put an entire package of mint gum on it, and then topped with vaseline, and attempt to eat it. A slice of Dominos is bad enough, I admit.

The cobalt blue bottles were also immediately recognizable. One could clean them completely with very hot water, followed by vigorously adding soap and wiping them out.

Evidently, Vicks became a household staple thanks to the 1918 flu epidemic that killed millions of people. It’s hard to imagine the effect of such an epidemic, one which killed more people than any other in human history. We don’t hear much about it anymore. At least 7000 Arkansans died officially from the flu in 1918, a huge number, compared to the 600 who died in WWI. Because of the huge number of poor rural people in Arkansas at the time, family history and circumstantial evidence tell us that many more died from the flu. Additionally, because Arkansas was deeply affected by Jim Crow, thousands of blacks also went under the radar. It’s interesting to delve into the story of this epidemic; it’s undeniable that Arkansas lost at least twice as many people as officially reported.

Interestingly, I had heard stories that a great-grandfather of mine died from the flu in 1918. Research proved this to be erroneous, as he died in February 1918 before the first known case in the United States that year. Almost no family escaped death from the Spanish flu that year.

You can’t study the history of Vicks without factoring in the trauma of the 1918 epidemic. I found several news articles from early 1919 regarding the Vicks shortage as a result of the flu epidemic which had killed millions of people worldwide. Vicks was relatively inexpensive and easily obtained. Almost all households in the rural South had a bottle of Vicks. Most were smart enough to avoid eating it. I like to think that some ate it simply to accelerate meeting their maker.

For those of us who had ignorant ancestors who made us eat Vicks, most of this tendency is a result of misinformation and the worldwide scare of the deadly flu over 100 years ago. They didn’t mean to unsuccessfully poison us. At least, for the most part. During the epidemic, Vicks was considered to be a disinfectant if applied on or inside the nose. It’s no wonder that even level-headed people began to ingest it directly.

The world was smaller and people didn’t have access to a wider community of people. Home remedies and folksy cures tended to become ingrained in cloistered communities. This is exactly why so many of us were subjected to the stupidity of our parents telling us to eat Vicks, even if the bottle were clearly labeled “do not ingest,” or “toxic.” We can laugh at such goofiness now, despite the fact that the modern internet has brought us anti-vaxxers and other idiots clamoring for attention to spread their modern snake oil ideas.

Vicks also contains varying levels of turpentine, another old folk remedy that can be quite poisonous but was once very popular. It’s important to remember that people scoffed at the idea of germs until fairly recently, too, or believed that blood-letting and blowing smoke up one’s anus could reduce serious ailments such as hernias. (It’s where the term “blowing smoke” originated.) By the way, I’m referring to the mistaken idea that all turpentines are the same, even the ones found in hardware stores versus distilled turpentine oil.

Another point I’d like to make is that so many people could make a living in the South selling Snake Oil. Like all ridiculous claims, Snake Oil appealed to those without a proper understanding of science or medicine. Paradoxically, thanks to the internet, we now find ourselves in reversed roles: some of the stupidest health claims for completely useless products are made by those with advanced education and training.

In the same way that people say, “Riding in the back of a pickup didn’t kill me,” or “We didn’t have seatbelts back then,” people excuse away eating Vicks VapoRub with the same ridiculous claims, “Well, it didn’t kill me!” Any examination of our safety record clearly demonstrates that seatbelts made our lives much, much safer. Science easily demonstrates that ingestion of Vicks is dangerous. Convincing people that they were terribly wrong about such an obvious thing is a difficult feat. They didn’t die after all.

Were my mom still alive, she’d roll her eyes and cluck like a chicken if she heard me picking on her about this. My favorite cousin will point out that my mom learned to feed Vicks to children as a result of my Grandma. In Grandma’s defense, she was born after the turn of the last century and her world was very small, in the Arkansas Delta area around Monroe County. She loved me like no one ever did; she also had some strange ideas about the weather, driving in the dark, and eating things like Vicks. She lived to be over 90 years of age, so it’s difficult to argue with her methods. Plus, she loved bacon, and as you know, bacon is the single best medicine available.

I’m convinced that my mom enjoyed forcing people to eat Vicks. I’m only saying that because she could be quite sadistic, a fact that is a simple truth today, but one which would have resulted in my murder had it voiced in her vicinity as a kid. As I grew older, I joined my brother in reading the labels on ‘medications’ my mom was fond of. Several of them literally had poisonous logos on them. Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy would have been a relief to us both as we endured our mom’s ignorance about all things medical. Mom was one of those people who would not listen to reason and her stubbornness was legendary, even among mules. For most of my childhood, my mom worked at Southwestern Bell and had excellent insurance, yet I never went to the dentist between ages 5 and 18  and only got medical treatment after trauma. “You’re breathing!” she’d say.

In 1983, the FDA decided that products such as Vicks couldn’t have more than 11% of a concentration of camphor. Camphor can be fatal to small children and studies demonstrated that it actually made most people less likely to breathe more freely. Weirdly, many people report that it allows them to sleep better.

Any discussion regarding Vicks needs to take into account the historical differences of the ingredients used compared to the modern version. I’ve read anecdotes of people who claim that the bottles once recommended ingesting small amounts. I don’t doubt these claims given the ointment’s history. I can’t find evidence of it, however.

Interestingly, Vicks labels have warned against using it under one’s nostrils for any reason, as well as ingesting it. Obviously, you should never eat it, either, or put it anywhere it can penetrate into the skin. I was surprised to learn that it can damage one’s corneas, too.

Vicks VapoRub actually confuses your brain, which makes it think that you’re breathing more easily while actually reducing your ability to breathe more freely. I think it works the same way that the internet does for modern versions of my mom.

With my new cookbook of recipes, those who survived eating Vicks when they were young can once again enjoy the undeniable taste of this treat. I recommend that you start with a PB&J&V sandwich.