Even though I no longer follow the media's interpretation of reality, even a quick glance, long enough to identify that the airport's monitors are tuned to CNN, reveals the latest fear mongering: swine flu. How delicious. On top of the financial "slipping and checking" that has infatuated the media, they can now fill the airwaves with something even scarier: an infectious disease. This is what advertising executives dream of, bent on reaching as many eyeballs as possible.
I don't give the medical-industrial-media complex enough credit for some type of conspiracy. This is merely their worldview, played out on glowing phosphorous screens around the world. As usual, their perspective turns everyone into a potential victim and little is done to put the current outbreak into perspective. Like virtually every other threat, armies are gathering for the obligatory "War on Swine Flu."
You and I know it won't work. Even if it appears to work, it won't work.
The War on Swine flu (or whatever politically correct name the symptoms the virus produces this week is called) will be about as successful as the War on Terror, the War on Cancer and the War on Ingrown Toenails. Going to war makes it appear that someone is doing something. Yet in this situation, going to war will not likely prolong the outbreak, but produce collateral damage and increase needless suffering--whether emotional or physical.
This particular virus is not a problem or an enemy. Neither was SARS, bird flu or any of the other more recent communicable diseases that have captured the attention of the media. As the father of the germ theory, Louis Pasteur observed on his deathbed, "It is the soil, not the seed." In other words, it's not the germ, it's the host; it's not the invader, it's one's resistance. Ironically, an individual's resistance is probably compromised by the worry and emotional stress of news reports that record the death toll and the enemy's movements! (Not to mention the heightened awareness of people coughing in their proximity.)
The current media reports provide a helpful backdrop for some patient education--namely our culture's fascination with germs.
Spanish Flu. "Do you know what has happening in the world exactly 91 years ago today?" you ask the patient as you enter the adjusting room. (Of course they don't. They, along with the media have little more than a 10-year record of history.) "The Spanish Flu. It killed 25 million people around the world. The death rate among patients who consulted doctors for medical treatment often exceeded 6.5%. This contrasts significantly with the .06% to 1.2% death rate recorded among patients consulting chiropractors. Why the big difference?" you ask.
While suspected at the time, and more obvious today, there is a connection between the nervous system and the immune system. When diminished by vertebral subluxation, the nervous system can have a dampening effect on the workings of the immune system. In fact, most of us can recall getting a cold or some other illness immediately following periods of stress, sleep deprivation or the "let down" after taking an important test or completing a big project. Turns out, the best defense is a good offense. One more reason why regular chiropractic checkups, even when you're feeling great, make sense."
White board messages. You can stimulate some fascinating patient conversations by writing ambiguous statements on a dry erasable board placed in your adjusting room. (Read more about this process here.) Here are a few germ-related statements you might want to inscribe during the days and weeks ahead (and what you might want to discuss): 100 microns (the holes in a facemask. The flu virus is 1/10th small, easily passing through it.) Flu shot (explain how the vaccine is a guess each year.) Picking your nose. Rubbing your eyes. (the most common way germs of any type enter our body.) How to wash your hands (how soap works, the folly of antibacterial soaps and why scalding hot water is unnecessary.) Flies cause garbage (confusing effect with cause.)
Face masks. Pick up some facemasks, like the ones you see people wearing on the television news reports. But don't wear them properly--as a hat, as an armband, on the back of your head; you get the idea. Wear several. Use the patient questions and comments that result as a springboard to ask them how they think masks work. Then, reveal the comparative size of the weave that allows for breathing, with the size of the microbes they somehow keep out. (Could it be that it's the color of the mask that keeps germs at bay?)
If every patient were aware of the millions of successes their immune system is having by neutralizing a host of germs and microbes all day long, there would be less focus on its occasional oversight and a renewed focus on what can be done to bolster it. At its root, is a fundamental mistrust of the body and a mentality that would prefer to fight rather than strengthen, treat rather than prevent and fear rather than understand. The only pandemic we have is one of ignorance and personal responsibility.