Tag Archives: disease

The Disease of War

I recently read a disintegrating little paperback on my bookshelves.  It probably belonged to my father, who was a public health doctor, with a masters in public health from Columbia University.  The book, Eleven Blue Men, consists of twelve stories about mysterious cases of sickness and death that came under the New York City Public Health Department’s purview in the mid-1940s.  The stories were originally serialized in The New Yorker magazine.  My edition of the book, by Berton Roueche, was published in 1955.

The stories involve cases of superlative medical detection, and they describe the extensive efforts exerted by epidemiologists and other investigators to identify and contain the culprits.  Cases of botulism, tetanus, smallpox, psittacosis, leprosy, typhoid fever, and others are described in detail.  There is a chapter on antibiotics, including the discovery of penicillin from mold, and the methods by which it was mass produced during World War II.

The outbreak of smallpox in New York City in 1947, a most contagious and deadly disease, led to the most massive emergency vaccination program in history, with 6,350,000 people being vaccinated, including the mayor of New York, within 28 days.

A new disease, which came to be named ricksettialpox, began striking inhabitants of a specific apartment complex in the borough of Queens in 1946.  It took significant sleuthing and the inspiration of an exterminator to discover the vector, a mite that fed on mice.

In the case of leprosy, the author goes into the historical discrimination and cruel torture of lepers, and the Bible-based fear of the disease, even though it is extremely sluggish and only marginally contagious.

While the stories are dated, and many of the diseases now rare in the US because of better sanitation, nutrition, and vaccinations, the afflictions themselves still exist and crop up from time to time.  The World Health Organization officially declared smallpox eradicated worldwide in 1980.  Other killer diseases like polio or tetanus now are virtually absent from the US and other developed countries.  Antibiotics like penicillin have completely changed the face of bacterial diseases and their treatments.

Medicine has made extraordinary strides in the past century, but I wonder about diminishing returns.  I read in newspapers about the starving children in Yemen and Ebola in the Congo, where there are also ongoing armed conflicts.  I think about microbiologist Hans Zinsser’s 1934 book Rats, Lice, and History, in which the author claims the bacteria win every war.  Zinsser was the original author of the microbiology text still used in medical schools today.

So, while medicine may have advanced, the social disease known as war has not, and it’s as deadly as ever, if not more so.  The starving children in Yemen are civilian victims caught in the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the US assisting the Saudis through arms sales and military cooperation.  There’s no medicine that cures starvation or unsanitary conditions.  Malnutrition, impure water, and stressful living conditions are breeding grounds for diseases like cholera, which, like Ebola, is transmitted through contaminated bodily fluids.

Eleven Blue Men softened my views on vaccines.  I can’t argue with vaccines for polio, smallpox, or tetanus, but I wonder about the proliferation of vaccines for an array of milder diseases, like influenza, which are generally self-limiting.  Vaccines themselves cause risks.  American children receive some 70 vaccines before they are 18 years old.

The medical clinics in Yemen are full to overflowing, but there’s little they can do for starvation.  Clinics in war-torn or infection-ridden areas may have vaccines or medicines, too, but they can’t provide the food, sanitation and clean water that do a longer-lasting and more effective job of preventing and healing disease.

When it comes to public health, the simplest measures are usually the best.  They have to do with sanitation, nutrition, and clean water.  In the case of civilian victims of war, the “collateral damage”–as the military likes to rationalize it–most of the trauma comes not from the bombs and bullets, but from the diseases that meet no resistance in debilitated populations.  It’s no wonder that the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, at the heels of World War I, was the deadliest epidemic in history, killing more people in one year than the bubonic plague killed in the four years of the Black Death.  The flu epidemic killed ten times more people than the war itself.  The flu has not been that deadly since, but neither have the people been so lacking in resistance.

We don’t think of war as a disease, but maybe we should.  It’s a social disease, and no one is immune.

 

 

 

 

 

Gotcha!

The “health care industry” owns you, body and soul.  The irrefutable fact that health care insurance is mandatory in the United States proves the “industry” owns your body.  The idea that it owns your soul, too, requires a deeper look.

The “soul” is hard to define, and there are those who claim it doesn’t exist.  Various religions have their own conceptions of what the “soul” is.  For the purposes of this article, I will keep things simple by claiming the soul in this physical life is affiliated with mind, the ineffable generator and receiver of thoughts and ideas, the vast processing unit some people assume is in the brain.

The health care industry’s claim on your mind, and the mass mind, can be evidenced in multiple ways, most specifically in the mass belief that health care on a grand scale is necessary.  Television, with its ability to influence millions through covert and overt mental manipulation, works to consolidate and perpetuate the belief that you need doctors to look for and treat problems you didn’t know you had, to “educate” you about warning signs of potentially life-threatening conditions.  Media warns about “bad” foods, and signs of cancer and other terrifying diseases, all broadcast with the stated intent of helping you live a healthier life.  It promotes a philosophy that the “health care industry” works to serve you, when, in fact, the “health care industry” works to manufacture and promote disease by undermining your confidence in yourself and your body’s natural tendency toward healthy homeostasis.  It sells health care the way it sells cosmetics, by leading you to doubt your own beauty and your own body, enough to buy the product that will make you feel better about yourself.

The new “normal” for blood pressure has dropped from 120/80.  The new normal for cholesterol has dropped from 200.  No one mentions these are only numbers, and blood pressure fluctuates naturally during the course of the day, depending on activity and stress.  More people are depressed, we are told, and better pills for dealing with uncomfortable emotions are coming down the pike every day.  Never mind that TV itself is depressing and probably raises blood pressure.

Fact is, the body, which is well adapted for handling specific threats, is confused by more generalized, non-immediate, ones, like those generated by the mind, its imaginings, and the information the mind feeds to the body.  Worry is a bad habit that creates constant stress, keeping the body on the alert for ill defined dangers.  A perpetual state of hyper-arousal takes its toll on the body.  Worry is only one manifestation of fear, a chronic condition in our society, not only perpetuated through media but alive and pulsating on the streets, in traffic, in grocery stores and shopping centers.  People have short tempers, are quick on the trigger, and always afraid the other guy with a short fuse has a real gun that can do real damage in real life.  We live in a violent world.  Just watch TV to learn that version of the truth.  We have real reasons to be afraid, and we tell our bodies that, despite the lack of immediate danger.

So what does this have to do with the health care industry owning our minds?  Well, the idea that we absorb all this crap as if it were gospel, without the exposure to alternatives to determine how much is true and how much is propaganda, for the purpose of selling “health care.”  The illusion that there is “care” in the “health care industry” ultimately leads to a sense of having been betrayed, because the “care” was siphoned off a long time ago.  The system itself is greedily vampiristic, the parasites feeding off the host, bleeding and treating them ultimately to death, one life at a time.

Of course there are exceptions, and there are the medical heroes, those who have not lost the ability to care.  These are the doctors, nurses, and other “providers” patients are lucky to have.  But even the best of them are stretched thin and on the verge of burnout with the excessive demands of the system itself.

There are alternatives to the one-size-fits-none proposition offered by the “health care industry,” but you won’t hear about them on television.  You might hear from those who have personally benefited from alternatives like acupuncture, massage, chiropractic, herbal therapies, or folk remedies, just to name a few.  Ayurvedic medicine, but these are not likely covered by your mandatory insurance, so you would have to pay out-of-pocket.

But hey, it’s the price you pay for freedom.