We’re battling our own habits

History also shows that if we want to tame antibiotic resistance, we have to be ready to fight for a long time — perhaps forever. The problem is that we’re not really fighting against bacteria. We’re battling our own habits, which are deeply ingrained and hard to change.


—Carl Zimmer, “The surprising history of the war on superbugs — and what it means for the world today


Sick and Student


I’m sick as a dog, laying in bed blowing my brains out my nostrils, waiting for my body to wallow through the bacterial battlefields to recovery. Being sick is an interesting experience: it overcomes you, it overwhelms you, it possesses you. You are fighting a piece of the outer world that has invaded, that has successfully rendered itself into altered forms that can captivate you unawares, that propagates itself through you. You suffer to know of this outer alien unknown, your body pantomimes the precursory throes of death, and your mind feverishly dilates and contracts between dreams, desire, and despair. There is nothing to do but allow your unconscious self to take over, and wave to it from the chambered tower of your limitations like a damsel with a kerchief to her knight off to battle. At this point, the rational mind begins to bend itself into borderline witchcraft superstitions, thinking perhaps this remedy, or this potion, or this activity, or this thought will somehow summit the tipping point into victory, and suddenly the cascading mucous membranes will cease their tireless assault of your throat and lungs, and suddenly you will be free! Free! Alive! For indeed, if there is one good thing to say about getting sick, it is that it fully makes you aware of just how fortunate you are when you are well, and balanced, and breathing. How it makes you savor that feeling of non-infected sinuses, that full breadth of air into your lungs without hacking up quivering piles of sputum, that fresh, clean unsludged mind that can move, that can think, that can act! But it makes us stronger, in any case, right? To fight off naturally the invasive replicating hordes of ever evolving microbes? I certainly hope so, and that my time spent aching and feverish in bed is for a just cause. I like to think of it as when I connect on-line, and my anti-virus software automatically updates itself. My anti-virus software is updating. Tooling about in my tissues to reinforce the battlements with fresh data, to keep on top of the freshly mutating wave of evil that always lurks somewhere just at the edges of perception, the parasitic lifeforms that exist seemingly only for the purpose of endless propagation and otherwise simply for the cause of teaching mankind a lesson. The suffering that exists to lead us into recognition of what we have lost, and that in the regaining of this loss, we can then remember, for a spell, the brilliant numinous joy that is everyday existence in health, in fullness of being, in balance of breath. Until we go under again . . . and again, until one day we are assimilated by the Borg of alien teeming mutating ecstatic multitudinous dance of death-life that is one and everything in the universe. Until then, I suppose I will have to suffer this sickness gladly, and take my lesson and my medicinal tea in full, humbly, as the imperfect, fallible human structure that I am. Here’s to colds!

Approaches to Microbes

I ain’t no scientist or doctor, but I was thinking today that sometimes the approach one takes with scientific/medicinal information can determine the efficacy of that information. For instance, we developed, with the advent of antibiotics, a powerful ability to kill microbes. This is an ability which, in the short term, has saved many lives. But the unfortunate thing is, microbes evolve and mutate in response to our efforts to destroy them completely, and we are approaching an age where antibiotics will no longer be very effective. That’s scary. And this is because we’ve overused our antibiotics, and attempted to eradicate microbes that are impossible to eradicate. And my argument here is going to be that this is a rather idealistic approach for which we will suffer for greatly in the future unless we learn to shift our approach in treating disease.

Some microbes, like viruses such as HIV, evolve so rapidly that it is quite readily apparent that the standard approach is nearly completely ineffective–although the “cocktails” concocted have slowed its progress somewhat. Yet still, researchers are still plugging desperately away with the same approach, hoping to find some chink in its armor, some magic bullet that will wipe out all strains of the virus. This is most likely never going to happen.

Let me here make an analogy between the human body and a large plot of land. Think of vaccines and antibiotics like pesticides and insecticides. You are attempting to cultivate a large and healthy supply of various foodstuff from your soil. But there are numerous pests (microbes) which attempt to destroy the plants or steal the food at all stages of development. So you purchase the latest pesticide and hose down your garden with it, and voila!, the pests are murdered, like magic. But a couple of years later, they are back, and suddenly the pesticide ain’t workin’ so good no more. Because the pests have evolved to be resistant to that pesticide. So you buy the latest version, and kill them again. All this is well and dandy. But unfortunately, you later perform studies on your land and discover that these pesticides have also been polluting your water supply and poisoning your soil for years to come.

You then begin to study organic and permaculture farming principles. Organics relies on natural sustainable yields, with no unnatural, toxic pesticides or insecticides used.

Now let me bring this analogy back to the human body and medicine. It’s time that organics came into how we treat and approach the “pests” of the body: nasty microbes, which propogate like weeds and threaten to stifle our blossoms at every step of the way. You see, we’ve been approaching it in the idealistic, ethno-centric attempt to triumph over nature. We think that we can conquer our viral and bacterial enemies through science, that eventually we will be like gods, impervious to all microbes, chuckling condescendingly at the medieval memory of colds and flus. But just like in visible nature, the attempt to completely destroy some bad types of animals or plants ends up leading to similarly destroying good types. Nature relies on biodiversity. Our bodies rely on multiplicities of microbes to function. Even the bad ones.

It’s a matter, as in organics, of learning how to live with the “bad” things by tolerating a small amount of them, not wasting your time attempting to eradicate them completely. There are always methods of natural control and regulation which can be harnessed and applied in a balanced ecosystem, such as creating plant and animal “guilds,” in which natural collaborations between allied species acts to protect one another against invasive species. One of the crucial weapons in a permaculturist’s or organicist’s arsenal is that of cultivating biodiversity. The most devastating current agricultural practice is that of monoculture, cultivating solely one product. It devastates the soil, the ecosystem, the circulation of water through the soil and air, everything. And then of course you add the myriad toxic pesticides and all that crap and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

So the approach of traditional medicine, while laudable for its idealism in attempting to save humans from suffering and disease, is simply misguided. We are treating patients for the short-term cure, not long-term health. For example, most of our major health problems, which is costing the nation thousands of dollars every day, are things like heart disease. Heart disease will never be cured. But it can fairly easily be prevented through education and subsequently enforced lifestyle and cultural changes.

Let me get back to the microbes. Just like in the organic movement, a more holistic approach to medicine does not necessitate swearing off the advanced findings of research and technology. It implies simply that one changes one’s approach in their application.

Anyway, these were just some thoughts that popped up in my head when I was on the plane coming back home.