Putting Some Health Back in Healthcare, Global Province Letter, 11 February 2015

"Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time."—John Lubbock

John Lubbock.  John Lubbock, 1st Baron of Avebury, was such an extraordinary fellow. In one bundle resided a banker, politician and statesman, philanthropist, scientist, and polymath. On the side, of course, he was both essayist and poet. Early on he was a friend of Darwin and took part in evolutionary debates. Some say he wrote the "most influential archaeological text book of the nineteenth century."

We like it much that this unbelievably productive man believed so stoutly in time outs, in lying on the grass during a summer's day. Respites, we know, recharge the batteries, such that the great American Tel & Tel, early in the 20th century, studied the work habits of its telephone operators and discovered they became much more productive if given breaks from their chores. We are certain that Lubbock himself got all his best ideas during pauses in the grass, permitting him to be a giant in so many fields.

We are satisfied that in the natural order of things a healthy life decorated with inventiveness arises from the attention we bring to rest and renewal as much as it comes from simple hard work. We are simply not very good robots, so we have to pace ourselves to be at our best.

Health Jujitsu.  Indeed, the most interesting developments in healthcare in the present day are arising from treatments that do not joust with nature, but rather, capitalize on its strengths. Primitive healthcare, we think, uses chemicals, and lab drugs, and radiation, and surgery to eliminate microbes and viruses and such from the diseased body. Now we are beginning to ask Mother Nature to remedy her own flaws. That is, we use nature's strengths to cure its weaknesses.

We have brought two such developments to your attention on the Global Province. For instance, we are successfully using fecal transplants (i.e., bacterial transplants) to battle Crohn's disease, an auto-immune disorder. If we can fix our gut or biome, then a number of complaints may come to heel. Mayo Clinic has had wide success with transplants and is excited about the range of diseases where it may be applicable.

Even more exciting perhaps is a whole new approach to fighting cancer. Traditionally we cut it out, or burned it out, or suffocated it with drugs. The idea was to kill errant cancer cells. Now we are looking at therapies where we use drugs to make the cancerous cell healthy, helping it to mature into a useful part of the body. That is, we are aiding the cell to resume normal growth.

Just Fly Swatters.  These developments are truly remarkable. Trouble is they just amount to fly swatters when they are stacked up against the horde of locusts that infests every aspect of our health and our healthcare system. For instance, at least a third of our population is tragically overweight, and for large parts of the day it sits in front of computers and TV sets, not getting the vigorous exercise that might trim its waistline. To boot, the foods being eaten are unhealthy, leading not only to fat but to a list of comorbidities that make life into death for so many over 40.

Every day in addition one reads about medical errors and worse that intensify our diseased condition. Just this week it was announced that renowned retailers were selling supplements that lacked the advertised ingredients. "The authorities said they had conducted tests on top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at four national retailers--GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart--and found that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the herbs on their labels. The tests showed that pills labeled medicinal herbs often contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies." The government "demanded that they remove the products from their shelves."

Likewise we learn that the F.S.I.S. and FDA basically do not have regulations to govern chicken parts, leading to countless cases of salmonella poisoning each year, many of which result in death. As goofy is the fact that there are doctors in the great out- there who recommend against annual physicals. To wit, the august New York Times ran an op-ed column from one Ezekiel J. Emanuel entitled "Skip Your Annual Physical." We would like to inform Brother Emanuel that our own annual physical saved our life. This you-don't-need-a-doctor craziness now crops up in hospitals where patients are often just seen by a paramedic or nurse.

In sum our health and our healthcare system are so perniciously infected that miracle drugs and new medical protocols cannot make us well. To get somewhere on health we must achieve extraordinary changes in our own attitudes and in those of our society.

Curbing Loudmouths.  Because of the likes of MSNBC and Fox News, we have come to pay attention to the shouters in our midst, be they Bill O'Reilly, Donald Trump, Chris Christie, or Jack Welch. They are 'full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.' While they achieve fame and some fortune, they do little for society. Whether we are talking about healthcare or business or national defense, they stir unkindly passions in our population that foster diatribe but do not further healing or solid solutions.

Perhaps it is very instructive for a moment to focus on Welch. Many were dazzled by his record at General Electric. But at least some think GE's reported numbers were actually massaged a bit, the thinking being that GE Capital in particular could smooth out its results. In any event it is useful to take a look at William N. Thorndike's The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success, which points out that Welch could not hold a candle to Henry Singleton of Teledyne, a conglomerate that turned in far more spectacular results. Henry was quiet but, oh boy, did he create shareholder value. It turns out, the author says, that the best CEO performances around seem to come from guys who do not make much noise, but who really know how to manage. Blowhards just don"t get as much done.

How then, we may ask, do we put aside raucous behavior and wrap ourselves in quiet restful moments where we can begin to rule our lives with a considered philosophy? How do we instill healthful attitudes in our approach to most anything? How do we avoid useless contests of will?

Pissing Match No More

My nocturnal imaginings even come in Technicolor. Yippee.
Duke Wayne struts his stuff in front of the Bucket of Blood.
He's to show us that he can shout and shoot and spew
Farther, higher, more dead center than any man alive.
He's all outside because there is no inside.

I awaken as always from this dream,
Well before it finishes.
The covers are tight about my neck,
Everything seems like a noose
Where ego tangles the umbilical cord
Between thee and me,
Between us and them.

It's absurdity that divides us,
A movie that needs to end,
That we may travel outside
The confines of our celluloid minds.

Let us end this tragic-comedy,
That shoot out that makes us daily reel.
Lying awake, let us gain rest from serenity.
Time it is to have restful days,
Rather than contentious dreams.

Wu Wei.  There is a growing literature instructing us how to lie back, as did John Lubbock at the beginning of this essay. We refer you, for instance, to Jeffrey Steingarten's review and reflection 'How to be Idle': Being and Do-Nothingness. Or John Tierney's "A Meditation on the Art of Not Trying." Tierney refers to Edward Slingerland, whose book opines about the need for effortless action: "He calls it the paradox of wu wei, the Chinese term for effortless action. Pronounced ooo-way, it has similarities to the concept of flow, that state of effortless performance sought by athletes, but it applies to a lot more than sports. Wu wei is integral to romance, religion, politics and commerce. It's why some leaders have charisma and why business executives insist on a drunken dinner before sealing a deal." In other words, to be more effective and happily so, we need to be more restful and effortless both when we are still and when we are engaged.

Sullivan's Retreat.  Oddly enough it is a fine blogger, one of those providers of useless chatter, who instructs us most recently on how to move to a considered life that is more healthful and who promises to make the world better because of his newfound restraint. We speak of Andrew Sullivan.

Mr. Sullivan said in a post on his site, The Dish, that he had been blogging for 15 years. "That's long enough to do any single job," he said, adding, "I am saturated in digital life and I want to return to the actual world again."

"I want to read again, slowly, carefully," he wrote. "I want to absorb a difficult book and walk around in my own thoughts with it for a while. I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged."


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