A couple of decades ago we all read a book celebrating the useful lessons gained in kindergarten. And while that covered many essential life skills, it short-changed the moms of the world, who taught us everything most of us know about health and illness.
I’m a doctor and when my kids are sick the first thing I think is: “What would mom do?” Sometimes I combine mom’s advice with some antibiotics, but I’m kind of a belt and suspenders guy.
What mother didn’t earn her stripes suggesting – a few jillion times – that we eat our vegetables? Good advice, and if followed we would all live healthier, happier lives; albeit with less culinary excitement. Can you really die of boredom?
On the dietary side, one thing mom didn’t tell us, of course, was to drink red wine. But drinking red wine in moderation could raise our HDLs, our good cholesterol, and perhaps undo some of the damage from artfully hiding, but not eating, our vegetables.
I believe it was my mom that first taught me to wash my hands. During my surgical training, a full pre-op scrub was only a modest improvement on her good technique.
Washing hands has become even more important in this world of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics, and hospital acquired superbugs have been the scourge of even first-class medical institutions, and have caused much suffering and death.
These bugs have resisted almost all attempts to control, but surprisingly enough, the humble low-tech act of hand washing makes a huge difference.
Hands get into everything. We use them to explore our universe, much like a cat uses its whiskers. We touch surfaces and other people, and without thinking, rub our eyes or scratch our nose. The medical term for this is auto-inoculation; you have just inoculated yourself with whatever germs your hands have picked up in their travels.
Does hand-washing really make a difference? The two leading causes of childhood death worldwide are pneumonia and infectious diarrhea. Studies have shown that hand washing cuts the deaths from diarrhea by 50 percent and pneumonia by 25 percent. Those are big numbers for such a small and easy act.
To understand why it works, you need to know that we are covered by a thin film of oil made by glands in our skin. It helps make us pretty waterproof, but this is where the bacteria hide.
Soap works because it dissolves oil into water, allowing the bacteria to rinse away. Neat trick! Superbug or harmless variety; down the drain they go.
I also remember mom chasing us from in front of the TV, with a “shoo” and a “get outside and get some fresh air.” Air inside the house is actually more germ-filled than outside.
Tightly closed-up houses cause winter to be unhealthier with respiratory germs than summer. Why share air when you can go out and get some fresh air?
While outside getting some fresh air, we generally ran around quite a bit. Mom managed to get us exercise, fresh air, and vitamin D with merely a “shoo” and a wave of her hand. Of course, she just might have been trying to get a little peace and quiet as well.
Mom was my first medical college professor. Her common-sense approach to health included a lot of great recommendations.
My advice to you: Wash your hands, drink a little red wine and practice pretending to eat your vegetables.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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