Humans are genetically programmed to avoid illness and a morbid fear of death is perfectly normal. But we’ve become so used to guzzling antibiotics to fend off the slightest cough, that tiny, but dastardly powerful germs are growing armour against our best defences.
Luckily, we love a bit of irony. And if it’s fear of dying that’s actually rolling us towards the grave, we’re as likely to laugh as cry. Chugging into oblivion is fine; as long as it’s us doing the steering.
Until today, it seemed control was slipping from our grasp and our own stupidity was helping those little, big microbes win this war. I’ve been reading increasingly about parents marching into their local surgery and demanding the doctor prescribes antibiotics for their kids’ colds. Not only is this akin to cracking an egg with a sledgehammer, it won’t dry up the snot and it effectively throws a welcome party in hospital wards for superbugs. Because antibiotics don’t work on viruses and there is no cure for the common cold. WE ALL KNOW THIS, right?
Minor illness is a fact of life. I have a cold right now. Catching a cold is something we will all do. That’s why my mum always had lemon juice and honey in the house, to make into a warm, soothing drink that chases off the snuffles; for a bit anyway (something I’ve since learned is exponentially improved with a splash of Scotch). She’s the one who told the young me that antibiotics only work on bacterial infections; you can’t do anything about a virus except neck a bag of oranges and wait for your immune system to fight back. Mum recalls loads of such home remedies, handed down by her grandmother. All manner of soothers for minor ailments could be made from things lying around in the kitchen; mustard, tea bags, meat dripping, old bread.
Human beings are pretty bloody amazing, and we don’t even know the full extent of our amazingness yet. Our bodies are universes of endless possibilities, and what they can’t do today they will probably evolve the ability to do tomorrow. There was a time, not that long ago, when we expected our bodies to toil in coal mines or factories on about 500, vitamin-free calories a day. Of course, we didn’t live as long. But we didn’t run off bleating to the doctor with every tiny hiccup either. We couldn’t; doctors and medicine were expensive, so people resorted to creative uses of old meat juices and condiments to treat themselves instead.
We might live now in an anything-goes, post modern age, but it’s economics once more that are dictating how we respond to physical issues. Plastic surgeons have reported a fifth fewer men are having their moobs (man-boobs) removed than they were a couple of years ago, citing cost of the op as the reason. Instead of visiting the 21st century equivalent of the Wizard of Oz – only now for body part removal as well addition – overweight men are taking back control of their moobs. They are opting for the cheaper solution of *shock* joining a gym and exercising away their pec pouches. Imagine: you can lose fat by moving around and not eating for a couple of hours a week. Radical stuff.
And to bring this thing full circle to my point at the outset, I read something today that thrills and worries me equally. IBM has accidentally taken us to the next level of death avoidance, by potentially creating the answer to our antibiotic-resistant superbug problem. During the production of a new computer processor, it’s conjured a gel that destroys bacteria. It’s obvious why this is thrilling – it’s going to be safe to go to hospital again, should I ever need to do so. The worry stems from the premonition that this brand new discovery will mean we just can’t resist settling back once more into our couches, knowing that any ailment can be cured by medical wizardry; a magic jelly magic wand.
Little things that pack a big punch – microbes, antibiotics, 20 minutes on a treadmill, citrus fruits and our tiny grey brain cells that enable us to fear and laugh about death at the same time – are what will make or break the human race. Now, apparently, we can add magic goop to the mix. If we use it wisely, we might even be OK for a while yet. And if computer dudes can come up with the answer to our abuse of antibiotics, maybe they could add ‘find a cure for the common cold’ to their to-do lists.
Right. Now where did I put that bottle of Scotch? And sod the lemons …