During a routine health screening at the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Tucson, Arizona last week, my primary care provider noticed in my chart that I had not had a tetanus shot in over ten years, and prescribed a diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus (DPT) shot as a protective measure. This led to a discussion of the current state of health in America today. Not healthcare, but health itself.

Pertussis is more commonly known as whooping cough, a childhood disease that I thought had been conquered years ago, and I was curious as to why she was prescribing a shot for it. She told me that far from being eradicated, whooping cough is still around and still a serious threat to health. In fact, outbreaks seem to be on the rise in many areas. In California, at least ten infants have died of the disease in the last year or two, and people of any age can be infected.

I asked the nurse practioneer why pertussis is still around, since we have had vaccines against it for years. She said that a lot of misinformation and highly exaggerated claims against the DPT shots have kept many parents from having their  kids immunized, resulting in the problems we are seeing today.

Then she observed that Americans are so screwed up in our thinking about diseases that we are raising a population of people who have no natural immunity to anything, and observed that when we were all kids, we never worried about even ten percent of the things we do today, yet we all survived. She said she recalled, as a girl, always sticking a blade of grass between her teeth to chew on, but today’s parents would freak out and rush a child to the nearest emergency room to be checked for herbicides, bird droppings, artificial fertilizers, and a hundred other things.

I agree. My boyhood pal Jeff McBride and I watched the Lone Ranger and Tonto cut their arms to mingle their blood and become blood brothers, so we promptly pricked our fingers with one of his mother’s sewing needles and did the same thing. Neither of us died of hepatitis, AIDS, or any other blood borne disease. Hell, we were always walking around with scraped elbows and bloody knees.

We didn’t wear pads and helmets when we rode our bicycles, and when we fell off and got banged up, there was no ride in an ambulance. We laughed at our clumsiness, dusted ourselves off, and got back on our bikes. Our parents didn’t pamper our bodies into sanitary shrines, we got exposed to whatever was going around, and we got over whatever we happened to catch.

Today we can’t walk into a grocery store without stopping to spray our hands with disinfectant before we touch the shopping cart, and I know many people who won’t drink out of a glass at a restaurant because they don’t know whose mouth was on it earlier. Of course, they don’t hesitate to stick that same restaurant’s silverware into their mouths. Go figure.

Did you ever wonder why Americans get Montezuma’s Revenge when they visit Mexico, while the locals folks are unaffected? It’s because they have built up a natural immunity to a lot of things that would make us sick. And yes, I know that people in those kinds of places do get sick and even die from diseases we don’t have here, but isn’t there a happy medium somewhere?

We know several people who are so worried about eating right, or not putting on an extra ounce, that they have gone to the other extreme, and are starving themselves.

We avoid red meat, we’re germaphobic, we shun tap water, and we are so damned healthy in this country that we are killing ourselves! It’s just not natural.

Did you ever wonder why we have diseases today that were never heard of a hundred years ago? I truly believe that it is because Mother Nature has a system of checks and balances to keep all animal populations in line. If we kill off the coyotes in an area, the rabbit population soars, and then hawks and other birds of prey increase in numbers. Nature has to replace those predators man has driven out.

Human beings are still animals, when it comes right down to it. We can’t live forever. So when we do away with diseases, nature gives us new diseases, and sometimes those diseases are worse than the ones we dealt with in the good old days.

While I think we need to protect our kids from exposure to potentially harmful diseases, I also think that we need to let them get sick once in a while, to get bloody noses and scraped knees and scabs on their noggins. It might help them live longer, in the long run.   

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12 Comments on So Healthy We’re Killing Ourselves

  1. T & R Martin says:

    So true with that title. We are SO HEALTHY WE’RE KILLING OURSELVES because our bodies need to build up an immunity to some diseases. We once lived in a country where hepatitis was rampant & had to drink potable water as well as wash our produce with it. The local kids drank the water ALL THE TIME & NEVER got sick, but when our daughter once drank the local water with some of the local kids, BINGO—HEPATITIS. I wonder if CA’s illegal population in some way may be contributing to a few cases of sickness. Perhaps a study ought to be done on that!

  2. Muriel Daniels says:

    I think back to my childhood when I lived on a farm and drank fresh milk warm from the cow. We kept a dipper hanging by our well and everyone pumped cold water up for a drink out of the same dipper. We pulled a fresh carrot from the ground, wiped the dirt off on our pants and ate the carrot. Picked cherries from the tree and ate them. Same with strawberries,etc. Walked barefoot in cow pastures and even stuck my feet in warm cowpies! I survived all of that and I’m in my 70’s!

  3. Dale says:

    Our daughter is an ER nurse who sees parents bringing their kids into the ER for an upset stomach, or earache, etc. One of the nurses got yelled at by a parent for the following reason: the nurse was taking the medical history of the child and asked Mom if she had given the child any medicine and the parent yelled at the nurse that that was the nurse’s job, not hers! Talk about extremes.

    While, IMHO, parents do appear to worry too much, the environment has changed since we were kids. The worse change though is that our society has become so litigious and no one seems willing to accept responsibility for their actions.

  4. Marie says:

    Muriel said it well. We must have lived in the same neighborhood. Also, over 70 and going strong.

  5. Certainly agree with Dale about the litigious society and taking personal responsibility. I also get on a rant sometimes about volunteering to do your share within a community, whether that community be a church, a fraternal organization, a town, or (especially, in our situation) an Escapee Co-op. There are a lot of needs that just take someone to step up and say “I can do that.” Not always a lot of work, not always a lot of money, but just be there with an idea, a hand, or a voice.

  6. Dave B. says:

    How about the people that need to take antibiotics as soon as they get a little cold or cough. It’s been proven that many diseases are becoming immune to antibiotics now because of the frequent use of them. It’s better to tough it out than go onto drugs right away.

  7. Dennise Ziaja says:

    You are right on Nick. We were watching an HGTV House Hunters episode where a young couple were searching for their first home. The wife demanded a brand new bathtub from the realtor as she refused to put her bottom in a USED bathtub. Go figure…her butt couldn’t sit in a used bathtub,

  8. Ron Olsen says:

    I think you have hit the nail on the head Nick. I drank the irrigation water growing up and ate everything without washing. When I went to Mexico and ate on the economy I never got sick. I went to Viet Nam and ate on the economy more than in the mess hall I still didn’t get sick. It has been proven that children that live in these sterile environments have a greater incidence of asthma and other autoimmune disorders. We need to send our children out to eat dirt more. Ron

  9. Chris says:

    Let’s see …teachers are supposed to teach everything. Not just reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. But STDs, manners, etc. Nurses give medicine. Preacher, religion. WHAT ARE THE PARENTS DOING?
    Too many, not enough obviously

  10. I served my country twice, once during Viet Nam in the Air Force, and then again 3 years later for a hitch in the Navy. But I can’t get into the VA system because I have too much money in the bank. Anything over 80 grand and you are on your own. Why should someone who has managed to set some money aside for retirement be denied the help they earned by serving their country?

  11. Whoops, I tried to post the above post to Nick’s regular blog, but it didn’t take. So when I saw him start out this one by mentioning the VA, I thought it was on the same topic, so I went ahead and posted that comment before I read the blog. Sorry to be off topic like that.

    But to make it up, let me add my two cents to the topic at hand. I agree that we are trying to hard to hide from ‘bugs’. It’s going to back-fire. We need to let kids eat dirt like we did as kids, so we build up a natural resistance to the germs that are in it.

  12. Inge says:

    hear, hear. I have thought that we are WAY to “germ-a-phobic” for quite a while. Growing up in Germany, we roamed through the fields, ate the fruits off the orchard trees without cleaning them first, nibbled on mushrooms we found in the forest, fell and didn’t clean the scrapes (I still have some dirt from Germany in my knee), etc. When on vacation in Mexico I was cautious, because my body isn’t conditioned to the bacteria that might be common there …

    Even today I am much less concerned about these things than others. Obviously I wash my hands, have relearned how to sneeze (not into my hand – ok that makes sense), etc., but come on – US (or European) tap water is clean, restaurants are generally clean (and if you don’t trust the glass at a restaurant you shouldn’t consume anything there), reusing the same towel more than once will not kill you, and touching the shopping cart will likely not cause you any problems either. Obviously we can be a little extra cautious when H1N1 or similar things come around, but generally just use common sense …

    I am very healthy (albeit only in my mid-forties).

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