Drop In for Good Health

One Sunday morning before the church service began my friend, Johnny, the choir director announced, “I need to go tomorrow to get a sinus cocktail. I have to sing on Friday and that will clear me up.”

“Do you know what a sinus cocktail is?” I asked him.

He said, “It’s a shot that clears up my sinuses. My own doctor won’t give me one, but I found a place where you just walk in and it’s done.”

I happen to be one of those doctors who do not give “sinus cocktails.” I first heard about them 30 years ago when I was a resident in Richmond, Virginia, but many people on the Internet claim they started right here in Memphis. My doctor friends in New York and Chicago have never heard of them.

I understand why people are so enamored with the shot. You have a cold, or are terribly congested with pressure in your sinus cavities, and you want quick relief. What could be easier than a shot? Over the years doctors have convinced people that a shot works faster and is more serious medicine than any other form of treatment, and it is even better if it contains an antibiotic.

But here is the sad truth. There remains, as of December 2013, still no cure for the common cold. I know many patients who over the years have asked me for a Z-Pac believing this relatively ineffective antibiotic can cure the common cold. Alas, it cannot. (I do, however, wish I had the trademark on the name Z-Pac; it’s a great marketing brand.)

“Colds” get their name from the notion that the over 200 viruses that cause them prefer cold weather. The truth is these viruses thrive in low humidity. That is why colds are more common in the winter, when outdoor weather is dryer and central heating dries out the air in our homes. Thankfully the body’s immune system relatively quickly fends off these viruses, and within 7–10 days the usual symptoms go away. There are no known effective treatments to kill the virus sooner. A Z-Pac (Azithromycin) is a good choice for a sexually transmitted infection, but will not cure a cold.

“But what if my snot is green or the infection has gone into my sinuses?” None of this matters. Antibiotics only work against bacteria, and virtually 100 percent of these infections are caused by viruses. All any doctor can do is treat the symptoms, and we are not very good at doing that.

Over the years there have been many attempts to convince us that a cure has been discovered. After winning a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Linus Pauling spent his life trying to convince us that vitamin C is the answer. Unfortunately, no study—and there have been many—has ever shown convincing evidence that vitamin C works. Lately, both zinc and echinacea have been touted as cures. Both at best have minimal effect.

Virtually nothing advertised for colds on TV does any significant good. I would name names if I weren’t worried about being sued.

This leads us to what your grandmother taught you. Mix one teaspoon of salt in a pint of warm water. Squirt it up your nose, or gargle it if you have a sore throat. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or aspirin type products can help with feeling bad. Antihistamines can help with the runny nose.   And those sinus cocktails? The formula depends on the provider mixing it up, but usually it consists of an antihistamine (such as Benadryl, which is diphenhydramine) and at least one steroid (usually dexamethasone). It might also contain an antibiotic, such as amoxicillin. The antibiotic will do nothing. The antihistamine and steroid may have a short-term benefit of shrinking the mucus in your nose that causes the congestion, but its effect is only temporary relief, not a cure. Plus, you can get the same medicine at the drugstore without having to endure a painful shot.

As is often the case, the best medicine is prevention. Most colds are transmitted by hand-to-hand contact, so wash your hands frequently.

If you get a cold, know that your body will be making antibodies against that virus and you will never have the same infection again. This leaves only 199 other viruses you can get next winter.

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Dreams of Justice

I came to Memphis in 1986 because I read somewhere that it was the poorest city in America. It did not take long to discover that this was true.

But along with economic and healthcare injustice, I found vibrant churches across the denominations, neighborhoods with strong identities, and a climate of looking for ways to work together toward healing the scars of the city. As the site of some of the passionate efforts for justice by Martin Luther King, Jr., Memphis had a legacy.

Memphis is also the place of King’s death.

Countless visitors have stood below the motel balcony where King died and soaked up a sense of the sacred mingled with the history of our country.

School children across the land learn to associate “I have a dream” with Martin Luther King, Jr. For many of us, those four simple words conjure something big, very big, that is still changing America five decades later.

Before Martin Luther King, Jr. was the iconic leader of the Civil Rights Movement, he was a Baptist preacher. And the son of a preacher. He knew the Bible, and he dug past the surface to the heart of God. The cause of justice is the cause of God.

In his famous speech, King said, “No, no, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” He lifted these words from the Old Testament prophet Amos (5:24).

Amos was a shepherd who lived during a time of military peace, but a time rife with social injustice. Oppression of the poor. A privileged class. Dishonesty. Prejudice. Amos answered the call of God to speak out against injustice to a hostile audience.   Is it any wonder that Martin Luther King, Jr. should quote Amos?   Later in the landmark speech, King also quoted the prophet Isaiah, and the promise that in preparation for the coming of God, every valley will be lifted up and the uneven road will be leveled. King dreamed of this vision of justice that Isaiah cast before all our eyes (Isaiah 40:4–5).

And he dreamed that the glory of the Lord would be revealed and all flesh would see it together. Together.  “We cannot walk alone,” King said about the journey into justice.

By God’s grace and with God’s help, we still journey together toward the glory of God. The work of the Church Health Center among the working uninsured is a journey into justice every day. Every congregation that commits to being a place and agent of healing helps to level the road for the coming of God into someone’s life. Every individual who chooses justice becomes part of those rolling, mighty waters.

So this year when you hear the familiar words, “I have a dream,” don’t be satisfied with sentiment or a long weekend because of a Monday holiday. No, we are not satisfied. Not until we see the glory of God together.

America’s First Hospital

With the Affordable Care Act kicking into higher gear at the beginning of 2014, this seems like a good time to ponder the beginning of healthcare in the United States, which happened before we were the United States..

My favorite Founding Father, unquestionably, is Benjamin Franklin. I love his pithy quotations.

“If you would be loved, love and be loveable.”

“To lengthen the life, lessen the meals.”

“A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle.”

Franklin was an inventor unafraid to experiment. Remember the kite tied to a key in a lightning storm? He could have killed himself. That’s how much he wanted to know what would happen. If you wear bifocal glasses, you can thank Ben Franklin. When he was 78 years old and struggling with his own vision, he took two pairs of spectacles, split them in half, and made one pair with two strengths of lens. He also invented a catheter to help his brother with bladder stones, and he experimented with a variety of medical uses of electricity. Ben Franklin freely expressed his opinions about healthcare.

“God heals and the doctor takes the fees.”

“Nothing is more fatal to health than over care of it.”

“He’s the best physician that knows the worthlessness of the most medicine.”

He said this, of course, at a time when unproven and harmful treatments were in common practice, but his words remind us of the power of the body to heal itself.

What I most admire Franklin for is his role in creating Pennsylvania Hospital. Between 1730 and 1776, shipping and trade with Europe brought droves of people to Philadelphia, many of them poor. In the middle of this period of rapid growth, Dr. Thomas Bond, a Quaker, wanted to care for the poor. He appealed to Franklin for help through the Pennsylvania Assembly. Franklin proposed that the assembly provide 2,000 British pounds if he was able to raise another 2,000 British pounds from private donations. The politicians doubted he could do it, but Franklin raised this amount and more.

As a result, America’s first hospital opened in 1751 with the purpose “to care for the sick, poor and insane who were wandering the streets of Philadelphia.” The seal of the hospital featured a picture of the Good Samaritan and the words “Take care of him and I will repay thee.” The first hospital in America—we weren’t even a nation yet—set the precedent for caring for the poor using financial help from both the public and private sectors, and it was built on the foundation of a story Jesus told to help us see who our neighbors are.

Near the time of his death in 1790, at age 84, Franklin regarded the hospital as one of his most important achievements. Perhaps Franklin’s most famous quotation is, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I resonate with that advice because it is at the heart of all we do at the Church Health Center. We honor Franklin not only for his role in founding our country, but also for his role in setting a standard for how we care for each other.

5 Tips for New Year Resolutions

We’re six days into a new year. How many resolutions have you broken? Or do you avoid making resolutions because, based on your past track record, you expect to fail?

For many people, resolutions have to do with improving their health. Sadly, the resolutions people choose start with guilt about what they are doing wrong.

Taking charge of your health is a dynamic experience. The right combination and force must come together to produce a particular action or result. I believe the starting point is understanding you are a body-and-spirit being created and loved by God. When you grasp this, you glimpse the level of health—wholeness, well-being, connection to God and others—that God means for you to experience.

In the early stages of change, you want to be sure that what you expect to gain will outweigh what you give up. Will cutting back on comfort foods really make enough difference in my health to be worth the sacrifice? Will joining a support group really make it easier to go through a tough time? Will exercise really improve my sleep?

Goals are indispensable to changing behaviors and moving along the wellness spectrum. If you’re setting a goal, my first piece of advice is to meet yourself where you are. Find your genuine starting point, not one you think is more socially acceptable. Tell yourself the truth, not to beat yourself up about past failures but to establish a starting point for moving forward.   Here are five quick tips to keep in mind as you frame your goals.

1. Behavior changes when you name the new habit. Simple actions make a big difference, but first you must state what the simple action is. Name the specific habit you want to form, and picture yourself doing it one step at a time.

2. Behavior changes when you see progress. Progress is something you can measure. How will you look back and see where you were and how far you’ve come? Give yourself landmarks by which to measure progress.

3. Behavior changes when you know what to do. Verbs are the stuff of life. What are you going to do? Break down big goals into specific action steps you can take within a specific period of time.

4. Behavior changes when it’s realistic to do what you plan. “Stop eating desserts” is not a goal. “Choose fresh fruit for dessert three times a week” is a behavior-changing goal.

5. Behavior changes when the end is in sight. Goals are not forever. Set goals with a time limit and then reevaluate how they’re working. Set short-term goals for developing new habits, give yourself small rewards for accomplishing them, then set new goals.

Where are you? Where do you want to be? Goals are the path in between.

Adapted from God, Health, and Happiness by Dr. Scott Morris. To order a copy, visit http://www.churchhealthcenter.org/products/godhealthandhappines.