For much of my life and throughout my professional career as a physician, author, and public speaker, I have been influenced by both fiction characters and nonfiction thought leaders. Friends and family who know me well are aware of my fondness for both Inspector Clouseau and Lieutenant Columbo. Each has influenced my interviewing style and the medical detective skills I use with my patients.
However, Rabbi Moses Ben Miamonides and Chinese physician Huang Dee Nai Chan also had much to say in life. The essence of their messages poignantly applies to today’s medicine and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Maimonides addressed disease prevention in the 13th century. One of his teachings says:
“Maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God, for one cannot understand or have knowledge of the Creator if one is ill. Therefore one must avoid that which harms the body and accustom oneself to that which is helpful and helps the body become stronger/cultivate habit conducive to health and vigor.”
Even in earlier times, before Miamonides, the Chinese physician Huang Dee Nai-Chan is quoted in a 2600 BC Chinese medical text as saying:
“Superior doctors prevent the disease.
Mediocre doctors treat the disease before it is evident.
Inferior doctors treat the full-blown disease.”
Never before have the wisdom and words of these two physician role models of mine been more relevant and their messages as important as they are today.
Applying this Wisdom to COVID-19
When it comes to living in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, practicing Miamonides’ message about taking care of your body is incredibly important. Scientists and epidemiologists have observed and taught us that having chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension and chronic lung disease lead to greater risks and worse outcomes when encountering the coronavirus. This includes higher mortality rates. These underlying conditions have something in common: chronic inflammation.
The organ most affected by this inflammatory process is the human endothelial tissue which is the inner lining of our blood vessels. We are discovering that the COVID-19 virus directly attacks our vascular system; this leads to strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure, and pulmonary emboli.
The COVID-19 virus seems to capitalize on the systemic weakness associated with the previously mentioned chronic conditions, enhancing our susceptibility to infection and resulting in higher morbidity and mortality rates. Clearly, a preventive approach such as proposed by Miamonides would be worthwhile.
As a physician (like many of my colleagues), I address these risk factors every day as I see patients. All too frequently, it is to no avail. Risk factor modification is not a glamorous or sexy job; many times, patients would rather take a pill to correct the problem.
No Magic Pill
Spoiler alert—there is no magic pill. The best approach is what I recommend in the The Power of 5 Ultimate Formula: avoidance of Sweets and Stress and attaining more Sweat, Sleep, and Sex/Socialization. This is pretty much what Miamonides taught in the 12th century!
Chinese physician Huang Dee Nai-Chan’s philosophy applies to the practice of medicine and to public health. The current COVID-19 pandemic is an illustration of inferior care.
Our government leaders would have been well served to apply Huang Dee’s teaching as a means of preventing the disaster we are now facing in this pandemic. Our government could not have prevented the virus from invading our borders but perhaps instituted better national preparation.
A mediocre response might have addressed the spread of the virus before it became the overwhelming crisis we now face. What we have been left with is an inferior response, a denial of science which has resulted in a health catastrophe, and an embarrassment to what Americans believe to be the best health care system in the world.
What I have observed is the world’s most technologically advanced and expensive health care system lacking in government leadership and support, which leads to an inability to provide the type of care my fellow professionals and I are accustomed to delivering previously.
Since there is no pill to treat the COVID-19 virus nor a vaccine to ward off the infection, we are left to consider options.
At this point, it is up to each individual to actively do his or her best to avoid becoming infected by socially isolating, wearing masks in public, and following directions provided by scientific professionals.
IMPROVE YOUR OWN HEALTH … Avoid Sweets and Stress, Get More Sweat, Sleep and Sex/Safe Socialization through The Power of 5. It’s your choice.
To a Long and Healthy Life,
David Bernstein, MD