(side effects may include dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, insomnia, mental sluggishness, hallucinations, early dementia, and premature death)
Tennis, to my mind, is the incomparable Queen of Sports. From the opening serve to the final game-set-match point, we're talking unrelenting man-to-man combat, unrivaled in all of sport for its twofold dynamics of kinesiological complexity and mental-emotional taxation. So demanding are these two dynamics, so intricate the responses required by the infinite shot variables of pace, spin, and placement, and so short the available response times, that the consciously willing mind cannot begin to handle the overhead of directing all the skeletal muscles involved. Fortunately, it doesn't have to. Because the brain itself, knowing what needs to be done, takes over control of the body at what borrowing from computer science argot we might call the systems level. In short, the player can trust his inner "mind-body connection" to know how to do what on the court.
That, paraphrastically stated, is the keynote insight unpacked by W. Timothy Gallway in his classic bestseller The Inner Game of Tennis (1972), who subsequently authored The Inner Game of Golf, The Inner Game of Music, and other Inner Game books.
But I'm still waiting for one entitled The Inner Game of Health and Sanity, a book that will explain how all adult humans of sound mind need to put more trust in their own mind-body connections in the arena of health and wellness.
My point: Nobody knows better about your body than you do.
In terms of design, every human mind-body complex constitutes a level of perfection that no other human, notwithstanding the hubris of many, can ever hope to improve upon. That is a philosophically valid assertion whether one subscribes to evolutionary theory or the creation story. Either God got it right (the first time) or evolution got it right (after trillions upon gadzillions of trial-and-error nano-adjustments).
It was on such philosophical grounds that I withheld my consent when, shortly after my daughter was born, her pediatrician advised dosing her up with fluoride tablets to improve her teeth. Now, twelve years later, studies have shown that fluoride is (a) toxic to the body and (b) does not improve teeth. Meanwhile, my daughter's teeth are very healthy. But so, of course, is our billion-dollar fluoride additive industry, as witness the near impossibility of finding an unfluoridated toothpaste on any supermarket shelf.
In 1990, Dr. Robert Mendelsohn published his Confessions of a Medical Heretic, alerting readers to the irreversible horrors of gratuitous surgeries and invariably rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul medications, and showing people how to obtain the information necessary for making their own medical decisions. Both the American Medical Association and the pharmaceutical industry were outraged at this frontal assault on their doctor knows best propaganda.
Am I the only American distressed by the unremitting juggernaut of pharmaceutical commercials on TV? Or is there no remaining human complaint which cannot be medicated away?
Back in the day, we had those wonderful Bud Light commercials between innings or during timeouts. Now, sitting in the family room with my wife and almost teenage daughter, I must squirm through Levitra and Cialis commercials, as handsome men walking besides smiling women talk about their erectile dysfunction, and the voiceover warns to "see your doctor if you have an erection lasting longer than six hours." Give me a break.
These odious pharmaceutical commercials have become virtually ubiquitous, and invariably conclude with the incantation "talk to your doctor today."
Talk to your doctor. See your doctor. Right. You think he or she is going to tell you NOT to take drugs? That your body can sustain itself without the benefits of modern pharmaceuticals? Not likely. Doctors are trained to be proactive, either with scalpel or prescription pad.
Pardon my alluding to tennis again, but my daughter (the one with the beautiful teeth) went to a tennis camp this past summer. Had to get a physical though. Had to have that form signed by Jane Doecutter, M.D., to prove that a medical professional had performed the intricate procedures of weighing her, measuring her, and certifying that her blood was still pulsing along within sub-artery-bursting pressure parameters. But, what the heck, I think: little harm can come from a simple physical exam. Besides, it only set me back sixty bucks the previous summer. So, off we go to see Dr. Jane.
While I wait forever in the waiting room, in comes an attractive drug saleswoman with her bulging case of samples and brochures. I overhear her setting up a luncheon date with the doc. I don't think it's going to be Dutch treat. Meanwhile, I sit and look at all the placards advertising some new wonderdrug for the now epidemic "disease" called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I wait and fidget, unaware that my daughter is being subjected, even as I fidget, to an unsolicited psychological screening for you guessed it ADHD.
After an eternity I get called into the examination room for a little doctor-parent powwow.
"Savannah is in great shape," the good doctor begins.
I nod appreciatively at this fantastic news.
"And there's little evidence of ADHD. I think she's okay there."
More inner rejoicing. We're almost out of here.
But then, suddenly, I'm listening to a sales pitch.
"I'm really excited about this new vaccine," Dr. Jane is saying.
Now she has my attention. She is concerned about Savannah's possible exposure to Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus that, in admittedly rare cases, can lead to cervical cancer. But, not to worry, a series of injections of the newly approved vaccine Gardasil will inoculate my daughter against this imminent threat to her life.
"But Savannah's twelve years old. She's not sexually active," I protest, at the first available pause in the pitch.
The doctor looks at me with her intense brown eyes, as though she had just encountered her first Neanderthal in the flesh. And quickly moves on to less controversial medical wisdom.
I am able to get my daughter out of there, finally, after stopping at the window to pay, not $60, but $160. What will they add to the physical examination next year, I wonder. Maybe preemptive angioplasty.
Later I would learn (1) that Gardisil, made by Vioxx-maker Merck, is one of the most expensive vaccines ever ($360 for a three-shot series), (2) that there are some frightening side-effects associated with the aluminum-containing genetically-reengineered vaccine, (3) that cervical cancer is a rapidly diminishing health risk among American women, one that pales in comparison to both breast and lung cancer, and (4) that HPV infections, in the majority of cases, clear up on their own. Was Dr. Jane unaware of facts (2) to (4)? Who knows. But I wager she was not oblivious to fact (1).
I'm reminded of another story, again involving my daughter.
Some years ago, when Savannah was seven or eight, she had a summer-vacation "boyfriend," whom I will call Robert, who lives in another state.
Robert was what we used to call all boy: fun-loving, adventurous, irrepressible. Savannah (pretty irrepressible in her own right) was crazy about him. She sent him birthday and Christmas cards during the following winter. Her first relationship.
But, when the next summer vacation rolled around and we saw Robert again, his personality had changed. Now he was subdued, taciturn, standoffish, almost sullen. Gone was the broad toothy grin, gone the carefree boyish exuberance.
We got the story from his mother. Robert had been diagnosed with ADHD and was on Ritalin.
Now even our drug-lobby-compromised FDA admits that Ritalin therapy has been linked to visual hallucinations, suicidal ideation, psychotic behavior, and violent behavior. But Robert's mother who is herself on medication, as are her other two children is happy. And Robert's schoolteacher is happy. Because Robert now does what he's told and stays out of trouble. He's a model little citizen, respectful of authority, productive. So what if he's a little dull now? Life is all about tradeoffs anyway.
Meanwhile, out on our roads and highways, how many of the drivers we pass going the other way today at combined speeds of over 100 mph are on Prozac or lithium or something? I probably don't want to know. According to Wikipedia, the reported side effects of Prozac include anxiety, agitation, panic attacks, irritability, hostility, aggressiveness, impulsivity, hypomania (Google that for the Wikipedia definition if you want a good laugh), and mania. But God help you if you get stopped after having a beer at the local pub. We're talking zero tolerance here, boys and girls.
But I fear my little diatribe may end up falling on too many deaf (read medicated) ears. The drug-dependent segment of our population may be reaching a kind of critical mass, leaving non-drug-dependent adults in the minority. To protest against drug over-dependence might soon be labeled a hate crime, and I may have to wear a T-shirt that says "WARNING: I AM NOT ON MEDICATION. APPROACH AT OWN RISK."
November 1, 2007