COVID-19, or–more colloquially, corona–is causing a lot of confusion and concern. As my patients and as those who follow my blog already know, I am a former academic, a life-long scholar and educator, and a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist. When I write, I do from from both my previous and my current professional roles.
My hope, in writing this essay, is to ease your concerns and to offer some common sense approaches to what looks like might be a bit of a long haul. Because I am a former humanities professor, I will happily share a bit of narrative history with you, dear reader. Finally, I will suggest some considerations for the big-picture view of the current zeitgeist. Is this latest version of a respiratory virus worthy of caution? Yes. Should we all panic and freak out? No! Are there things you can do–common sense things–that can stave off infection or mitigate its path? Yes, indeed, so do keep reading!
There are four main sections to this post. Each will read like a mini-essay of its own, with links for further reading. They are, as follows: (I) What is it?; (II) What you can do (commonsense actions); (III) How holistic health practices may help you (self care); and (IV) Cultural musings followed by concluding remarks. I hope that the entire essay will be useful for you, and I will follow it with further writings as more information becomes available.
~~~ What is it? ~~~
COVID-19 burst upon national consciousness January 30th, 2020, when the WHO declared this virus a global health emergency. However, rumblings of a looming pandemic began to simmer into a rolling boil in later 2019. Coronaviruses (CoV) are a class of virus that derive their name from the shape of the virus itself (it looks, under the microscope, like a crown); they cause respiratory illness; and they jump from animal to human in a process known as spillover. SARS-CoV, for example, came from civet cats, while MERSA-CoV came to human beings via camels. The current iteration, COVID-19, does not have a confirmed animal source as of this writing though it generally thought to have originated in an animal market in Wuhan, China. The virus itself is known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The illness that the virus is causing is called coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19.
Here is a short clip that answers many of the common questions you might have about what this is, what happens, how it progresses, and–the big question–whether or not you should hoard toilet paper:
The above clip, which I initially found here, offers a useful and quick overview. If you prefer a much longer and more detailed conversation, you might wish to go to the March 6th Johns Hopkins presentation at Capitol Hill, here. If you are in Austin, Texas (as I am), you can get up-to-the-minute information for local people here. If you are a Texan on Facebook, you can find great information here. Anyone, anywhere can access reliable information from the World Health Organization here.
At present, COVID-19 presents a developing story and narratives surrounding it tend to spark uncertainty, fear, and even racism. Remember, though: knowledge is power and you do have more control over your situation that you might initially think.
~~~ What You Can Do (Commonsense Actions) ~~~
A licensed acupuncturist is trained to used universal precautions when treating patients and we’re tested on our knowledge of them when we sit for our board exams. Our basic cleanliness and safety training starts early. As a new student intern, for instance, I distinctly remember marveling at how often my Chinese clinical supervisors washed their hands. By the time I was about two weeks into my first clinical internship term, I was washing my hands as much as my teachers did. Being habituated to universal precautions and meticulous hand washing mean that I considered myself ahead of the curve when news of COVID-19 began filtering into my consciousness. I began talking to patients about hand washing and other ways to remain safe very early on in the news cycle.
What about you? Where have you gotten your habits and how do they help (or hinder) you now?
We all have our individual experiences, and yours may well be improved by some thoughtful consideration. I share the following with you so that you might find some inspiration as you develop your own efficacious approach to risk management.
As things started to develop, I reviewed my best practices in my office. What, I asked myself, does my daily routine look like? What am I touching that I no longer think about because it’s so automatic that I no longer even notice it? This was an opportunity to realize that after I place needles in the patient, I then turn off a floor lamp next to my dividing screen. It’s not enough to wipe down door knobs and other high touch areas. I had to think about every step of my day in my office and home. You need to do the same in your environment.
What about you and your environment? Can you identify where there is a lot of touch traffic? Be sure to keep that area extra clean. Oh, and… wash your hands.
Every patient who comes to my office gets “the talk” and I encourage you to do the same with the people in your immediate radius. In my practice, I also ask each individual patient to identify what they see as their specific risk factors and we then strategize ways to manage their unique factors and co-factors. You can do the same by yourself or with your family or roommates. Do you have a history of lung problems? Are you or anyone close to you immunocompromised? Does your work put you in the path of a wide variety of people? If you spend a bit of time figuring out which of the building blocks of COVID-19 pertain to you then you can strategize ways to minimize your risk. It’s common sense, and something easy to forget in the rush of new information and scary statistics. We all share a common risk (more or less) but each of us has our individual situation that makes warnings more (or less) salient. Look at the big picture and the small. What of the big picture pertains to you? How does your big picture overlap with that of those around you?
~~~ Holistic Health Practices (Self Care) ~~~
There is no vaccination against COVID-19 and, for most cases, the only cure is to rest and self-isolate. This being the case, it is useful to practice meaningful self care strategies, and these can relate not just to what you do but also ways in which you frame this topic.
On the spectrum of doing (or not): Do not forget your diet, lifestyle, and general wellbeing. If you are already run down and exhausted, you are making it easier to get sick with this virus or something else. I cannot and do not offer medical advice via blog post, but I can say that now is a great time to take stock of your health practice and improve it as best you can at this point. Taking time to rest when you are tired is good for one’s overall wellbeing. Giving yourself permission not to worry is smart. Thinking about how you might improve your diet is a good idea and so is the choice to add supplements to your regimen. I’m not handing out herbs right, left, and center, but any of my patients who are concerned get prescriptions from me for immune-boosting formulas and your acupuncturist or naturopathic medicine provider can be a great resource for similar at this time. I haven’t had any active cases yet, but I would readily prescribe lung-protecting herbs and other formulas similar to protocols now used in China (assuming that the patient was also in contact with their MD and that said patient and I conferred via telemedicine). There is more to life than waiting around for a vaccine and now is a great time to start thinking about these matters.
Given the impact of this virus, it is certainly a good idea to speak to your MD, but don’t discount the value of herbal medicine…and yet–and this is important–do be sure to know your sources of information. More is not better when it comes to the immune system and it is good to keep that in mind when you see articles about “boosting your immune system.” Remember that too much immune activity is the foundation of autoimmune conditions. Meantime, in the context of COVID-19, it is important to know about the effect of what is known as a cytokine storm. In my estimation, it is a wise investment to actually speak with an acupuncturist or naturopathic doctor if you want a holistic approach that is safe. Telemedicine is a great option and I know that I, and many of my colleagues in the profession, are utilizing it more and more as events unfold. Simply relying on Dr. Google at this point is probably not the wisest thing to do, especially since there is a lot of false information circulating right now (see here for more on that). Up to you, of course…but I’d click the link, above, on cytokine storms, think about it, and then be mindful.
An excellent resource if you would like to learn more about vitamins, supplements, and other integrative approaches is can be found at the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine COVID-19 FAQ page, here.
Remaining calm is the most valuable thing that you can do right now. One way to keep yourself on an even keel is to practice stimulating your vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body and when you take good care of it, you are nurturing your capacity to rest and digest, among many other things. A short one by Kenhub (a source often used by medical students) with a great science-based description of the vagus nerve can be found here. A slightly long but useful clip with ways to care for yourself via meaningful attention to your vagus nerve is here.
And think about yourself as part of a larger community that needs nurturing. Do you like the Humans Of New York page on Facebook? I took a screenshot of some very good questions posed therein. And, while I don’t view this pandemic as a war to be fought, I do see it as a chance to ask myself what I am doing to better the world I live in and I think that we can all benefit by doing the same.
What do you think?
How are you framing our current situation? What words do you use and which actions do you take to solidify your thoughts? In what way are you taking care of yourself? Are you able to reach out a hand to take care, even in some small way, of another?
Keep in mind that increased stress combined with more time confined at home can lead to an increase in domestic violence. If you or anyone you know is concerned about this issue, take a look at this web site here. For food insecurity, please look here. If you wonder how to be of best support for elderly people, take a look at this link. A good resource for the chronic illness communities starts here.
There are resources and we need to support one another. It’s easy to become frozen and scared if we focus only on what’s fearful and unknown. There will be a light at the end of this tunnel, and this I do believe: we will come out on the other end better people. And knowledge is power, wouldn’t you agree?
~~~ Cultural Musings & Concluding Remarks ~~~
Have you ever heard of Giovanni Boccaccio and his famous book, the Decameron? Composed during the 14th century in Italy, this is a lovely collection of stories that are framed by a larger context; to wit, the Black Plague. In Boccaccio’s classic, a group of ten young people flee plague-stricken Firenze for a country house and a period spent telling stories to ward off anxiety and boredom during what is a necessary act of … yes, I’m going to say it … self-isolation. I highly suggest that you order a copy of this marvelous book and use it as a guide (Amazon has it, here; and no, I do get anything from your purchase of this book) and inspiration for what may be forthcoming.
Yes, we need to self-isolate.
As I sit here, I expect that I may need to close my office for the duration and provide only telemedicine for the interim. Large gatherings are shut down or postponed, people are being encouraged to work from home, school is being cancelled right, left, and center, and the news cycle is offering up a whole lot of confusion. I’m not happy about it, just as I am sure that you are not jumping for joy at the dismaying thought of all this disruption. It will certainly cause economic havoc and people will be lonely. But if we flatten the curve then this will be resolved sooner rather than later. Read the Decameron. Or go online and take a tour at any one of twelve historic museums. Listen to free streaming opera from the Met. Consider the Danse Macabre. Acknowledge that we live in a global village and that a corona virus could come from anywhere. If China and Chinese people are foreign to you, then read this article about some of the marvelous inventions that came from China (these include paper, and silk, and noodles, just to start). If you witness racism against Chinese or other Asian people, speak up. Your conscience will thank you.
Take this moment to appreciate what is good in your life and actively seek out what you can do to bring good to yourself and to those around you. Offer help, and ask for it when you need it. Trust that things will indeed get better.
During my professor years, I used to love to end class with a thought-provoking question. I felt that it sent the students on their way with some food for thought. And so, dear reader, please indulge me if I ask you one last question here. To wit:
If you were a character in the Decameron, what type of stories would you tell in order to pass the time?
Paula Bruno, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, an AOBTA-CP traditional Chinese bodywork therapist, and a wellness educator. She maintains an active and growing practice at her Austin, TX offices. Dr. Bruno is also available for distance appointments for wellness consultation or coaching.
In her first career, she was a Spanish professor.
Dr. Bruno’s specialties as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner include: • Musculoskeletal health (acute or chronic pain relief; Ehlers Danlos syndrome & hypermobility support) • Digestive support, gut health, and weight loss • Aesthetic treatment, including scar revision • Men’s health • General preventative care and immune support for all persons.
When you are ready to discover what traditional medicine plus a vibrant and engaged approach to holistic health can do for you, either contact Dr. Bruno or book an appointment online.
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Note: Material on this web site site is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease, illness, or ailment. A TCM practitioner in Texas identifies syndrome patterns but does not diagnose illness. Material on this web site does not purport to identify syndrome patterns.