Charting a Course for Healthier Living

Below are some recent articles Dr. Trask came across and thought you would enjoy. Be sure to check out our Suggested Reading page for more of his recommendations.

4/28  Newest Addition

This opinion piece in The New York Times discusses the need for widespread testing and the inherent obstacles and limitations of testing.

How to Crush the Coronavirus 

This editorial appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine and I thought would be interesting as it lays out a reasonable evolution of "next steps."

Click here for more reading recommendations.

April 22, 2020

COVID-19 Special Issue

Imagine making it all the way through Wednesday only to learn at supper that the day was Thursday. It is a disrupting feeling, a bit like walking out of a movie theater in the pitch of night having entered in broad daylight. Depending on circumstances, you could be joyful to learn you were a day ahead or one day behind. Well, I confess this very confusion last week when I lived Thursday as my Wednesday. On sharing with my brother, he advised me that since the Pandemic the seven days of the week had been condensed into just three: yesterday, today, and tomorrow.


I can accept this new calendar, and I am sure many of you might agree. Without the normal combustion of busyness that makes the world go around, there have been a number of moments of stillness in my household. Almost daily, we gather in the living room, Sam and Evy doing a puzzle and Grace and myself providing commentary. The kids actually protest boredom, and Evy correctly welcomed them to our childhood. Perhaps things are not so bad after all...


Despite this silver lining of more puzzle time, there is pervasive insecurity in our society today, a vulnerability that is tragically real for vast segments of people[1] but also affects those whose basic needs are being adequately met. For many, life has been transformed into a hypervigilant state of fear. The fear replaces boredom and can spiral out of control when people get obsessive with negative thoughts that run over and over and over. The 24 hour news cycle feeds these obsessions like sardines being churned in a chum line.


With a loss of confidence and hope, fed by the day in and day out statistics of death, unemployment, economic turmoil, and general fear of human contact, the most primitive parts of our brain fire into overdrive. This primitive brain (the amygdala and our limbic system) hardwires emotions that dictate much of our behavior and our emotional state. I recently listened to an interview with a psychiatrist, Paul Conti, MD, who provides a thought provoking perspective to help us filter much of the noise in today’s world and maintain some emotional equilibrium.

He describes two types of truth that we all live with — relative/personal truths and absolute truths. A personal truth is whatever you believe the truth to be, factual or not, and it resides in the limbic system of the brain. We live by personal truths, but I love the humbling axiom “Don’t believe everything you know.”[2] Dr. Conti points out that when you let personal truths rule the way you think about things “you end up thinking everybody who doesn’t believe that is an idiot.”

He describes two types of truth that we all live with — relative/personal truths and absolute truths. A personal truth is whatever you believe the truth to be, factual or not, and it resides in the limbic system of the brain. We live by personal truths, but I love the humbling axiom “Don’t believe everything you know.”[2] Dr. Conti points out that when you let personal truths rule the way you think about things “you end up thinking everybody who doesn’t believe that is an idiot.”

 

Absolute truths are true regardless of what you believe (take gravity, for example). Absolute truths are the realm of science and resonate with the logical portions of our brain (cerebral cortex and frontal lobe), the new kid on the block compared to the limbic system. Dr. Conti states that “We as a society are not engaging effectively because we have lost the distinction between those two that lets us make the personal truth secondary to the absolute truth.”

 

I have observed that much of the news and most of politics are now filled with relative truths. Using logic and facts rather than conjecture and opinion to inform ourselves can help us walk back from some anxieties that we currently feel. Having humility rather than hubris, the ability to say, “I don’t know,” allows us to accept the world without filling in the blanks with fear.

“For all the money, success, prestige, world mastery,” Dr. Conti states, “If you could have all of it, you wouldn’t sacrifice the ability to be with...your children (or friends/loved ones/etc)...That stuff matters the most to us. And it’s also where we generate our own meaning. That’s where I don’t feel demoralized because I know that I have meaning to people and people have meaning to me. And then I can find within myself the strength to put one foot in front of the other, keep doing what needs to be done.” [3]

The great American philosopher William James said, “Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.” Changing our inner attitudes can start by changing our activities: watch a little less news, play a little more music, spend more time with the ones we love (zoom call, anyone?), and see what happens. What you put into the soup determines how it tastes.


While it is a stressful time for the world, it doesn’t have to be for those simply facing time with ourselves. We can use the opportunities that stillness brings. We can change routines, rekindle old hobbies or start a new one. Call an old friend. Remember to get outside and enjoy nature. Regularly walk and exercise. Set ourselves up to get adequate sleep (great for our immune systems and mental health).


Please know that our staff is all doing well and the office is here if you need it. I encourage you to continue social distancing and hand washing and even wearing a mask in public, something I am starting to like as I find it entertaining to gesture under my mask without having to explain myself!


I am still actively looking for serology tests (antibody tests) and think that testing in conjunction with contact tracing is the safest path moving forward. We will let you know when they are available but currently have no predictable timeline.


There is a tremendous amount of data on this virus that we did not have a month and two months ago. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of “relative truths” being proclaimed that were not an issue six weeks ago. Separating fact from opinion, understanding that models change as more data is acquired, and remaining humble and open-minded as this new normal evolves is an approach that should help us all.


Please call, text or email me and please contact my office with any medical issues or if you just need to chat.


Stay healthy...Deo Volente,


Clark Trask, MD

PS: I did not find a place in my letter for Larry David’s (of Seinfeld fame) observations so they will come as a postscript:
 

“In a few months, if I walk into someone’s house and stumble onto 50 rolls of toilet paper in a closet somewhere, I will end the friendship. It’s tantamount to being a horse thief in the Old West.”

 

“I never could have lived in the Old West,” he added parenthetically. “I would have been completely paranoid about someone stealing my horse. No locks. You tie them to a post! How could you go into a saloon and enjoy yourself knowing your horse could get taken any moment? I would be so distracted. Constantly checking to see if he was still there.”
 

Mr. David said the best way to stay away from self-destructive behavior in quarantine is to think of it “like quitting smoking. You wake up and you say, ‘I’m not going to smoke today.’


‘I’m not going to freak out today.’ That’s the only way you can do it.”

FOOTNOTES:

[1]  Fifty-seven percent of Americans don’t have enough cash to cover a $500 unexpected expense, according to a new survey from Bankrate, which interviewed 1,003 adults in March 2020.
[2]  Several other quotes along these lines include
“A
nything is possible if you don't know what you are talking about" and Will Rodgers' observation that Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.

[3] Covid-19: #105 Peter Attia The Drive – Paul Conti, M.D.: The psychological toll of a pandemic, and the societal problems it has highlighted.

Sometimes we just need a break from everything happening around us. Click on a button below to explore the creative side of Dr. Trask and fellow AIM4Vitality members.

Many thanks to everyone who has shared photos, original stories, poems, quotes and more.

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Image by Markus Spiske

COVID-19 

Putting the numbers into perspective

COVID-19

Symptoms

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