Thanksgiving 1990. My then wife and two toddlers aged 2 and 4 all with the seasonal flu. All vaccinated; all presumably protected. How could this be? Well, vaccination is no guarantee of protection. The flu strains’ genes change from year to year. As a result, their antigens are now different than the year before. To deal with the flu’s wiles, changes in the composition of influenza vaccines must be made 7–9 months before flu season to allow for the manufacture and delivery of vaccines. It’s a guessing game and a gamble. Thus, the annual effectiveness of the vaccine varies. In fact, in some seasons, the marksmanship of the vaccine’s bullets against the antigen-targets will result in a clean miss. Some seasons the bullet hits only 5% of the time. Other seasons offer a 90% kill. Most of the time you can expect an 80% effectiveness rate. But a 75% infection rate? That was an evening for the books, literally and figuratively. I hit the books and prepared for a bad night.
So, what to do? What was safe, effective, proven and available on a holiday? Right; not much. Vicks Vapo Rub doesn’t drain, it tricks your brain. That’s the menthol working. Over the counter decongestants constrict nasal blood vessels. They also constrict other vessels and for my kids it’s a no-no. I considered complementary and alternative medications (CAMs). There’s tons of them. I thought two might be effective -Oscillo and Echinacea. But our medicine cabinet was not a CAM warehouse.
So as a Jewish doctor I did what tradition told me to do. Chicken soup. Was it in our pantry? Please! But was it a proven therapy or a myth as vaporous as that of the soup itself?
Chicken soup provides more than heat, salt, warm fluid and Bubbe’s approval. It’s medicine! The chicken contains the amino acid cysteine, a cousin of a bronchitis remedy that thins mucous and helps relieve congestion. The onions have more than Auntie Rae’s OK. They have other ‘auntie’ properties…antioxidant anti-inflammatory and antihistamine actions. And the NIH as well as Nonna knows that garlic boosts immunity to help fight viruses.
After our Thanksgiving dinner of Campbell Chicken Noodle Soup, the only parent (me) available for clinic duty went on call. Each of my boys leaned over a bowl filled with a pint of boiled and then cooled tap water containing a heaping teaspoon of canned salt and a half teaspoon of baking soda. The older son took a spritz to his nostrils and the 2 year old simply breathed it in.
Zach, Efrem and I then curled up together on the blanket and pillow covered floor. We gave each other the best medicine for colds and flu possible…our mutual, loving company. Thanksgiving was a better one than I predicted for our family. All better? Not a chance. But happier? For sure. And the horseradish that was part of our meal….it’s called Jewish Dristan.
Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.