Suddenly you’re back a thousand years, toiling on a farm in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex.
That super-star tough guy Canute hasn’t arrived yet – he’s only due in Poole Harbour in September or so – it’s too hot for fighting and pillaging now.
Dirt under your fingernails
So you’re out in the fields, getting all muddy, then chopping up garlic and leeks for tonight’s meal – a bubbling stew with wine and stuff you make in that brass pot your forefathers brought over from Denmark in the last invasion.
Oh yeah, and with the leftovers, you’re going to dump in some bile from Sunniva, the family cow – your man Betlic has a nasty stye on his eye and your ancient family-recipe goo is just the thing to fix it.
He’s got to wait a week or so before you can use it though – the stuff needs to do its thing – simmer, bubble, mature, whatever. All you know is, it settles down into a kind of paste – and clears up eye infections overnight.
Amazing how things work with min resources, isn’t it?
Back then, there was no such thing as an antibiotic. Nobody even knew what “biotic” was. But when you live on the land, getting good and dirty working the soil, you learn a thing about treating cuts and scratches – or even serious injury.
Make it up as you go along
This mud makes a good poultice, mixed in with pounded comfrey. Those leaves fix your stomach ache if you boil them, then mix the liquid with goat’s wee. Chew that willow bark to fix your headache.
Natural things – and your own body’s immune system, intertwined and reacting to your environment. There are no doctors here, so injuries get trial-and-error treatments handed down through centuries.
But nobody gets sick either – their bodies have built defences to the usual soil bacteria and seasonal viruses. Bad food, of course will do it – or the bite of an animal from another area – different germs you’ve never got used to.
If a doctor examined you in some Twenty-First Century Clinic – nobody would believe the findings. You’re good to go anywhere at all – while your modern cousins are languishing with asthma, hay fever, all kinds of other coughs and sneezes – stuff you shake off without thinking.
‘Cos your immune system’s good, see. Up and running and properly tuned.
Not like them. Allergies of all kinds they can’t get rid of. Immune systems compensating for challenges they haven’t faced for hundreds of years.
But that’s the price of modern living. Safe drinking water and plumbed sewage. Hygienic surroundings. Food produced so carefully there’s no chance of infection. No threats for your system to latch onto – so it finds substitutes.
Like, back in your pre-Canute days, who ever reacted to grass seeds? Or pollen in the air? Or flared up with bee stings? Or swelled up eating nuts?
It didn’t happen because your system knew the odds. It learnt from chewing dirt as a child. Mud and cow bile. Mud and poo – what’s the difference? Babies are tough – and self-teaching their immune systems is why.
You think your stye ointment is just for fixing eye troubles – with no idea of its other healing powers.
You don’t have MRSA in your time – methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus – there are no antibiotics for it to resist. But you don’t have the staph infections either – your eye-gop stops them too.
Count yourself lucky.
Because allergies aren’t the only thing that happen when the immune system over-reacts.
Ever heard of sepsis?
Blame it on our over-clean, over-safe, sanitised, pasteurised lifestyle. One tiny, everyday disorder and the system goes into meltdown. It’s only a throat tickle, but the body retaliates as if it’s thermo-nuclear war.
Every antibody in your whole metabolism goes into over-drive, but there’s nothing serious to react to. But everything’s gung-ho, so the body attacks itself.
Which is what happens when the immune system has nothing to do. And why 37,000 people die from sepsis every year. Not big, like cancer, but every bit as deadly – which is why heartbroken families have helped put together a trust fund to fight it.
Yeah, MRSA – and all those other hospital-acquired infections. Other bugs too, that we’ve lost our defences for – because we’re too clean-obsessed for our own good.
We’re in it now
Because it’s too late now to go play in the mud. We’re all grown up and unable to learn. A bit of dirt and we all come down with something dreadful – like our every-time-a-coconut holiday friend, norovirus.
So it’s not just MRSA that’s in the poo, it’s us.
OK, so clean-obsessed works, up to a point. Time to go wash your hands. And blast all the germs and viruses around you out of existence with a Hypersteriliser.
And that’s no secret, just common sense.