Take these Antibiotics and be sure to read the Comics

Independent of whatever work you do, we have gone from a society stressed by hunger and disease, to a society stressed by responsibilities at work [and of course at home] and technology. Now I want to be clear – I am not in the least bit nostalgic for a time before technology. Since this was also a time before vaccines and antibiotics, I am more than happy to “suffer” in our present world. But, as much as I respect and admire and believe in and, of course, use technology, I am not blind to the effect that it has on so many of us.

At my previous place of employment, I held the posts of both medical director and CIO for over a decade. For most of that time, my work day never ended. I would get calls 24/7 for computer and medical issues and not infrequently, general administrative issues. I literally did not take a vacation for 11 years. Over time, I built up from a single screen to 6 computer screens all connected to one computer, allowing me to monitor clinical and computer activity across all of the clinics at all times. I think it’s fair to say that I was stressed by work.

Please don’t get me wrong. Those 11 years of my life were incredibly productive. And I got the chance to do things, that I would never have gotten to do, had I stayed in Montreal in my Urology residency. So no regrets. But there was one critical thing that I never mastered – how to take a break.

I imagine that I should be writing this blog post for Purim. But the truth is that we all need a day, from time to time, to let loose and act silly, just to calm our nerves. There are of course many techniques for reducing stress. I personally never got into yoga [as I was afraid that once I sat on the floor, I would never have managed to get up]. I tried listening to river streams and other bodies of water [all on YouTube of course], but all this really did was increase my visits to the washroom. For seven years of this time, I managed to [barely] make it through Daf Yomi. But if anything, cramming in a half-hour to 40 minute lecture every day only added to my stress levels.

There are programs and mobile apps that are geared towards stress reduction. So it seems that the source of the problem can also be the cure. But, these didn’t work for me either. One thing did help. And, truth is, it was the same thing that helped me when I was much younger and experiencing the regular stresses of a young life. What was this magical thing? Comic books.

Now, I must admit, that I have never been to a Comicon. Before you stone me, I truly do plan to go one day. And when I do, it will be nothing less than a pilgrimage that would put our forefathers’ travels to shame. If I can find a Hulk costume that fits me, or at least that doesn’t make my protruding belly protrude even more, I will be there with green bells on. I suspect that I will have to settle for a Hulk T-shirt. I already have a Spiderman T-shirt, and at the age of 52, it is probably one of the few objects I would grab as I was running from my house while being chased by zombies.

The medical literature on stress reduction is actually quite dramatic. Finding a way to channel stress, can reduce blood pressure, risk of a heart attack, improve sleep and interpersonal relationships and help reduce symptoms in chronic pain sufferers. So any technology that can contribute to such a critical medical issue should be embraced.

Before you challenge me on how comic books [made of, gasp, paper] can be considered a technology, I will already tell you that I read my comic books online. I am a faithful subscriber to Marvel comics Unlimited, which gives me universal access to thousands and thousands of comic books, at any time that I wish. I have managed to catch up on years of neglect of my comic book studies, via this comic technological marvel. I can even read my comic books on my phone, while lying in bed. If that isn’t a touch of heaven, I don’t know what is.

Does it help? Do I feel better after reading a comic book? Actually, I do. It actually astonishes me how swept up I still become in the stories I read. Spiderman and Capt. America are all real to me, and they save the day, even when the Internet is down and a server has crashed. Strictly speaking, this is not really any different than reading Harry Potter or any other fantasy book [except for the really cool suits, weapons, planes, all types of superpowers …]. The point is that we all need to find a release. And as technology continues to wrap us up and become part of us, we will likely need these mental escapes even more.

Interestingly, there are major corporations like Google that believe in the need for “playtime”. The entire design of their offices and the availability of various activities make for an environment that is professional but pleasant and at times necessarily distracting. A mind at rest from time to time, tends to be more imaginative. And in this day and age, one really good idea can be the difference between multibillion-dollar success or failure.

Take a walk. Read a book. Read a comic book. Play a game of chess with your child. Watch a silly movie. These are tools that are no less important to the development of advanced medical technologies than super advanced computer labs. Each has its place and time. And now, we just need somebody to come up with an app that will tell us how much time to spend “just kicking it”.

Thanks for listening to my silly blog post

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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