When somebody wants to make you feel OK about your shitty life, they'll usually say, "At least you have your health." If you don't have that, they'll remind you of how easy modern medical advances have made your illness compared to the past. They're not wrong. Anyone who's ever had surgery should absolutely be grateful it wasn't done with a hot poker and a shot of whiskey, as it would have been years ago. But the truth is that most of us aren't exactly doctors when it comes to our knowledge of modern illness. A lot of what we know and believe about how to avoid being sick is based on old wives' tales and approximately as medically advanced as the idea that masturbation causes blindness.
For instance, you probably believe that ...
#5. Heart Attacks Always Hurt
What You've Heard
When a character has a heart attack on TV or in a movie, he'll (they only happen to men on TV) usually clutch his chest like he's been shot and fall over dead. In more realistic shows, he might grab his shoulder, because the writers have heard that some heart attacks cause pain to radiate down your arm.
"I knew all those six-Hot-Pocket-lunches would catch up with me one day."
The point is, heart attacks clearly hurt. Some might feel like heartburn, some might feel like getting shotgunned in the chest, but as with most of death's favorite modes of operation, it makes sure you don't get out of here without some good ol' fashioned suffering.
If your heart attack hurts, consider yourself lucky. Pain is often just the body's internal fire alarm, letting you know that you need to get something checked out before things get out of control. The scariest heart attacks are the ones that don't hurt at all. Those are the ones that can kill you before you even know you're having one. Yes, that means you could be having one right now, but we'd ask that you ignore that possibility for the time being, as it can prove distracting.
"Ignore it and keep reading Cracked" is our official advice for both major health problems and credit card debt.
Even if you're lucky enough to have your body give you a painful heads up that your heart is thinking of quitting on you, the pain rarely comes in the form you'd expect. Chest pain is only one symptom on a long list of others. Some of them, like tooth pain and "a sense of doom ... for no apparent reason" are so seemingly random that even if you did decide to call someone, it probably wouldn't be a cardiologist, and it might not even be a doctor.
"Hello, Domino's? I feel a sense of doom for no apparent reason and was hoping you could help."
Of course, that's not even the scariest scenario. That would be the SBLD (silent but literally deadly) variety: a fart-based name we just made up to distract ourselves from the horrifying reality that there's such a thing as heart attacks with no symptoms. They're real, and even worse, fairly common -- studies show that anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of heart attacks go unnoticed. There's a distinct possibility that if you do have a heart attack, your first indication that anything's wrong could be when the white light blinks on at the end of the long dark hallway you were floating down.
#4. You Need a Strong Immune System to Fight a Cold
What You've Heard
Every year, like clockwork, a cold virus shows up, and spends the better part of two weeks inventing new ways to weaponize your face holes in a war on your happiness. If we had to paint a mental picture of how a cold works, the virus gets into our bodies and starts roughing our insides up until gross things start coming out of our noses. It's basically like food poisoning for your sinuses.
"Man, I do not remember snorting that."
Luckily, there are a lot of anti-cold immune boosters out there designed to prevent that exact scenario from happening. And they must work, because they pull in as much as $100 million a year.
You know all those godawful symptoms you soldier through for a few weeks every year? Constricted nasal passages, sore throats and dalking thike dis? Every single one of those symptoms is caused by your immune system, and not the cold virus itself. In fact, the cold virus is actually mostly harmless, except for the fact that it causes your immune system to go bananas.
"Oh, you did not just rearrange my photo frame collection. I want you out of here by midnight, mister."
What we know as the cold is actually about 200 different viruses that your body has a tendency to overreact to. Your immune system's usually an OK judge of character, but when one of these viruses shows up, your body goes into riot mode. The symptoms we associate with the cold are just your immune system flailing at a tiny virus that wasn't going to hurt you either way. So taking an immune booster is just about the opposite of what you should do, since your immune system is causing the problem and not the virus itself.
If your immune system just ignored those viruses and let them take their best shot at you, you'd be fine. We know this because approximately a quarter of the population are effectively "immune" to the cold. They never catch colds because their bodies don't freak the hell out whenever one of those 200 viruses sneaks in. Instead of waging a snot-based war on the virus, they let it hang out, and for the most part they're generally no worse for wear.
"Look, just let us hold our yearly kegger here and we'll make sure that three-day weekend happens."
Of course, neither are the people who do suffer from colds. Scientists examined the nasal cells of cold sufferers and found none of the damage you'd expect from a harmful viral infection. So essentially, even if you catch a cold, what you're experiencing is one long, miserable false alarm in which your body turns on the sprinklers and flushes everyone out of the building, just in case.
This is why cold and allergy symptoms are often hard to tell apart: They're both caused by an overactive immune system overreacting to something that's essentially harmless. So giving yourself immunity boosters is like trying to prevent a fistfight by pumping the unstable hothead full of steroids.
WE'RE SICK OF YOUR POSTURING, ORANGES.
Unfortunately, avoiding immunity boosters is really the only thing that can save the people who are susceptible to colds, other than telling them to try to avoid all 200 of the viruses that office workers and schoolchildren are basically stewing in during the winter months. If you don't want to walk around in a hazmat suit, your only other option is to get sick 200 times. Just like with chickenpox, every time your body gets a cold, it cooks up a specially designed defense for the next time it invades. But since there are 200 different viruses that our bodies freak out about, you'll need to get over 200 colds before your body learns it's time for everybody to start acting like a couple of Fonzies and chill.
#3. Get Your Flu Shot and Avoid a Winter Full of Vomiting
What You've Heard
The flu is generally associated with nausea, vomiting and other digestive unpleasantness. When Michael Jordan scored 39 points while suffering from vomiting and exhaustion, the game was nicknamed "the flu game." When the first President Bush vomited on the Japanese Prime Minister in 1992, his spokesman explained that doctors were certain "That it's a simple case of the flu."
And then a cross-dresser smothered him to death by way of apology.
It's a little strange that medicines like NyQuil and DayQuil advertise themselves as "cold & flu relief." But we're not complaining. Cold and flu seasons overlap, so it works out for us that they've figured out how to treat a stuffy nose and an upset stomach with the same over-the-counter mind eraser.
If you're experiencing stomach-related mayhem normally associated with the "stomach flu," you should know that according to people who went to medical school for seven years, the stomach flu is not actually a thing.
So stop being all dramatic.
If your stomach has ever behaved like a violent, malfunctioning compression engine, chances are it was something called gastroenteritis, which can be caused by anything from a virus to food-borne parasites. Michael Jordan didn't have the flu during the flu game. Doctors at the time diagnosed him with gastroenteritis and thought it was probably caused by food poisoning. The word "flu" was never mentioned by anyone who had been to medical school, but it became known as the flu game because that's how people have been referring to that collection of symptoms for years.
"Your toes have turned gangrenous and fallen off? That's what we doctors call 'gross.'"
This might seem like hair splitting, until you consider that we're using the same word for two deadly diseases that require completely different treatments. The real flu is primarily respiratory, and tends to feel like the cold on steroids. It can also lead to pneumonia, which can be fatal if you're in a Third World country or just have shitty health care. Meanwhile, correctly identifying gastroenteritis and treating it properly is the only surefire way to keep from shitting yourself to death. If you find yourself sliding into first when you feel something burst, and you go for the NyQuil because it says "flu" on the label, your best case scenario is green vomit that tastes like hell-flavored schnapps.
Another way that this myth bites us in our asses is with our understanding of the flu shot. People who get a flu shot and then come down with a stomach bug will assume that the flu shot didn't work. This is a scenario that's happening often enough to warrant official measures and awareness campaigns. And yet we still use the word "flu" when referring to a deadly illness that has nothing to do with the flu, because it's easier to pronounce, and because Gatorade probably couldn't have run an ad campaign on the 15th anniversary of the "vomiting with explosive diarrhea game."
"Is it in you? Soon it won't be."