Rob Brown, MD

A Physician's Unique Perspective on Wellness

Category: The Purpose

Do you Consider Government Propaganda “Fake News?”

Call it misinformation, disinformation, statistical fudging, or lies. Fake news is more common than most realize. The news story dubbed “Pizza-gate” created a media blitz, yet more insidious forms of misinformation put out in news stories by credible sources goes largely unquestioned by the masses. In contrast to a bizarre, but isolated shooting, fake news produced by governmental agencies has adversely affected the health and well being of millions. Attempts to expose misinformation is often met with anger or dismissive labeling as conspiracy theory.

I recently experienced this phenomenon during a recent luncheon.

Having arrived to the restaurant late, I sat at the one empty seat. Although I didn’t know it, I was seated between two professionals would perfectly illustrate the societal effect of misinformation in real time.

I had recently viewed the documentary “Vaxxed” in which the whistle blower, Dr. William Thompson, discloses that he and his colleagues at the CDC fudged their data in their landmark research study performed to assess the link between autism spectrum disorder and the MMR vaccine. I found the video deeply disturbing and worthy of conversation.

In the film, Dr. Thompson details how the CDC manipulated their data to get an industry favorable result. I described the film’s content in detail to my brunch neighbors.

The guest on my right was a medical research who, in an extraordinary twist of fate, had worked at the CDC during the time of the Autism/MMR study. I was awestruck by the synchronicity. The scientist made a statement that sent shivers up my spine.

”Everything in that movie is true.”

I believed it was true. Actually… I knew it was true.

The person to my left, an educator, seemed to become agitated and made the quick proclamation:

“There is no link between autism and vaccines. That was proven years ago.”

I had heard this phrase many times in the past. The words didn’t strike me as powerful, but the certitude and finality with which the statement was delivered caused me to recoil. What I didn’t know at the time was that this person unfortunately had a dear relative who was suffering from a severe form of autism.

Fudged data = phony results = fake news.

This ‘definitive study’ provided our doctors with fake news, i.e. the erroneous conclusion that there is no association between autism and the MMR vaccine. We parents and health care consumers had been taught by our misinformed health care professionals that the MMR vaccine is completely safe.

As most people have no fundamental understanding of how a vaccine actually works, opinions are usually generated to be in agreement with the media and doctors. It is easier to be a member of this team of social consciousness if your children have gone through the vaccination process unscathed. Others however have based their views on horrific personal experience.

Misinformation spread by our governmental agencies is nothing new. In recent months, it was uncovered that the EPA fudged their report regarding the risk to our freshwater supplies from fracking operations. At the nth hour, the report changed from:

“EPA Study Shows Potential Vulnerabilities to Drinking Water from Hydraulic Fracturing Process” to “Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”

Subtle difference? Not for those who have researched fracking and listened to numerous accounts of tainted ground water. The fracking industry held up this misleading, “fake” EPA conclusion to sell fracking as a safe extraction technique.

But, the EPA was caught. As a result, they reworked their assessment and yesterday came to the public announcing that hydraulic fracturing can and has contaminated drinking water.

Is this all really surprising? Our governmental agencies are filled with scientists and other professionals with ties to industry. It is truly a “revolving door”. It is not a stretch to think that researchers might manipulate study results to help further progress their eventual career in industry. As funding is often dependent on industry favored results, it is probably more common than any of us would like to believe, even if those results might be at the expense of the general population’s health.

How do you decide who and what to believe?

Fireworks on July 4th – A Symbol of Entrainment

While sitting on the boat, waiting for the fireworks display to start, my mind drifted. Why was I destined to live a life of turbulence? Deep inside, I knew I became involved with people who mirrored different aspects of my own personality. My own complexity must be the source of my relational ups and downs. Was I destined to be alone? Yes, I became too introspective on this festive holiday.

The fireworks display started. Sheeewwwewww… Kaboom! One hundred tiny pink lights lit up the sky in an umbrella display. Boom! Boom! The lights were ordinary. I had seen them many times before. Yet, this year, they took on greater significance as I began to consider each light both individually and then as part of the whole. Sheewwww… boom!

I was mesmerized, looking at the lights as they fell from the sky, all turning color and then into glitter at the same time. All extinguishing at the same time. I reasoned that there must be the same amount of chemical in each particle falling from the sky, which then undergoes the same reaction at the same time. The result to the onlooker is coherence. A synchronized display. Yet, to me, it was a metaphor for entrainment, and a glimpse into the entanglement of relationships.

Entrainment is a phenomenon whereby physical objects in motion sync with each other over time. Entrainment is not chemical, physical or electrical. It’s an energetic, mysterious phenomenon that is very real. Think of a flock of birds moving synchronistically, all darting right or left at precisely the same time. Similarly, cuckoo clocks on display will all swing in perfect unison. In the garden, weeds all bloom and go to seed at the same time, regardless of how big the plant has become. Entrainment is universal.

Expressions like “Misery loves company”, “Laughter is contagious.” and “It takes one to know one” each hint to the concept of entrainment. While in the presence of someone who is heated and anxious, the companion too will become nervous. If one is in the presence of a calming energy, such as a trickling brook or a nurturing partner, the mind and body will relax. Living beings, including people, animals and even plants will entrain to the rhythms of music. Upbeat tempos will bring energy and higher metabolism, whereas slower rhythms will bring about lethargy and contemplation.

Entrainment occurs at many levels. Numerous internal processes are regulated by entrainment. For example, your heart rate entrains with your breathing rate. If your heart rate goes up, your breathing rate will increase. If you consciously slow your breath, your heart rate will drop.

Over time, we entrain with the company we keep. Women living in close proximity will cycle together. Couples who have been together for a long time will even physically resemble one another. Groups of people entrain to local politics, societal issues, even the weather. In a global sense, the human race is entrained with each other, as well as entrained with the position of the earth and its relationship with other planets, the sun and other celestial bodies. Perhaps this is where the origins of astrology lie.

As my mind drifted back to earth and to the boat, I began to cough and sputter. The smoke from the fireworks had formed a cloud on the water into which we had slowly drifted. Our captain backed up the vessel and we pulled away, leaving the toxic gas to dissipate. Approaching the shore, I came to the acknowledgment that we are all connected with each other. We have lovers, friends and adversaries. Regardless of the emotional hits we get from our relationships, we entrain with each other and our world, all of the time.

No one is alone.

The Death of Blackie or How my Appreciation and Connectedness for Food Continues to Grow

People say naming backyard chickens isn’t a great idea, because frequently, either the birds end up on the dinner table or nature takes it’s toll and predators or disease win out. Despite knowing this, we name the members of our flock. I was told quite directly by my children that they would never eat one of our chickens or ducks, so I decided we would raise them only for their eggs. My children had fun selecting names such as “chick-poof”, “The Jersey Girls”, and ADD “Arthur’s Dumb Duck”.

Although I agreed not to kill our chickens for meat, our benevolent intentions did not shelter our flock from nature. The first year, we lost nearly every chicken to aggressive hawks or night stalking raccoons. The hawks would soar high overhead and caw eerily. The raccoons were unseen. We eventually figured out that they were able to get into the coupe using their little hands in the darkness more adeptly than I could use my own.

Every loss left us with a sense of dread and failure. We continually made improvements to our enclosure. When we were left with one last chicken, we brought her into our home for a few weeks until we could figure out how to completely secure the coupe. We named her TLC for “the last chicken” and kept her safe and well fed.

The final coupe was located in our orchard, surrounded by 8 foot deer fencing. Chicken wire, held into place with nails, staples, bungee cords and bricks enclosed the coupe and attached run. We purchased a new flock of chicks, which TLC raised. The enclosure worked well and all of the chickens, except one, survived the summer. One “Jersey Giant”, named Blackie, had black feathers with a subtle iridescent green mixed in. Her name helped me distinguish her from “Red”, our other Jersey Giant who had a beet red crop. Blackie was a beautiful hen and laid an egg daily. Her eggs were a cream color. Blackie was a renegade and would wander off away from the flock and go scratching and digging in the dirt around the property by herself whenever given the chance.

During the wintertime, we brought the flock up close to the house to protect them from the elements. We felt tremendous satisfaction that we had finally gotten the predators under control. Our chickens had survived through the summer, fall and winter. We were feeling confident that we now knew how to protect them. Upon the transition from winter to spring though, we brought the flock back to the orchard.

In the morning after the move, I went down to the orchard and found a pile of black feathers surrounding our now headless chicken. Blackie was dead. I felt sick. It was my fault. I should have made sure she was secure in the coupe before going into the house the evening before. She must have been terrified. The other chickens were hiding in their coupe, obviously scared. I felt weak and guilty. In a way, I knew I was being a bit silly, yet I couldn’t shake my emotions.

Later in the day, I looked out the window into the backyard with my binoculars and saw a hawk pulling pieces of meat from Blackie’s dead body. When the hawk sensed I was focussing on it, it flew off. Blackie’s body was now part of the food chain. Her spirit must have passed on hours ago.

In addition to the emotional ups and downs of raising poultry, we have had many successes and failures with our fruit trees, our bees and our vegetable garden. In fact, last year, we lost our entire bee colony. Experiences like these help my family connect with their food. What we eat is not merely an abstraction. My children have felt the warmth of freshly laid eggs. We have seen our bees carrying orange bits of nectar into the hive and have tasted the honey made from these bees. We know that by pulling up and eating a carrot, we have ended that carrot’s life.  If we pick lettuce from the garden before dinner, we know we are eating plants that are alive.

Not everyone has the land to grow an orchard or the interest to raise chickens or other farm animals. But if you can, try to grow a garden. At the very least, try to raise a few edible plants or herbs in containers. It’s not difficult and the rewards are vast.

Whether or not you are a carnivore or vegetarian, learn to appreciate the source of your food. For too many, food is the ingestion of a lifeless thing wrapped in plastic wrap or processed material placed in a box, catalogued with stats such as calories, fat content, ingredients, etc. If you think about the source of your food and eat it with respect, the food might taste better and may provide you with a sense of greater nourishment.

How I Met My God on Mt. Kilimanjaro

It was daybreak and the sun came to view on the distant horizon. Hours earlier, we had formed a train of head lamps which snaked up the mountain, surrounded, literally, by stars. It was very cold.

Pole, pole, pole our guides chanted.

Step. Breathe. Step. Breathe.

Two steps forward, one step back. Two steps forward, one… two steps back. Breathe… breathe…

Jim knelt down and put his head between his knees gasping for breath. I felt badly for him, but I was nervous that we were taking too long. Anne sat and quietly announced she couldn’t continue. Timing was important and we had a ways to go before reaching the summit.

It was then that our head guide made an executive decision and asked the accessory guide, Ndesario, to bring me up the rest of the way while he stayed with the two others. I breathed a sigh of relief. A lot of training had gone into this trek and I wanted to reach the peak.

As we ascended, I felt weaker and sicker. At around 18,500 feet I asked myself, “Why the heck am I doing this?”

My fantasy of climbing the 7 peaks faded away as I wondered if I could even make just one. Then, the summit came into view and I relaxed.

It was a gradual walk from there to the peak. When I finally got there, I snatched a quick photo of the sign that would later be the only proof of my success. I then motioned to Ndesario that it was time to head down.

It was about two hours down the scree that I sipped my last bit of water. Exhausted, but otherwise feeling better after descending a few thousand feet, I casually asked Ndesario “How much farther till we get to the camp?”

“Half an hour” he said joyfully.
I’ll be fine”, I thought. The scree was like sand. Step, slide, Step, slide. It was challenging. My thighs burned intensely with each slide. But, I could survive anything for a half hour. The air was warm and indeed, it was a beautiful day.

That half hour came and went. There was no sign of the camp and I hadn’t seen another person since leaving the peak.

Now nervous, I muttered to myself, “Does he know where he’s going?”

While trudging on, I asked more emphatically, “Ndesario, How much further till the camp?”

“Half an hour” he said.
This time with a little less joy.

Filled with panic, I screamed, “You said that a half hour ago! Do you know where we are??? I’M OUT OF WATER!! I NEED WATER!!”

I showed him my empty water bottle and shook it with rage. I was angry with him. I knew we were lost. I blamed Jim and Anne for taking so much time on the ascent. Perhaps most of all, I was angry at myself for not bringing enough water.

Ndesario responded with a string of 3 or 4 “Half an hours.”

At this point, realizing that my guide didn’t speak English, I took off my long underwear as I was becoming dehydrated. Sweating was the last thing I wanted to do. I covered myself with my shell for protection from what was now the scorching desert sun. I threw my underclothes at my African guide, who wore a long sleeved shirt and long pants. Not a drip of sweat on him.

We continued on. As I stumbled forward, I felt my lips crack. Initially, I could taste blood as I licked them, but soon, the blood crusted over and became rough. My tongue then dried and became glued to the floor of my mouth. I looked at my guide, Ndesario, now with fear and respect. He moved steadily without any need for water. I realized then that he hadn’t carried a water bottle on this entire overnight journey.

In my delirium, I began to accept that I might die on Mt. Kilimanjaro. I had no tears. My anger and panic were gone. My mind drifted off and although I kept prodding forward, I lost all sense of time and purpose.

That’s when the extraordinary occurred. I heard a subtle noise from somewhere ahead. Then, a very dark skinned man bounced up the rocks wearing what I remember to be a Rastafarian colored hat. He was filled with life’s energy and importantly, he was carrying a flask.

“Water” I pleaded, with my dried up mouth.I’ll never forget the look he gave me. My life was in this stranger’s hands.

He handed me the flask hesitantly and delicious water flowed into my mouth. It was curiously cold considering we had been in sweltering heat for hours. My savior took his flask back and vanished over the rocks. I regained some stamina to keep going.

We walked for what seemed to be at least another 2 hours, when we finally reached the camp. There, I was quickly placed on a cot and given fluids.

As I lay there dreaming, I wondered who that guy was who mysteriously showed up at the precise moment I believed myself to be at death’s door? Was he an angel? Had my God appeared. Was he a messenger or runner that I had manifested? To this day, 21 years later, I wonder why this guy was alone, wandering over 16,000 feet. I also wonder if he knows he saved a life that day.

Miracles, that is unexplainable “coincidences” for the scientifically inclined, occur all the time, usually when least expected. It is usually only after the occurrence happens that one becomes aware of the miraculous. Whether you have a chance meeting with an old friend in some obscure place, happen to be given just enough money for an expense you couldn’t afford, or stumble upon a choice parking space on a busy street in front of the restaurant you have reservations at, these seemingly impossible events occur. I think of them as divine manifestations.

Being conscious means being aware. Accept those things seen and those unseen. Don’t write divine gifts off as mere coincidence or chance. Pay attention. Call it what you will, your intuition, your guiding spirit, your angel, your God, or something else. The more you acknowledge to these special moments, the more you will see into this nebulous realm and the more miraculous your life will become. Indeed, it may save your life one day.

Create Your Home Consciously

Writing is not new to me, but blogging is another story. I’ve written many scientific papers and a couple of book chapters in the medical literature. Writing non-fiction however has been calling to me for some time now, for I have a lot to share for those interested in learning from my experiences. I am a diagnostic radiologist who for the past decade, has been working and living in a Pittsburgh suburb, helping to raise my two children. In some ways, this area has been an ideal location for during my free time, my family and I have been able to enjoy a mixture of agrarian and city lifestyle. We maintain a small organic vegetable garden, an organic orchard of 16 trees and a flock of chickens and ducks during the growing season. We cultivate our own mushrooms and host a colony of honey bees. Over the years, I’ve learned how to freeze, can and dehydrate extra fruit and vegetables. The family has been able to subsist on the garden’s output for over half the year, each year. Yet, because the city of Pittsburgh is so close, we are able to go into the city to enjoy the many new restaurants and entertainment options Pittsburgh has to offer. Pittsburgh really has become a great town!

In our home, we all enjoy excellent health, but this hasn’t always been the case. My home town, was a hazardous place to grow up in, not only for my own health, but probably for most everyone else as well. The effects of pollution in that region were subtle and insidious. We all joked about the incredible stench driving through Newark or Elizabeth, New Jersey, back then but there was no one specific incident that caused a media blitz such as what has occurred recently in Flint, MI. Over the decades though, the area proved to be a very unhealthy place in which to grow up and live. I have no idea if it was the tap water we drank, the ground that we played ball on or the air that we breathed. But, way too many of my classmates and neighborhood friends were diagnosed with cancer before even turning 40. In fact, I was one of them. Many of my friend’s parents died much too early of chronic diseases, particularly cancer and neurodegenerative disease. It wasn’t until I moved out of the area, experienced life in other parts of the country and travelled the world that I gained perspective and realized that communities all over could be classified as either healthy or even sickly. It has been particularly frustrating being a “health care practitioner” and seeing more and more people develop disease earlier and earlier in life. Asthma, allergies, rheumatologic diseases, cancer, neurological disorders, and of course obesity and diabetes are all way too common, especially in children. It has become clear that disease isn’t random, sporadic or what many consider to be bad luck. Some disease are more common in some locations than in others, indicating they are, in a sense, environmental. What’s even more apparent is that even though we always look for family histories of various disease in the medical field, most disease, including many types of cancer are not genetically predetermined.  People may be genetically susceptible to certain types of disease, but that does not mean they are destined to become afflicted with it eventually.

So why the title “Create your Home Consciously”? During my work and personal travel, it has struck me that most people who come down with a disease are hit from left field and have no idea why they became ill. Some people of course do know, such as the chronic smoker who is diagnosed with lung cancer or the woman who’s husband worked with asbestos many years ago and is doomed to suffer a slow death from mesothelioma. In general though, we do not seem to understand that certain lifestyle choices we make on a daily basis can increase our risk of becoming diseased. It is particularly distressing that so many of us know nothing about the food we eat or the water we drink. Our world has become a giant soup bowl filled with plastics and industrial chemicals, and we inhabitants are for the most part totally oblivious to the biological effects that these chemicals can and do have on our bodies everyday.

I’ve learned a lot over the years, but communicating this information effectively is tricky.  Even when people grasp the knowledge, translating that new concepts into action is difficult. In many cases, changing one’s habits is what is ultimately necessary in order to take steps to improve one’s health. Anyone who loves a friend, or family member who smokes, drinks or takes drugs excessively knows it is next to impossible to convince him/her to stop their self destructive behavior. Yet, how can you look yourself in the mirror when one of those friends is diagnosed with cancer or has an accident that you might have helped them avoid if you had offered your observations to them beforehand?

In this series of short posts, my goal is to set up a framework to help the reader piece together how some of the elements in his/her environment interact with their body’s physiological processes. Following will be a brief description of how contaminants associated with each element can adversely affect their health. This information should help one begin the process of creating a healthy home, consciously.

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