How To Beat The Flu – Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about my number one weapon in the arsenal of flu and cold beaters: the neti pot. But like any battle, relying on just one weapon or technique would be foolish. Winning a struggle is the combination of several tactical maneuvers applied with maximum effect such that it becomes a viable strategy for success. So, in order to beat the flu, you need a few more tools.

Today, we’re going to look at sleep.

I’ve always found it fascinating that we enter the peak season of germs and sickness when the weather gets cold and the days get shorter. Yet, while the rest of the natural world senses a slow-down, as humans, we’re supposed to keep up the same frenetic level of activity as we go about our daily struggle to survive and prosper.

Many animals hibernate or at the very least reduce their awake hours drastically. This is obviously a means of survival for them, but it’s also interesting from our perspective.

How much sleep did you get yesterday? The general consensus ranges on what constitutes an optimal amount of sleep from 7-9 hours per night. This amount supposedly enables the body to rest and recuperate from the strain of the previous day, repairing the shattered cells that limp through our bloodstreams and preparing us for the next period of being awake.

But is this amount realistic? In our modern world, many people tend to get far less sleep. And many will only bank six hours per night, leaving them at least sixty minutes shy of what the health experts recommend. The result is usually obvious, especially when many people tend to get drowsier in the winter months. Those yawns and sighs and stretches are key signals that your body needs more rest. And if you deprive it long enough, your weakened body will be susceptible to attack.

Think about it this way: your body is your fortress and your immune system is the guard standing along the ramparts. Keep the same guy out there for eighteen hours and you will have one ineffective guard. Get him off of the wall and rested and he’ll be more alert and able to fend off the invaders.

Now, trying to secure a slot of time between 7-9 hours isn’t always feasible or realistic. I count myself lucky indeed if I can get a 7-hour slot of sleep. So you need alternatives.

Like a nap.

Naps don’t have to be long to get the benefit they offer. Often, just resting your eyes and “dipping” into that less-awake/semi-asleep pattern for even fifteen minutes will give you an added boost while helping your body stay healthy. In the service, we called them “combat naps” or “cat naps” and if we could grab them in the midst of a brief respite in our tasks, we were incredibly grateful for them. The effects are astounding, especially since you’re not fully asleep. Being able to tap into that state is incredibly valuable.

So, if you work in an office or a cubicle and don’t have the luxury of stretching out on a bed, how do you grab one? If you’ve got an office, simply shut the door and set your cellphone alarm for a quick fifteen minute nap during lunch. If you’ve got a cubicle, see if you can borrow a conference room. (I haven’t worked in an office in a long time, so I’m not sure what the possibilities are.)

Once you train your body to steal a few minutes here and there, you’ll be amazed at where you can do it. Now obviously, given my interest in self-protection, I don’t recommend doing this out in public where you need to stay aware. But it is possible to get extra rest throughout the day. And you should.

Personally, I think that humans have a hibernation instinct as well. Like many other instincts we used to have, the grind of modern society has dulled them until we’ve almost forgotten they exist. Hibernation is simply another tool of our personal survival, like being able to sense the presence of danger.

In the event you get sick, sleep is one of the most potent things you can do for your body. Give it an abundance of rest so it can divert its resources away from the stress of your usual daily activity to fighting off the infection. By enabling your system to concentrate its forces on the site of attack instead of spreading itself thin, your chances of success are that much greater.

Make sure, as well, that you’re properly situated when you do go to bed. Lie flat, not propped up (if possible – if you’re suffering from sinus congestion, lying flat isn’t always an option) so your body is leveled out and your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood everywhere. Get under the covers, even if you’re a little warm at first. Your body temperature normally comes down a few degrees when you sleep and you will get cooler.

Turn the TV off! The last thing your body and subconscious need is to have television shows and commercials playing in the background reminding it of what you’re trying to give it a rest from. The goal is to put yourself into an altered state, which is what a sleeping pattern is. Take a rest from everything. If you’re the kind of person who needs something audible in order to fall asleep (I like the white noise generated by a small fan) then opt for a soothing bit of music that you can program to loop. But turn the volume down low.

The key to obtaining deep levels of recuperative sleep is to almost put yourself into a sensory deprivation experience. It’s no coincidence that we naturally close our eyes and remove our most relied upon sensory input while we rest. Nor is it unusual that we generally breathe deeply through our nose and take our mouth with its ability to taste offline as well. We don’t normally paw about the bed, either. That’s three of the five down. Three less inputs demanding attention from our neurological system. Think about how much “power” that saves.

Special forces units in the former Soviet Union used to all go to sleep in the same way: tongue on the roof of the mouth behind the upper teeth, eyes closed and rolled up, and lying on their backs with their hands either clasped over their stomachs or at their sides. This was found to put their bodies into deeper rest quicker than by any other means.

It might well be worth studying your own sleep habits to determine how you best fall asleep. I always start on my back and then just before I drift off into deeper sleep, switch to sleeping on my side since it means I’m less likely to snore and make noise. But that’s just me.

Sleep is vital to life. And it’s vital to your battle against sickness. Take some extra time and reap the benefits of being non-awake. Your body will thank you.

How To Beat The Flu

It’s flu season and that means the timeless battle between staying healthy and feeling like crap has once more reared its head. The pharmaceutical companies trot out the usual array of medicines that treat the symptoms or the shots that address last year’s various strains. But there’s little that can be done to stave off the influenza virus. Right?


Last year I had a horrible sinus infection that lasted about two months. I went early on to the doctor and, of course, got a prescription for antibiotics, which didn’t work. I was miserable. My sinuses were a wreck and this virus then spread to my upper respiratory system. I hacked up a rainbow of mucus and wondered how the hell I was going to get rid of this particular infection.

In late October, my brother-in-law’s mother, Fran, saw me at a family event where I was my (by then) usual “bag of shite” (as my friends across the pond like to say). She mentioned her own battles with sinus infections and then told me about a little thing that had made all the difference in the world. And I’m going to share it with you today.

It’s called a neti pot.

Now, before you start rolling your eyes, hear me out. I don’t consider myself any type of yogi. I’m most assuredly not a vegetarian, macrobiotic, or overly New Age. And as a result of my background, I tend to come from the “try-it-and-if-it-works-once-keep-trying-until-we-can-trust-it” school of thought. But I also know that the simplest solutions are also sometimes the best.

I went to my local CVS and found a little box called “Sinu Cleanse” over on the cold/flu aisle and picked it up. Inside was a small neti pot, which resembles a tea pot of sorts. It also came with a plastic spoon and twenty packets of salt. I think it cost about ten bucks.

Back at home, I opened it up and set about reading the directions. The idea being that you fill the pot with warm water, mix in one packet of salt, and then insert the tip of the neti pot into one nostril, tilt forward until the water flows up your nasal passage and then flows out of the other back into the sink. The idea is that the salt water cleanses the passages and removes all the gunk inside.

Why is this important? Growing up, my father told me that the three main ways you get sick are through the eyes, the nose and the mouth. People tend to rub their eyes and transfer infection into the tear ducts. The air we breathe is also rife with germs and most of those get lodged into the nose, which uses hairs to trap larger particles. But the smaller ones find a nice warm, moist home in the mucus lining of your nasal passages.

The neti cleans house. Literally.

Not only does it clean the passages, but it also makes that mucus lining inhospitable to germs seeking to set up shop there and then invade the rest of your body.

Within a day of using the neti pot last year, I was finally on the mend. It took a little bit of continued effort to dislodge the infection (the old Napoleonic theory was that it took three invaders to dislodge one dug-in defender) but it finally yielded. And I was convinced.

I have continued using the neti pot over the last year. As a result, any colds or bugs have not been able to take root in my body for long. As soon as I start feeling like something’s coming on, it’s straight to the neti pot and then I follow that up with about three more sessions over the course of the day. (It’s safe enough to do up to four times per day without damaging your sinuses). And that is usually enough to knock whatever germs I’ve gotten out.

As I said, I’m not preaching out of some New Age philosophy here. The medical community has actually embraced sinus flushing as a viable means of staying well. And I can tell you that it works. I intend to steer clear of flu shots and I haven’t taken any over-the-counter medicines since last year because I haven’t needed to.

Please note that there are also types of saline inhalers that you can buy that you stick up your nostril, pump some saline up and then that’s supposed to be it. I don’t like those because they don’t provide a constant flow of water over the passages. Stick with the neti pot. When you run out of salt packets, use kosher or sea salt.

It takes some time and practice to get it down to where it works for you. I’ve had to adjust the amount of salt I use because I overloaded one time and it stung like hell. But I tell you, this thing works. I’m amazed at it, but it makes perfect sense.

When I went through survival training, the instructors always harped about hydration. In the field, when you urinate, it should be clear and not stink. If it’s dark and smelly, you’re dehydrated. I view the mucus in the same way. If you blow your nose and see a Skittles package on the tissue, you’ve got some gunk that needs cleaning. The mucus should be as clear as possible.

I don’t neti everyday, but this time of year I increase the frequency. You’ll find it comes in handy at other times as well. Doing yard work with the lawn mower, leaf blower, etc. you’ll come in and have a ton of crap up there from breathing in dust. People suffering from allergies have also reported amazing benefits from using a neti.

If you hate taking medications and feeling like hell during the winter months, I can’t recommend this enough. And believe me: I hated getting water up my nose as a kid. But I’ve learned to relax and let the neti process clean out the toxins. It’s fantastic stuff. And for ten bucks, you can’t beat it in these economic times.

Of course, you can also buy high-end neti pots made from fancy ceramics and whatnot, but why bother when a simple plastic pot does the job quite well? I know a lot of you might grimace and frown and roll your eyes and say, “jeez, that’s gross, Jon” because I was the same way.

Then I tried it.

It works, people. It really does. So if you’re tired of suffering through cold and flu season, check it out. I hope it does for you what it has done for me.

Excerpt from novel-in-progress

Here’s an excerpt from a novel I’ve been working on for a few years on-again-off-again.  I’m going to finish it over the next month or so.  Let me know what you think – thanks!

Chapter One


     “There is beauty in everything.”
     Vinatoru Kocescu scanned the street, his black eyes hooded by the mop of hair falling across his brow, the flesh around them puffy and dark.  Gray concrete tenements with shattered windows abutted gutters teeming with used condoms and cigarette butts.  A vacant construction site overflowed with rusted I-beams and posters promising a better tomorrow by politicians growing fat off of bribes and corruption.
     What did they call these places in America?  The ghetto?
     Kocescu called it paradise – his paradise.
     Just after eleven o’clock this morning drizzle dribbled like God had a prostate problem.  Kocescu’s best whores formed a ragged garland across the apartment entrances, awaiting the lunchtime crowd of bureaucrats, office workers, and construction Joes to blow their pitiful paychecks on fifteen minutes of sticky friction.
     God bless them all, thought Kocescu.  Them and their money.
     A spit of rain dotted his face, rivulets stumbling through the ravine of scar tissue that spanned Kocescu’s right jaw from his ear lobe to his chin.  The souvenir came from a knife fight in Bucharest years back.  A millimeter lower and it would have been Kocescu’s body that littered the dank alley.  Enraged – giddy almost – from the cut, Kocescu had dipped his shoulder and pumped his own blade up and under the punk’s sternum, shredding the pulmonary artery.
     Kocescu took a deep breath, passing the air up his nostrils and then opening his mouth to let it escape again.  He repeated the cycle once more.  Despite the yoke of carbon monoxide from too many cars, he smelled something.
     Now he used his tongue to taste the air.  Flicking and waggling, allowing the entire range of his olfactory system to break the air molecules apart, catalog them, and confirm or refute the presence of prey.
     Kocescu could smell a woman before he even saw her.  He’d acquired the skill establishing himself as the kingpin of lust and depravity in Moldova.  Dealing with the thousands of women he’d pimped, beaten, or sold into slavery, he got to know all the weird and wonderful scents that leaked from their pores and dripped from their dark places.
     His nostrils flared again.  He knew the perfume.  And he knew the scent that lay beneath the manufactured smell.
     Old woman.
     And something more.
     Kocescu turned his head, knowing she’d be coming around the corner.  An old woman didn’t interest him.  Most of Kocescu’s clients preferred much younger delicacy.  But for those searching for more mature interaction, he had two lively grandmothers on speed dial. 
     Just in case.
     She ambled around the corner with a slight limp, leaning forward.  Kocescu figured both arthritis and an injury were to blame.
     Opportunity walked with the old woman.
     Kocescu eased back into the recessed doorway of the building behind him.  What, he wondered, would make an old woman walk through a dangerous section of town?
Arrogance.  He could see it in the way she moved.  Even with her afflictions, he could sense anger and determination in the old gal.  The way her jaw was set firm.  The way she struggled to keep her chin up.  The way she eyed the scene before her with a mixture of contempt and pity.
     Kocescu smiled.  In another life, he might have respected her.  But now, she was making a terrible mistake.
     The girl who walked with the old woman couldn’t have been any older than twelve.  But she, too, had determination.  Kocescu saw it in the way she tugged on her…grandmother? Yes.  On her grandmother’s hand.  Insistent.  Steady resolve.
     Kocescu lit a cigarette and sucked at the filterless tip until the cinder glowed bright red.  He blew out a thin stream of smoke and watched a sudden gust of wind jerk it out of the doorway.
     The old woman had stopped.  Was she rethinking her decision to come this way?  Perhaps she remembered when this part of town had been a family neighborhood.  Long before the Communists had razed the old houses to put up the apartment complexes that had then fallen into disrepair with the end of the Cold War.
     Kocescu could see it – the battle of emotions playing out across the pale slabs of baggy skin on her face.  For several long moments, she stood there, immune to the drizzle and the brash desires of her younger companion.
     Kocescu heard the girl now.  Pleading.  Something about how they had to go this way in order to reach their destination in time.
     Still the battle raged.
     The old woman took a step forward.  Then another.  And more until they had resumed their walk with the same speed as before.
     The old woman hugged the girl close to her as they passed the first of Kocescu’s whores.  He heard his girls clucking at them.  The little girl’s eyes went wide when she heard what they said to her.
     Kocescu chuckled.
     Then the old woman’s voice cut through the air, slicing at the most aggressive whores.  They backed off.
     Arrogant and spunky, Kocescu decided.  But they were trespassing in Kocescu’s domain, one he’d worked hard to acquire.  And one he was expanding into America.
     Kocescu studied the girl.  He watched the way she walked.  He saw her hips hadn’t yet blossomed.  She still had the gait of a young boy.  Her breasts were still probably absent as well.
     He sucked at the cigarette.
     They cleared the first block.  Ahead of them, an intersection on an almost deserted street that ran across this section of Kocescu’s turf.
     From his pocket, he removed the Nokia cellphone and pressed a single button.  The phone purred in his ear and then someone on the other end picked up.
     Kocescu said three words and then disconnected.
     Further down the street, the aging blue van’s engine came to life.  Black soot shot out of its tailpipe, clogging the air nearby with the smell of diesel and sulfur.
     The old woman and the girl finished walking the gauntlet.
     They had cleared Kocescu’s domain.
     He saw relief flood the old woman’s frame as her shoulders relaxed and her gait slowed.  The girl must have sensed something was wrong because she was asking her grandmother questions.
     Kocescu ground his cigarette underfoot and took a long drag on the air, feeling the cold air rush in through his nostrils, cleansing him of the tobacco he’d just ingested.  The old smells returned: the stench of urban decay, the pollution, and even the scent of the old woman.
     The new smell interested him most: the perfume of youth.  Kocescu licked his lips as if he could draw from the air the young girl’s essence.
     The old woman and the girl reached the intersection, stopping to check for traffic before they crossed.  The van shot away from the curb as the old woman stepped onto the street.
     Screeching tires and the van’s wailing horn ripped apart the relative silence of the late morning; the van’s bumper stopped inches from the old woman, but she fell to the ground anyway.
     Kocescu saw the next moments like stills in a flipbook animation sequence.
     The van’s side panel jerking open on its rails.  From inside, Vitya and Daro, Kocescu’s thugs, jumping out.
     The girl, huddling over her grandmother, looking up.
     Alarm sweeping over her face – the look of sudden realization – she starts to back away, clawing at the ground beneath her for purchase as she screams.
     Vitya reaches her first, clamping his gloved hand over the girl’s mouth.  The girl kicks and struggles but she’s no match for Vitya’s hulking form.  He drags her into the darkness of the van.
     Daro bends over the old woman’s frame.  The grandmother’s hands come up trying to fight him.  He brushes her feeble attacks off, grabs one of her wrists and snaps it at the joint.  The old woman screams now, displaying weakness for the first time as she clutches the useless limb.
     Daro squats down behind her, pats her head and then jerks it to the side.  Even though he’s too far away, Kocescu can imagine the dull snap as the old woman’s neck breaks.
     The lifeless body slides from Daro’s embrace and then he’s back into the van.  Tires screech again; more exhaust spurts into the air and the van roars off down the street, makes one turn at the next intersection and then disappears.
     Behind them, the old woman’s body lays in a crumpled heap, one hand still outstretched toward the street – still fighting, even in death.
     Kocescu lit a fresh cigarette and inhaled deep.  He’d seen a lot of grabs before.  He’d done them himself a few times in the past.  But no one had ever impressed him as much as the old woman.  He admired her resolve – her willingness to sacrifice everything for her family.
     Kocescu had never known such sentiment.  Few of the orphans he’d grown up with on the streets did.
     He watched the scene for another minute, drinking in the stark detail.  Across the street, his whores paid no attention.  They knew Kocescu would kill them if they said anything.
     He sucked another bit of the tobacco into his lungs and felt the heat clear his mind.  He had a business to run.  And his bottom line was about to get even better; the girl would fetch him a lot of money.
     Kocescu pulled the cellphone back out and pressed a new number.  He had arrangements to make.
     But as he listened to the ringing at the other end of the line, a strange thought popped into his head:
     What if the grandmother hadn’t been protecting the girl?

This Election: A Chance to Get It Right

I’m less twelve hours or so away from proudly casting my ballot for Barack Obama to become the next President of the United States of America.  And in the waning hours of this historic campaign, it’s coming down to every single vote.

I know that there might be many people who read this blog post and shake their heads at me.  They know that I’ve served in the military, and done my part for this country throughout the years.  They think that because of this, that I should be voting for McCain.  But to me McCain isn’t putting this country first at all.  He’s only putting himself and his personal ambitions first.

His choice of Sarah Palin for the VP spot should have been the wake-up call for every single American.  Very rarely do we have the chance to see the brilliant true nature of a politician.  By selecting Palin to be one heartbeat away from the White House, when there were other far more qualified GOP women (Olympia Snowe from Maine comes to mind first) out there, shows that McCain only thinks about his election and not about the country.

And yet, to this day, there are still people who feel that Palin is great, wonderful, and a bed of roses.  These people are beyond hope as they’re so terminally stupid that I actually feel they should have a chance to be a citizen under a McCain/Palin administration just so they can see how utterly awful it would be – just not here in the United States.  Perhaps we put a string of barges together and float them offshore or something where they can have their own fiefdom of idiocy.

Look, I know Obama’s not perfect.  I don’t know any politician I’ve ever truly ever trusted 100%.  But Obama also knows he’s not perfect.  He’s got humility and he’s got the courage to know that he needs smarter people around him for the stuff he doesn’t know.  McCain paints himself as this nation’s greatest hero.


The primary directive of any Prisoner of War is to a) give as little information to the enemy as possible and b) try to escape.  And yet McCain never tried to escape from his prison.  Another captive did repeatedly and endured far worse treatment because of it.  And prior to this, when McCain crashed yet another plane and caused a huge fire aboard his carrier, he went to the pilot’s lounge instead of helping out.

McCain’s entire career has been about himself and how he can get ahead.  He has bedded every major lobbyist of every stripe.  He owes more favors to corporate America than any other politician.  He is – without a doubt – the biggest fraud that has been foisted upon this nation.  His voting record has mirrored W’s 90% of the time.  This is not the change we need; this is damage we need to get rid of.

An Obama administration will once again restore this nation to the greatness it deserves and the position in the global community we need to occupy.  We have a lot of wounds to mend and we have a lot of rectifying in our own country to get to.

Perhaps people are holding back because they make decent money and don’t want their taxes to go up.  If you are truly that selfish, then there’s very little that can be said to you to make you into the compassionate person you truly ought to be.  Think about your fellow people and how the variety of social programs can help others less fortunate than yourself.  Don’t be miserly with your money; celebrate the chance to use some of your good fortune to the benefit of mankind.   A rising tide floats all boats, not just the corporate yachts.

I’m hoping every single person who reads this post understands that I am probably one of the most national security-conscious people I know.  I hate terrorists.  I agreed with the war in Afghanistan but bitterly disagreed with Iraq.  I have scores of friends in the service and have served my country.  On good years, I am happy to pay Clinton-era taxes on my bounty so that others may have a little less stress in their lives, because I’ve been in those shoes, too, and know what it’s like to lay awake at night wondering when the tide of fortune will change.

It changes tomorrow for the United States of America.  Take your right as a citizen of this great nation and use it to make it a greater one.  Cast your vote for Barack Obama and help put this nation one track for a great future full of hope, accomplishment, and prosperity!