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plenty of fluids

by Charles Bardes, M.D.

She had a cold: runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, scratchy throat, body aches, a little fever. She called the doctor. No, antibiotic would not help. Get some rest and drink plenty of fluids.

Why fluids? The overt reason is to restore the water lost during fever, to bathe the throat, and to wash away irritants. But there must be more; why else the emphasis?

Is not the subtext ritual cleansing, ablution? An ancient theory holds that disease is contamination. Restoring health, therefore, must begin with cleansing. Suppliants to Asklepios underwent a ritual bath on the night of sacred sleep in his temple, awaiting cure. Roman Catholics anoint themselves with holy water on entering a church. Muslims begin prayer with ritual washing (Wudu’). Devout Hindus undergo ritual bathing every day; they say they are connecting with water, the source of all life. So many colds, so much water: contact with sacred Ganges.


Charles Bardes is a physician who lives and works in New York City, where he teaches and practices general medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University as Professor of Clinical Medicine and Associate Dean. He is the author of Essential Skills in Clinical Medicine and articles related to medical education. (3/2006)

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