Taking Our Medicine
Welcome to the fourth installment of The Weekly Better Bulletin. The theme of The Weekly Better, from now until November when my book comes out, will be gratitude. In particular, I will remind you the reader of the fantastic world we live in. It's easy to forget the good things in life. Like in Week One we learned that you and I will live--on average--twice as long as our ancestors. That's a good thing, right?
During Week Two I talked about how we live in the safest world of all time, and I gave examples of progress in food and fire safety as well as the diminishing death toll from natural disasters.
In Week Three I examined the role of public health programs, including simple things like hand washing and toilets. Simple things can save millions of lives.
This week we'll talk about medicine. Just by coincidence, yesterday's Google Doodle portrayed René Favaloro, the surgeon who performed the first successful bypass surgery in 1951. Since then millions of patients have received the lifesaving surgery, including my stepfather, Bill Banton. I'm grateful to Favaloro and the other medical pioneers who saved Bill's life and the lives of other millions. And that's just heart bypass surgery.
In the past 150 years scientists developed vaccines for smallpox, cholera, anthrax, rabies, tetanus, diphtheria, typhoid, measles, mumps, rubella, flu, and polio (and that's a very incomplete list). Thanks to vaccination programs, many of these diseases are in sharp decline or, in the case of smallpox, gone forever.
In diagnostic imaging we have the discovery and use of X-rays, and the plethora of more recent scans, including the CT, PET, CAT, MRI, and fMRI scans.
How often do we think about life before blood transfusions? Back in the day if you bled a lot, you were dead. Period. Now blood transfusions are routine after trauma and during surgery.
Organ transplants! Wow! What would our great grandparents have said. Sci-fi! Magic! Nowadays we can transplant hearts, lungs, livers, pancreases, intestines, corneas, kidneys, and vascular tissues. And doctors have transplanted a face, a uterus, and even a penis!
Today we have penicillin and antibiotics; we got in vitro fertilization and bevy of birth control options. In the past century we have added minimally invasive surgery, the pacemaker, and dialysis to the doctor's toolbox. Lasers are replacing scalpels. Lasers cut with less blood and more precision, and wound healing is faster. Scientists are designing better and better artificial body parts too.
Modern heart health treatments mean that mortality rates of heart attacks and strokes are declining despite an aging (and overweight) population. Cancer prevention--be grateful for that colonoscopy!--and treatment mean higher survival rates. And there's that public perception that dementia rates are going up. Wrong! We aren't sure why--cardiovascular health is often cited as a possible reason--but rates are falling.
Hey, I'm not against complaining about the price of healthcare today. It's too expensive. Too many people die from surgical mistakes, and access to care is often problematic. But the broad landscape of medicine has shifted momentously, and for the good of all of us.
So take time this week to appreciate and savor the medical miracles that have become everyday and humdrum. Take your medicine: It's better than ever.
And in other good news...
It seems like every week I hear about some new breakthrough surgical technique that solves some bedeviling problem. Here's a story about a procedure that brought movement back to paralyzed hands.
Today 19 out of 20 people in Nepal are hooked up to the electrical grid. Less than ten years ago, only 13 of 20 people had power. More power = less indoor and outdoor air pollution and house fires from open fire cooking and heat. And light is there for the kids to do schoolwork. Streets are safer with streetlights....
Gender disparities still exist but they're narrowing. In many African countries, girls and boys are attending primary school in equal numbers.