A sense of gratitude and wonderment

My mother is a testament to the wonders of modern medicine.  But for the drugs, surgery, and implanted equipment upon which she relies, she would have been dead a long time ago.  Perhaps even more importantly, to the extent that she’s not dead, she has a fairly good quality of life.  Thanks to cataract surgery and high tech glasses (trifocals, anti-glare coating, etc.), she has twenty-twenty vision.  Thanks to teeny little hearing aids that are practically invisible, she’s not deaf.  Thanks to state-of-the-art pain medicines, delivered via state-of-the-art technology, she tends to forget that she once suffered from chronic pain.  She also takes medicines that control the pain and nausea associated with all the other medicines she takes just to stay alive.  She is a walking wonder.

What’s truly amazing about my mother is that she takes all of this for granted.  She is peculiarly unimpressed that modern medicine has her alive and functioning, even though she’s basically held together by glue and spit.  She’ll periodically complain about past or present sufferings, but I never hear from her an awed exclamation about the absence of pain in her life, or about the joy of twenty-twenty vision, or about the pleasure of hearing her grandchildren’s voices, or about the fact that she’s alive at all.

I’m quite different from my mother in this regard.  I’m am constantly overwhelmed by the wonders and miracles that see me alive and kicking (and doing some pretty damn fine kicking on my good days, if I do say so myself).

Modern medicine means that, a long time ago, when I needed emergency surgery, I got that surgery rather than hemorrhaging to death.

Modern medicine means that I didn’t die of hyperemesis gravidarum during either of my pregnancies.  Charlotte Bronte wasn’t so lucky.

Modern medicine means that I didn’t die when I was delivering one of my children, despite the fact that things went wrong.  And thanks to the epidural I had, not only did I not die, but I didn’t even realize that something had gone wrong.  (The kid was all right too!)

Modern medicine means that, although nature intended me to be practically blind, I not only see thanks to my glasses but, when I put my contacts in, I look gorgeous and I kick butt at martial arts.

Modern medicine means that, thanks to over-the-counter products, I have ridiculously young looking skin for someone my age.  (And yes, I’m boasting.)

And that’s just medicine!  I have iPhones and iPads welded to my hands; telephones in every room of my house; cars that talk to me; machines that wash my clothes and my dishes, and then dry them too; a computer system that has me actively connected to most of the world, 24/7; and that’s just the beginning.  The wonders of technology permeate every aspect of my life, including the allergy free pillow on which I rest my head at night.

Despite the fact that I grew up in this modern world, something that distinguishes me from my mother, who is old enough to remember little European villages that had no cars, I’ve never become blase about the wonders of science and technology.  I am endlessly grateful for the manifest benefits these things have brought to my life.

This sense of gratitude is, I think, part of why I am so proud to be an American, specifically, and part of the western tradition, generally.  All human beings have the capacity to create, but it is the West that had the curiosity and America that had the driving competitive energy, to take theory and make it fact.  Put another way, man has long dreamed of flying, but it was Orville and Wilbur, two American hobbyists, who made flight a practical reality.

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Comments

  1. says

     
    I also am filled with gratitude and wonder at how modern medicine has kept me from dying several times over the last 60+ years!
     
    Where I really notice the lack in people generally is when I fly.  We’re sitting in relative comfort in a machine carrying us at 500+ mph six miles above the earth, and all some people can do is complain about the lack of their particular preference in drinks, or about a 10 minute delay crossing the country, or…or…or…
     
    I want to scream at them — our great-great-grandparents took months to trek across the plains if they wanted to get to California, bearing babies and burying their elders along the way.  And you’re bitching about a few minutes of delay!!  Get a life!!
     
    But, I don’t.  I just think it, instead.

  2. JKB says

    I saw this today at Carpe Diem
    http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2012/04/worth-thousand-words.html

    Best of all, in all that time, Bill Ayers has been waking up hoping for the end of capitalism and going to be disappointed.

    ¡Viva el Capitalismo 

    Reading ‘The Most Powerful Idea in the World’ I was surprised to learn that the steam engine was a decidedly English-speaking invention.  By that, William Rosen meant that while some parts were invented in other cultures, the English speaking world is the only culture that created all the parts required. 

  3. says

    I wonder where we’d be today wrt medical advances without regulation save for “anything you subject your own family to you can sell” and rather than a default to litigation, we had “no-fault” insurance (i.e. accidents caused without malice fall into a standard schedule of compensation paid out of taxes). In the interest of advancing the common good. Because catastrophe is guaranteed – either something like whatever killed off most humans in the era of Mitochondrial Eve 4000 centuries ago or the most important human – me, given my eventual end-of-the-world still appears guaranteed (even though it’s clear the warrantee card expires at 40 years old and I’m still here decades later). Every 100 years of medical progress makes the earlier practice look closer to witch doctoring than doctoring as we know it, and there’s no reason to believe the same won’t be true for the next millennia.
    .
    3rd party pays healthcare has only slowed progress for all. Government paying for Medicare has hurt medical progress for the elderly the most. My original thinking about how to back out of 3rd party pays was to treat employer health benefits as taxable income.. to get employers out of the business of healthcare. But this hasn’t been politically possible, so my fallback was to make all health-care expenses (on some list, not just what I label healthcare) tax-free, including their entire value chain (“if health care is uniquely important to all, like basic foodstuffs, don’t tax it – or its creation..”). Again, this gets employers out of the benefits trap we put them in back in WW2 – which they’d like to be free of since it’s not their expertise and has turned into a burden.
    .
    And to manage costs decontrol all but “sworn (under perjury penalties) public comment and outcome statistics” maintained at the door (and now on the web) by every medical provider, drug company, device manufacture, hospital, (all who claim they are in the health (tax free) business), for all their goods and services (each with a listed price) provided to the public. And drop all required credentialing.. i.e. they can post their credentials, but no special rights of prescribing or practice are bound to the credential or location of the provider. i.e. any and all (from any locale, around the world) can care, nurse, prescribe, do surgery, dentistry, orthodontics, false-teeth, and train, provide therapy, etc.. where the only requirement is posting a journal of prices, (partially anonymized transactions that can be un-obscured by auditors and courts), comments, and outcomes, subject to perjury penalties and (state / local government) audit for accuracy/completeness.
    .
    Truthfulness of comment-under-oath will be determined in court / jury process if/when there are disputes. Loser pays. (and party on, given individuals can prescribe for themselves as long as they (and their supplier) publish the transaction and tally the results/outcomes).
    .
    Treat people like children and they’ll behave like children. Expect better and we’ll be better. And you could choose to buy your Percocet from India (subject to publishing, comment and audit requirements – i.e. as your own “prescriber” you fall under the same rules – a little less privacy because you have to post as yourself – not a pharmacy that serves many, so consider anyone who looks will suspect you’re an addict or a permanent pain sufferer).
    .
    For the safety net have localities fund public health clinics (contracted out) which have a research and national-security related mission in addition to health-care. i.e. epidemiology, early warning of disease and worse which sadly those least able to take care of themselves are the existing petri dish.. as well as experimental treatments where the poorest of the poor can choose to participate in the same programs the richest-of-the-rich subject themselves to (usually including intense pain and suffering) – in the most-often futile desire to live another year. Insurance will return to its traditional role, not a co-op purchasing association.
    .
    And if we can return to neighborhood care of the victims of catastrophe, the indigent and the feeble – part of local governance – these local elected officials (city/ward councils) would have the ability to put people away (not into the old public asylums but privately run group homes subject to the same reporting and audit requirements) for their own and the neighborhood’s good – health of civil society, subject to local habeas corpus pleas – but again w/ those making the court case taking responsibility for the outcome (if released, they pay the subsequent bills if the subject is again determined by the local board to be a dependent child, irrespective of age, if any).

  4. SADIE says

    A hundred years ago in 1912 life expectancy for men was 47. Most births took place at home and the leading causes of death were, 1. Pneumonia and influenza 2. Tuberculosis 3. Diarrhea 4. Heart disease 5. Stroke.

    If you think about it, anyone born before the age of penicillin (need of) had to pretty damn hardy. I wonder how many of us would have survived the first half of the last century.

      

        

  5. says

     
    @Sadie and all:  If you want to read a GREAT book, that makes the pre-penicillin situation very real, look for The Mold in Dr. Florey’s Coat.  It’s about how Britain dealt with the threat of the Nazis taking over their island, and how they would get penicillin out of the country and to America.  But the descriptions of the threat of infection before effective antibiotics are just chilling…..
    http://www.amazon.com/The-Mold-Dr-Floreys-Coat/dp/0805077782/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333598106&sr=1-1
     
    Heavy-duty natural selection for a strong immune system, let me tell you.  My Dad watched a surfer die of gangrene in L.A. County Hospital after getting a scratch on his leg, back in 1942 or thereabouts.  My Grandpa sat by many bedsides and helplessly watched people die of pneumonia….until 1944 or so, when the first civilian penicillin crept out into the doctor’s offices.  He told me that for a couple of years, he was a “miracle worker”, with people on their deathbeds being virtually “resurrected” with a single shot.  It didn’t last, of course…natural selection on the bugs ensured that.  And the type of person who went into medicine began to change, too — from the nurturing and caring types to the technicians.  That’s an exaggeration, but it points at a truth.
     
    Always a trade-off when we make an advance.  I’ll take the antibiotics….and the jets…..and the automobiles….computers, too!

  6. SADIE says

    Earl, add central heat and air conditioning to the list – I am convinced it has extended life.

    The “good ol days” were very short by today’s stats. My Nana died in 2001 at the age of 100. She had outlived every sibbling, even those from a second marriage, buried her first daughter who died before the age of one.  When she was 80 in 1979, I asked, “Aren’t you just amazed at all the changes that have taken place in this century”?  Her response: ”They didn’t happen overnight”.   I believe what she was implying, was they didn’t happen soon enough.

  7. says

    Re: penicillin. In the 80s I had an octogenarian friend, a long retired MD who would insist I accompany him on his card-playing nights (mostly because he didn’t want to drive). Occasionally we’d be playing with a new group, and as discussions wandered someone would say they wished they could go back to the “good ‘ol days.” His would get stern look and he’d state “there were no good old days before penicillin” in a voice that would brook no argument. Later I asked him about this and it was clear he’d buried far too many patients who’d given birth with complications, who didn’t get a tooth abscess treated, or a farm wound that had turned septic and into what they called “blood poisoning” and the amputation didn’t come soon enough.

  8. Spartacus says

    “Where I really notice the lack in people generally is when I fly. We’re sitting in relative comfort in a machine carrying us at 500+ mph six miles above the earth, and all some people can do is complain about the lack of their particular preference in drinks, or about a 10 minute delay crossing the country, or…or…or…”
     
    If memory serves, this was precisely the source of annoyance for the Director of Hatchery Control in the opening pages of Brave New World… arriving a few seconds late after a transcontinental flight.  Of course, Huxley was going out of his way to be ridiculous.
     
    And maybe, so are we.

  9. Jose says

    My grandfather survived a burst appendix in 1937.  After an agonizing day long trip by train to the hospital the appendix was removed, but it was too late to prevent peritonitis.  The surgeon left the incision open at one end to allow the infection to drain, and every day on his rounds he stuck his finger in the opening to make sure it didn’t close up. 
     
    Grandfather spent 6 weeks in the hospital.  During that time my father, then a teenager,  kept the ranch running after school, and my grandmother gave birth to her 5 child.  Grandfather survived to live another 40 years but I have no doubt they would have been grateful for penicillin, had it been available.

  10. says

    There is apparently a saying in the Hawaiian traditional religion that goes something like this:

    “Monsters cannot survive in an atmosphere of gratitude”

    …which tends to imply that in an atmosphere where gratitude is suppressed…which atmosphere seems to be created by “progressive” social and political beliefs…monsters will survive and will thrive. 

  11. JKB says

    I’m reminded of the passage below from ‘How to Study and Teaching How to Study’ (1919).  As sad as this sad as this woman’s story is, losing 5 children in a fortnight to scarlet fever, alone, no longer able to read due to failing eyesight, it is not considered remarkable by the author.  He uses the lady as an example of how children could improve their reading as well as give pleasure to those about them.  We no longer have any concept of such heartache and misfortune that was common 100 years ago.

    At about that time one of my students, interested in the early history of New York, happened to call upon an old woman living in a shanty midway between these two schools. She was an old inhabitant, and one of the early roadways that the student was hunting had passed near her house. In conversation with the woman he learned that she had had five children, all of whom had been taken from her some years before, within a fortnight, by scarlet fever; and that since then she had been living alone. When he remarked that she must feel lonesome at times, tears came to her eyes, and she replied, “Sometimes.” As he was leaving she thanked him for his call and remarked that she seldom had any visitors; she added that, if some one would drop in now and then, either to talk or to read to her, she would greatly appreciate it; her eyes had so failed that she could no longer read for herself. 

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