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 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.