The Expectations We Place on Modern Medicine
Between 1900 and 2003, medical advances have brought the average life expectancy in the United States from forty-nine up to seventy-eight, a 57.5 percent increase. These advances have exhilarated medical professionals and laypeople.
Some medical interventions—such as penicillin, which turned life-threatening infections into minor, easily treated issues—are silver bullets, providing quick fixes to readily identifiable problems.
But now, after decades of witnessing miracle after medical miracle, we expect that medicine will continue along this exponential trajectory. Since we’ve added nearly thirty years to average life expectancy in a century, maybe, in the next century, we will be able to live to a thousand.
Taken from Hurting Yet Whole: Reconciling Body and Spirit in Chronic Pain and Illness by Liuan Huska. Copyright (c) 2020 by Liuan Huska. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Get the Knowledge
Muhammed Ali served as a role model to many young people during his boxing career. When one student had the opportunity to question Ali, he asked him whether he should continue his studies in college or try and make his fortune in the world. Ali’s response was nothing if not unique: “Stay in college, get the knowledge,” Ali said. “If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can make something out of you!”
Stuart Strachan Jr.
Listening to Heartbeats
In the forward to the excellent book, Subversive Sabbath, physician and author of 24/6, Matthew Sleeth describes the process of listening to hearts as part of his medical practice. While speaking specifically to the need for rest in a over-worked, over-tired culture, the metaphor could be extended to a variety of areas, including our longings, our desires:
As a physician, I’ve listened to thousands of hearts. During prenatal exams, I’ve heard the rapid swish-swishing of babies still in the womb. Often, moms and dads burst into tears when they hear their child’s heart for the first time. I’ve smiled at the strange murmur those thumb-sized hearts make when they are born into the great big world, fetal shunts closing of their own accord as the baby breathes independently for the first time.
I’ve listened to the chests of three-year-old children as they inhale deeply—and then wonder whether the man in the white coat can hear their thoughts through those tubes attached to his ears. I’ve listened to athletes’ strong, slow hearts. I’ve heard asthmatic hearts pounding away in fear and the muffled sounds of failing hearts.
I’ve listened to the hearts of saints and of murderers. I’m in the first generation of physicians to ever listen to the heart of one person after it has been transplanted into the body of another. Doctors and nurses listen to patients’ hearts using a stethoscope.
Although this is convenient, it’s not necessary. In fact, the stethoscope wasn’t invented until a generation after our country became a nation. For thousands of years, physicians listened to heart sounds without the aid of a stethoscope. They simply laid their ear on the chest of their patients. Now it is only children who lay their heads on the chest of their parents to listen to beating hearts.
Taken from Matthew Sleeth in A. J. Swoboda, Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World, Baker Publishing Group, 2018, Kindle Location 76-83.
My Best Medicine
It is often said that people die as they lived. This was certainly true of the great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther. As Luther came close to the end of his life, he suffered from severe headaches which left him stuck in bed. At one point, he was offered some medication to ease his pain. He declined and said, “My best prescription for head and heart is that God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Stuart Strachan Jr.
On Changing your Mind
Joseph Lister was a British surgeon and the founder of anti-septic medicine. That may sound incredibly boring, but the effects of his discovery were profound. Prior to Lister, surgeons had virtually no awareness of the importance of their own hygiene around the body, with surgeons coming straight from the bathroom, or the lunch room right into surgery, no washing of hands, with utensils that were often not washed from previous surgeries.
The results of this were devastating…some 45% to 50% of surgical patients died from bacterial infection after the surgery…after Lister’s discovery, that percent fell to about 15%. Just think about how many lives were saved from that discovery alone. The problem for Lister, was this, almost no doctors believed him, not at first…many reveled in their lack of hygiene.
The reason I know all this, is because of a wonderful book called “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President” which chronicles the rise of two young men…one would become the president, James Garfield, and the other a madman, who would eventually shoot Garfield, which would ultimately lead to his death . Now what is so interesting about this book, among other things, is the way in which Garfield was treated after the shooting.
His doctor, like many American doctors at the time, had rejected Joseph Lister’s theory of sepsis and stuck his unclean fingers right into the wound in an attempt to locate the bullet. Garfield cried out in terrible pain, with the doctor failing to find the bullet. After 3 months, Garfield died. What makes the story so heart wrenching is that the bullet itself was most likely not a fatal gunshot, but the constant poking and prodding by the doctors did him in as the bacterial infections worsened over the last few months of his life.
Over time of course, Lister’s theory of sepsis would become accepted in all countries where modern medicine was practiced, but if it had only been accepted sooner, if only doctors everywhere would change their minds on the issue of bacterial infection and the importance of sterilization…so many lives would have been saved, including the most important one, or at least the most powerful one in the United States.
By Stuart Strachan Jr.
Taken with a Grain of Salt
It’s a warning people have understood for centuries. Some advice needs to be taken “with a grain of salt.” Ever wondered what was meant by that? In ancient times, salt was hard to come by, expensive, and even considered as a form of medicine. In Latin, folks warned that some counsel needed “cum grano salis.” In other words, some advice might not be the healthiest around. In that light, you’ll want to keep the medicine on hand, just in case.