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June 11, 2005

Fact of the Day

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Here's a startler:

  • 2 million Americans annually contract infections while in the hospital. 90,000 of them die. Hospital infections are the nation's sixth-leading cause of death.

    (Source: Patrick Kiger in AARP Bulletin -- the piece isn't online, though.)

90,000 -- that's a lot of deaths. I wonder whether, over the longterm, the medical field has done the human race more good or evil. I once spent some time with a Roy Porter history of medicine. Porter left me with the strong impression that, prior to the late 19th century, you'd have been wise to dodge doctors almost entirely.

I remember a history of Christian Science whose author made a similar point. Apparently, at the time Christian Science was dreamed up, the religion made a lot of practical sense. You were likely to do much better if you followed the Christian Science lifestyle -- praying for the best, thinking positively, sleeping plenty, eating wholesomely -- than if you entrusted your well-being to the medicine of the day.

I notice in the same issue of AARP Bulletin an article by Gina Kolata that should make those who took an interest in our recent gabfest about Fat and Costco smile. Sample passage:

Overweight people actually have a lower risk of death than people whose weight is in the normal range. And even the moderately obese are not at much risk, the researchers found -- deaths occurred more frequently among the extremely obese and also, to the surprise of many, among the extremely thin.

And here's an article describing a surprising study: Scientists suspect that exercising intensely for two minutes a day might provide as much cardio benefit as an hour of moderate sweating.

Remind me: are our doctors telling us this week that eating eggs is good for us, or bad for us?



posted by Michael at June 11, 2005


Reminds me of a Twainism:

"It seems a stupid idea to keep a student 4 years in a medical college to merely learn how to guess - and guess wrong. If ever I am deadly ill I hope you will stand by me and bar out the doctors and let me die a natural death. "

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on June 11, 2005 4:00 PM

Why are we wrong about weight? Because normal weight is set too low. What we consider normal is based on aesthetics and not health.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on June 11, 2005 4:26 PM

Modern 'scientific' medicine is terrific at curing many ills. However, doctors--whether by commission or omission--claim to be able to cure just about any ill. (For a recent example, I note that heart bypass surgery doesn't seem to really help many or even most of the people that receive it, despite the immense cost.) Far be it from me to say that doctors are willing to take advantage of people's hopes and fears, but...oh, heck, I'll say it: doctors regularly take advantage of people's hopes and fears.

I'd love to see a real survey of human ills, and exactly what modern medicine can and can't do about them. I think anyone reading it would have some eye opening moments.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on June 11, 2005 4:56 PM

Mary Baker Eddy (founder of Christian Science) also was a big proponent of washing your hands more than once a day and bathing often, at a time when that seemed odd to most people.

Posted by: Glen Raphael on June 11, 2005 7:33 PM

I just read THE GREAT INFLUENZA by John M. Barry (Penguin 2004), about the worldwide 1918 flu epidemic that may have been one of the great natural disasters of the 20th Century. The book has a long beginning section covering the history of medicine in the United States that basically says that, yes, professional medical care in this country was generally terrible into the late 19th Century. And it pretty much was all over the world. The big advances were made in Germany during the 19th Century, and for some years, people from other countries who wanted to get serious medical training had to go to German schools. Eventually, as scientific medical education spread and German-trained doctors set up schools in their own countries, the disparity evened out.


Posted by: Dwight Decker on June 11, 2005 8:15 PM

Eating eggs? I'm waiting for the medical profession to tell us that smoking is a healthy habit!

Posted by: Peter on June 11, 2005 9:35 PM

Eating eggs is good for us.

Posted by: missgrundy on June 12, 2005 1:59 AM

Nothing surprising here. Bacterial infections have been one of the leading causes of death throughout human history. The development of antibiotics after WWII curbed such infections, but lately the bugs have evolved resistance to many such drugs. Hospitals, with their heavy reliance on antibiotics, are major breeding grounds for many drug-resistant strains such as Strep A. This is a major soutce of concern among the medical community.

Posted by: Philomathean on June 14, 2005 2:06 PM

Here's an interesting livejournal post from a med student in the Philippines.

Over there, it seems the death rate goes up every time the clerks change rotation. Gotta hand it to her, though, for doing the best she can. And also wonder, is it really any different over here?

Posted by: Nate on June 14, 2005 2:38 PM

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