New Tools for Better Life and Living
|Synergism...working toward excellence in eye care today
vol. 1 issue 5
by Edward R. Annis, M.D.
During early schoolboy days when I hoped and dreamed that I would become a doctor some day, infectious diseases were the major cause of death. On my eight-block walk to school I remember often seeing signs on neighbors' doors warning prospective visitors that someone inside suffered from measles, scarlet fever, whooping cough or diphtheria. Even more ominous were the dark red signs warning that an occupant was affected with "consumption," having been invaded by the tubercle bacillus.
I lost an infant brother to streptococcus. My aunt had a lifetime of deafness brought on by whooping cough, a disease which at that time caused the death of one out of every four of its young victims. The mere fact of pregnancy carried risks of severe illness and frequently death to both mother and child. The dreaded polio killed some and paralyzed many during those days when infectious disease hospitals dotted the land, many housing victims of just one disease -- tuberculosis. Pneumonia was looked upon and referred to as "the friend of the elderly" because for so many it was a rapid and generally painless death.
The capabilities of today's physicians to aid the ill and injured have increased dramatically in my lifetime. Reflect for a moment on the fantastic discoveries that have given today's society quality health care unimaginable before in all human history. Veritable miracles have become so numerous and commonplace that we have lost our proper sense of human awe and wonder. The era of miracle drugs was introduced by the discovery of prontosil and the subsequent isolation of its principal ingredient, sulfanilamide. It happened during my years of medical study and it initiated a series of scientific breakthroughs which resulted in penicillin, broad spectrum antibiotics and a countless array of miracle drugs to control infectious invaders.
The power to control infections was the necessary first step leading to the rapid medical and surgical advances which have occurred during my years as a physician. During those same years it was pioneer Doctors Salk and Sabin who startled us with immunization techniques preventing the sad, crippling, and even death-dealing power of polio. Other researchers gave us new weapons to combat and overcome microbe and virus invasions and our truly great pharmaceutical laboratories produced the remarkable tools to prevent one after another of these scourges of mankind. Today we no longer need hospitals to isolate and treat infections diseases in children because prevention is now the rule. Our young can now be protected against diphtherial, whooping cough, tetanus, measles, German measles, mumps and polio.
The most recent entry in this litany of successful preventative measures has been the vaccination against German measles. This usually mild disease for those infected has long been recognized for its devastating effects of multiple congenital abnormalities in children delivered by a mother afflicted early in pregnancy. These vaccines when administered have reduced the incidence of these dread happening by nearly 100%.
Childbearing itself has become transformed. Obstetrical advances have controlled or eliminated most of the age-old pregnancy risks for almost all who obtain proper prenatal care. Care of the newborn and the pediatric specialty of neonatology have continually lowered the infant mortality ate, even for the tiniest of preemies.
We see things never seen before because of the explosion in radiology and new imaging techniques aiding diagnosis and treatment in incredible ways. Pharmacologic research and discoveries have given us remarkable and surprisingly effective agents to treat the mentally ill. Other new agents help oncologist save or prolong the useful lives of many suffering from leukemia, Hodgkin's Disease and many other types of cancer.
I could write on and on because the litany is impressive and awe inspiring. Science has achieved true wonders and space age technological advances promise to dazzle us with even further benefits to human life. As a people we Americans have access to a quality of health care far exceeding any other people anywhere in the world at any other time in human history.
The success achieved in preventing seven diseases of childhood justifies the designation of prevention as priority number one. The tragic occurrence of preventable disease in children leads to the often repeated observation that "it need not have happened." So it is with their parents and grandparents for whom there are equally impressive results from preventive measures.
Medical experience and advancing knowledge establish the importance of efforts to prevent many of the ills threatening those who advance to the years beyond childhood. As evidence mounts it becomes increasingly clear that whereas doctors can, by injections, immunize and prevent many diseases of children, they have no such tools nor infections to prevent maladies which develop in later years.
Doctors are schooled and have been educated to use scientific information and skills to treat illness and accidents. This is what doctors have always done and what they do best. In the process of treating patients, however, physicians have discovered real secrets to better health-secrets in the sense that they are not widely recognized and utilized. Physicians as a class are living better and longer than the population as a whole. They have personally benefitted from their contacts with medial problems and the accumulated experience and knowledge which has led to the inevitable conclusion that probably not more than 10% to 15% of good health comes from what they do in providing medical care, while the other 85% to 90% is directly or indirectly associated with personal lifestyles and our physical and socioeconomic environment. Business and government have concentrated efforts to minimize many environmental hazards which are beyond individual control. Despite these external factors, admittedly contributory to illness and accidents, the greatest source for preventive measures lies in the direction of changing lifestyles. As a generally affluent nation we eat too much, drink too much, smoke too much, exercise too little, and neglect to wear seat belts while driving or riding in a car. Future articles will concentrate on those areas where we as individuals can make positive efforts to live longer and to live well while living longer.
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