I could have sworn I've mentioned it here before, but maybe not. At any rate, a fellow named Bill Wellington wrote a letter to the Illinois Times about an article titled Cutting-edge - Springfield researcher takes a revealing look at Civil War medical practices that implied, if not downright stated, that medicine today is no more advanced than it was in Lincoln's time. he wrote:
HAS MEDICINE REALLY ADVANCED?
I thought the article on Civil War medical practices [Tara McAndrew, "Cutting-edge," May 13] was humorous, in a strange sort of way. "Civil War medicine is notorious for being gruesome." Wow, we sure have advanced a long way since then. Or have we?
Back then they treated diarrhea with calomel, which contained the toxic element mercury. How barbaric! Today we put mercury in flu shots and highly encourage young children and the elderly to take them. Some required childhood vaccinations and most dental fillings contain mercury. Progress?
Today we sometimes treat cancer with radiation. Radiation causes cancer. Today we sometimes treat cancer with chemotherapy, a known poison derived from World War II nerve gas. People's hair fall out and they feel worse. Today we sometimes treat problems by surgically removing the damaged body part. Something like "Well, we're not really sure how to heal this part of you, so we'll just remove it. You didn't really need that part anyway." Progress?
It is ironic that we think we have advanced so far in 150 years, yet some of our medical practices are still a little barbaric.
Being a cyborg I couldn't take this attack on technology laying down. So I fired off my own letter, which was printed June 12th
THE MARCH OF PROGRESS
I doubt I've ever seen more ignorance than was expressed in Bill Wellington's letter to the editor [May 29]. Perhaps Mr. Wellington hasn't been to a doctor in the last half-century, or maybe he's too young to have a clue how much medicine has advanced in my own lifetime.
Half-a-century ago, when I was 6, I had a tonsillectomy. The procedure was routine for tonsillitis. I was gassed with ether, which produced severe nausea after I came out of it. That subsequently infected the surgery area, and I had serious complications as a consequence. I wouldn't wish being gassed by ether on anyone. They no longer use ether, and tonsillectomies are now rarely done at all.
Six years ago, when I was half-a-century old, I underwent hemorrhoid surgery. The operating room would have made Star Trek's Dr. McCoy jealous. There was all manner of electronic readouts letting the surgeon and anesthesiologist know every facet of my vital signs; the vacuum tube hadn't even been invented in Lincoln's time. The anesthetist said, "OK, you're going to go to sleep now," and I was under, faster than you can snap your fingers. When I woke up I felt fine, not even woozy (although I was warned that I was indeed intoxicated and should not drive).
Two months ago, I underwent a vitrectomy as a result of a detached retina. In Lincoln's time I would simply have gone blind in that eye, as there was nothing at all that could be done for a detached retina.
In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, McCoy gives Capt. Kirk a pair of antique reading glasses because his only cure for age-related presbyopia (farsightedness) is eyedrops that Kirk is allergic to. In Lincoln's time there were no such things as cyborgs. By dictionary definition I now am one, as a result of cataract surgery. As a result of that surgery, which involved replacing my eye's natural focusing lens with a Crystalens implant, that eye is no longer badly nearsighted as it was all my life (20/400), I have no presbyopia or need of reading glasses, and of course the cataract is gone. My vision in that eye is now better than 20/20 at all distances!
The first cataract implant, according to Wikipedia, was done in 1949, almost a century after Civil War. Until this surgery became common, 20 years later, most cataract sufferers were blind. In 2003 the FDA approved the new type of implant I have inside my eyeball. Previous implants required the patient to use reading glasses afterward, but the new implant can focus, and most patients have very little need of any corrective lens afterwards. For the first time in my life there is no "corrective lens" restriction on my driver's license!
Vice President Dick Cheney is a cyborg, too, as he has a heart pacemaker. A man with Cheney's condition during the Civil War would not have survived. My cousin suffered an infection of her heart. She had an artificial heart for months before a human heart was transplanted into her chest. She, too, would have not survived Lincoln-era medicine.
There were no antibiotics during the Civil War. We now have effective drugs for male impotence, schizophrenia, and other mental disorders. We have antiviral drugs. Polio has been vanquished. Tuberculosis isn't the death sentence it was in the Civil War. Indeed, a modern operating room looks nothing like a 19th-century operating theater. In fact, to someone my age it looks like science fiction. Comparing a modern surgical unit to a 19th century one is too absurd to even be laughable.
Apparently I'm not the only Springfield nerd to read the Illinois Times. Today's issue corrects me.
BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY
In his letter to the editor [June 12], Steve McGrew made an extremely convincing argument about the advance of medicine since the Civil War. Only a few minor errors caught my attention.
It was in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, not Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, that McCoy gave Kirk the antique reading glasses as a gift on Kirk's birthday. Moreover, in II Kirk was an admiral; in IV he was demoted to captain after commandeering the Enterprise to rescue a resuscitated Spock from the ill-fated Genesis Planet.
I don't know why I remember all this; I haven't seen any of these movies for more than a decade. And I try to hold myself back from being so nitpicky (aggravating, I know), but "resistance is futile" (grin).
Live long and prosper, Mr. McGrew: "The human adventure is just beginning."
Thomas W. Yale
I don't think I know Mr. Yale, but I'll raise a glass to him at Felber's tonight! Are you here on slashdot, Mr. Yale?