Medicine: ‘the science and art dealing with the maintenance of health and prevention’.
A straightforward definition, but as the Senate gears up for a battle over Trumpcare, in reality, medicine is controversial. Not only that, but when it comes to matters of our health, it would seem that medicine hasn’t always got it right.
98.6: There is no such thing as normal
In the mid-1800’s, German physician Dr. Carl Wunderlich concluded that normal temperature for humans was 98.6 degrees fahrenheit (37 degrees centigrade). For most of the two hundred years that followed, this number set the benchmark for diagnosis. Turns out, there is no such thing as normal.
In a recent study carried out by Professor Philip Mackowiak from the University of Maryland, only 8% of participants registered 98.6F, implying 92% were abnormal by Wunderlich standards.
The statistical norm observed across Dr.Mackowiak’s subjects was actually 98.2F. A small difference, but enough to dispel the notion that a normal temperature even exists.
Everyone is different, readings vary based on the time of day, month or body part used. Our temperature is anything but normal.
The horrific case of the lobotomy
Search Google images for ‘lobotomy jokes’ and here is what you will find:
Jokes aside, the lobotomy was, in fact a cruel surgical procedure used to treat mental illness in the 20th century. Administered by drilling holes into the skull and inserting sharp objects to remove damaged tissues in the brain, the lobotomy is one of medicine’s ugliest experiments.
Devoid of any solid evidence, the lobotomy was used to treat thousands of patients in the U.S. and Europe up until the 1950’s when psychiatric drugs were first introduced.
The most famous patient, Rosemary Kennedy, sister of John F. Kennedy, underwent a lobotomy that left her so severely disabled, she required care for the rest of her life. She was one of the lucky one’s, others didn’t make it past surgery.
Despite its devastating impact, the lobotomy earned its inventor, Dr. Egas Moniz from Portugal, a Nobel Peace Prize in 1949. In that same year, he was paralyzed after a former patient shot him, but was later killed by another patient, who beat him to death in 1955.
Stenting is one of medicine’s most celebrated procedures and the go-to treatment for heart attack patients. A stent is a small metal tube inserted into the artery and sprung open, allowing blood flow to the heart.
Doctors, full of hubris, believed stents were the be-all cure for heart-related conditions. So much so, they went on a stenting spree, performing the procedure on conditions like stable angina. This proved to be short sighted.
Stable angina is a slow narrowing of the arteries, said to affect us all as we age. Unlike a heart attack, it poses no short-term threat, which meant doctors had no idea if stenting was even efficacious.
That is until a 2007 study confirmed it. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study concluded that stenting does not improve survival rates or decrease heart attacks for stable angina. Since then, stenting rates have decreased, but not entirely. One plausible explanation is the monetary incentive for doctors.
Medicine is one of society’s most revered professions, but it’s evolved through eminence more than evidence. As Dr. Vinay Prasad from the Oregon University of Health & Science describes it:
”…For thousands of years what was medicine? …Something that somebody of esteemed authority had done for many years, and told others that it worked for me, so you better do it.”
As always, pushing for health.
(Cover photo: Caiaimage/Martin Barraud/Getty Images)