By Henrylito D. Tacio
“Your trouble is that you’re burning the candle at both ends,” a doctor told one of his patients.
The patient answered back, “I know my problem. What I want you to tell me is how I can get more wax.”
“Medicine is the only profession that labors incessantly to destroy the reason for its existence,” says James Bryce. “There are no such things as incurables,” argues Bernard M. Baruch. “There are only things for which man has not found a cure.” Like cancer and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, for instance.
“It should be the function of medicine to have people die young as late as possible,” surmises Dr. Ernest L. Wynder. And Voltaire contends, “The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”
Hippocrates is touted to be “the Father of Medicine.” In fact, medical doctors take the oath he wrote some 2,500 years ago. In the fifth century, most people thought illness was a result of evil spirits. Unlike other healers of his time, he treated patients based on scientific evidence.
Some of his beliefs and discoveries include the following: the importance of moderation in all things (working, eating, drinking, exercising, sleeping) to prevent disease; the use of fasts and diets to cleanse the body; warm baths and massage to maintain health; and the importance of fresh air and a good diet; the danger of being too overweight. “Let medicine be thy food, and food be thy medicine,” he once said.
Some of his innovations were: putting his ear to his patients’ chests to check their lungs; aligning fractures; popping dislocations back in; and draining pus from infections. These sound pretty obvious to modern science but they were all incredibly groundbreaking in 400 B.C. or thereabouts. Hippocrates took the holistic approach to healing way before it got to be trendy.
If Hippocrates is “the father of medicine,” who should be credited for making nursing a popular job these days? Did I hear you say, Florence Nightingale? But mind you, she didn’t invent nursing but made a safe and respectable profession for women. In the past, female nurses in British hospitals were mostly Roman Catholic nuns or prostitutes.
It’s true that her father opposed her desire to be a nurse but she persevered. Among her innovations were hot water piped to all floors, the installation of dumbwaiters to bring patients’ food, and bells for the patients to call nurses. The small booklet she wrote, Notes on Nursing, published in 1861, was a multi-million-copy bestseller.
Despite being famous, she was uninterested in her celebrity status. She refused photographs and interviews, and never appeared at public functions, even those given in her honor. Many people, in fact, thought she was dead long before the actual time of her passing.
The word “pasteurized” on your milk carton doesn’t mean that the cows grazed in a pasture. Far from it. Actually, the word was coined in honor of Louis Pasteur, who invented the process. Heat kills bacteria, and by experimentation, Pasteur found that heating milk or other food to 161.6 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds and then cooling it quickly killed the bacteria. That way, disease-causing bacteria can’t be passed from any milk-producing animals (cows, carabaos or goats) to the human being who drinks the milk.
Pasteur was also the man behind immunization. A large number of diseases are caused by an invasion of bad bugs. If the body’s own army of antibodies can’t get rid of them, you’re in trouble. “Why not send in reinforcements?” reasoned Pasteur. “Strengthen resistance by making the antibodies multiply. Theoretically, that would prevent diseases from developing.” And that is exactly what immunization does.
Pasteur worked on rabies, too. Human beings get it by being bitten – or even licked – by infected animals, mostly dogs, which drool and look mad – not angry, but crazy. The bad news is that no one has ever been known to recover from rabies.
The good news is that Pasteur developed a rabies vaccine, and was so sure it would work that he was ready to deliberately inoculate himself with rabies to demonstrate his discovery. At just about that moment, a nine-year-old boy named Joseph Meister arrived in Pasteur’s laboratory. Fortunately for Pasteur, little Joseph had been bitten two days earlier by a rabid dog. So Pasteur had a guinea pig other than himself. The treatment involved a ten-day course of injections. Joseph survived. So did Pasteur’s reputation. And medical history took a flying leap forward.
“There is wisdom in this beyond the rules of physic,” Francis Bacon once said. “A man’s own observation, what he finds good of and what he finds hurt of, is the best physic to preserve health.”
But when it comes to bills, doctors have bad reputation. Earl Wilson observed, “You may not be able to read a doctor’s handwriting and prescription, but you’ll notice his bills are neatly typewritten.” To which Bob Orben added, “If you consider what doctors charge, the most precious stones are not diamonds and emeralds – they’re gall and kidney.”
To end this piece, allow me to share an anecdote written by John Williams: A young man pumped the doctor’s hand enthusiastically. “Doctor, I just dropped by to tell you how much I benefited from your treatment.”
The puzzled doctor said, “I don’t seem to remember you. You’re not one of my patients, are you?” The young man replied, “No, I’m not. But my uncle was, and I’m his heir.”
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