The saga of modern medical care

FTLComm - Tisdale - Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Is this what you average visit to your doctor is like? As a diabetic, I have to make regular visits to my doctor, usually about every three or four weeks. I make the appointment get there on time and spend, on average, about one hour to two hours, either waiting in the waiting room, or in the consultation room. The visit with the physician rarely lasts as much as five minutes. There is nothing really odd about this, as long as I can remember, visits to a doctors office meant that you can figure half a day will be used up in the process.

Back in the 1970s I was the patient, perhaps more accurately, I was the victim, of a "fat doctor" , a practitioner who specialised in patients attempting to control their obesity. The treatment was your basic Elvis Presley style mix of medicine. I took uppers and downers each day for two years and had to drive the hour into the city every two weeks for a two minute visit with the doctor, who monitored vital signs, which with those medications, edged toward borderline everything. Though I did lose weight, I also lost a great deal more and acquired an unhealthy dependence upon the uppers and downers. In the spring of 73 I had had enough and ended by medication and by monthly waiting room visits.

Its thirty-three years later and I am back into the same routine of sorts, only now its dealing with the deadly serious business of balancing insulin and other medications. As you read this, you are nodding your head, because you know of similar cases and even now will be aware of other people who are on the same hopeless path. My journey, or at least my awareness of the a growing problem of weight control and diet problems, was not something I have left until now to deal with, or even thirty years ago. I first went to a doctor in the fall of 1966, as a second year teacher, to get some help with my rapid increase in weight and he promptly prescribed amphetamines. The medication I was given then, is now illegal and kept me awake day and night for two straight weeks, I lost lots of weight then my body adjusted, I stopped losing weight and just had to deal with being unable to sleep.

I have, just like thousands upon thousands of other people judiciously looking after my health and seeking medical assistance to deal with a problem that I know most certainly will kill me. The results of my life long reliance on the practice of medicine is a complete and total failure. I am still over weight, my diabetes is just barely under control and I can see myself, and so many others, moving to a premature death, because the medical system has no treatment, or cure for the absolutely most simple and basic issue facing each and every person, nourishment.

This morning on the CBC Morning Edition radio show Sheila Coles talked to three different individuals about the idea of having a rating system online to tell others about their doctors. It is an interesting idea, should we tell each other about our discontent with our doctors, or the medical establishment. One of Sheila's interviews was with a Doctor and head of an ethics committee, who stated that it was unfair to rate doctors because there are so many complaints. Now that statement really interested me, because sit down with your friends and they will grumble occasionally about their medical problems, but usually do not attribute the trouble to their individual doctors. Surveys seem to show that in general, most people are positive about the medical care they get for themselves and their family.

After all every medical struggle is a losing battle, as in Adam we all die, that is the sure thing, just like taxes there is no escaping it, so at some point, medical science and the way it is practiced, hits the wall. This is a difficult thing to accept for people like myself who are old enough to see the massive progress in all things including medicine in the past century and we have rather high expectations but the reality, and it is a tense reality to accept, is that we live in grossly primitive times. My mother died of ovarian cancer a mere twelve years ago and were someone to develop the same condition today, which she faced only twelve years ago, they would have a 50% chance of living five years longer, perhaps even more. Things that killed people a few decades ago are now no longer a threat as new medications and treatment plans can prolong life and in many cases deal with the condition. In my lifetime people died of ulcers and tuberculosis, my mother survived polio but many did not and today it is no longer a threat.

A recent news report indicated that Canadians are one of the most highly medicated societies in this world today. Our doctors are enthusiastic about the powers of the medicines they prescribe and more than willing to risk the wild side affects of these medications to improve the health, or condition of their patients. Yet looking back on the drugs I have been prescribed in my lifetime, many are condemned and no longer used because of their danger, or addictive nature.

Now if this were a totalitarian state, where government established the rules of conduct and regulated all things, perhaps medical practice would be quite different. But, we live in a free and open society, in which each of us has the right to life and here in Canada we look after one another with a public medical healthcare programme. Our doctors are trained in a fairly open and unencumbered system, where they can make the best use of scientific development and use that development for the betterment of their patients. It may not be the best system, but it is in keeping with the social values and concepts of personal liberty in which, we as a society, uphold as fair and appropriate.

I guess what I am telling you is that at best we are "muddling along," we have the medical system our society demands and close to what we can afford. It could be many times better and as we can see in other countries, it could be many times worse. That's what muddling along means in this historic period in which we have no alternative but to accept as the here and now.


(near Kinistino Friday night)


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Editor : Timothy W. Shire
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