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Thank You, Modern Medicine (and Technology)

By Kellie Purcill

“She’s going in now for an emergency caesar [c-section] – his heart rate keeps dropping too much.”

My Mum ended our phone call to chase up the theatre staff, a thousand kilometres away I hurled up some prayers, and less than 10 minutes later I was looking at the first picture of my new baby nephew.

Newborn Joseph

Both my sister and baby J have been given the all-clear, and I have added incentive to finish the baby blanket I’m making for him. In the past twelve hours, I’ve been further amazed and have marvelled at the care and medical techniques available to us today in Western civilisation.

Just think: four thousand years ago women were using hippopotamus dung as a contraceptive, and hysteria was a mental illness believed to be caused by the uterus wandering around inside women creating trouble and weird symptoms. Two hundred years ago leeches and mercury were accepted medical treatments, and hysteria was still a bane to polite society (although a popular “cure” for many was *ahem* literally in the grasp of a small group of investigating doctors). In the early 1900s women were sent to the asylum for conditions such as asthma and unkempt hair. In the 1970s smoking had no known health consequences, and unmarried mothers-to-be weren’t given pain relief during labour. I quite like living in the twenty-first century, thank you very much.

I am beyond grateful for the fact that medical knowledge has progressed so far. It’s grown to such a point that we have education campaigns which have significantly improved health in countless areas of health: vaccination, the importance of nutrition and clean drinking water, brushing teeth, breast examinations and pap smears just to name a few. That there are apps available which remind you to examine your breasts every month is brilliant, handy and – in my case – a needed prompt to look after myself more regularly than every two years or nine.

Because last month I did my prompted check, and noticed a difference. Puckering and tenderness on one side, promptly followed by my sitting on the bed with my head between my knees saying “Just breathe, it’s fine, nothing to worry about, IT’S JUST ONE OF THE SIGNS TO WATCH FOR WITH BREAST CANCER.” Repeatedly.

Incredibly happily, two doctor’s visit and ultrasound later, I’ve been given the all clear and multiple pats on the back about being so vigilant and prompt in getting checked out. Don’t get me wrong, I can catastrophise with the best of them, but I also know that early detection and investigation is one of the best weapons in fighting cancers, illnesses and newly opened bakeries.

So I’m especially thankful that we have such incredible technology and specialists available to us. Medical professionals who have trained and studied for years, building on our ancestral healers’ and mystics’ knowledge, safely delivered my nephew into a world full of wonders, delights and loving family members. Today’s western medical capabilities were able to examine me, and deduce that “current severe stress” were the likely culprits in aggravating a lymph node which then gave me my mammary melt-down. My iPhone sends love notes about upcoming appointments and reminders (and alerted me to a new Vietnamese bakery opening, which sell the biggest, most glorious caramel slices available outside my own kitchen).

Sure, technology also means we are all well acquainted with Dr Google, while postures and social skills are arguably deteriorating, but for me and my family, medical knowledge and technology means today is an incredibly wonderful place to be.

What are you grateful for in today’s medical arena? What technology or apps do you use regularly for your health and well-being? How has medical knowledge/technology improved your day, week, year, life? What medical fact from history do you know which has you fascinated/horrified/astonished?

About Kellie Purcill

lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

27 thoughts on “Thank You, Modern Medicine (and Technology)”

  1. When my baby was born almost 6 weeks early, it meant a 2 1/2 week NICU stay, but I never worried for his life or future well being. A few months after giving birth, I read a NY Times article about President Kennedy's premature son, a story that I think has been forgotten by most of us because it was overshadowed by his assassination not long after. Reading about this baby, born almost 6 weeks early, with respiratory problems, was strikingly familiar…and the baby died. The doctors had almost no hope. It was so sobering to realize that a mere 50 years before my son was born, a baby born in similar circumstances was not expected to live even under what was certainly the best care available.

    Yes, I am grateful for medical technology for giving me my son's life, and my peace of mind at his birth. Tragedies still happen, but so many are averted and we have the luxury to take them for granted.

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  2. I have 3 children and have never gone into labor. I've had 3 c-sections, the first planned, the second an emergency one, and the third planned. My mom had four of us kids at home and I always assumed I would do the same thing–birth can be a natural process, right? Well, it turns out that my body has some issues and I probably would have been that pioneer woman buried along the trail if I'd lived 150 years ago. I'm so grateful for technology too!

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  3. I was sitting in Priesthood Meeting when part of my field of vision in one eye went dark. My wife rushed me to the emergency room, where I got seen frighteningly promptly. Apparently this kind of thing puts you near the top of the priority list.

    Even so, my vision was already coming back as the doctor checked me out. Turned out to be an optical migraine, which is a fairly benign condition for which there is no particularly treatment.

    But after giving me that diagnosis, the doctor fixed me with his steely gaze and said something to the effect of, "Do NOT, under any circumstances, allow yourself to feel stupid for coming in to the emergency room for this. Sudden loss of vision is always assumed to be a medical emergency until it's thoroughly checked out. You did the right thing, even though it turned out to be a relatively harmless condition. Be grateful that was the case, and do not hesitate to come in for similar alarming symptoms out of fear of looking stupid or alarmist."

    Your breast non-cancer story made me think of this experience.

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  4. Um, drilling heads open on patients suffering from extreme headaches, to relieve pressure. That one freaks me out a bit. In addition to women being put into institutions for such small things. Heaven forbid we get moody when our hormones change every month or so, and then drastically at menopause. Seriously, people. Maybe that's the real reason women started staying home when they were pregnant, so they wouldn't be committed. I know it's not, but what if?

    I am so grateful for DNA testing. It showed the issues my mom have are genetic and that she wasn't just imagining a bunch of pain all over her body. And I'm also grateful for ultrasounds – from babies to breasts, they are miraculous and save lives and help you see your insides without being cut open.

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  5. I am also grateful for medical technology. I watched a documentary on Netflix about African women who develop fistula due to extremely long labors when they are too small and young. These young women are often cast out of their families-both husbands and parents because of the smell of the constant leaking urine coming from their bodies. This is relatively rare in developed countries because there are medical interventions that prevent this condition during labor. Even a simple thing like vaccines are a miracle because they prevent serious diseases.

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  6. I had an ectopic pregnancy early last month, but thanks to ultrasounds and fast blood tests, it was caught early enough that I was given methotrexate injections and didn't need surgery. Modern medicine is so awesome.

    When I was pregnant with my daughter, I developed a rare liver disorder called cholestasis that can cause stillbirth. Doctors didn't know it caused stillbirth until about 25 years ago–and it turns out my mom had it with all four children, but was never diagnosed. In fact, my grandma and my aunt had it too. I was the first to be diagnosed. I was induced at 37 weeks and my little girl was born healthy and screaming. If it hadn't been for modern medicine, I could have lost her.

    I also think vaccines are freaking awesome.

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  7. Also, I am grateful for antidepressants. I battle depression and anxiety, and antidepressants make it possible for me to be a functioning human being and mother. I remember complaining to my mom once about needing to take a pill everyday in order to not go nuts, and what she said changed everything, "In the old days, people with depression self-medicated with alcohol." I'll take SSRIs over alcohol, thanks!

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  8. Modern medicine is great, for those who can afford it. But in places like USAmerica, only the wealthy or insured have had reliable access to health care. I had no pain relief for childbirth because we couldn't afford it.

    That's a lovely story about the need to go to the doctor to check out whatever, but chances are that you would have been treated differently if you were a woman. When I lost part of the sight in one eye, the specialist I saw wrote me off as being a hysterical woman. I finally did get in at a top-flight tertiary care center with the machines to confirm that I had lost retinal function. It is not the first time that my physical symptoms were written off by male doctors. And there is an entire body of literature and AMA task force report highlighting gender disparities, it isn't just me: for example, a woman who has a heart attack is twice as likely to die as a man, since women are not treated as effectively when they seek care.

    So yes, I am grateful for modern medicine. But I will be even more grateful when every USAmerican gets the same treatment.

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  9. Anesthesia. After having five surgeries in the past four years, I'm so grateful that all that cutting could be done with me totally unaware. A close second: pain meds. And silicon implants don't suck either, but that's just vanity talking!

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  10. My little girl was born with heart defects. She was able to have them repaired when she was six months old last November through open heart surgery. I'm grateful for such wonderful technology and skill. It's incredible.

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  11. Naismith, I'm so sorry about your experience. Unfortunately, in many areas in our society, "Man" is considered the standard and "Woman" the divergent. For example, many drugs are tested (or have been tested) only on men, so we don't actually know their effects on women! Also, the well-known heart attack symptoms are men's heart attack symptoms. Women's tend to be different.

    My mom was involved in a medical trial — the PLC trial. It did early screening for three cancers, prostate, lung, and colon. Someone finally said "Hey, men have all these, but not women. Wassup with that?" Or, you know, words to that effect. So they added an "O" to the trial, ovarian. The trial became the PLCO trial. This was only 20 years ago. Ridiculous.

    I guess I can add that I'm grateful for women's increasing status so being ignored BECAUSE you are a woman is more and more unacceptable.

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  12. Good post Kellie! I think this also teaches us not to take all medical advice at face value. Like my son the RN told me recently, "The way medicine is practiced now will be completely different in 50 years."

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  13. Thanks Grandma Honey, and I hope in 50 years time they have those "wave it around in your face and instantly tell what's wrong with you" type gizmos, like on Star Trek. Also, no cancer. Ever.

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  14. One of my favorite "odd ideas" relating to medicine is the Blonsky's invention of an "Apparatus for Facilitating the Birth of a Child by Centrifugal Force." He built a machine that would spin the expectant mother around at great speed, with a net to catch the baby when it flew out. A patent was granted but, fortunately, I don't think it's ever been used. He won an Ig Nobel prize for it in 2009.

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  15. It make me laugh too. It's such an awful idea. If the mother didn't pass out she'd have the most awful headache. Mixing labor and amusement park rides? No thank you.

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  16. Decades ago I shuddered at a museum display of "medical instruments" used by ships' doctors of old. (The memory has me cringing a bit as I type this, too.)

    Another historic medical horror was the resistance doctors once showed to the "radical" proposal that they wash hands after attending to one maternity patient before they moved on to the next (as well as after they'd handled cadavers)!

    I appreciate the tools and technology of today's modern (i.e. "Western") medicine, but I think it's also invaluable to remember and apply the wisdom of many, many, many generations' experience in health practices from Eastern traditions.

    We should also remember the importance of listening to our instincts, our "gut," our spiritual promptings, when we feel something may be "off" with our own bodies (or our loved ones'). One doctor or diagnostic test may not be the right fit for finding the proper treatment tools for all conditions.

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