By Dr David Laing Dawson
Perhaps in High School the curriculum should discard all ancient history, the dreary lives of Mesopotamians, the bible stories, the British Empire, the kings of this country and that country, and instead focus on recent history. The realities of recent history. How we lived and what we knew, and didn’t know, with special emphasis on the last 100 years.
I know for most teenagers, surviving and living in the present is paramount. They have little use for things that don’t seem to impact their own lives at this moment. But we could try.
And we could try to preserve that history and keep it visible. Perhaps in front of the city hall we should do away with statues of old queens and put up instead reminders of the epidemics of polio, measles, small pox, pertussis, chicken pox, the things and luxuries people didn’t have a mere 75 years ago, methods of communication and ways of living.
The names of wealthy donors now take the place of the names of pioneers of yesterday. In Hamilton the Henderson Hospital is now the Juravinski. Nora Henderson was a local pioneer in maternal, prenatal and perinatal care. At the time, in this rich part of the world, the infant mortality and maternal mortality rates were equal to those of present day poorest African nations. We should not forget this.
Over the past 150 years there have been many eureka moments in the advancement of medicine and the maintenance of health. Dramatic discoveries with incontrovertible evidence that something works. To name a few: treatment for some cancers, antibiotics, clean water supply separated from sewage, fluoridating water, iodizing salt, and vaccinations, with vaccinations being perhaps the biggest and broadest reaching discovery of them all. (the discovery that dead or attenuated viruses and bacteria can provoke our immune systems to prevent the same live viruses and bacteria from harming us).
And there have been remarkable improvements in the treatment of many chronic conditions such as Cystic Fibrosis, AIDS, some leukemias, hepatitis, serious mental illness, seizure disorders, trauma and injury….
All of these improvements have been the product of science and medicine, not homeopathy or naturopathy.
Dramatic eureka moments have become scarce. More often today medicine struggles with the equations of early detection, invasive treatment, the balance of positive effects vs negative effects of intervention, genetics and life style: e.g lowering blood pressure by a few points by engaging in the right amount and kind of exercise, losing an inch of waist size, to salt or not to salt food, and which is best at which age: two to four alcohol drinks per day or none? vs. taking pills to lower blood pressure.
My left knee is a candidate for replacement, or, or, I could keep my weight down and ride my bicycle almost every day.
For the first time in a century the children born today in North America do not have longer life expectancy than their parents. Some suggest this may actually decrease. The causes for this are obesity, life style, social determinants of health (poverty), addictions, and increase in suicide rate. And, even more dramatically, if the trend continues, the cause of much lower life expectancy for the babies born today will be the anti-science and anti-vaccination attitudes.
Right at this moment nurses and doctors are using a vaccine developed in Canada to stop the spread of Ebola, a disease that has the potential of spreading world wide and causing the kind of population decimation previously caused by the black plague and small pox.