Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Calling Ben Casey

Remember years ago when television featured several well-written medical shows? When I was in high school, everyone watched Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare. Young hearts were sent aflutter by these kind physicians who always knew what to do. Ben Casey even started a fashion trend with his shoulder-button tunic and its obligatory open buttons.

Later years included Medical Center with Dr. Joe Gannon and Marcus Welby, M.D. Through the years, we came to respect television physicians. They could diagnose and resolve matters in an hour, saving lives and bringing joy before they moved on to the next crisis.

When I was young, I rarely went to the doctor except for a broken wrist and a knee gash that required stitches. In those days, kids experienced such childhood joys as chicken pox, measles and mumps. Everyone rejoiced when the polio threat was removed, although that vaccine was administered through public inoculation, not a doctor's visit.

As young working people, we were expected to be at work and capable of doing our job. That meant finding ways to cope with sore throats, flu and other annoyances. I remember finally deciding to find a primary care doctor. After all, it was the 1970s and medicine had progressed significantly.

Medicine may have come a long way, but physicians had not. As a newlywed, I recall having difficult adjusting to that role and visited my doctor. He told me that if I wanted to "hold my marriage together," I should have a child. I was 20 years old at the time and, fortunately, did not readily share his view. Clearly Dr. Kildare had been a fictional character.

Doctors can be a big help in treating conditions and serving as a sounding board for questions. But they are not all-seeing or particularly wise. They are available to be supportive but not to be obeyed blindly.

I'm a big fan of comedian/host Bill Maher and share many of his opinions. Maher often remarks about that the fact that so many Americans take great quantities of medication. If you have mature friends or relatives, you know this is true. People are now prone to take a pill for every ache/pain, skin condition, digestive disorder or mood swing to the point that they are pilling several times each day. This can't be a good trend. In addition, many medications cause side effects, some of which require additional medications to resolve. What's wrong with this picture?

A friend of our family was caught up in such a web. His original problem must have been an immune deficiency weakness. Over the years, he took fistfuls of pills to treat his various ailments. As a result, he gained weight, which weakened his heart, requiring additional medications… on and on until he finally died. Some doctors wanted to wean our friend off some of the meds but none of them could not agree how to go about it. The poor man seemed to be a victim of his own treatment. I don't believe my friend was an isolated incident.

Evening news programs are saturated with ads for various medications. These address such conditions as leaking bladders, high cholesterol and arthritis. As the commercials' actors laugh and bike through the countryside, a voice-over declares frightening disclaimers. If the narrator indicates that side effects could include coma and death, I doubt I would be asking my doctor for a prescription any time soon.

Doctors encourage their patients to ask questions. Whether that give-and-take is practiced would depend on the doctor and his/her relationship with the patient. But I know people who will drive all over the state to save a few hundred dollars when buying a new car, making sure they get exactly the best features at a fair price. These same folks will go to the doctor with some complaint and never ask a question. Newly-written prescription firmly gripped, they head to the nearest pharmacy.

Doctors are not perfect. Ask questions. Inquire about suggestions that he/she might make if you are unclear about the possible outcome.

Remember that half of all doctors graduated at the bottom of their class.

1 comment:

  1. I agree there is an increased emphasis on pills in health care now. Seniors may also be confused about what Medicare covers. I have written an article clarifying what Medicare Part A does and doesn't cover. Here is a link: http://voices.yahoo.com/medicare-part-misconceptions-covers-11665808.html?cat=5