What We’re Grateful For

What We’re Grateful For
Nov. 302022

This is the time of year for counting our blessings. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day we can do more than eat too much, spend money on gifts, and make resolutions that we are not likely to keep. One of the ways that you can be a better person is by being grateful for what you already have and look forward to making life better for others. This is literally what it means to be a good doctor, but also what it means to be a good person. In the spirit of the holidays, I’d like to list many innovations that doctors are grateful for. Once I’ve enumerated these innovations, you will probably think that they were obvious choices. But part of being grateful is stating the obvious and recognizing that we are not completely in control of our
good fortune.

The greatest achievements of the twentieth century, I think, are antibiotics and immunizations. If you ever wander an 18 th century cemetery, you will be overwhelmed by the number of children and young people who died of diseases that are now preventable or treatable. Naming all the vaccines your children get is like a shorthand list of the many ways that our ancestors were cut down in their prime. The original Thanksgiving was only possible because as many as 90% of the indigenous people in that part of New England were killed by diseases like smallpox and measles introduced by Europeans. The survivors welcomed the settlers because they needed the help and so many of their living quarters were empty. The first person treated with penicillin received all the penicillin in the world at that time – one dose. Subsequent doses were collected from the patient’s urine, but small amounts were lost with each collection. Eventually there was none left, the infection returned, and the patient died.

I am grateful that the automobile industry has been dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. Almost all of the improvements to safety, including tire safety, seat belts, and car seats, were vigorously opposed at first. Parents can be especially grateful for backup cameras. I remember too vividly where a backup camera might have made a difference years ago. Those of you familiar with automobile manufacture can certainly add your favorite improvements like crumple zones, halogen lamps, and anti-lock brakes. Doctors in their various specialties can easily enumerate the improvements in treatment of various disorders. As a pediatrician I want to add insulin to my list. Before 1922 a child diagnosed with diabetes was doomed to die in a few months. The same might be said for many different cancers until the discovery of effective treatments.

I am grateful for the Environmental Protection Agency. While many people complain of government intrusion into their lives – perhaps with good reason – our food, water, and air would be considerably less safe without the oversight of the EPA. Similarly the Food and Drug Administration is certainly an imperfect institution. But the FDA has protected us from serious consequences on more than one occasion. For example, in the 1950’s a West German pharmaceutical firm brought out a drug for anxiety and also recommended it for a wide range of uses. It was very popular in Canada, England, and Germany. The application for use in the US was denied in the 1960’s, and soon scientists recognized that the drug known as thalidomide was responsible for 2000 deaths and 10,000 serious birth defects in children. But not in the United States.

I’m sure you can come up with your own favorite inventions and improvements to our daily life that have impacted you personally. I wish you all a healthy holiday season.

Robert B. Golenbock, MD

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