Saturday, July 7, 2012

Dismembered Medicine

“Despite all our toil and progress, the art of medicine still falls somewhere between trout casting and spook writing.”—Ben Hecht, Miracle of the Fifteen Murderers

Mom makes friends with another patient.
As the official booking agent and taxi service for my 86-year-old mother’s numerous doctors’ appointments, I have noticed something peculiar about our medical system. Our doctors tend to be parts-specific. Let me explain.

I asked my mother’s primary care physician’s assistant, Karla, about intestinal bleeding my mother was experiencing.  It rightfully upset my mother. Karla recommended I take my mother to a gastroenterologist because she was not qualified to comment on intestinal bleeding. She also recommended I take Mom to a cardiologist since she has a pacemaker, and Karla is apparently not qualified to make any observations about the cardiovascular system.

“It is a mathematical fact that fifty percent of all doctors graduate in the bottom half of their class.”—Author Unknown

So I made an appointment with these specialists. After weeks of waiting, we first visited the gastroenterologist, who reviewed my mother’s list of medications and looked disgusted when she saw she was being given baby aspirin once daily. She called Mom’s assisted living facility and had them discontinue the aspirin immediately. Soon the bleeding stopped.

Next, we visited the cardiologist, who read my mother’s records, then commented that she noticed that my mother was taken off of her baby aspirin—a necessity for her heart health. I pointed out to her that while my mother used to take the aspirin, due to intestinal bleeding, a gastroenterologist highly recommended that we discontinue that medication.

“One doctor makes work for another.”—English Proverb

The cardiologist strongly disagreed with this because she was not concerned with my mother’s digestive tract, just as the gastroenterologist had not been concerned with my mother’s heart health. You see, doctors only focus on whatever dismembered section of the human body that they are trained to treat.

This means that specialists don’t tend to concern themselves with the body-wide consequences of a treatment, as long as their particular section of the anatomy is following AMA guidelines. This is how my mother ended up having a brain hemorrhage back in 2004.

“Poisons and medicine are oftentimes the same substance given with different intents.”—Peter Mere Latham

Her cardiologist at the time was obsessed with the statistical fact that someone with atrial fibrillation has an increased chance of stroke, so they should be given a blood thinner (which is actually a derivative of rat poisoning) to keep that clot from forming. Unfortunately, while the blood thinner effectively prevented a blood clot from developing, it caused the opposite, a brain hemorrhage, to happen. Had my mother not been taking anything at all, she may or may not have developed a blood clot, but she most certainly would not have had a brain hemorrhage. Her brain hemorrhage is what the medical profession refers to as a trade-off.

Most studies that support the medicating of patients are sponsored by drug companies. It is in their best interest to justify long-term therapies because these regimens offer a constant stream of drug revenue. Doctors tend to take these studies very seriously because they are just about the only source of science available in their field. The consequence is that people are often prescribed ongoing drug regimens that may or may not be in their best interest.

“A drug is that substance which, when injected into a rat, will produce a scientific report.”—Author Unknown

Only after many years of study, usually by the manufacturer of a competing medication or due to numerous reports of death or side effects to the FDA—do we find out that, say, certain painkillers cause strokes or certain blood pressure medications don’t really work and can damage the kidneys. Some adjunct drugs for cancer were actually shown to make the cancer worse rather than the other way around. A recent study refuted, once and for all, the theory that gum health is related to heart health. It isn’t. Period. So any doctor who tells you it is, has not read the latest studies showing that the original study was based on flimsy evidence that was essentially invalid. How many years did any of these revelations take? In some cases, up to a decade or longer.

So when my mother’s cardiologist protested that Mom be put back on the aspirin, I understood her very real concern, but told her that I would prefer to err on the side of less medications rather than more. My personal rule at this point is, if the drug causes problems, I don’t care what benefit it offers.

“Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.”—Erma Bombeck

Perhaps, someday, Western medicine will learn to look at the entire human body rather than pretending that it is divided up into numerous discreet sections. When that enlightened day dawns, I will relent to the advice of a holistic practitioner. Until then, as the official advocate of my family members’ health, I will be operating under a strictly patient-beware policy.


  1. Used to take as many as six meds each day prescribed by my various MDs. One day stopped taking an acid reflux drug and surprise, there wasn't acid reflux anymore. So then, I stopped taking a daily dose of antihistamine and guess what, not only didn't I have a terrible problem with allergies, but the horrible repeated bouts with nasal infections stopped too as my head drains normally. I started exercising and expect to be off my cholesterol med next Monday.
    If you live properly, you really don't need most drugs. I believe MDs prescribe them as it is any easy way out. It's far easier for a MD to feel comfortable that a patient will pop a pill than vigorously exercise regularly. So the drug companies really rely on mistrust of patients by MDs to push their profit margins. Can't be sued for malpractice when there's proof you prescribed the "right" drug; no one ever heard of an exercise prescription. Who goes to an MD for regular evaluations of their exercise regimen?