12 March 2008

Thursday Thirteen: Medical Reasons Why I'm glad I Live in 2008

Bonnie VanakBy Bonnie Vanak

In a ballroom scene in my upcoming Egyptian historical, The Scorpion and the Seducer, the hero's mother cajoles him to find a wife and sire a son to keep the title in the family. Thomas snaps, "Mother, I'm only 25. I have plenty of time for siring a plethora of little heirs."

These days, Thomas might reply, "Mother, I'm only 25, but if I don't marry until I'm in my forties, my sperm can easily conceive a child because men can father a baby later in life, unlike women, who go through menopause and stop ovulating, and even then I could chose an older bride and we could use a surrogate and fertility drugs, or if my bride or I had infertility problems there's always in vitro fertilization, so leave me the hell alone and let me enjoy the ball in peace."

Modern medicine has come a long way since 1907. Here are 13 medical reasons why I'm grateful I live in this century and not during Thomas's time or 200 years before it.

1. The discovery of aspirin. In 1897, German chemist Felix Hoffmann produced acetylsalicylic acid, more commonly known as aspirin. He was searching for a means to relieve his father's arthritis. Men all over smiled to know that finally there was a cure for their wives' complaint: "Not tonight, dear, I have a headache..."

2. 1977 and the invention of the MRI machine. Who would have thought a giant magnet could diagnose medical problems?

3. Alexander Fleming. Great guy. He discovered penicillin by accident in 1928, after leaving a Petri dish of staphylococcus bacteria (say that ten times fast!) uncovered a few days. Mold had grown in the dish and was hindering growth. Bet I know what the bread looked like in his house.

4. Invention of soft contact lenses. Czech chemist Otto Wichterle in 1950 is responsible for his work in making lenses much more comfortable than the standard rigid glass lenses. My eyes thank you, Otto, and so do the walls of my old school, which I used to run into because I was too vain to wear my glasses.

5. American doctor Crawford Williamson Long used ether as an anesthetic in 1842 in surgery. It was much more stable and less dangerous than chloroform.

6. Development of the polio vaccine in 1947, thanks to the groundbreaking work of Jonas Salk. Statistics say at one time, one in every 5,000 children developed polio. My mother used to tell me how her parents forbid swimming in public pools because of the fear of polio. Sadly, in countries like Haiti today, people still suffer from polio's crippling effects.

7. Dr. Christian Barnard in 1967 performed the first heart transplant in South Africa. Today, this kind of surgery is commonplace and anti-rejection drugs help patients live much longer than the 18 days Dr. Barnard’s patient lasted.

8. Nicolae Paulescu. He was successful in 1916 in developing an extract which helped normalized blood sugar levels in a diabetic dog. By 1921, insulin began to be in use among human diabetics.

9. In 1998, the FDA approved Pfizer's new little blue pill as the first pill to treat male impotence, thus giving comedians source material for years to come. Stock in the company, along with other items, rose sharply and sometimes stayed that way for four hours or more.

10. Invention of the X-Ray machine in 1895 by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen by using his cathode ray generator. If not for Mr. Röntgen, Superman wouldn't be quite so cool with his superpowers. After all, we can fly in airplanes, but who else has the ability to see that Lois Lane's panties are pink?

11. Dr. Virginia Apgar, a professor of anesthesia, who devised the Apgar scale in 1953 as a means to determine the health of newborns. It's administered to babies at one minute and five minutes after birth, scoring respiration, muscle tone, heart rate and color and tells medical professionals if the newborn needs immediate medical care.

12. Discovery of the importance of antiseptics by Hungarian doctor Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis. While working at a maternity department, Dr. Semmelweis realized in 1847 that washing hands reduced childbed fever. The medical community dismissed his theory. Dr. Semmelweis kept lobbying for hand washing among physicians before treating patients and even wrote a book about it in 1861. The book received lousy reviews and Dr. Semmelweis had a nervous breakdown in 1865. He was committed to an insane asylum. Dr. Semmelweis's groundbreaking work has resulted today in the importance of hand washing. (NOTE: Two words. Hand sanitizers. These solutions, comprised mainly of alcohol, are great. I highly recommend getting a small, airplane security approved sized bottle and carrying it on travels. I usually purchase Purell and take it with me on all my trips for the day job to developing countries and use it frequently.)

13. The birth of Louis Pasteur on Dec. 27, 1822. Why did I list his birthday? Because that's how important Pasteur is. His groundbreaking work in germ theory led to many medical breakthroughs, including his development of the first vaccine for rabies and pasteurization of milk. This great microbiologist founded the Institut Pasteur in 1887, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to fighting infectious disease. Scientists associated with the institute are responsible for breakthrough discoveries to control diseases from yellow fever to tuberculosis. Eight scientists from the institute have been awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology.

Thanks, Louie. Because of you, there are treatments and cures for diseases that once killed thousands.