Saturday, March 11, 2017

We Work Miracles But Not All the Time

Practitioners of complementary medicine (alternative medicine, herbal medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy, acupuncture, etc.) always know what to do. That’s because all follow a theory that explains (1) what causes illness and (2) the proper treatment. This is very satisfying.

Doctors like me don’t have a theory of disease. I hate to say we use science because many people – some with college degrees – believe “scientists” are like “Episcopalians” or “Republicans.” They hold certain opinions, but it’s OK to have other opinions. It’s a free country.

Rather than say doctors are scientific I like to say we search for the truth. We try to find out what makes people sick and then what works to help. This is hard. Throughout history everyone assumed that the best doctors were wise, but this isn’t so. Wise doctors throughout history answered big questions, but they were usually wrong. Hippocrates came up with a few gems that everyone quotes, but most of his advice is garbage or the usual platitudes doctors deliver when they don’t understand what’s going on (avoid stress, eat nutritious food,…).

By searching for the truth (remember that’s another word for science) doctors have turned up miracles. An appendectomy or a kidney transplant is a miracle. The same is true for antibiotics, vitamin B12, immunization, anesthesia, even the discovery of germs (no wise man in any other culture came up with the idea that tiny bugs cause disease).

Doctors work miracles but not all the time; surgeons do better than medical doctors. I help most patients, but I don’t save lives often. When I do, I write about it here.

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