Oct 5

Surgery Rate Late in Life Surprises Researchers

New York Times reports that researchers are surprised to find that surgery rate is incredibly high in the last few months or even weeks of seniors’ life.

This is not really surprising because, on average, people spend half of their medical expense in the last year of their life. Most people assume that modern medicine prolongs lives. Many people believe that we owe our extended lifespan due to modern medicine.

For these people, I suggest reading Edward Golub’s The Limits of Medicine: How Science Shapes Our Hope for the Cure. Based on analysis of medical history in Europe after Scientific Revolution, Golub traces major health crises of that time, like the outbreak of cholera. What he found is that, by the time a medical cure for the disease was found, the disease had already waned and became non-threatening.

The reason is because people learned about the behavior of the disease and took simple public health measure before the scientist can find the cure. In the example of cholera, people of London realized that the disease spread through drinking water. So people designed the waterway so that waste water will not contaminate drinking water. By the time people found out about the bacteria and the treatment for it, cholera was basically prevented.

However, because people tend to idolize science and technology, people attributed the ending of cholera crises to medical researchers. Golub found this pattern keeps repeating. People assume that modern medicine have made our lives healthier and longer while in fact, the biggest health advancement is probably running water, soap and flush-able toilet. Simple observations and preventions have and will always be the most effective medicine. Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilization had already widely practice urban-planning with good public health measures. High-tech medicine should be one of the tools we use to advance our health. However, real health requires much more than that.

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