What Medicine Does   1 comment

“The best it can do is, at its best, what medicine does,” Montgomery says (16).  As tautological as it seems, I liked this statement.  Granted, that was only after I read it two or three times.  I think what medicine does is (ideally) tries to care for health problems.  Surely medicine always changes; medicine today is not what medicine was either 2,000 or 20 years ago.  In fact, I like re-considering medicine as a field.  I’ve considered myself a “subject” of the field of medicine since 1988, when I was diagnosed with diabetes.  However, even before then I’ve been involved with medicine as my mother is currently an OB/GYN nurse practitioner.  Before that, she was an ER nurse, so medicine’s been part of my life from the beginning.

Now that I’m writing about it, the story of my diagnosis seems particularly pertinent here.  My mother tells me she suspected I might be diabetic based on some symptoms she noticed: excessive weight loss despite high food intake (our neighbors later told us they thought I had leukemia), vomiting and crying at night but no fever.  My mother mentioned her concern to the doctor she brought me to, but he said because of no family history she was probably overreacting.  That’s what she wanted to hear and didn’t pursue it further (despite the “nagging voice” in her head, she says).  Later the same week, the daycare where I was called Mom and asked if I was sick because I was sitting by myself on the floor and simply rolling a toy truck back and forth.  Mom picked me up, tested my ketones, and I was in the ER shortly thereafter.

Apparently, the doctor apologized, and said he had been wrong before when he hadn’t listened to a mother.  Because of this experience, Mom says she always listens to her patients even if she feels certain that they are wrong, even if it means ordering extra tests.  She knows it will help assuage their concerns, and will not hurt to test.

Anyway, enough details of my life story.  Hearing it recounted from my mother is fascinating (probably not the adjective she would choose, I’m sure).  The fact that the doctor apologized to her is interesting, too.  My mother’s intersection of her medical experience and her motherly concern seems almost contradictory based on the common conception of medicine as a certain science.  But, like Montgomery says, “…assuming that medicine is a science leads to the expectation that physicians’ knowledge is invariant, objective, and always replicable” (16).  Obviously our medical knowledge is anything but invariant.  The linear assumption of medical science is tempting to subscribe to, but it doesn’t always turn out for the best.  It wasn’t that long ago that doctors used leeches as a form of medical treatment, and people trusted their expertise.  And as a culture, we still do trust their expertise (maybe not with leeches, but a great deal of Americans simply accept the diagnoses and treatments handed down to them from their doctors, e.g., Anne Dodge from last week’s reading).  Certainly I’ve come across a lot to think about.  For one thing, how should we re-evaluate our trust in medical expertise?

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Posted August 30, 2010 by wdorner in Uncategorized

One response to “What Medicine Does

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  1. Thanks for sharing this story about the limits of algorithmic thinking (e.g., no family history, then it can’t be x).

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