We are all in this together

By Michael Sterchi
Medical column

  Lets talk about chronic disease. In many ways this is a pep talk, because so often little can be done about the host of chronic degenerative conditions that plague mankind.

After many years of practicing surgery, it became apparent to me that humans are in a state of progressive deterioration from the time of their birth to death. After all that’s what death is - failure of one or more systems of the body. Something is always going wrong and this is unlikely to change. The only variable in this scenario is the degree and rate deterioration occurs amongst individuals.
Thus, in steps chronic degenerative disease. That is, disease that has no known cure. So, the question is raised, “Is this really disease? Or simply progressive degeneration?” -like a set of tires wearing out or your house needing a new paint job.
Let me explain it this way. Arthritis is called a disease, however if one lives long enough arthritis is sure to raise its ugly head. So, is this disease or simply inevitable deterioration?
The point of this train of thought is to emphasize the need for realism on the part of medical staffs and patients about chronic disease. Since so many diseases are chronic and at this point in time cannot be cured, control becomes the only realistic goal of treatment.
Patients desire for immediate and complete cure of their disease is often not possible and has to be understood. In some ways, medical advances over the last 90 years has led to the false hope regarding the relief  of all mankind’s medical maladies. It is true that just in the life time of many Prairie County residents, the advent of blood transfusions, insulin, antibiotics and vaccines, to name a few, has been instrumental in saving many lives. But there are some things that are so complicated, easy solution has evaded medical science. Like arthritis, one of these is cancer.
Great strides have been made in the treatment of cancer with  improvement in survival statistics. But it is becoming more evident that cancer as well as other chronic diseases is far more complicated than ever imagined. For example, the human genes that regulate growth and development are in part also responsible for the growth of cancer. Remember cancer in a lot of cases is a chronic disease, because it cannot be cured but only controlled, affording extended survival.
Now this is not all doom and gloom, for great strides in treating the deteriorating human body has been made, but  there are potentially lethal diseases, we really have no complete control over. But we can profoundly influence with common sense practices their eventual outcome, by stopping all tobacco products, consuming alcohol in moderation, avoiding excessive sun exposure and eating a reduced fat diet, to name a few.
Some of the most courageous patients I have cared for have been those who despite their chronic incurable but controlled disease, have continued on with their daily productive lives. They never gave up, all the way to the brink, before stepping to the other side.

Published Jan. 19, 2011

Article Type: 
Guest Opinion


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