So much to be hopeful about - Keith Roulston editorial
April, in our family, seems to be a time for visiting my doctors, with trips to Kitchener to see my heart specialist and London to see one of two people overseeing my prostate cancer treatment. The other day I was in the right frame of mind to realize how lucky I am.
We live in an era of spectacular medical knowledge and research. I suffered a bout of rheumatic fever back in the 1950s. In those days before universal health care, my doctor wanted me to go to hospital for several weeks, but my family couldn’t afford it. I was kept at home and my doctor visited regularly, having to walk up a (short) snow-filled lane to see me (rheumatic fever attacked in winter).
It seemed that I had escaped heart damage at the time, but four years ago I was ill and the doctors realized I had a heart valve damaged by the rheumatic fever I had suffered 60 years earlier. Rheumatic fever had become completely unknown to medical professionals thanks to universal availability of penicillin.
But, luckily, because of medical progress over the years, it was possible to have the faulty valve in my heart replaced under the medical procedure invented years since my original infection. But my surgeon said it was a top priority. If not replaced quickly, I was likely to die. So they did act, giving me an artificial valve, and I’m still here. On a recent visit, my doctor said my heart had actually gained strength since the operation.
I was still recovering from that surgery when doctors discovered that I also had prostate cancer. My cancer specialist in Stratford treated me with hormone shots, to delay the disease, but also sent me to a researcher in London who used experimental radiation therapy to treat the disease. The results were dramatic and I don’t need the hormone shots, for the time being. I get regular testing to see if the cancer has gained strength. When it does, I’ll have a bigger problem.
Oh, and I have regular appointments with my optometrist. Several years ago he noticed that I was having problems with the corners of my vision. It was a problem my aunt suffered when I was young and she became nearly blind. But a specialist gave laser treatments and my vision has been stable for several years, proven by a complicated, once-a-year test that just about drives me crazy. Now, I also need drops because my optometrist tells me the pressure in my eyes has grown. The drops, however, seem to be working.
I also had a stroke, as part of a three-year strike-out rate, that, with the best of medical care, I seem to have recovered from.
But such are the advances being made in this age when we have more people involved in medical research than ever before. Before the heart valve issue was discovered, I took no medication at all. Today I have a constantly-growing list of pills and drops at breakfast and before bedtime.
The advances in medical care are truly breathtaking. We have an inspiring movie in our collection called Breathe, based on a true story. It’s about Robin and Diana Cavendish, made by their son Jonathan, a British filmmaker. Polio is another long-forgotten plague from before a vaccine was invented that turned it from a yearly, summertime dread that killed thousands over the years, to a piece of history.
Despite the fact polio was mostly suffered by children, in this case, Robin contracted the disease while he was an adult, working in Africa in 1960. He was paralyzed by the disease and, because he was so active, he simply wanted to die. But Diana, who was pregnant with Jonathan when the illness attacked her husband, refused to let him. She kept at him until he began to bounce back.
Still, it seemed he was confined to a hospital bed until an inventive friend, Teddy Hall, an Oxford University professor, created
a portable machine to help him breathe without being confined to bed. With the battery-operated machine, he was free to leave his hospital bed, to the disapproval of the supervising doctor.
Diana finds them a rural home where she and Robin live with young Jonathan. There are complications, which I won’t go into here, but they live a magical life for anyone suffering a similar debilitating disease.
There’s one scene that’s worth mentioning because anyone who has seen the movie remembers it. Robin is taken to Europe to speak at a conference. While there, he’s taken to a leading German facility, to a room in which polio survivors are kept, as if they were in filing cabinets, in walls fitted with iron lungs to breathe for them. The contrast between his life and theirs is astounding.
There is so much hope in modern medicine and medical research now, but there’ll be even more in the future. That’s why we should be so hopeful!