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What’s So Important About 5,230?

 By Dr. Gifford Jones  Thursday, October 7, 2010

“I’ve decided to start publishing your column”, the editor remarked to me. Then he added, “You realize your life will never be the same again?” How true! 30 years later I’ve now written a newspaper column every week, 52 weeks a year, a total of 5,230 articles. It’s an experience I wouldn’t have missed. And what have I learned?

I would gladly hang some lawyers for what they’ve done to medical practice. Parasitic ambulance chasers have forced doctors to take needless x-rays and other tests for fear of medical malpractice suits. This has increased the cost of medical care when medical budgets are stretched to the limit and limited the judgment of physicians.

I’ve also learned how to lose newspapers. Years ago I wrote what I thought was a hilarious article about the fractured male organ. But seven newspapers in the U.S. “bible belt” didn’t share my humour and fired me. I hoped that angry readers would threaten the editor and burn down his building. But this didn’t happen!

Then I discovered how you can win battles and lose the war. I struggled for six years to legalize heroin therapy to ease the pain of terminal cancer patients. Then when legalized, hospitals set up needless road blocks to make it too time-consuming for doctors to prescribe it. So now it’s impossible to obtain this painkiller in Canada. A terrible tragedy.

Controversial issues have had to be tackled, such as euthanasia. But I’ve come to realize I could write 5,000 columns about what I consider humane treatment and never change the minds of some people. Many believe it’s morally right to ease the suffering of a loving dog, yet can witness the terminal suffering of a loved one day after day from incurable illness, with mere days to live, without easing and quickening a painful end.

My skepticism of drugs has increased. As a medical practitioner I’ve learned you could toss most medicines into the ocean and mankind would be better off. I marvel at why so many people believe they can take medication without expecting any side effects. Will they ever learn you never get anything for nothing, and to stop popping a pill for every ache and pain? My column hasn’t made much headway there.

What changes in medical practice I’ve seen and written about! I remember a time when sterilization for a woman with five children and an abusive husband required the husband’s permission as well as two other doctors! Prolonged debates about the ethics of the birth control pill. And when the closest destination for abortion was England and Japan.

But it’s not been all bad. I’ve seen great progress in medical procedures. 30 years ago large incisions were needed to remove gallbladders. Now with new optical instruments even large cancers of the bowel are being treated through tiny incisions.

Some of my predictions have come true. 30 years ago I wrote that obesity and diabetes would reach epidemic proportions. Few people realize the huge crippling economic impact this is going to have on our society. And that the only solution is not more medicine, but more people following a healthier lifestyle.

My writing career has been an exciting time. I’ve interviewed some of the leading researchers of the world such as Linus Pauling, two time Nobel Prize winner, Professor Etienne Baulieu discoverer of the AIDS virus, even witch doctors in South Africa, and medical personnel on nuclear aircraft carriers.

I’ll be eternally grateful to Clark Davey, Managing Editor of the Globe and Mail, for starting me on the road to journalism. And I continue to be amazed that someone with no formal training in journalism wasn’t fired decades ago. But I’m also grateful to readers who tell me they have benefited from the articles over these 30 years.

How long will I write this column? As my Father used to say, “Quien Sabe?” Who knows? But if an editor fires me I hope readers will threaten to hang him or her in the town square and burn down the building. After all, I can dream can’t I?

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Dr. Gifford Jones  Bio
Dr. Gifford Jones Most recent columns

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He’s been a ship’s surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. His Web site is: http://www.mydoctor.ca/gifford-jones

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