Category Archives: Metablog

On sabbatical

Self-reflectionI’m taking a break from frequent blogging – want to take time to read, do some research, reflect, and think about what I most want to write about next. At the moment, my inclination is to concentrate on the history of medicine, starting with the Enlightenment, followed by the transformation of medicine into a science in the 19th century. I want to consider what the past might be able to tell us about the present.

How did we find our way into the dissatisfactions of the present – the commercialization of medicine, the corporatization of health care, the commodification of health? Does understanding the path we followed offer any insight into finding a better direction? Was the increasingly impersonal nature of the doctor-patient relationship inevitable once medicine became a science? Or was it only inevitable once health care emphasized profits over patients and the common good?

Medicine is not an abstract science, like quantum physics or mathematics. Scientific biomedicine may have its foundations in the research laboratory, but the practice of medicine takes place in the real, everyday world of doctors, patients, nurses, lab techs, clinics, hospitals, professional associations, patient advocacy groups, drug firms, insurance companies, politicians, the Internet, and the health advice columns of the Sunday papers. It takes place in a particular place at a particular time, and in a social, economic, political, and historical context.

To understand our dissatisfactions with and hopes for medicine – both as patients and practitioners – it helps to examine that context. And the context is easier to see if we step back from the immediacy of the current situation and consider the recent history of medicine. The texture and context of the medical past provide perspective, allowing us to formulate questions about what we can realistically and ideally expect from medicine in our own time.

“Not to know what happened before one was born is always to be a child.” (Cicero) Or, to expand on that a bit: “He who cannot draw on 3,000 years is living hand to mouth.” (Goethe)

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My personal odyssey through the health culture

When I taught at City University of New York in the seventies, I had a student who used to tell me not to eat chicken. I don’t recall the specifics, except that it wasn’t about cruelty to animals. It had to do with what chickens were fed (probably antibiotics and hormones) and what we consequently ended up eating ourselves. I didn’t stop eating chicken at the time, but I find it curious that I still remember the intensity of that student’s convictions. In retrospect, I think it was one of those “something’s happening here” moments, when you know something important is going on, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. Read more

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The Health Culture: Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.

Health used to be something we were born with, not something we could personally control. Today most people in Western countries assume they can avoid certain diseases and prolong their lives by practicing a “healthy lifestyle.” How did this happen? Exactly when did this change occur? What does it mean today to be so preoccupied with health? And how will we feel about our health tomorrow when consumer gene-testing services are available for $59.95? My intent for this blog is to explore issues related to the modern health culture.

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