This week I discovered an op-ed piece by a woman doctor that gave me much food for thought. I’ll refer you to the article later. But first, a little personal history:
Like so many Jewish immigrants, my mother wanted at least one of her children to enter the medical field, and now and then I’ve wondered what my life would have been like had I followed her advice. Other acceptable (though slightly less prestigious) occupations in my family were lawyer, dentist, accountant, or pharmacist. These were what Charles Dickens called portable professions—ones you carry in your head, so you can set up shop in a new country after fleeing persecution in the old.
My parents had a great deal—perhaps even an excessive amount—of esteem for doctors, though they only trusted Jewish ones. They’d had too much experience of anti-Semitism. Nazi doctors, including pediatricians, had performed sadistic experiments on Jewish adults and children, torturing and killing them.
That distrust seems to have gone away, at least among my generation of Jews. Not so for Black people, many of whom remain suspicious of doctors. In addition to memories of the Tuskegee study, where sharecroppers infected with syphilis were denied treatment , and the surgeries performed without anesthesia by Dr. James Marion Sims on enslaved women, they are well aware of the disparities in treatment that Blacks still face in this country.
Even given the inequities, we have all benefited from the work of physicians and researchers, from Hippocrates and Galen through Ignaz Semmelweis, Marie Curie, and Virginia Apgar, down to Rosalind Franklin, Jonas Salk, and Anthony Fauci.
Still, there are some with medical degrees whose careers remind us that expertise in one area doesn’t bestow all-around wisdom. Ben Carson, pediatric neurosurgeon, opined that homosexuality was a choice, “Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight—and when they come out, they’re gay.” He is, obviously, speaking from his nether regions.
Mehmet Oz, cardiothoracic surgeon and TV celebrity, infamously promoted hydroxychloroquine as a cure for Covid-19. He also promoted various miracle weight loss drugs, which were, at best, useless, and told women that carrying cell phones in their bras would cause breast cancer. (In case this isn’t absolutely clear: It doesn’t.)
But the gold prize for absolute physician wackiness goes to the author of that article I first mentioned, internist Miriam Adelson. At 77, I suspect she has retired from medical practice. She is the widow of Sheldon Adelson and, via that marriage, the 44th richest person in the world ($29.6 billion). Her properties include the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and two newspapers, Israel Hayom and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Her op-ed piece in the latter is a paean of praise to Donald Trump, whom she calls a patriot and a man of his word. She gives him credit for what she calls a platinum anniversary of U.S.-Israel relations, “a miracle of preciousness, radiance and endurance.” But what really bowled me over was when she placed the former president among the biblical heroes, sages, and prophets, and said that a “Book of Trump” should be added to the Bible.
Apparently she has joined the company of those evangelical Christians who are convinced that Trump was a savior sent by God.
As the reader must already know, Ben Carson and Mehmet Oz are also Republicans and Trump supporters. I’m not going to assume that correlation equals causation here, but further study may be warranted.
Returning now to my personal experience, the first physician I ever met was Harry Abraham Warwick. I can’t say that I remember the encounter, as I was visually impaired at the time and didn’t speak English. Perhaps owing to excessive cautiousness, I had attempted to tiptoe into his presence rather than diving headfirst, but he reached inside my mother’s womb with a forceps and turned me around. When Mom questioned him about the resultant bruises, he retorted, “You have a healthy baby. Don’t complain!” The bump on my nose and blue mark on my left knee are still there, nearly 80 years later.
Mom took me to meet him again when I was around 12, hoping he would encourage me to set my sights on medical school. On that occasion, still etched in my memory, he downplayed the value of his work. “An obstetrician is like a fireman,” he said. “You show up at the last minute and catch the baby as it falls out.” Was he trying to make it sound easy? or to discourage me? In any case, I wasn’t inspired to follow his path.
My subsequent encounters with doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and other health care professionals—many more than I can list in this space—have been overwhelmingly positive. But for modern medicine I would have died at age 12 from acute appendicitis, died or become disabled from various infectious diseases, left lame as a result of accidents at 49 and again at 66, and be blinded by cataracts now. My wife would have died many times over. The practitioners who treated us will likely never make the headlines, but their names are inscribed in our hearts forever.
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