It is unclear to me why hospital mistakes are suddenly making headlines. For years some of the most profound errors have gone unreported by the press, even when brought to their attention.Yet bad outcomes of treatment by non-medical health providers, not even necessarily due to errors, have been exploited in a witch hunt type of frenzy.
For whatever reason, we're now starting to hear about people like Betsy Lehman. Betsy was an award-winning health columnist, a friend to the medical establishment who reported new medical procedures in the Boston Globe and viewed medicine as a scientific endeavor.
Betsy elected to do a chemotherapy treatment for cancer. While suffering through "cold and rude" doctors, she was given four times the maximum safe dosage of a highly toxic chemical and a similar overdose of another drug meant to deal with the side effects of the first. A dozen doctors, nurses, and pharmacists overlooked the overdoses while she vomited "sheets of tissue" sloughing from her gut and suffered other horrendous symptoms. She died on December 3, a 39-year-old mother of two.
According to the Boston Globe, an autopsy found no cancer, indicating that the "treatment had worked."1 The mistake wasn't discovered until two months later as clerks went through her records.
AIDS Virus Gone
A boy in Los Angeles who was infected with the HIV virus at birth has apparently fought off the infection. Tests had proved conclusively that he had the virus both at 19 and 51 days old. Now at age five, the virus can no longer be found in his body.2 Dr. Yvonne Bryson, a pediatrician at UCLA, is now testing another child that appears to have experienced a similar recovery.
Weight Loss Harbinger of Death in Elderly
According to an Ohio State University researcher, a 10 percent weight loss of a nursing home patient in six months is a significant predictor of impending death. Sixty two percent of those exhibiting this sign died during the following six months. The results do not appear to be due to wasting disease or excessive age.3
Fish Dinner Good for the Mind
Japanese scientists at Tokyo's Sagami Chemical Research Center have found that the substance docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), normally found in fish, improves awareness and intellectual function in patients with Alzheimer's disease and senile dementia. Patients were given daily doses of about 700 mg of DHA for six months. While the test group improved during that time, the controls continued to deteriorate.4
Vegetables Prevent Strokes
A 20-year study of middle-aged men has found a significant correlation between the consumption of fruits and vegetables and a decrease in strokes. "For every increase of three servings of fruits and vegetables per day, there was approximately a 20 percent decrease in the risk of stroke," according to Dr. Matthew Gillman of Harvard Medical School.5 The study tracked over 800 men in Massachusetts over a 20 year period. The results have been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.6
Pigs Becoming More Human
Researchers at the Nagoya University School of Medicine in Japan report that they have successfully bred a pig containing a human blood type antigen. The goal is to breed pigs that can be used as organ donors, not previously possible because of blood incompatibility problems. The team expects to have a pig with 100 percent human compatible blood in about 10 years.7
Breastfeeding Helps Fight Salmonella Infection
A study at Pennsylvania State University has found that breastfeeding decreases the incidence of salmonella diarrhea to one-fifth the level of infants fed formula.8 This is yet another in a growing list of breastfeeding benefits that have been validated by clinical studies in recent years.
Birth Defect Associated with Smoking
According to a recently published John Hopkins University study, pregnant women can trigger formation of a cleft palate in their offspring by smoking, perhaps even before they know they are pregnant. This study, done on 467 children from Maryland, found a high incidence of the birth defect among children of mothers who smoked during early pregnancy.9
Non-Smokers' Bodies Don't Deal with Smoke Well
According to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a given amount of cigarette smoke will have a more profound effect on non-smokers than it will chronic smokers.10 This is because a smoker's body adapts somewhat to the toxins over time, while a non-smoker is relatively unprepared for the chemical stress. For example, smokers need to build up a higher capacity bloodstream to compensate for the carbon monoxide in cigarettes. Non-smokers are unprepared for the sudden loss of oxygen-carrying ability of their blood, forcing their hearts to pump harder after exposure.
Secondhand smoke is blamed for 47,000 heart disease deaths each year.
Wounds Heal Faster without Nicotine
A study at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston concludes that when a patient stops smoking before surgery, the surgical wounds heal faster and more completely. One of nicotine's actions is to restrict the blood flow around healing sites. The study subjects wore a nicotine patch to obtain a controlled dosage.11
Smoking Blamed for 7.5% of Miscarriages
In a "meta-analysis" of about 100 studies of the effects of smoking,12 researchers estimate that 7.5 percent of all miscarriages are due to tobacco usage. A meta-analysis is an attempt to draw general conclusions by analyzing data and outcomes of different studies. Other conclusions relating to maternal smoking were:
- as many as 26,000 newborns are admitted to intensive care units each year because of smoking-induced low birth weights;
- elevated risk of stillbirths and neonatal deaths;
- a tripling of the risk of SIDS.
It is estimated that somewhere between 18 and 27 percent of pregnant females smoke.
Depression Hard on Bad Hearts
A new study at the Montreal Heart Institute tracked 222 men and women for 18 months after a heart attack and found the those who exhibited signs of depression were more likely to die of a second episode during that time period. Those with an irregular heartbeat on top of the depression were even more likely to succumb.13
Oral Contraceptives Accentuate Hostility
A study at Duke University of women subjected to mildly harassing statements has found an increased hostile reaction in certain women taking oral contraceptives. The higher reaction, gauged by blood pressure readings, was exhibited in those persons that had previously been judged a hostile personality by questionnaire.14
- Shaky Medicine, Associated Press, March 23, 1995.
- New England Journal of Medicine, March 30, 1995.
- Journal of General Internal Medicine.
- Med/Tech Notes from Japan, United Press, March 24, 1995.
- Interview by the Associated Press, April 11, 1995.
- JAMA, April 11, 1995.
- Med/Tech Notes from Japan, United Press, April 12, 1995.
- Seachrist L. Health notes, United Press, April 13, 1995.
- The American Journal of Epidemiology, April 1, 1995.
- JAMA, April 5, 1995
- United Press, April 7 1995.
- Journal of Family Practice, April 1995.
- United Press, March 27, 1995.
- United Press, March 24, 1995.
Brian Sutton, DC
BSuttonDC @ aol.com
73160.676 @ compuserve.com