Western Medicine and Number Gut Follow Up

The past few years my mother had been feeling fatigued.  The condition kept getting worse and she finally went to a doctor.  To make a long story short, the mitral valve on her heart was compromised, and the heart was not able to fully function.

Yesterday she had open heart surgery.  Everything went great.  The didn’t know until they opened her up if they were going to be able to repair the valve or replace it.   They prefer to repair it, but in this case it was damaged too much.  It was replaced with a valve made of tissue from a pig.  Really!  She will be walking through the hospital hallways TODAY (albeit very slowly), a mere 24 hours after the surgery.  I am simply amazed at this. 

As a joke my dad is going to purchase a small pig trough and place it in their bedroom for my mom to see when she gets home from the hospital.  That is how my family rolls – we always make jokes in tough or stressful situations.  I think the hard Midwest winters darken our sense of humor.

As an interesting aside, the valve was damaged not because of a genetic defect, but from disease (this was good news for me).  The doctor proposed that my mother had rheumatic fever as a child and that this was the cause of the valve being compromised. 

It has been a stressful week for me, as there was a 1%-2% (between one and two percent) chance that my mother could have died on the operating table.  We are very thankful that everything went well.

Over the last week I have been thinking of Shannon’s posts about parents that don’t give their children vaccines because of quack science, and people not having any sort of decent number gut.

It stunk that there was a small chance of my mother dying yesterday, but there really was no question in our minds that the surgery was needed.  The valve will last 20 plus years, and after my mother’s recovery she will feel much better physically and mentally (she was always mentally sharp, but the doctor thinks that she will be even sharper with increased blood flow to the brain).  At her age, she probably only has 20 years left on this earth anyway.  So the basic decision was easy.  Assume the small 1-2% risk of dying and feel better or live “x” number of years tired and worn down, with an increased chance of heart attack or stroke each and every day.

As a parent of two small children, we were given the (questionable) numbers of our children getting autism from the new vaccines that are out.  Being a businessman, the odds and percentages were very easy for me to understand.  The vaccinations were a no brainer.  The problem is that many parents that I know are foregoing the vaccinations for their kids, making the appearance of horrible diseases more likely.  At least my kids will be protected.  Hopefully.

Open heart surgery is an amazing process if you think about it.  A machine was pumping blood through my mother, keeping her alive as the surgeons skillfully repaired her heart.  I will never understand those who reject western medicine for quack treatments, or can’t fully grasp simple numeric concepts that explain risk/reward.

19 thoughts on “Western Medicine and Number Gut Follow Up”

  1. Heh, since he dropped by yesterday, I’ll throw in another plug for Jim, – he has a story about this from Alaska.

    Whooping Cough. In the 21st Century. Santayana was so right.

  2. My great uncle died at a very young age from heart failure as a result of that rheumatic fever. I also know someone in college who had strep throat and went to the local free clinic (as a political decision, solidarity with the poor, etc). He ended up at the Stanford University Heart Center when they mis-diagnosed his sore throat. That stuff is serious even today.

    Good news about your mom.

  3. I’m very happy your mom is doing better. There is definetly a time and place for medicine and emergency procedure like your mom recieved and thank God for them. The vaccine issue is another one for another day.

    Why can’t the main stream media illuminaties run a few more feel good stories like this?

  4. I think that to many people can’t actually think in a systematic, logical, numerical way. That is to say, they can’t break a problem into manageable chunks, assign numbers representing the scale of different relationships and then calculate the tradeoffs between different course of action.

    Instead, they make decisions based on emotive images i.e. their emotional response to something they’ve actually seen. Since they’ve see images of children supposedly harmed by vaccines, they can understand the threat poised but since they’ve never seen any images of children who’ve suffered and died due to diseases we vaccinate with, they can’t process the risk of not vaccinating.

  5. The number of people of our parents’ generation we know who are leading long lives because of open heart surgery is remarkable; I think that part of our family’s gratitude is because in the early sixties my husband’s father died when he was only 47. We know how it used to be and how it is.

    I hope the best for your mother; before my mother’s surgery she hadn’t lost her memory but the lack of energy had made her conversations a good deal less, well, sharp. You could really see the difference – she became an active, club-going person again.

    However, we have also been struck by the number and lethality of diseases people catch in the hospital. My husband’s uncle recovered rapidly from open heart surgery, but the infection almost felled him (if the ambulance had been later. . . etc.) and a year and a half later, it is the infection and not the heart surgery he’s still recovering from. I’m thankful for medicine, but this does appear to be an area that needs some work.

  6. Thank you all for the well wishes.

    My dad went to the hospital today and says she looks remarkably good, and that she did in fact roam the hallways a bit. I guess the staff there makes you do this, to start rehab immediately.

    I am simply blown away that just 24 hours ago my moms chest was cracked open and spread apart, and now she is awake, alert, and walking around.

  7. Dan from Madison,

    I am simply blown away that just 24 hours ago my moms chest was cracked open and spread apart, and now she is awake, alert, and walking around.

    Merely 40 years ago, cracking someone chest and tinkering with the heart was considered a highly risky procedure to be done only as a last ditch effort. Now it is routine.

    Medicine hasn’t produced some knock it out of the park wins like antibiotics and polio vaccines in a long time but a great deal of incremental improvements have made the once extraordinary, ordinary.

  8. Glad your mom came through so well.

    Re the vaccine issue: this is partly about innumeracy, but there is also a “tragedy of the commons” aspect to it. For infections diseases, as long as 99% of the people are vaccinated, a particular individual can probably get away with being unvaccinated, since there are few people he can catch it (whatever the disease is) from. But if only 90% of the people are vaccinated, the risk to a particular unvaccinated individual becomes much larger.

  9. “But if only 90% of the people are vaccinated, the risk to a particular unvaccinated individual becomes much larger.” It’s not only unvaccinated individuals. It’s also vaccinated individuals in whom the vaccine didn’t completely “take”. In a sufficiently vaccinated population, those people are safe.

    I remember my BIL’s ditzy girlfriend asking me once if I thought AIDS was a government experiment that went wrong. I told her no, I thought we were spoiled. And I invited my MIL to tell again how, when this BIL and his brother were toddlers, there was a polio epidemic. My FIL was away in the military, and she had no car, and every time one of the boys sneezed she was sure he had polio. Couldn’t go on the bus b/c you were supposed to avoid crowds. The pediatrician was kind enough to stop by her apartment more than once on his way in to his office to look at her children and tell her they did not have polio.

    This used to be the human condition.

    Rheumatic fever – some people still don’t understand that you must treat strep. You can’t wait to get over it like you can any old sore throat.

    Dan, I’m glad your mom is OK. My mother had a stroke a few years ago. She made a great recovery, but it was a pretty stressful week for all of us as we waited for her language to come back. One knows that in the normal course of things one will outlive one’s parents, but we still want them with us (and healthy and happy) as long as possible.

  10. “Despite his doctor’s diagnosis that there was no hope for recovery, he was committed to fighting the disease until his death.” Michael Landon tried alternative medicines too, IIRC, when his pancreatic cancer was diagnosed and the doctors told him nothing could be done. It’s one thing to turn your back on proven cures, but if your doc throws up his hands, might as well start mainlining Vitamin C or whatever – what could it hurt?

  11. Laura, thee difference is, Kauffman ignored treatment advice and went to Phillipino “healers” who “removed” the cancer from his body (literally. “reached in and pulled it out, without surgery”. Probably chicken gizzards and sleight-of-hand). There was a placebo-effect remission for a while, but then the cancer said “IDIOT!” and came back with a vengeance.

    I think Landon only used the experimental treatments when he was told there was no hope using standard treatments.

    That’s quite a different scenario. I don’t argue against experimental and other treatments when the cause is “lost” — or even simultaneous with standard treatments (hey, in all cases — it’s your money, and your life), especially when they aren’t incompatible — if someone tells you a diet of vitamins and carrots will help, then, as long as you are getting enough nutritional elements to meet your bodies’ needs, then by all means, do that simultaneously with radiation treatments.

    I just say you’re an idiot to go with faith healers of any stripe if you’re going to ignore proven techniques with rational chances of success. And that’s very much what Kauffman did.

  12. Wow, a Chicagoboyz post I totally agree with! Now, I have this one question, do you guys believe that the government should make vaccination mandatory in any way, like they do now?

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