The Medical System

5 January 2004 



Dear Friends

I must apologize for my rather emotional outburst regarding illness and morbidity caused by hospital errors. I would like to point out that I have deep respect for the altruism and dedication of all my Doctor colleagues. Medicine probably includes every discipline under the sun but has as its common pathway the relief of suffering of all human Beings. As The Buddha Nichiren Dai Shonin said

However, life itself is the most precious of all treasures. Even the treasures of the entire universe cannot equal the value of a single human life. Life is like a lamp, and food like oil. When the oil is gone, the flame will die out, and without food, life will cease

To practice Medicine requires empathy ,compassion ,healing ability ,understanding of the nature of life ,empathy ,tolerance ,love, creative thought, quick decisions and an enormous sympathy for human vulnerability. None of us start this way. It is an enormous learning curve.

Ina way we are still in the dark ages

The story of Semmelweis is instructive

Ignaz Semmelweis, a young Hungarian doctor working in the obstetrical ward of Vienna General Hospital in the late 1840s, was dismayed at the high death rate among his patients. He had noticed that nearly 20% of the women under his and his colleagues’ care in "Division I" of the ward (that is, the division attended by physicians and male medical students) died shortly after childbirth. This phenomenon had come to be known as "childbed fever."

In an effort to curtail the deaths in his ward due to childbed fever, Semmelweis instituted a strict handwashing policy amongst his male medical students and physician colleagues in "Division I" of the ward. Everyone was required to wash their hands with chlorinated lime water prior to attending patients. Mortality rates immediately dropped from 18.3% to 1.3% and, in fact, not a single woman died from childbirth between March and August of 1848 in Semmelweis’ division. Despite the dramatic reduction in the mortality rate in Semmelweis’ ward, his colleagues and the greater medical community greeted his findings with hostility or dismissal. Even after presenting his work on childbed fever (more technically referred to as puerperal sepsis) to the Viennese Medical Society, Semmelweis was not able to secure the teaching post he desired, and so he returned to Hungary. There, he repeated his successful handwashing attack on childbed fever at the St. Rochus hospital in Pest. In 1860, Semmelweis finally published his principal work on the subject of puerperal sepsis but this, too, was dismissed. It is believed that the years of controversy and repeated rejection of his work by the medical community caused him to suffer a mental breakdown. Semmelweis died in 1865 in an Austrian mental institution. Some believe that his own death was ironically caused by puerperal sepsis.

Perhaps we have a similar situation today. Doctors dedicated and devoted to their profession are not trained firstly in the Art of healing and secondly in the Nutritional, environmental and Mind Body Medicine which can prevent and also cure disease in an optimal fashion especially if combined judicially with allopathic medicine. Thirdly the hospital system is an alienating process probably for the Doctors who work there as well as the patients who become quickly institutionalised. The pressure on Doctors and Nurses is intense. In Casualties Nursing Staff are harassed and sometimes attacked by patients. The organisation of the conveyor belt system of operating lists and treatments and imaging is enormous. Changes of staff on shifts and a patient being seen or put under different Doctors means the flow of information is not there as the patient is not seen as a whole Human Being but as an ill Organ or a Disease State. The patients` needs for love , nurturing, and appropriate Nutrition with adequate food and supplements are not addressed. Pre Post and ongoing supplementation in Surgery and Chemotherapy is not dealt with .Above all else a Hospital stay can be a state of Anomie for the patient---an existential nightmare .Hospitals are also breeding grounds for infection as Semmelweiss knew


Michael Ellis






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