21 May 2004

German Professor Gives Sound Medical Lesson

I just came home from a medical symposium about INVEST, better known by physicians as the International Verapamil SR/trandolapril STudy. It was a last-minute invitation and I learned of it late this afternoon from a colleague. I nearly missed it. In case you're wondering about the fancy name of the study, let me explain to you that medical researchers have this strange predilection to use acronyms that spell like catchy words for their studies. There are thousands of these medical studies, all with catchy names like: HOPE, PROGRESS, ALLHAT, ADVANCE, STONE, etc. The INVEST Study seeks to settle the long-standing debate among cardiologists over the usefulness of calcium antagonists (also known as calcium-channel blockers in some countries, or CCBs) for treating high blood pressure.

I'm not going to blog about the INVEST study but I'd like to share something the guest speaker (Professor Ranier Kolloch of Germany) said before beginning his technical report to us.

He presented us with a slide which he said he also presented last March in Berlin during their own medical convention. The slide was a quiz for us and went something like this:

A lot of us answered with the "correct answers" we know and the things we usually tell our patients, which are letters A to E. Almost no one picked letter F, because, as my seatmate reasoned, "F is a priestly advice and we're no priests." I, myself answered with G (missing from the slide, of course, because for me, choice G should have been "all of the above"). But the German professor turned all of us down, saying that the true and correct answer is really F. Why? Because just like in cancer, genetic predisposition plays a major role in everyone's future health status.

Choices A to E are the things we usually advice our patients, and there's nothing wrong with that. We are doing the right thing, he said, but like it or not, he said we were just delaying the inevitable. He said there was a great likelihood that we will also die of a heart attack if a close relative (dad or mom) died similarly. "Soooo," he says with an impish smile in his face, "the correct answer is to pray, my friends." Pray hard that God decides otherwise, and lengthens your life.

I smiled, too. In the end, doctors are really just people patients go to in order to feel comforted that they are doing the right thing for themselves. The only wonder medical science is capable of doing is to delay and delay and delay..... but the chances of really getting healed from an ailment that is in your genes is a looong shot. You really can't escape your destiny, fatal as it may be. In the end, both doctor and patient have really one option to dramatically change what has been genetically predetermined: pray to God.

Now, that is one advice I will keep close to my heart.

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