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SKEPTOID BLOG:

Miracles of Science-Based Medicine

by Ed Stockly

November 14, 2011

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Donate What a summer. I walked all over London and Paris with my family; we went fell-walking in England's Lake District, along with hiking and rock and mountain climbing; in California, I went kayaking in class III rapids and rafting in class IV and V rapids with an old friend. The reason I was able to truly enjoy all these activities, and more, is that I am a walking-talking bundle of medical miracles.

I don't use the word "miracle" lightly and I know that some doctors, researchers and other medical professionals bristle at the term being used to describe the successes of Science-Based Medicine, but I feel "miracle" is the best way to describe these achievements.

Claims of miracles are used by religions, faith healers, quacks and charlatans as evidence of divinity in order to win converts and grow the faithful. I think that the actual cures and accomplishments of Science-Based Medicine should do the same.

Everyone living in modern Western society has been blessed directly or indirectly by the miracles of modern medicine. In my own life my Science-Based Medicine has again and again had a miraculous impact.

I have only dim memories of the very first medical event that made this miraculous summer possible. When I was two years old I was saved by modern medicine. I was hospitalized with a severe case of asthmatic-bronchitis. Not so many years before that kind of respiratory illness could be a death sentence for a toddler but, in 1960, antibiotics and an oxygen tent kept me alive. I was back home after 10 days in the hospital.

I've had asthma for my entire life as did my grandfather and my father, who passed away from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

I suffered from exercise induced asthma as a child. I loved sports, but any vigorous physical exertion could leave me sidelined by a debilitating attack. Asthma attacks could also be triggered without warning by allergies. Living and working on ranches or camping in the wilderness or simply brushing down a horse after a ride could all suddenly become miserable and dangerous ordeals, leaving me weak and wheezing for hours, sometimes days.

But in the last few years my asthma has been, miraculously, under control. I use a daily inhaler, which delivers a small dose of medicine directly to the lung and bronchial tissue to prevent chronic inflammation and a rescue inhaler that controls the potentially life-threatening attacks. This has made a profound change in my life. Now, protected by these miracle medicines, I can do cardio-workouts that last two hours and more. I can ride horses and hike and camp with barely a wheeze, and if an attack begins, a quick blast of the inhaler knocks it out.

The next miracle was laparoscopic stomach surgery to repair a hiatal hernia and stop my chronic acid reflux. This was huge. Not only did the operation halt the reflux, which could have put me at risk for esophageal cancer, but it also eliminated a whole host of symptoms that I had never associated with my hiatal hernia. Life-long sleep issues went away literally the day after surgery. I soon noticed that I had stopped catching every sore throat, runny nose or cough that went around. My mood improved overall as did my temper. Once again I could eat garlic, curry, green chile and just about any of the spicy foods I desired.

Arthoscopic surgery delivered the next miracle in my life in the form of a ACL/meniscus repair of my right knee. I had injured the knee years before, and as I grew older and heavier the joint was subject to further injury, getting worse and worse until a final, crippling tear. In the last months before my surgery, I had a constant limp, and the slightest misstep could result in searing pain. I had to give up coaching and reffing soccer. I couldn't climb stairs comfortably, or go down stairs without pain.

My grandfather lived with a similar injury for most of his adult life. For him things like running, mountain climbing, rock climbing or kayaking would have been out of the question. Some times just playing with his 5-year-old grandson in the back yard could lead to severe pain and swelling.

Chronic knee pain was once fairly prevalent in men. So much so that canes or walking sticks were common men's fashion accessories. But Science-Based Medicine put an end to that. I put my cane down on the altar of Sports Medicine, and I haven't picked it up since. (Actually, I gave it to a woman who was having a lot of pain walking and soon learned she had bone cancer, which, miraculously, responded to aggressive treatments.)

The most recent medical miracle in my life is surrounded by controversy, but I count it as a miracle of Science-Based Medicine, nonetheless. Six months before that magical summer vacation began I was obese. At 5' 11'' I weighed 235 pounds for a BMI of 33. By the time I started my vacation I had dropped 50 pounds by following the Atkins Low-Carb diet. In 5 months I went from obese to a normal weight.

As with the hiatal hernia surgery, a number of the symptoms cleared up soon after I began my low-carb diet. I now have more energy when I'm awake and I'm more alert and active. Digestion problems, including irritable bowel syndrome and lactose intolerance, have disappeared. Plus, there's no way I could have hauled that extra 50 pounds of fat to the summit of those mountains, or safely down those rivers. Or kept up with 19-year-old soccer players week after week.

The controversy behind low-carb dieting is the stuff science is made of. On one side of the argument is the accepted conventional wisdom that weight problems are caused by a caloric imbalance. They say the laws of physics dictate that if you eat more calories than you burn you get fat.

The low-carb argument is that the real problem is that the body is storing fat, rather than burning fat and it does so when you eat carbohydrates. Carbs elevate blood sugar levels which causes the pancreas to produce more insulin, and insulin is the hormone that regulates accumulation of fat. Remove carbs from your diet, and you can eat all you want, never go hungry, and still lose weight. Miraculously, it worked for me.

This scientific controversy is being passionately debated on mailing lists, blogs and websites; on television, newspapers and magazines; at medical conferences and seminars. It will ultimately be resolved though the scientific process. The very process through which all medical miracles are manifested.

But are these truly miracles? In the spiritual sense no. They don't come from heaven. They are not of magic. There is no mysticism. They can be explained. They come as a result of generations of hard work, careful study, discipline, creativity, persistence, trial and error and learning from mistakes. In other words, they are the result Science-Based Medicine.

The enlightened who perform these miracles are so enlightened not because they are the "chosen ones," or have been blessed or anointed, but because they have chosen to enlighten themselves through education, study, research and experimentation. And they are not alone. They learn from each other. They share their ideas with those in their fields and related fields. Their theories are openly tested and criticized and honed and improved, and ultimately verified or rejected by their peers.

The clergy of Science-Based Medicine are the doctors, scientists and researchers working diligently with patients to develop the best treatments and techniques for nearly every malady. Some will dedicate their entire careers to develop a single treatment for a specific disease. Sometimes it takes decades, if not generations, before they succeed. Some never succeed.

But the successes are legion.

If, two-thousand years ago, Jesus had improved the infant mortality rate as much as modern medicine has in the last hundred years, that would have been a miracle trumpeted in all the gospels.

If asthma could be cured by purging "toxins" from the body through enemas, or psychic cleansings, or fasting, or using magical insoles on your feet, then the miracle cures of snake oil salesmen, quacks, cult leaders and charlatans would be mainstream.

If just praying, or wishing, could repair a hiatal hernia, and make acid reflux would go away, the miracle of prayer or the power of "the secret" would be undeniable.

If a faith healer could put his hands on a knee with tendons torn to shreds and magically heal it, that miracle alone would win countless converts.

If acupuncture, chiropracty or homeopathy could lead to weight loss and cure obesity, and at the same time improve overall health, while reducing risks for cancer and heart disease, that would be truly miraculous and would make believers of the most hardened skeptics.

But they can't. None of it. These miraculous accomplishments are exclusive to Science-Based Medicine. And I am a true believer. A convert. A follower. I have drunk the low-carb, vitamin enriched, electrolyte enhanced kool-aid.

I consider these medical feats, that have so profoundly affected my life, no less miraculous than if they had been performed though magic. That they were done through the discipline of Science-Based Medicine makes them no less miraculous.

It is my testimony that it was the miracles of modern medicine that allowed me to cling to the side of a rocky cliff, hundreds of feet above a deep crevasse; to wrap my kayak around a rock in a raging river; to get lost in Paris, walking for miles searching for just the right restaurant; to keep up with my daughters right up the side of a mountain, and then do a little dance with them at the summit. A dance celebrating the joys brought forth by the miracles Science-Based Medicine.

by Ed Stockly

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