Sunday, November 26, 2006

Minor violation of the Hippocratic oath?

While we can get certainly delve into the details of the Hippocractic oath, I generally interpret the oath as a commitment by those who choose to practice medicine to do all they can to help others and, conversely, to do everything possible to avoid harm.

I walked past the outpatient eye surgery clinic in which I got my eyes lasered a couple years ago and something about the sign on their door caught my eye. STOP! Don't read further. Instead, look at the sign and see if you can identify what bothered me.

It took me a little while to figure it out, but in the end I came to the conclusion that the Lakeshore Surgery Center has violated the Hippocratic Oath in a small way that I hope will never bring anyone to harm.

Here is my explanation: Imagine that your child (or spouse or best friend) hurt her eye in an accident. It is Sunday morning. You rush to the Lakeshore Surgery Center, because it is right around the corner and you've been there before. You are in a panic, your child wails in pain, you come to a screeching halt in front of the entrance, and rush to the door, child in your arms. Closed. You read the sign and then roar in agnoized frustration:

"The nearest hospital? I don't know where that is! What am I going to do now?"

See my point? It seems like the good doctors at this center could have and should have taken a bit more care with their sign. The generic "Please Go to the Nearest Hospital" reveals a lack of thoughtfulness in this context. There can only be one nearest hospital. So what the doctors should have done, to completely fulfill their oath to help and to avoid harm, is ask the sign company to show the name and address of the nearest hospital, and even add a little map showing how to get there.

You are thinking this is such a minor thing? Hey, it could save a life!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

National holidays in the United States

We have a friend, Ying, living with us. She was born in the Shan State of Burma and spent many years in Thailand (having fled the terrors of the military regime in Burma). Now, she is here under political asylum.

And it is very fascinating to look through her eyes at what goes in our simultaneously crazy, wonderful and revolting "advanced" society.

Today, Thanksgiving Day, the newspaper arrived. The size of the usual Sunday monstrosity (about 3 inches high), it consisted of the "news" section, plus three other bundles of advertisements, each as large as the "news" section (which itself is full of ads, of course).

She looked through some ads and then gasped: "Open at 5 AM?"

I glanced over at what she was reading. The advertising supplement for Kohl's. Like many other retailers, Kohl's now offers special, ultra, super deals for those people who want to haul themselves out of bed and go shopping at mind-boggling times: 5 AM, 6 AM, 7 AM. Before the usual opening time of 10 AM.

And it suddenly came to me:

This is what a national holiday now means in the United States:

Out of respect for our veterans or to give thanks for all that we have been given, you can't start shopping until 10 AM. This is the respite now offered by a capitalism run rampant in search of profits from our increasingly squeezed middle class and desperate poor.

But the day after the holiday? Time to get serious about shopping.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

What I Have Lived For - Bertrand Russell

A friend of mine recently passed the following short essay on to me. I like it a lot and though I would share it with anyone who visits my blog (thanks, Donna!):

What I Have Lived For
(The Prologue to Bertrand Russell's Autobiography)

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy - ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness--that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what--at last--I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) won the Nobel prize for literature for his History of Western Philosophy and was the co-author of Principia Mathematica.