Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thoughts on Preventive Medicine


You can prevent Heart Attacks
You can prevent Strokes
You can prevent Colon Cancer
You can prevent Cervical Cancer
You can prevent Breast Cancer
You can prevent Prostate Cancer
Really? Well perhaps
You can prevent Syphilis
You can prevent the Friends of Syphilis
You can prevent smallpox, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, chicken pox, meningitis, influenza, hepatitis, diphtheria, whooping cough
You can prevent Diabetes
You can prevent Complications of Diabetes
You can prevent Hip fractures
You can prevent Diarrheal Illness
You can prevent Nosocomial Infections
Really? Really, just wash your hands

But you cannot prevent death.
Saying that we can prevent death is preposterous.
Indeed, the word “prevention” doesn’t even apply to death
You can delay death
You can stall death
You can prolong life

But it just doesn’t make sense to say that you can prevent death.

4 comments:

Christian Sinclair, MD said...

Nice poetry. Any chance we might hear what spurred you on to write this? I hear a story in there somewhere.

Dan Matlock said...

No story, just a general frustration with our societal death denials and death taboos along with a frustration with applying the term prevention to the idea of death.

Christian Sinclair, MD said...

I had mentioned in a comment on Drew's recent post about acceptance and hope that our culture needs a modern revival of 'Ars Moriendi' which is really more about a different philosophical/spiritual approach to life and death and not about what medicine can or cannot do.

The book 'Republic of Suffering' is a great example of a major shift in how a culture views dying. It is about the American Civil War.

Alex Smith said...

Love the poetry! Thank you for branching out in new directions Dan.

Christian, a revival of the ars moriendi, "art of dying," is a good idea, but I'm not sure how this can be accomplished. So much of our culture is oriented toward "the science of not-dying," whatever that is in Latin. Also, I'm concerned that the idea of the "good death" may be a Christian (religion, not you personally) Anglo idea, and anathema to other cultures. In Chinese culture, for example, discussion of death is so avoided that even words that sound vaguely like death have negative connotations.