I have told this story before, but I don’t think here, and–in keeping with my low-research approach to this blog–I’m just going to tell it without fact-checking.
There was this one time I had a doctor. An actual, honest to goodness physician, an osteopath no less. And, from various conversations, I gleaned from the subtext that he was a generally left-of-center libertarian, which is a little weird.
Anyway, I went in one day because I had a concern about a thing, and his diagnosis was “oh, that’s some sort of virus. Let me know if it doesn’t clear up in a few weeks.”
It did clear up in a few weeks, without treatment, and, anyway, treatment would have come after testing, and, as it turned out, it cleared up on its own. So I never got back with him about it, and all is well.
And, in that appointment he told me he wasn’t going to prescribe any antibiotics, which made sense to me. If it’s a virus of some sort, antibiotics weren’t going to do any good. The may do some harm, indeed. And then he told me a story he learned in his first year of medical school.
In one of his text books, they talked about this study that was done some time in the early to middle part of the 20th Century. “Something you could never do today,” he said, and I wasn’t sure if he was approving this idea of ethical review, or wistful for not getting to take part in the study.
“They took an incoming class of first-year medical students, and gave them each a controlled dose of a cold virus. What do you think happened?”
I thought they probably got colds.
“Right, but here’s the thing. A few people did not get colds! Most of the people got colds, and were sick for 7 to 10 days. Like a normal cold. But listen.”
“Some people wound up in the hospital, and needed serious care. Because, even with viruses that we have identified, and understand what, on average they do, there is a range of outcomes. You never really know what a virus is going to do to people.”
Featured image credit: Edward Jenner vaccinating patients in the Smallpox and Inoculation Hospital at St. Pancras: the patients develop features of cows. Coloured etching by J. Gillray, 1802. Source. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)
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