PureInsight | November 18, 2006
"I've decided to start publishing your column," the editor remarked to
me. Then he added, "You realize your life will never be the same
again?" How true! Thirty years later, I've now written a newspaper
column every week, 52 weeks a year-a total of 5,230 articles. It's an
experience I wouldn't have missed. And what have I learned?
I would gladly hang some lawyers for what they've done to medical
practice. Parasitic ambulance chasers have forced doctors to take
needless x-rays and other tests for fear of medical malpractice suits.
This has increased the cost of medical care when medical budgets are
stretched to the limit and limited the judgment of physicians.
I've also learned how to lose newspapers. Years ago I wrote what I
thought was a hilarious article about the fractured male organ. But
seven newspapers in the U.S. "Bible belt" didn't share my humor and
fired me. I hoped that angry readers would threaten the editor and burn
down his building. But this didn't happen!
Then I discovered how you can win battles and lose the war. I struggled
for six years to legalize heroin therapy to ease the pain of terminal
cancer patients. Then when it was legalized, hospitals set up needless
roadblocks to make it too time-consuming for doctors to prescribe it.
So now it's impossible to obtain this painkiller in Canada. A terrible
My skepticism about drugs has increased. As a medical practitioner,
I've learned that you could toss most medicines into the ocean and
mankind would be better off. I marvel at why so many people believe
they can take medication without expecting any side effects. Will they
ever learn you never get anything for nothing, and to stop popping a
pill for every ache and pain? My column hasn't made much headway there.
What changes in medical practice I've seen and written about! I
remember a time when sterilization for a woman with five children and
an abusive husband required the husband's permission as well as that of
two other doctors! Prolonged debates about the ethics of the birth
control pill raged.
But it's not been all bad. I've seen great progress in medical
procedures. Thirty years ago, large incisions were needed to remove
gallbladders. Now with new optical instruments, even large cancers of
the bowel are being treated through tiny incisions.
Some of my predictions have come true. Thirty years ago I wrote that
obesity and diabetes would reach epidemic proportions. Few people
realize the huge crippling economic impact this is going to have on our
society-and that the only solution is not more medicine, but more
people following a healthier lifestyle.
My writing career has been an exciting time. I've interviewed some of
the leading researchers of the world such as two-time Nobel Prize
winner Linus Pauling, Professor Etienne Baulieu who is the discoverer
of the AIDS virus, even witch doctors in South Africa, and medical
personnel on nuclear aircraft carriers.
I'll be eternally grateful to Clark Davey, Managing Editor of the Globe
and Mail, for starting me on the road to journalism. And I continue to
be amazed that someone with no formal training in journalism wasn't
fired decades ago. But I'm also grateful to readers who tell me they
have benefited from the articles over these 30 years.
How long will I write this column? As my Father used to say, "Quien
sabe?" Who knows? But if an editor fires me, I hope readers will
threaten to hang him or her in the town square and burn down the
building. After all, I can dream can't I?
Dr. Gifford-Jones is a medical journalist with a private medical practice in Toronto.