THREE MONTHS AGO Maclean’s told the story of the stubborn fight to save the life of little Lisa Parker, who was born with an abnormally slow heartbeat. She was the first baby known to have survived this disability, with the aid of a small electrical device called a heart pacer. But in August, at the age of 16 months, Lisa died.
Lisa’s battle was lost, but the war will be won. Medical scientists now know how such babies can be saved; all that remains is to perfect the equipment. If another Lisa is born next year she may well live a nearly normal life, and she will owe it to the quiet patient work of doctors, researchers and technicians who have concentrated their skills on this particular human frailty.
We do a lot of grumbling about our doctors, and often with good reason. We complain that as a group they remain resolutely in the 19th century on the great issue of how adequate medical care can be assured to every citizen; that victims of malpractice have scant hope of redress against the closed ranks of the profession; that the oldfashioned family doctor, intimately concerned with his patient, is displaced by batteries of high-priced impersonal specialists.
The practice of medicine is changing; and on the basis of results, it is changing for the better. Doctors probably do not work harder than they did a generation ago, but they work more intelligently, with better training and better tools. Routinely, they are keeping people alive and well who only yesterday would have been given up for dead.
We may have our vigorous disagreements with the doctors collectively over their relationship to society. But as anyone knows who has seen the workings of a modern hospital, or has recently experienced a serious illness, doctors individually can still be the salt of the earth.
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