The Nation's Health + [health]

Bypass surgery: Red badge of courage

A group of 60- and 70-somethings were standing in the anteroom to the cardiac rehabilitation center. All (males) had their T-shirts pulled up, comparing their coronary bypass scars.

It reminds me of war veterans comparing their war wounds. The scars of suffering, of having "conquered" and won a war with a common enemy, a badge of courage.

This is part of the broad social acceptance of bypass surgery and other major procedures for heart disease. Hospitals support it. They do it for the psychological support for patients enduring a difficult process. Often, talking about a shared experience can be a helpful purge for the fears and frustrations of a traumatic event.

Curious thing, though. I've actually had people request bypass surgery simply because all their friends have had one. No kidding. "I just figure my time is coming. I might as well get it over with."

Get the picture? We've had a battle with heart disease and the hospitals have won. The enormous success of hospitals over the last 20 years is not because of delivering babies, it's not from psychiatric hospitalization, it's not from cancer treatment. It's from heart disease. The largest floors in the hospital are usually the cardiac floors. The bulk of revenues and profit are from heart disease.

If I manufacture widgets and each widget I sell makes me scads of money, guess what? I want to sell more and more widgets. I'll persuade people they need my widgets even if they don't. Perhaps I'll even persuade them that buying one is a noble cause. Maybe I'll subtly suggest that I am a charitable operation and I only sell my products for the public good. I could even name my company after a saint. Personal profit--absolutely not!

Ignore the hype. See hospitals and their "products" for what they are: A necessary service--some of the time; profitable products that they hope to sell to more and more people most of the time.