Monday, May 23, 2011

Dr. Demented (revisited)

Recently while out bowling with my wonderful children at the every bit as wonderful Dormont Lanes I slipped while trying to perfect my hook-- ok not perfect more like actually complete a hook that knocks down more than two pins-- and managed to crush my pinkie with a bowling ball. It was a wonderful little injury with pieces of fat and other gore oozing out and bright red blood. I had no intentions to visit the ER; it was my son's birthday for goodness sake and in no way did I want the day to revolve around me and one or two stitches. I wrapped my injury with paper towels and watched the kids bowl. Unfortunately later on, back at my home, my son managed to slip and fall while he was bowling with his home bowling set and ended up splitting his chin; not as much blood, but enough of a wound that the wife thought, Daddy's doctor aversion aside, we ought to have him looked at.

Thankfully we were seen by a P.A. instead of an MD. However I was surprised when she told me it was my mother's fault that I had smashed my finger.
"Really?" I asked, shocked.
"Well yes, the AAP is now recommending routine infant pinkie removals to prevent just this type of injury. If your mother had been more forward thinking this would have never happened to you."
"I'm surprised since, you know, it was kind of a bizarre accident. Doesn't seem worth removing a baby's pinkie to prevent something that probably won't happen when he gets older."
"You do have a point. Actually I'm not supposed to tell people this but penile cancer is even more rare than serious bowling accidents statistically speaking and we tell people that one of the reasons circumcision is so great is because it prevents penile cancer."
"Hmmmm," I mused. "Do you ever think people are just trying to come up with bogus reasons for an awful thing that they do to because it fulfills their own psychic needs?"
"No, doctors are too wise for that. They're so wise in fact they don't even bother sewing people up anymore if they can help it. Hold still now..."

(OK I didn't really get to have that conversation with her, but isn't it interesting that the foreskin is the only part of the human body that docs advocate removing to prevent cancer? They don't remove colons or ovaries or breasts at birth even though millions of people die of cancer related to those parts of the body. Seems a little fishy if you ask me.)

She glued my son's cut chin together and then stitched me up while he watched. Then they charged my insurance company an exorbitant amount of money and sent us on our way. It was very straightforward. Nothing "preventative" about this care. We came in bloody, we left less bloody. Hard to give that kind of care a bad evaluation. Now I'm not against a routine visit to your dentist once in a while or your eye doctor-- especially if you wear contacts like I used to and have to worry about getting one of those weird eye diseases if you don't keep them clean, ugh-- however, I think this whole idea of preventative care is a big part of the circumcision problem, outside of the previously explored all important need to preserve ego. Most doctors are pretty good at fixing things if you indeed have a genuine need for care, best evidenced by loss of huge amounts of blood, a cavity that feels like it's boring a drill into your gum, etc. It's when we take healthy adults and children to doctors that they become dangerous.

Think about it this way: You've got a brand new Caddy. 6 miles on it from the lot and that's it. You take it in to your trusted mechanic and say,
"Can you do something to be sure my car continues to run good."
"Well sure I can!!!" he says.
$300 later he assures you he's extended the life of your new car and you have little evidence to disprove his claim. It is, after all, a new car.

Babies don't need doctors to keep them well. If they did the human race would never have evolved past the middle links of the food chain. Heck we probably wouldn't be here at all. But somewhere along the road to current medical practice "First do no harm" got replaced with "There's always something you can do to make this body better." Once the medical profession sold us on the idea of preventative care we as healthcare consumers were basically cooked. We would buy whatever modification they said our car needed and hey if Dr. Demented says we can prevent future rust problems by hacking the entire tailpipe off our new Audi then we should probably do it. He ought to know about these things. He wouldn't let us sign up for anything that did HARM to our car, I mean child, would he?

It's sad because I think there are a lot of well-meaning people in various medical professions who themselves have bought into the all-important nature of preventative care. Case in point:
My oldest daughter brought home a coloring book from a recent trip to the veterinarian's office. One of the pictures had the following caption:
"Veterinarians help keep our pets healthy and happy."
Shouldn't the caption read,
"Veterinarians help sick and injured pets get better?"
Unfortunately veterinary medicine needs preventative care to stay afloat, just like your doctor, and, of course, your mechanic. The coloring book was interesting because it made me think this is probably how some vets conceptualize themselves: keeping healthy pets from keeling over and dying for no reason, making sure everything goes according to plan health-wise. Again, how did dogs survive for 2,000 years without veterinary care? Somehow sometime in the last 50 or so years human and animal medicine decided bodies were inherently flawed just because these bodies tend to eventually expire, that the doctor's job was not to fix what was broken but to set out on a relentless and at times ethically questionable quest to make the body and everything about it Perfect.

My finger is not perfect. It's ten days post injury and my digit is still sporting bright blue stitches and a jagged red mark a little too wide to consider completely healed. It's condition will improve with time and, eventually, the scar will probably fade. However it looks I'll be happy with the outcome since it was without a doubt damaged and in need of medical fixing. Unfortunately, like all circumcised males, I still bear the scar from that injury. It will never heal. I will see it every time I have to pee and almost every time I dawn a device to help with restoration I will experience an emotion at varying places along the continuum between peeved and devastated. Please keep in mind part of the reason my foreskin was removed was because a doctor told my parents there were health benefits. Harm was done to me with the claim it would prevent future harm.
"I know I'm not supposed to but let me do a teensy bit of harm now," Dr. Demented says, "I PROMISE it will mean less harm later."

I for one am not signing my kids up for any kind of harm. Even if JAMA or some other medical journal publishes a double blind study proving that circumcision will make people live 20 years longer and prevent Alzheimer's disease I still would not do it to my child; I would still advocate against circumcision until the day I die. I will never trample any child's rights for some nebulous future benefit no matter how much "cutting-edge" research has supposedly been done. After all do you think it's a coincidence that all those researchers are they themselves circed or else they're women from circed families or even women who have circed their own children and want/need to justify this thing that every fiber of their motherly instincts tells them is WRONG?

Interesting final digression: I once met a girl on the bus who was reading a text from nursing school. I asked to see it and tried to find an entry on circumcision and could not find one. I found this odd and broached the subject with her. She eventually informed me she had "observed" a few being done and went on to make a feeble attempt to tout the health benefits of this procedure. I did my best to make her see how the real crux of the issue was the fact that it was unethical to remove body parts of children without their consent. But she already had her walls up. I could see she didn't want to let the information in. Why? Because she had witnessed circumcisions being done and had not intervened. If this procedure was indeed ethically wrong she would have to bear some ethical responsibility for standing there and doing nothing. She was kind of like the guy who delivered lunches to the guards at Auschwitz. She was kind of like the guy who gassed up the plane that dropped the A bomb on Hiroshima. She played a role, albeit a small one, in the genital mutilation of those children. She stood by and did nothing while that baby screamed. Millions of doctors and nurses have had this same kind of training. I suppose trying to find reasons to justify circumcision is the best way to distract them from the blood on their hands.

PS: final final digression. RD left comment touching on circumcision practices during the Korean war. I worked with an African-American woman whose father served in Africa in World War II. She informed me he was forcibly circumcised by the military upon entering the service, the excuse being that he might contract some kind of dreaded disease. She assured me this was done against his will, basically do it or be court-martialed. I found this quite frightening and couldn't help wondering if this happened to more black soldiers than white ones or if the military was just cutting everyone they could get their hands on back then. If anyone has links or additional info about the military's approach to circumcision past or present please share!


  1. I too have a big mistrust of doctors & vets and the preventative medical model. Of course I feel this way because of how circumcision has affected my family, but there's more. I observed through the years that the more Dr. visits & interventions done - the more problems my kids had (vaccinations, antibiotics, retracting/tearing my son's adhesions, you name it..."well baby" visits my butt.) What the doctors (& vets) did seemed to weaken the immune systems of my family (& pets,) not help. For example; when my oldest son was a baby we took him in for a well baby visit. He showed no signs of illness, but the doctor peeked in his ears, diagnosed a mild ear infection, and prescribed antibiotics. That began a frustrating cycle of worse ear infections, asthma symptoms setting in with every cold, more antibiotics, a decrease in his hearing, and a doctor proposing ear tubes. I asked the doctor, what can be done to really prevent the ear infections. He dismissed my attempts to question the treatments & to find alternatives, and he said there was "nothing." I was sick of it all. I did not allow ear tubes and instead started doing research all over the internet, including on (Those moms have been through it all & are a great resource!)I discovered that doctors often mistakenly diagnose ear infections when they see pink-ish ear drums, ear drums often become pink in response to stress (much like our cheeks blush.)The doctor had under-cut my sons immune system with that first dose of antibiotics, wiping out the beneficial bacteria in his system. Long story short, we tried natural remedies and took milk out of my son's diet for a while and solved all the problems on our own.

    My younger children had far less contact with doctors as we got wiser, and far better health as a result. My middle child stopped seeing the doctor regularly when he was 2 months old. My youngest, born at home, has only had contact with our family physician one time - just to get established with our doctor, just-in-case - and with the E.R. once when she bonked her head on a bookcase.

  2. Jeff, Rosemary Romberg's 1985 book Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma has a whole chapter about circumcision and the USA armed forces, based on testimonials she received through the mail. I do not recall "forced" circumcisions, but military docs were very eager to circumcise anybody who wasn't. In Vietnam, if you asked to get cut, you were excused from combat duties for 10 days.

    Two notions drove this military obsession with the bald penis: (1) uncut men in combat conditions were assumed to be prone to balinitis and other discomfort in the preputial sack (this can be dealt with by washing the end of the penis every other day with a bit of drinking water. If drinking water is short, you have a much bigger problem than a dirty penis!) (2) uncut men were assumed to be much more likely to contract STDs from prostitutes while on weekend leave.