The Problem Of Modern Medicine

Image by Alex Prolmos

Image by Alex Prolmos

While I was getting my dose of bandwagon football last weekend, I realized that the cornerback must be the most underappreciated player on the team.

Now, since the typical Musings demographic is decidedly not a sports fan, and since most people are probably reading this for some diatribe on modern medicine, please bear with me for a minute. I am going somewhere with this evidently pointless observation.

For the non-football fans, the cornerback’s job is to prevent the wide receiver on the other team from catching the ball. Of course, I just defined an unfamiliar term by introducing another unfamiliar term, so… bear with me again. There is a reason for the football analogy, I swear!

Anyway, if you’ve ever glanced at the game while biding time between Super Bowl commercials, then you’ve seen a wide receiver in action. The wide receiver is the guy who gets paid millions of dollars to outrun the opposing players, snatch a ball out of the air, and score lots of points. This is the guy you see over and over again on replays, because he makes the most visually spectacular plays in football.

And the guy on the inept end of these spectacular plays? The cornerback.

That's him. The guy in white.

That’s him. The guy in white.

Here’s why the cornerback’s job sucks: If he covers the wide receiver successfully, the ball will get thrown to someone else, and you won’t see either of them on camera. But maybe one out of every 10 plays, he slips up. And that’s when he gets embarrassed by the wide receiver and makes the highlight reel… for the other team.

This is the cornerback’s life: If he plays great, no one notices. If he screws up, everyone notices.

I was trying to imagine how unfulfilling a job like this must be, and that’s when I had an epiphany: There are jobs in the real world that are exactly like this. Only, instead of trying to prevent an opponent from catching a football, these people are trying to prevent way worse things. Things that actually make a difference in our lives.

So whom am I talking about?

Doctors, of course.

Imagine you’re dying of some horrible disease. Let’s say leprosy. So, you’re dropping body parts left and right, you’re down to your last leg, and Death is pounding on your front door, getting ready to kick it down and drag you and your flailing stumps back with him to the netherworld.

But then, some stranger in a white jacket appears in a cloud of smoke, syringe in hand, and he jams that needle right into you. Well, it must be full of appendage-regenerating serum, because minutes later, the fleshy mounds that used to be your limbs have all grown back, and you’re perfectly healthy again.

You’re pretty grateful to the stranger in the white coat at this point, right?

Obviously, though, that’s not how medical science (or leprosy) works. Yes, doctors treat disease. But even more important is when they prevent disease, making sure you don’t get sick in the first place.

More likely than not, this is how it all goes down: You feel perfectly healthy, and you have no reason to suspect that Death is hiding up on your roof, waiting to rappel down the side of your house, burst through your living room window, and serve some smoldering misery on your blissfully unaware ass.

I just find the grim specter of Death more exciting if I picture it this way.

I just find the grim specter of Death more exciting if I picture it this way.

No, you think you’re perfectly fine. But then, some strange dude in a white jacket appears, and this time, his syringe has a needle the size of a Slim Jim. And he tells you that he’s going to poke you with it, and it’ll probably make you feel sick for a few days. But don’t worry, he assures you. That Slim Jim is full of a magical elixir that will make Death forget all about you for at least the next seven decades. And that’s what modern medicine is all about.

Do you thank him?

Of course not. You roll your eyes, and you send him on his way. After all, why should you trust some snake oil salesman who wants to cure you of something you’re not even afflicted with?

Maybe you see where I’m going with this now….

Doctors and modern medicine are the cornerbacks in the game of life. Their job is to play defense, to prevent you from getting sick. And in true cornerback form, when they do their job, you’ll only wonder if you even needed them in the first place. But the one in 100 times that something does goes wrong, boy, will you cry foul.

And that’s why disease prevention is such a tough sell for people. The problem of modern medicine is that people only take notice when it fails us. There’s even a psychological term associated with this state of thinking: negativity bias.

So what can we do about this?

For one, how about getting your vaccines? And while you’re at it, vaccinate your kids. These treatments do serve a purpose, and that purpose is for the good of all society. Yes, there are minor risks associated with them, and no medical treatment is ever 100% effective. Yes, there are stories of the rare instances when the medications cause more harm than good. But those are exactly that – rare instances.

It is an established fact that vaccines work. Time and time again, anti-vaccination arguments have been thoroughly debunked. One misinformed mother blogging about her kid’s health issues doesn’t negate the millions and millions of other kids who were vaccinated, but whom we never hear about. Cornerbacks, people, cornerbacks.

But really, my point here isn’t to tout vaccines or modern medicine. It’s to show how easy it is to dismiss those things that will quietly save our lives, from medication down to simple habits like proper diet and exercise. Maybe if we understand our innate biases, we can learn to better appreciate those people who make a living preventing bad things, and maybe even contribute to these preventive efforts ourselves.

For my part, during the Super Bowl this year, I’m going to start applauding the cornerback every time a touchdown doesn’t get scored. If nothing else, I bet I’ll be cheering much more than anyone else.

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  • (Hi Dennis! Been a long time!)

    Not only does the cornerback job suck in the way you described, it’s also thankless because cornerbacks are typically players who have the athleticism of wide receivers but are simply not tall enough. So they play cornerback because they can keep up with the WR and get in their faces, but they’re just not that tall so even if they do a good job a 6’6″ receiver can do an acrobatic catch like the one you posted a pic of. That could be akin to GP’s who do a ton of prevention but don’t have the glory of the heart surgeon making the life-saving quad bypass.

    Not to mention that a cornerback also has to limit their contact with the WR in ridiculously vague ways or else they get called with a pass interference penalty. So you’re forced to back off and not do your job to the best of your ability or else someone calls a fairly crippling penalty on you. I’m sure there’s another analogy to modern medicine in there somewhere. 🙂

    • Hey Marcelo, good to hear from you!

      So, maybe the analogy would be to ask a doctor to prevent disease without letting them touch the patient or make them take off their pants? :-p

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