Friday, September 22, 2006

In Which I Continue To Drink That Haterade

One of my favorite things about the TV show House is how the doctors all do their own lab work in gleaming, state-of-the-art (and yet still strangely deserted) labs.

Meanwhile, in the non-magical fairy and unicorn land (or “real world”) doctors actually rely on dozens of other, less prestigious and well paid, professionals to tell them what’s making their patient sick.

I went to a talk on mycoplasma in encephalitis patients earlier this week. Mycoplasmas are very, very small prokaryotes that don’t have a cell wall and are thought to cause some cases of encephalitis. As it happens, a lot of time and resources get poured into trying to find causative agents for encephalitis cases.

That’s the funny (well, not ha-ha funny) thing. Encephalitis isn’t really all that telling of a diagnosis since it can be viral, bacterial, parasitic, or autoimmune in origin.

So the microbiologists do their tests and maybe they find a cause before you're dead or recuperated. And again this is with the pretend world of House and the real world part ways again.

In House, after the brilliant, young doctors have finished carefully pipetting one drop of liquid onto a slide and discovered what’s making the patient sick, the disease always turns out to be curable.

In the real world, there are a lot of things that can make your brain swell and most of them don’t have a cure.

So to recap:

You go to the hospital because you feel sick.
You’re diagnosed with encephalitis.
The doctor tells a nurse to treat your symptoms while the microbiologists look for what’s causing them.
The microbiologists may or may not find what’s causing your symptoms
Even if the microbiologist finds what’s causing your symptoms, there’s a pretty good chance there’s no cure for what’s causing your symptoms.
The doctor continues to tell a nurse to treat your symptoms.
You die, or maybe you live.

I guess that’s the “art” of medicine you always hear about.

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