November 15, 2010
You may have noticed a lot of stories on the TV this week about Banting and Best and their wonderful discovery - Insulin - the saviour to countless diabetics who would otherwise die decades before their time. I am very sure most, if not all, Canadians know a bit about this great Canadian discovery made in 1921/22. Did you know that there were NO scientific trials - it went from being tested on stray dogs to being injected into human diabetics as soon as it was it was made. There was no keeping dying diabetics waiting for years from the treatment that could save them. There was no psychobabble about placebo effects. There was no TV so it took perhaps a week or two for all the papers to do it justice as a topic and as soon as diabetics and/or their families heard about it, they lined up to get it. And as fast as it could be produced it was given. Today, almost 90 years later, it is still the number one treatment for diabetics. And that is all it is - a treatment. It is not a cure. Canada still basks in the glow of that Canadian discovery and is still looking for a cure.
But we are not as understanding to MS sufferers as our parents and grandparents were to diabetics back in 1921. In fact we are not, as a country, even remotely sympathetic to the 76,000 give or take MS Sufferers. Most people do not even have a clue what some of the more widespread and most debilitating symptoms are. Relatives know; friends sometimes do. And part of that ignorance is our own fault - we MSers tend to keep our misery to ourselves. My next door neighbour who has known me for 6 years thinks I walk with a walker because I have arthritis. I stopped going to doctors about some of my symptoms because they immediately put me on anti psychotic drugs. I mean, when you cannot explain intermittent blindness, it must be a psychosis, right? Blame that one on the Medical schools who put emphasis on psychotic behaviour when they can't explain something. It's the fashionable way to diagnose it seems. So public understanding and medical empathy is hard to find.
But in all this turmoil, along comes a doctor - this time an Italian, Dr. Zamboni, who discovers that clogged veins, if opened with angioplasty, make people with MS somewhat better. There are hundreds of people who have had the treatment and are visible, living proof that angioplasty works to some degree or other for most who's tests prove clogged veins. Angioplasty is not some never before tried procedure - it has been around since the late 1970s. There were no trials for it apparently either.In fact, it is really hard to find a procedure that was given years of trials before it was used. Many of what we consider standard procedures were proven on the spot - that spot often was a makeshift war hospital. Is there a more demanding trial than that? MS is a war! If this were 1921 this would have been fast tracked and by now there would be testing sites at least in all the major cities and people would be getting relief of some, if not all, of their symptoms.
1921 was of course long before television and mass marketing as we know it to be today. 1921 was also long before the drug companies became THE ruling Party behind the ruling Party regardless of which Party was in power. 1921 was a time when doctors truly believed theirs was an honourable calling and that calling was to give aid and comfort to the sick. Some of us are lucky enough to stumble upon a doctor that still puts morals and ethics and patient care above the almighty dollar but they are getting fewer and farther in between.
Now we have doctors who demand multi million dollar research grants for research that is questionable. It usually involves the use of drugs manufactured by companies who do not make their financial records available to public scrutiny. Those drug companies charge exorbitant fees for drugs that often do more harm than good or do nothing at all. We have researchers with tunnel vision who call anyone else's research a hoax when it does not line up with theirs. Are The MS Society, the various levels of government and the drug companies all part of a smoke and mirrors carnival trick? Do they all hear voices that tell them not to do this procedure? As I think about the WHY of this situation I can't help but think that nowhere in this entire drama is there any care about my well being nor about the well being of the 76,000 other MS sufferers in Canada.
In 1921 there was no talk about running trials where a group of diabetics would be split in two and half given insulin while the other half would be given sterile water (or something equally as inert) just to see if they exhibited a placebo effect. Try to imagine, if you will, the mental and physical torment of those given the sterile water. It's inhumane! It's insane! But it is ok to do this with people with MS. At least that is what some neurosurgeons, politicians and MS Society executives want you to believe. Let me tell you. If it is insane to think of doing that to diabetics, it is just as insane to do it to those of us with MS. If it would have been inhumane to do this to diabetics in 1921 it is equally as inhumane to want to do this to MS sufferers in 2010. More so even.
As I sit here watching a TV short about Drs. Banting and Best and their wonderful discovery, I think it is good that they have passed away and are not here to witness the cruel and foolish behaviour of those who have followed them and who are turning their much esteemed calling - medical research - into such a monumental national scandal and embarrassment.
Read more about Banting and Best's Discovery