Durango Herald Medical


One morning last month I was on my back with a needle in my arm donating blood when my cell phone rang. It was news that my sister had been hospitalized in New Jersey with internal bleeding. She had received four units of blood.

Fortunately I was able to head east a couple of days later to be with her and her husband, David. Clara had had bad health all her life. She had spent much time sick as a child, often in the hospital. She developed a disease of her muscles that caused gradual but serious weakening over the past decade. This is in addition to other health problems, including asthma and two types of painful arthritis.

We spent a few days last June with Clara and her husband in Princeton. It was clear that her health was deteriorating and that she needed hospital care. I stayed with her a couple of hours while the admissions clerk searched for a room. Finally I had to leave to catch a plane to Europe where we sang with the Durango Choral Society.

Clara did not live at her home in the intervening months. She spent weeks in the hospital, then a rehabilitation center, then assisted living center. She was fortunate to find a wonderful woman who stayed with her during this time as her aide. Lidiya, an immigrant from Ukraine, entertained Clara with stories of her past, her family and her culture. Clara told me joyfully about the longest trip that she had taken for months to visit Lidiya’s home in northern Jersey. Lidiya took her mind off her pain and misery—what an angel of mercy she is! Lidiya wrote about Clara: “She really was a gracious lady and very interesting person. Also lovely, sunny and sweet.”

What I feared was true. Clara’s husband, David, and I were walking into the hospital when we encountered one of her doctors. This kind man showed us on the CT where the blood had collected, and also how damaged her lungs were. The scan also showed other signs of deterioration caused by the aging process and disease. She was not the beautiful older sister I had known as a kid growing up.

Surprised to see me (she didn’t know that I was visiting), Clara smiled briefly, but her energy and strength were short-lived. I could see marked decline since we were last together in the fall. Clara was bedridden and barely moved except to turn her head to talk. At mealtime she needed both hands to lift the small bowl of soup. She ate very little. She was in a private room at the end of a hall, she said, because the pain was so severe that at times she screamed out loud. I didn’t need to be a doctor to know that her condition was dreadful.

David told me that Clara had asked about hospice care a year and a half ago. Hospice was not appropriate then, but the time had come. David and I talked it over, and then I suggested to Clara that it might be appropriate. She agreed.

Her doctor agreed that Clara’s condition was hopeless, and that comfort was the best that he could offer. He talked it over with her, determined that she was alert enough to be able to make the decision, and started her on narcotics. The next day I received a call that my dear sister had died.

Writing runs in our family. Our mother decided in third grade that she wanted to be an English teacher. Our father wrote dentistry texts and Clara was a freelance writer. She wrote many articles for magazines and newspapers, as well as two published novels. I was always interested in science and did ok in English in school. Clara gave me a remarkable opportunity twenty-five years ago: did I want to try writing for a new magazine, Women’s World? I submitted a trial article and was selected to compose some of the Gynecologist Columns. She occasionally offered suggestions to improve my writing. Soon I realized that with the word processor I could reach many more people than by just seeing patients in the office. In other words, the pen is mightier than the speculum!

On Clara’s suggestion I approached the Herald with an idea for a book, which turned into this column. Sixteen years later people are reading it both here and outside of Durango.

Please join me in thanking my sister for empowering me to write. Please also join me in mourning her years of illness and recent death.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2011

Action Durango Herald Environment Hope Media Population

Speak Out on Population

Speak Out on Population

© Richard Grossman MD, 2009

“I do not understand why there is very little discussion, or even acknowledgement, that unless the human population on this planet can be limited to a sustainable number, there will be wars and death over food and water.”

I agree with Rick, a fellow Bayfield resident, who wrote the above sentence several months ago in response to one of my articles. Rick started:

“I read your article in the Herald this past weekend and was encouraged to find some recognition that human population growth is the root cause of this planet’s problems. I find it nauseating to read countless articles written by supposed experts proposing band-aid fixes to the increasing numbers of problems we humans face, when in fact, that will only delay the inevitable”.

I feel rewarded to know that there are others who feel the same way as I do. Thank you, Rick, and all of the others who have written or spoken to me in response to Population Matters! articles. I even appreciate hearing from people who do not agree with me. I count as a friend a man I haven’t met, but we communicate respectfully about abortion—a subject about which we have radically different ideas.

I am amazed that people do not make the connection between environmental issues and the human effect on Earth. After all, it is our profligate consumption and our ever-increasing numbers that are causing pollution, loss of species and global climate change—amongst other crises. Fortunately there are people, like Rick, who do “get it”; they understand the relationship, and are willing to do something about it.

Concern about human population became popular after Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb was published in 1968. Shortly afterwards, Zero Population Growth (which espoused reaching a steady state of population) was founded. Interest came to a halt in 1994 when the International Conference on Population and Development shifted the focus from population to “reproductive health.” The assumption was that providing reproductive health care would allow people to have as few children as they wanted.

The other part of that assumption is that economies were improving, and that fertility would decline as peoples’ wellbeing improved. Unfortunately, economic development implies increased consumption, so development is not an unmitigated blessing. Education (especially of girls) is all-around good, since education doesn’t need to increase consumption—but definitely is associated with smaller family size.

There were several reasons that people at ICPD turned away from population and toward RH. This huge conference of the United Nations needed to reach a consensus of the 179 nations attending (including the Holy See or Vatican) and RH was an easier concept for some countries to tolerate than population stabilization. A major reason that limiting population growth went out of favor is the abuses that were perpetrated in its name. In some countries people were coerced to use contraception or to have sterilization operations. China’s one child family policy is famous for being coercive, and there is evidence that some women were even forced to have abortions. We now recognize that the most successful family planning programs are totally voluntary.

So ICPD was a turning point away from concern about population. But how successful has the focus on RH been? In the fifteen years since ICPD the world’s population has increased by more than one billion people and atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased from 358 to 386 parts per million. Furthermore, we are now using the resources of about 1.3 planet earths, whereas in 1994 we only used about 10% more than was sustainable. We have not done well! I feel that attention has been distracted from the real issue.

How could this be? Why do people not pay more attention to population? I recommend a short video by a Harvard professor of psychology. Although it focuses on the related issue of global climate change, much of what it says also pertains to population:

An additional reason that population is even more taboo than climate may be more important. Population involves the issues of sexuality and contraception that many people—and religions—feel strongly about.

John Feeney, a Colorado journalist, has created the Global Speak Out on Population at The goal of GSOP is to bring the issue of human population back into the public’s consciousness. I suggest that you check out the website, and then sign the pledge of support.

Rick, you are correct; human population growth is the root cause of many of this planet’s problems. Thank you for recognizing this!

Published in the Durango Herald 2-09

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