Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
I’ve lived more than half my life here in La Plata County and have reached a milestone. This month I turned 70. My only sibling, Clara, died too young at age 71, although our parents both lived to over 85. This is a good time for me to take stock.
Writing this column for the Herald has been a real pleasure. I have had reason to research all sorts of subjects and to pretend that I’m an expert in them all. Thanks to the Herald for giving me a way to exercise my mind—and hopefully stave off dementia!
It has been my great privilege to have been a part of so many people’s lives as a physician in our community. One of my greatest pleasures is to re-meet folks I have helped into this world. An unrealized goal was to deliver three generations of babies. It has been wonderful, however, to help deliver the sons and daughters of people I first met as newborns.
One of my reasons for becoming a physician and then specializing in obstetrics and gynecology was concern about human population. The world’s population has tripled since my birth, and that of the USA has more than doubled. Because of economic development and our higher standard of living, human use of resources has been multiplied many times. My original reason for concern about overpopulation has to do with my wanting to work for peace. High population density, and thus competition for resources, is a common reason for war. I am still working to minimize this cause of armed conflict. However, now there are many other reasons for concern about population, including extinction of species and climate change. I have been accused of performing abortions only to slow population growth; this is not so! There are strong individual reasons, too—almost as many as there are women with unplanned pregnancies.
Abortion is seldom mentioned in the media except with an associated dark cloud. I am proud to be a physician who performs safe, legal abortions in a caring atmosphere. Whenever I think of retiring from being an abortion provider I remember the quiet teen who sat up after her abortion and said: “Thank you doctor. You gave me back my future.”
I have a conundrum. Sometimes people comment on my quirky sense of humor, but it has not been exercised much when writing these columns. Perhaps the subjects I write about are just too serious for me to find ways to joke about them. I need help: if you can think of jokes about the future of the planet—climate change, extinction of species and overpopulation—please write me.
I also have a bucket list—a list of things I would like to do while I still am able. One big item on the list is to continue exploring the world and our immediate surroundings. We still backpack, but the distances we hike before making camp are getting shorter. Fortunately our dog, Tyrone, helps carry stuff.
Obstetrics has one unique disease that kills women and babies. Physicians have never figured out what causes preeclampsia (also called toxemia of pregnancy or Pregnancy Induced Hypertension); my bucket list includes researching its physiology. About 30 years ago I came up with a hypothesis—that PIH is the woman’s body’s way of compensating for the baby’s obstructing blood flow to the lower half of her body. I never got around to testing this theory, but I hope to do start that study soon.
One of my successes has been to learn enough Spanish to be able to function medically in that language. This has been a help to the many immigrants (and their wives) who do much of the low-paying labor in our area. Recently I have volunteered at the La Plata Community Clinic where Spanish is valuable. It seems strange, after limiting my practice to just women for so long, to also care for men, but they are rewarding. This clinic deserves our community’s support.
I am fortunate that my life is still exciting. Gail and I just celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary. We still enjoy each other’s company, and she has been a wonderful support. I feel very lucky that we found each other.
It has been a great pleasure to be a part of the Durango community, and that of the Herald. Thank you all—including those of you who disagree with me—for being part of my life. Please join me in celebrating my transition to geezerhood!
© Richard Grossman MD, 2013
Wonderful news! The Symposium at the 2012 Telluride Mountain Film Festival will have as its topic POPULATION ! Paul Ehrlich and Dave Foreman will be two of the speakers. It should be exciting!
The Film Festival web site for general information is: http://www.mountainfilm.org/festival
For more information about the Symposium go to: http://www.mountainfilm.org/moving-mountains-symposium-population
I’ve never been to a Telluride Film Festival, but will be there this year. The dates for the whole festival are May 25th to 28th–Memorial Day Weekend. The Symposium will be held 9 am to 3:30 pm on Friday the 25th. I’ll see you there!
It was an accident. In 1994 I spent a day with the political reporter, Robert Fisk, in Egypt. I had never heard of Fisk before, but the experience changed me.
We were part of a press tour organized by the Egyptian government to look at family planning clinics during the International Conference on Population and Development. Fisk inspired me to become an activist instead of just a doctor.
The tour started in a room crowded with real journalists. Although the Durango Herald provided me with the necessary credentials, I had little idea what a journalist actually did. Fisk told me about his experiences as a war correspondent. He has been in the middle of hostile fire in Bosnia and other hotspots. I remember his stories of reporters with less experience—and less luck—who were caught in crossfire and killed. “It’s a dangerous, lonely life,” he said in a recent interview. If I’m not wrong, Fisk himself has taken a few bullets. He could have been a professor of history, the field of his PhD. “You’ve got to feel the passion,” he exclaimed about his choice of career.
As a man who has experienced war personally, he comments: “War is primarily about the total failure of the human spirit. It is about death. Forget Hollywood.” Although British, Fisk has made his home in Beirut, Lebanon, for over 30 years. He told me that it had been a beautiful city before civil war tore it apart.
The tour showed just what I would expect to find in a developing country. In one women’s clinic I asked (through an interpreter) some of the women in the waiting room if they breastfed their babies. They looked at me as though I was from a different planet! “Of course our babies are breastfed! The Qur’an says that we should nurse for at least seven months.”
Although I had traveled to and practiced medicine in some rudimentary places, this clinic left strong memories. One was a woman arriving for her prenatal visit in beautiful clothes—by oxcart. The posters on the wall were similar to what we might see in this country, except for the Arabic script. There are many differences between our societies other than just the alphabet, however.
The clinic’s doctor spoke excellent English. During her years of service in that clinic she had done an informal survey of female genital mutilation. This cruel procedure is also known as “female circumcision,” and is performed in parts of northern Africa and of the Middle East. Usually a barber or other non-medical person does the cutting using unsterile instruments. The victims are children. FGM can lead to serious infections and even death. Survivors will enjoy sex less and may have serious problems during childbirth due to scarring. The doctor said that, of a hundred women she had asked, 98 had suffered this traumatic maiming.
Fisk put this visit into another perspective. He had been to Egypt many times before and had pushed the frontiers of freedom of speech. On one trip he explored the slums up in the hills surrounding Cairo. This huge city of 17 million people in the metro area has at least a million commuters who venture onto the crowded streets every day. Most commuters live in squalor in the poor areas surrounding the city. Fisk spent a day, he said, documenting people living in those miserable living conditions. Someone evidentially tipped off the officials that a stranger was snooping around, and the police exposed all of his film to the Egyptian sun.
Shortly after this experience in Cairo, I started working less so that I could do other things. Now I have time to write this newspaper column, teach a class at Fort Lewis College and be involved in leading a Quaker environmental group. Many friends in Durango have helped me step into this expanded role.
I now read the Independent of London, Fisk’s paper, online every day. His column on 9/11 reminded me of that accidental day in Egypt and how he inspired me to go beyond the usual role of a physician—to become an activist. The title of that article summarizes his viewpoint: “Nine years, two wars, hundreds of thousands dead – and nothing learnt.”
I am happy that I stepped out of my “comfort zone” sixteen years ago to learn more about family planning in Egypt. In addition, I accidentally learned about the risky life of a war journalist—and was propelled into being more of an activist.
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