Monday, September 3, 2012

Modern Medicine: Thanks and All That!

I was walking up Cambridge Street on Beacon Hill last week when I saw Doctor Derrick Lin (MEEI) coming down the street with some coffees in his hand.  I wouldn't miss the guy for anything -- after all, he performed surgery on me less than two years ago that helped save my life -- so I called out to him with a friendly hello.

After we exchanged some pleasantries and caught up a bit, he mentioned that a story we had helped to film at Mass Eye and Ear had aired on a local news channel in Tennessee.

The story mainly speaks for itself, and if you're a long-time reader of the blog, you're probably familiar with it.  If you're interested in the medical side, I'll point out that one of the mysteries involved the absence of HPV (Human Papilloma Virus).  All my pathology samples were negative, which is doubly unusual:  First, most people carry some form of HPV; but second, nearly all oral cancer patients do (two strands of the virus in particular).  In fact, Doctor Lin has literally performed thousands upon thousands of these surgeries, and only two patients have ever been HPV-negative.

One of my best friends dug up this medical journal a while ago which showed a study linking alcohol intolerance with squamous cell carcinoma.  Sure enough, I really did experience the 'single nucleotide polymorphism' described in the article (I am alcohol allergic/intolerant) but wasn't born that way.  What it means is that what someone might process as a harmless byproduct (acetic acid) is broken down by someone 'missing the enzyme' as acetaldehyde, which is, well, highly carcinogenic.

Still, to all the MD/PhDs over in the West End, that's so much mumbo jumbo.  Seriously.  As I wrote about after Adam Yauch died, no one really has any clue why ANYONE develops cancer.  People try to find these linear causalities (i.e. Remember the time you breathed in those chemicals near that lab?) but they are grasping at straws.  As Malcolm Gladwell might say, they're confusing puzzle and mystery. | Nashville News, Weather

Watching the clip brought back a lot of memories, as does my daily commute, which takes me past the Yawkey Center twice each day and across the Longfellow Bridge as well, with a clear view of Mass Eye and Ear. Most of all, I am grateful to say that the system worked for me -- from the guy in Winchester who took the biopsy to the tech at Wright-Patt who saw the disease to the lady at Hanscom who gave me the MGH/MEEI referral to the professionals at MEEI who decided to take extra lymph nodes rather than radiate to the General who decided to take a risk by letting me deploy, everything really came together.

And yes, every day is a win, and all of those wonderful things.  Provided, of course, I don't ever take all of that for granted.  

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