Medical Technology: A Coming of Age Tale

Remember the good old days of medicine when all you needed for an amputation was a shot of whiskey and a hand saw?

Yeah, me neither, thankfully.

It’s amazing to think that only twenty years ago, we were still using corded phones and worried about things like long distance calls.  Or how most major surgeries still did require hand tools and pinpoint precision.  Some of those things are still in use today, of course, but heavily supplemented by technological advances, some of which have only surfaced within the past few years.

Just think about back in the day.  Doctors were known for their large leather bags used to carry all sorts of tools and relied on medical practices that most of us nowadays would consider precarious at best.  They rode from place to place, most typically with horse-drawn carriages that made traveling all the more slow-going.  And on a good day, they may have actually been able to correctly diagnose a patient with little more than their senses and those relatively-primitive tools.  Nowadays, emergency medical technicians can have a relatively solid diagnosis before you even reach the hospital as well as have it in the hands of an entire slew of medical staff before you need to say one word to any of them.  Modern technology has also, most notably, raised success rates of several procedures to alarming heights with minimal drawbacks.  Can you think of how to go about properly setting broken bones or dislocations in the wild west?  I can’t.

The advent and refinement of various technologies have made even the most mundane of tasks much easier to perform.  Just think of all the machinery that can be used to track vital signs, allowing doctors and nurses to know almost immediately when hospital patients require any sort of aid.  The technology used to support a wide array of procedures, from a relatively simple leg X-ray to a complicated shoulder surgery, have made the jobs of practitioners around the world safer and simultaneously set to ease the concerns of millions of otherwise-worried patients.  Even most old-school paper charts have been replaced by tablets and hand-held computers, making the jobs and communications for and between those practitioners much more efficient.

Technology has almost literally become the eyes and ears, sometimes even the hands for modern medicine.  Consider a rundown of modern tools used for various procedures.  Ultrasounds can monitor the activity of a fetus months before it’s been born.  Internal cameras can diagnose problems in patients while remaining minimally invasive.  Certain surgical procedures have become so precise that they reduce recovery time for patients who, only a decade or so before, might have required multiple days of bed rest and monitoring in a hospital.  Now, they are considered outpatients, barely spending hours in an operating theater before leaving and going back to their lives on the same day.

So, quick review: oil lantern or medical flashlight?  Handsaw with whiskey (and maybe rubbing alcohol) or precision lasers and localized anesthesia?  Magnifying glass or camera scope?  I know what I’d be choosing if my life depended on it.