A physician long active in the New York Metropolitan Area has written a candid and remarkably honest book titled 50 Years A Doctor, The Journey of Sickness and Health, Four Plagues and the Pandemic.
Ronald Halweil, M.D., has practiced in New York City and New Jersey. A resident of Southampton on Long Island, he tells first in his book of the changes in medicine through his half-century as a doctor, how his “journey through medicine, health and health care” began “in a very different time than today. The things I saw as a medical and surgical practitioner” started “in an era without the technological advances we have today.”
“Things happen much faster nowadays,” he says, “and what used to be normal can now seem unusual, and yet it was valid and worked at the time, just as things we take for granted about health and health care today may be looked upon as primitive in the future.”
He adds: “Sometimes it feels like every new advance is paired with a loss of older wisdom, as if there is no room for the old with the new, and I think this is a big mistake that causes needless suffering and premature death.”
Dr. Halweil is an otolaryngologist—an ear, nose and throat specialist.
When he began in medicine “the fabulous imaging technologies of today were nonexistent. There was no CAT scan or MRI to reveal the hidden spaces of the human body, not even ultrasound to help determine if a swelling was benign or malignant.”
“This was a time when the surgeon was called upon to make the diagnosis from patient history, physical examination, and personal experience, and often that needed a closer inspection, an exploratory operation, and possibly a life-saving procedure being performed at the same time.”
Chapters in his book include “The Smoking Epidemic.” He writes: “Cigarettes and other tobacco products plus the advertising agencies that cleverly promoted them were important parts of the American economy.” He tells of the “TV ads of white-coated actors representing doctors explaining why one brand of cigarette was better than other brands.” Meanwhile, “Everyone knew there were deleterious health effects from smoking, but the occasional sore throat or the ‘smoker’s cough’ or hoarse voice was considered an incidental inconvenience.”
A U.S. surgeon general “made the first official government statement” linking smoking to cancer in 1957.
Still, he relates: “Our first lectures in medical school in 1963 were about smoking and alcohol” and “at that time nearly one-quarter of the class were smokers, and our lecture hall often smelled of lighted cigarettes since there were few prohibitions against smoking anywhere you wanted.” However, after “our professors presented slide after slide of x-rays showing lung cancer and pathology slides of what lung cancer looked like under the microscope…there were fewer smokers in the auditorium!”
He comments that “it’s sad to think of all the deaths and miseries that could have been prevented if the doctors and the AMA [American Medical Association], and the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and all the other governmental agencies had been more proactive in alerting the population to the problems of smoking.”’
He has a chapter titled “HIV” on the AIDS epidemic and celebrates how “fastidious researchers were able to find the virus that they called the human immunodeficiency virus” and how “several antiviral drugs were tested, and finally excellent, effective treatments were available though only for controlling the virus...This was a triumph of rapid medical research and pharmaceutical production.”
But, “Unfortunately, poorer countries dealing with this infection had to pay the prevailing U.S. cost of the patented medication, which was in the range of thousands of dollars per month.”
All along, Dr. Halweil emphasizes the need for healthy living. “We are indeed lucky to have an advanced health care system, but sadly we have neglected health,” he writes. He says, “Today we need a guardrail to prevent the preventable diseases,” he writes.
“And if we ever have the courage to truly enable positive health changes in our society through the old wisdom of proper diet, exercise and rest, I fear that most doctors will need new careers,” declares Dr. Halweil.
This book both praising and being critical—and providing an insider’s view—of medicine, health and health care—is available through Dorrance Publishing at https://bookstore.dorrancepublishing.com/fifty-years-a-doctor/