This blog post is a series of four posts about my experience in Pat Thomas’s Health and Medical Journalism graduate class this semester.
On Tuesday, Nancy Gore Saravia, scientific director of Centro Internacional de Entrenamiento e Investigaciones Medicas in Cali, Colombia, came to speak at UGA for the Voices of the Vanguard lecture.
She detailed her research in Leishmania, a disease transmitted through sandfly bites, which essentially makes your face fall off. Side note: why is it that these researchers feel the need to show so many pictures?
Over many decades, Saravia’s team showed that most cases of the disease don’t actually make your face crumble off your, well, face. Often, infected populations will have pimple-looking legions or have no symptoms at all. The team was only able to show this after testing large groups of people to see if they had it. The results were controversial at first because others in the field hadn’t seen that.
Her team also showed the current treatment to be often ineffective, especially in children, and that infected peoples were likely to become infected again. Previously, the community had thought of the disease as similar to chickenpox — after you get it, you won’t get it again.
Again, others weren’t seeing that and the results were controversial.
But, her team was right. Once others actually looked for this, they saw it.
Saravia included lots of life lessons in her presentation. She told the audience to thank their mentors and reminded several times that “you make plans, then life happens.”
This lesson stuck with me most, though. You can’t see something without looking for it. A lot of medical stuff is the same way. How can you know what the end result of a surgery is if you don’t ask? You can’t.
Freshman year, I broke my ankle. I tried to wait it out and go to PT, but after a year, it still wasn’t back to normal and I got surgery to remove a bone piece that had become lodged in the joint. I had follow-up appointments, of course, but didn’t have contact with my doctor after the scar healed. Most surgeries are like this. It took probably a year to be able to run again comfortably and regularly. Even now, years later, my flexibility in that ankle is noticeably very different. My tree pose sucks on that side.
He has no idea about any of that though, and can’t tell other patients thinking of doing similar surgeries what the real outcomes are. He hasn’t called every few months to find out. Would that have been a good investment? I’m not sure, but it’s important to remember and think about that. If someone tells you something they think as fact, you should ask if they looked for it. If they haven’t, they can’t know. Proceed with caution.