Some of medicine’s greatest challenges are being conquered thanks to amazing developments in surgical and medical technology. Areas of the body previously thought inaccessible–or at least, only accessible via extremely invasive measures–are now in the main battlegrounds against a number of ailments.
The brain is one of those areas we think of right away. With so little margin for error and such catastrophic impacts in the event of complications, our brains are perhaps the most frightening place to find problems. Yet many of the once-insurmountable problems of even the brain are now being conquered.
To be sure, it’s cutting-edge work. And in all truth, some of the procedures are not applicable in very many situations yet. But there is still great importance in what these procedures and practitioners can accomplish.
Although the type of highly specialized work that Dr. Hrayr Shahinian of the Skull Base Institute is performing isn’t necessary for very many patients each year, there is still a potential for a huge impact from the techniques he is utilizing. High-level medical procedures can open other avenues for different fields of medicine.
One needs to look back just a few years to see how emerging surgical technology can quickly move from helping just a few patients to helping many. There was a time when laparoscopic procedures were fairly limited in scope. Now they have expanded into everything from gall bladder removal to hysterectomies. Those surgeries are so common that any improvement to the procedure has the potential to impact thousands of patients.
So there is a lot of value in conducting even very rare procedures with new technology, because what is learned in those tightly controlled circumstances holds great promise to teach us new ways of doing things that are more commonplace.
A debate that rages throughout society is the value of a human life. Often it is addressed in the context of wrongful death or disability. Because it is such an abstract concept, life can never be valued in dollars and cents.
And therein lies the importance of what Dr. Hrayr Shahinian is doing. The impact of these procedures on patients–some of whom are just children–is lifelong. Lives are extended, quality of life grows, and the physical abilities of patients are enhanced. It is pointless to attempt to place a monetary value on that, because there is so much more to life than money.
Perhaps the lesson here is not that these technologies could help thousands of people, or that they only help a few. Perhaps the lesson is that we may not value long-term steps to save lives quite enough. A single surgical intervention is easy to target as the moment a life was saved. But what about reducing blood pressure, managing diabetes, or good hygiene? The good things we do for our health over a period of years can have the same impact as what a surgeon does in a few hours.
So while we celebrate victorious moments in medicine, we should keep focus also on the day-by-day good things that we can all do for ourselves. A life that is saved by preventing a heart attack or stroke is no less saved than one that was rescued from a once-inoperable brain tumor. We owe it to ourselves.