6 Tiny Things Doctors Do That Can Save (Or End) Your Life
Modern health care is a miracle, but it's an expensive miracle. However the health care works in your particular country, a stay at the hospital is costing somebody thousands of dollars. But what price is too high when you need a surgeon to unblock your damned arteries?
Fortunately, the world is full of zero-cost solutions that save lives. It's just a matter of convincing people to use them. For instance ...
A To-Do List in the Operating Room Cuts Deaths in Half
If you're a patient preparing for surgery, it probably wouldn't put you at ease to see the surgeon flip open a to-do list before you go under the gas ("Oh, I cut the patient open, then pull out the liver!"). Surgeons are, after all, some of the smartest and most capable people in the world, with a decade of medical school under their belts. They shouldn't need goddamned Post-it notes to know what they're doing. Yet studies have shown that using a simple checklist during surgery can dramatically decrease the chances of something going wrong.
And we're not just talking about med students who can't tell a scalpel from the plastic knife they got with their Wendy's baked potato. Researchers did a massive study spanning eight hospitals in different countries. Some of the facilities were state of the art, while others may have left the least drunk doctor in charge of the defibrillator. In all cases, using a checklist cut the death rate of all surgeries in half, while complications dropped by more than a third.
Another study looking at data from 103 different hospitals showed that a simple checklist gave them a 66 percent decrease in the number of potentially fatal catheter infections, while yet another checklist has been shown to increase the number of preventive health measures physicians take. That's all it took -- a little piece of paper to remind them the right way to do it.
"I was gonna pour lemon juice onto his kidneys, but then I checked the list."
Still, medical professionals don't like to use them -- they tend to find them patronizing and just plain annoying. Yet others point out that airline pilots (another group of highly trained, proud professionals) have been obsessing over checklists for decades and not bitching about it. So if one highly complex, life-or-death task benefits from poring over a checklist, then why not apply it to the guys tinkering around inside your body?
What we're saying is that you should take things into your own hands and just get a surgery task checklist tattooed on your chest.
Self-Destructing Syringes Save Millions
You probably know, thanks to many '90s-era PSAs about AIDS, that one way the disease spreads is due to people sharing heroin needles. It makes sense -- you're letting a virus from a sick person's bloodstream cling to a needle, then inserting it into your own veins. There probably isn't a more efficient way to intentionally infect someone, whether with HIV or anything else.
Yet people still do it, and the various resulting infections kill millions. The World Health Organization estimates that an astonishing 1.3 million people die each year due to the reuse of contaminated syringes, and the total health costs are estimated at around $100 billion. That probably wins the prize for the biggest problem with the most obvious solution nobody has thought of before now:
Make a goddamned syringe that can only be used once.
Well, only once as a syringe. With a little work, you could turn that thing into a crack pipe.
So, Marc Koska developed a syringe good for one use and one use only. He made a simple modification to traditional syringe design that causes a ring to fall into the barrel of the syringe after it's used, preventing it from retracting again. Then it explodes.
Well, actually, it just snaps if you try to use it again. The point is, the modification is so simple that it adds nothing to the cost of producing syringes.
Which means more money for hookers. Uh ... medicinal hookers.
The most obvious issue is that you're going to need to make lots, lots more syringes, but for every dollar you lose, you gain 10 -- Tanzania, the first country to switch to these syringes exclusively, estimates that it will cost them $7 million more in syringe manufacture, but save them $70 million in health care costs.
Oh, and there are all of those people who would otherwise have freaking died.
Giving the Elderly a Houseplant Makes Them Less Likely to Die
Living in a retirement home isn't as fun as it sounds. Who are we kidding? It's about exactly as fun as it sounds.
As such, socially conscious researchers have always made a point of trying to figure out how to make life a little less horrible for those slogging through their autumn years. And, you know, to hopefully do it in a way that doesn't boil down to "Buy them high-priced whores every month." Fortunately, there is one simple, dirt-cheap method: Give them a houseplant, and make them take care of it.
"This is my granddaughter, Jocelyn."
That's it. In research conducted back in 1976, scientists gave 91 retirement home residents their own houseplants to take care of, probably at least the third shittiest gift any of them had received that week. Half of the residents were told to care for the damn thing themselves, while for the other half, the plant was taken care of by the nursing staff. When they followed up, they found that the mortality rate for those who looked after their own plant was 50 percent lower, and those residents were in better health overall.
So, what's the deal here? Well, the researchers hypothesize that it has something to do with "locus of control," or more simply, whether or not you feel as though you have some control over events in the world. You've seen this at work -- how much more satisfying is it to build or create something with your name on it versus just grinding out your day in a cubicle, counting the seconds until lunch rolls around?
Feeling as though you personally make a difference in your world vastly improves your mindset. Hell, it's the only reason most people get out of bed in the morning.
"If I die, who will watch my plant not die?"
The science backs us up; this mentality is actually the best predictor of quality of life among nursing home residents, the one place where control is so scarce that just feeding a plant makes all the difference.
Obviously, though, you want to make sure it's a hardy plant, because if it dies, its carer can wind up feeling more depressed. For the best results, we would suggest plastic.
Or the potted plant equivalent of Rasputin, a cactus.
Sunlight and Cuddles Do Miracles for Premature Babies
Premature babies face a whole bunch of problems on account of the fact that they're not finished turning into babies yet. Modern technology has come a long way in helping keep premature babies alive and kicking, but until now only hippies fully appreciated the benefits of cuddles and sunlight.
They're still wrong about that shitty salt deodorant, though.
It's called kangaroo care, because it's similar to the way that kangaroos carry their young. We don't mean that you have to slice open your abdomen and slip your baby into a skin pouch. Just holding your baby against your skin for a few hours a day has shown to lead to decreased infections and mortality, as well as increasing sleep and stabilizing temperature.
And it wouldn't hurt to do it by a window. One of the main problems that underdeveloped babies can face is something called hyperbilirubinemia, which is worth at least 800 points in Words With Friends, but you're probably more familiar with the term "jaundice." It turns the skin yellow, which in addition to clashing with the upholstery, means a buildup of bilirubin, which is more or less blood poop.
That's right -- this little guy is filled with more than one kind of poop.
Thankfully, bilirubin is broken down by sunlight, so a few hours a day of cuddling your baby in a sunny room is a pretty effective treatment for jaundice not caused by being a career alcoholic. In fact, at least one study has shown that the day star was 6.5 times as effective as phototherapy from a machine. Score one for Mother Nature.
So there you have it. Babies work like Birdman.
And while we're on the subject of saving babies ...
An Effortless Procedure at Birth Makes a Baby Healthier
One of the first things that you do after squeezing out a mewling infant is cut off the pulsating flesh cord that connects you, because it's weird and kind of gross. But hang on to those scissors -- research suggests that waiting just a few minutes before you cut the cord can prevent a whole bunch of problems further down the road.
"Hey, hold off on those scissors. Let's watch Timecop first."
Researchers in Sweden studied 400 full-term infants and found that babies who had their umbilical cords clamped three minutes after delivery had iron levels 45 percent higher than babies who had their cords clamped after 10 seconds. This meant a reduced incidence in anemia, the disease caused by not having enough red blood cells carrying oxygen around your body (with oxygen ordinarily being beneficial to your health).
Until recently, the benefits of keeping the cord attached after the baby pops out weren't really known, but apparently the birthing mechanism prompts the umbilical cord to start downloading a whole bunch of useful crap into your baby that it's going to need in the coming months. Just because it's outside the oven doesn't mean that this bun is fully baked, which is why the umbilical cord delivers stem cells, which help fix up any structural damage your baby might have.
You can just tell this one's broken.
Cutting the cord off too early interrupts this delivery, which may risk complications. So although it's gross and quivering, it may benefit you to hum the length of your average pop song before you snip.
Get a Cut, Cram Some Honey in the Wound
Antibiotics have a downside -- the more you use them, the more bacteria learn how to ignore them. As a result, antibiotics wind up helping create treatment-resistant superbugs, which is the exact opposite of what you want your antibiotics to accomplish. But what choice do you really have? Well, science is here to tell you, slather some honey on that wound, sucka.
"He's bleeding internally! Grab a funnel and spread those ass cheeks."
In the rare case where folk wisdom actually lines up with real life, honey, especially honey made from the manuka flower, is wildly successful in treating wounds because of how it reacts with bacteria -- it blocks their ability to stick onto the wound. In one trial, researchers tried using honey against MRSA, one of the aforementioned superbugs that evolved from the "staph" infection that now has the ability to create sores of biblical proportions. The result? Seventy percent of the honey-glazed patients had MRSA-free wounds, while only one guy on the regular treatment kicked the disease.
But there's another, more incredible discovery to come out of this. Another study showed that honey might actually help to reverse MRSA's resistance to antibiotics, making them useful again. Holy shit! Thanks, bees!
"It's cool. You can pay us back by not driving our species to extinction."