This morning I received a call from Dr. Peter Pinto at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Pinto, as you may remember, is the researcher who developed the program of targeted biopsies that enabled him to diagnose, well before the older procedures would have allowed, the cancer that threatened me; and he was the surgeon who took out my prostate two weeks ago. This was a call I was eagerly awaiting, and I expected to get it early next week.
After my prostatectomy on 25 June, Dr. Pinto told me that the lymph nodes associated with the prostate appeared to be cancer-free. Then, he cautioned me that the laboratory work would be definitive. That is what I was waiting for, and I am pleased to be able to report that, at least for the time being, I am cancer-free. Barring some other threat to my health, one not predicted by my family history, I should be all right for some time to come.
This is a reminder that, however gruesome the immediate aftermath of such an operation is likely to be, it is well worth the pain and discomfort – especially, if you have a wife and children to look after; and though the woods are lovely, dark, and deep, you have promises to keep, and miles to go before you sleep. It is also a reminder that you really should attend to your family medical history because you are likely to repeat it.
There is one other thing to think about. Much has been written in recent years about the increase in the cost of medical care. Some of this is due to the fact that we have a dysfunctional healthcare system. To be precise, the high cost reflects high demand for unneeded procedures generated by the fact that we buy healthcare as a package and then rely on third-party payers, which relieves patients of any awareness of the cost of what they are receiving. If we substituted health savings accounts and major medical insurance with reasonably high co-pays for Medicare and if we encouraged employers to follow suit, prospective patients would become sensitive to price signals and providers would be forced to compete on price with regard to the delivery of medical care of an ordinary sort.
There is, however, another reason for the increase in the cost of medical care. For decades now, we have witnessed revolution after revolution in medical research. This research is costly, and those engaged in it have to be able to profit in substantial ways from their more successful efforts. New remedies come at a price. To this, one can add that we now live much longer than our forebears, and we suffer from ailments that they did not live long enough to have to confront. This, too, is costly. There is no escaping it, and there is no such thing as a free lunch. If one wants to outlive one’s parents, one should expect to have to dedicate a larger proportion of what one earns to paying for the privilege.
Obamacare, if it survives, will kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Instead of promoting new discoveries that will allow us to live longer and more active lives, it will bring such research to a grinding halt. It is no accident that we do not ordinarily look to the strongholds of socialized medicine for medical breakthroughs. Instead, what we find is that, one by one, these countries give up on the prolongation of life and resort to euthanasia, instead. The Dutch have been doing this for years, and now the British have begun. When Sarah Palin spoke of “death panels,” she hit the nail on the head.
I count myself a lucky man. I grew up in the United States. I have lived here most of my life, and I have reason to be grateful for the fact that, thanks to its commercial character, this country has a dynamic medical culture. I have no objection to the federal government’s devoting resources to medical research. Those resources just saved my life. It would, however, be truly awful were the federal government to become the sole source of such funds . . . as would soon become the case if the agenda of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party were to be fully implemented.
I still have some recovering to do. The lingering effects of the anesthesia leave me a bit slow-moving at times, and the operation itself has unpleasant side effects. I am, however, so I am told, a poster boy with regard to quick recovery. The day the dread catheter came back I suffered very little incontinence (except when I coughed), and step by step I appear to be fully recovering the capacity for urinary restraint. Erectile function is not yet fully restored, but it is coming back in a fashion gratifying to one as libidinous as I have been for the last half-century. In another month, I may be more or less fully recovered.
In the meantime, in a less intense fashion than in May and during the first three weeks of June, I am nibbling away at what I expect to be the last chapter of a book tentatively renamed The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta: The Persian Challenge. Think of me sitting on the foothills north of Mount Cithaeron contemplating the battle line of Mardonius’ Persians spread out below along the northern shore of the river Asopus. When I read the ninth book of Herodotus, that is where I want to be.