You are not your mommy, said my friend. She was right. I had allowed fear, despite FDR’s Depression-era warning, to trump reason.
My mother died almost two decades ago after knee replacement surgery. She contracted two different infections by antibiotic resistant bacteria, and then she was gone.
Now, with osteoarthritis causing the deterioration of both knees into a bone-rubbing-against-bone reality, and my physician running out of pain-reducing medication options, I could face the same fate.
When my bone doctor first suggested a couple of knee-replacement operations, the pain was manageable. I told him I had no intention of ever considering going under the knife. The orthopedist just grinned and said, “You’ll be back.”
The odds were in his favor. Not only has the number of total knee replacement surgeries soared 161.5 percent over the past 20 years, but the yearly demand is also predicted to reach 3.48 million procedures by 2030.
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, 90 percent of patients undergoing knee replacement experience a dramatic reduction in pain and a significant improvement in the ability to perform daily activities. The 30-day mortality rate, in fact, is .04 percent with less than two percent of patients suffering complications.
As to antibiotic resistant infections, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials reported only last week that while hospital-borne germs infect around two million Americans every year, only 23,000 die.
The recent number is considerably lower than previous CDC ballpark figures — the estimate was 100,000 in 2007 — because researchers deliberately stripped out cases in which a drug-resistant infection was present but not necessarily the cause of death.
One particularly lethal type of drug-resistant bacteria, known as CRE, is impervious to nearly all antibiotics on the market. While still relatively rare — causing just 600 deaths a year — it’s still been identified in health care facilities in 44 states.
“We are getting closer and closer to the cliff,” the CDC’s Dr. Michael Bell told The New York Times.
Now it wouldn’t take much for somebody as apprehensive as I am to obsess about CRE — becoming convinced, based on comments like Bell’s, that the bacterium will do me in.
Do you remember Barry Glassner? Although it’s been a dozen years since the sociologist who is now president of Lewis and Clark College penned “The Culture of Fear,” he still spouts the message that most major anxieties of the American public are wildly misplaced.
Glassner, who regularly slams the mainstream media for fear-mongering to boost ratings, reports that three out of four Americans admit to being more afraid now than 20 years ago — even though the crime rate is at an all-time low, people are living longer and capitalism is under no viable threat.
“If we ask why so many of us are losing sleep over dangers that are very small or unlikely,” Glassner told the Oregonian, “it’s almost always because someone or some group is profiting or trying to profit by either selling us a product, scaring us into voting for them or against their opponent or enticing us to watch their TV program.”
He advises that whenever we find ourselves exposed to “fear-filled” news, we should investigate the claims.
Is an isolated incident (like my mother’s experience) being treated as a trend? Just asking the question, Glassner suggests, can be reassuring in itself.
Second, Glassner recommends that we think about the person conveying the scary message (even if it is ourselves) and determine how the communicator might benefit. In my case, it allowed me to avoid a thorny decision.
So I hit the books. I learned, of all the superbugs, the most pervasive is MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) but according to a JAMA internal Medicine journal article published only last week, MRSA infections in hospitals have dropped by more than half from 2005 to 2011 due to vigorous hygiene measures.
But that’s not the most remarkable finding. According to the same study, while hospitals may have cleaned up their act, the probability of picking up MRSA at such outside health care setting as clinics or rehab centers is still high. That (and the money) are why Medicare prefers you recuperate at home.
While “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” is sage advice, I was more persuaded by “The Daily Shower Can Be a Killer,” a New York Times Op-Ed piece by Jared Diamond.
The 70-year-old author of “Guns, Germs and Steel” confided that “the biggest single lesson that I’ve learned from 50 years of field work on the island of New Guinea was the importance of being attentive to hazards that carry a low risk each time but are encountered frequently” — like slipping during one’s daily stint in the shower stall.
My sturdy new knees should diminish that risk considerably.