October 24, 2012

What We Can Learn From The Fungal Meningitis Outbreak

This scare with the steroid shots and fungal meningitis hit close to home. I have a family member who has received steroid shots in his back for chronic back pain including scoliosis, bulging disks, and arthritis. When I first heard about the fungal meningitis outbreak, I immediately asked if he had the type of steroid shots that were infected. Luckily, we live in Oklahoma, which did not receive any of the tainted steroids, so he had not received any of the dangerous shots. But this made me think about the dangers often found in Western Medicine.

Story after story has bombarded the news with the fungal meningitis outbreak. Within the last few days, redOrbit reported that the number of cases due to the contaminated injectable drugs has risen from 245 to 285. This is incredibly frightening. People who needed the steroids shots for pain relief or whatever trusted that they were receiving safe injections. Now 23 of those recipients have lost their lives because of that trust. That scares me.

I know that doctors follow the creed to “do no harm.” The Hippocratic Oath that all doctors and health professionals take makes them swear to practice medicine ethically and honestly. And I know that most doctors follow this to their core. I’m sure that many of the doctors who have patients with fungal meningitis from the injections feel a sense of guilt and frustration that goes beyond just embarrassment. And though this lessens the blow of this outbreak, it does not change the fact that 23 people, at this point, have lost their lives.

I know that the doctors have also felt betrayal from the New England Compounding Center where the injectable drug was produced. These doctors must have trusted that the company provided them with safe drugs. I cannot imagine the frustration that those who desired to help people in pain find some relief must be feeling knowing that their suggested treatment of steroid injections infected many with a debilitating and deadly disease.

This is just a tragedy on all levels. Individuals with different ailments sought out professional help to deal with their issues. They trusted their doctors. Doctors, whose number one desire to help others, sought out companies that could provide safe and decent drugs and medications. They trusted these companies. This is a very sad cycle of falling short.

What’s the ultimate answer here? Should we just avoid any possible medical risks? I do not think this is a wise solution. Doctors are necessary to health. They are trained professionals who can save our lives. Doctors want to help and try to help. This is good.

Do patients need to ask about the reliability and validity of the medications and procedures doctors suggest? Absolutely. For so long, people have simply trusted their doctors’ words because they are doctors. And though that is certainly a position that deserves respect, we also need to be responsible in our health. Just because a doctor suggests a certain medication or procedure does not mean that we have to follow that blindly. We should ask questions. We should ask about alternative options. We should seek second opinions.

The fungal meningitis from the injections is just a sad reminder that people are fallible…even doctors. Patients must be more active in their healthcare decisions. Our lives depend on it.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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