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House Calls

This is a column about moderating Medical Monday on Vox Pop.

The problem is that the people who call in rightly believe they should have more time than I might allow. That’s because the phone lines are all always filled up and you want to give everyone a chance. For example, after a caller makes his or her point and we move on, they may call and tell me that they had more to say. Occasionally they will suggest that their particular political agenda may have influenced the decision to limit their time. Sometimes some of these good folks think that fluoridation is a communist plot or that various diseases are caused by some government action or that the chem trails you see in the sky are really people trying to poison the population. But these accusations are few and far between.

For the most part, the doctors on the Vox Pop are incredibly impressed by the quality and depth of the questions and the intelligence of the callers. Nevertheless, while most people love the show there will always be those who try to do some damage -- sometimes thinking that they are funny in a very strange kind of way. One time we had a plastic surgeon on and a caller wanted to know if he could recreate a penis. He answered in the affirmative and I hung up in a record-breaking time.

People either love or hate Medical Monday, but I do know for some folks, it has literally been a lifesaver. I am certainly not a physician but over the years I have learned a lot and have come to understand how many of the callers feel. I know, for example that some cancers are curable while others, like pancreatic cancer, are real trouble. In the many years I have been doing the show I have seen real progress in the field of medical research and have watched as new medications and treatments have extended life spans. Take all forms of diabetes. New medicines have added years to the lives of people who would have been dead years before. When I was younger, I knew a guy who had diabetes and went blind as a result. He died what I would classify as a very early death. Now there are home dialysis units and various insulin pumps and new pharmaceuticals. On the other hand, some callers take grave exception to some of the new medications. For example, I’ve heard from several folks who think that statins are the devil’s curse.

Doctors tell me all the time that they really value the program because they can get so much valuable information out to so many people at once, instead of sitting in an office repeating the same information to each patient.

Take the case of the aforementioned pancreatic cancer. That’s a bad one. We have not yet come up with an early screening procedure that can detect that cancer the way colonoscopy can spot and even potentially cure colon cancer. That information is very important to our listeners who may know someone with the disease or even have it themselves. While you really can’t sugar coat bad news, people can be mobilized to make demands, contribute money to support research, and put pressure on the medical establishment to get moving.

We have had several programs about Alzheimer’s Disease and about the ongoing progress that has been made in that field. The projections for the numbers of us who will end up with the disease is staggering.

On most of these shows, the phone lines are all filled up and that just proves that we are doing a service I simply don’t see anywhere else.

Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m..
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