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Regrets are a waste of time – I sincerely believe that. Nevertheless a recent Stanford research study sent me bitterly back to 1990, to a nondescript medical center in suburban Denver – where I had my first MRI exam.
The study, which found a direct correlation with the supply of MRI machines and the frequency of back surgery for Medicare patients (you guessed it – more MRI’s = more surgeries), made me wonder for the umpteemth time – could I have saved myself a lot of pain if I had never climbed into that machine?
Truthfully, it’s impossible to answer that question – and it may be moot, anyhow. After all, I survived not one but two surgeries and moved on to a solid marriage, lots of travel, mountain climbing, hundreds of miles on my bikes and a productive writing career. Maybe my ruptured lower back disc (and accompanying severe leg pain) could never have healed without my laminectomy?
Still, 20 years later I can say I didn’t have a chance of avoiding surgery once I emerged from the MRI. The moment my doctor showed me – as a 22-year-old who had never experienced a serious medical problem – the visual evidence of my injury, right there in front of me on the MRI report, he had his license to operate.
And I succumbed to my pain, with a solid push from modern medical technology, with absolutely no clue of the lifelong struggle upon which I was about to embark.
The fact that more surgeries result from a prevalance of diagnostic equipment isn’t all that surprising. A disturbing recent NPR report documented a surge in hysterectomies performed on New England women, noting that more doctors in a community can tranlsate to an increase in the number of medical procedures.
But an even bigger influence, according to the report, was money. Under our fundamentally flawed U.S. health care system, doctors in the U.S. earn more money the more procedures they perform (mostly regardless of patient outcomes).
They must have some regrets about their choices, as well.