Is there a device that could stop people from destroying themselves? An instrument that could pre-vent lunatic behavior and premature death of millions of North Americans?

Is there a device that could stop people from destroying themselves? An instrument that could pre-vent lunatic behavior and premature death of millions of North Americans? It’s a tall order. But Eureka: With the help of my children there’s finally a solution.

During a family dinner I told them about a frustrat-ing situation that had occurred that day. My patient was taking her mother to Florida for the winter. She also had to take
along an oxygen tank. Unfortunately, her mother suffered from incapacitating
emphysema. She had destroyed her lungs from years of smoking.

The daughter, a well-edu-cated woman, was also smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. During our talk, she was constantly coughing and it was obvious that she would also soon end up gasping for breath. These dual tragedies could have been prevented.

One of my four children being a girl, I remarked that I used to believe women were smarter than men. Now I wasn’t so sure. For years women had fought valiantly for equality with men. They had certainly achieved it in one area. They were smoking like
men and now dying like men from lung cancer. What a horrendous way to achieve equality!

Today there are two kinds of diseases: the ones we get through no fault of our own
and those we make our-selves. In effect, if you keep going to hell by following a
faulty lifestyle you’ll eventually get there. And millions of North Americans are speedily reaching that destination.    

Every week in my medical practice I see examples of self-destruction. Patients who, following a heart attack, start to smoke again. Others who do the same thing following bypass heart surgery.

Every time I see this hap- pen it reminds me of the Canadian heart surgeon who
refused to perform a bypass operation if patients would not stop smoking. He was
severely criticized by some.

But is it reasonable for a surgeon to face the stress of performing an intricate operation if patients don’t give a tinker’sdamn about their own health?

Back to our dinner conversation. We debated what could be done to stop people marching straight into their graves. At this point I remembered how Larry Hagman,
star of the TV show “Dallas,” had attacked this problem many years ago. Hagman conducted a nationwide contest for ideas about how to break the smoking habit. The winner? A woman who overcame a 26- year pack-a-day addiction by snapping a rubber band on her wrist every time she felt the urge to light up. Do this enough times and you break the habit.

The American Cancer Society sent me a band and also distributed bands through its 3,000 community centers in 50 states. Hagman also pushed this message on radio, TV and magazine ads. Hopefully this cured some smokers but obviously not all. I remarked, “The problem is that the trouble isn’t in the wrist, it’sin the head. What people really need is a hammer to knock some sense into their brains.”

That’s when one of my children exclaimed  “They need a Gifford-Jones Stopper-
Bopper!” Iwouldn’t last too long in my profession if I bopped patients on the head for
their faulty lifestyles. But handing out a small hammer to them might get the message across. Wives could bop husbands on the head and vice versa in an effort to rid one another of hazardous habits. I admit this idea intrigues me. I’d like to give a good
bop on the head to doctors who refuse to give cancer patients sufficient pain-
killers in their terminal days. Others who refuse to believe that calories do count. And those people who run to the doctor for every ache and pain. The list goes on and on.

You may think we were all smoking pot around the dinner table and that I and my children need a bop on the head ourselves. But whatever the name, we desperately
need some device to end needless medical madness in 2008. I’d like to have your ideas.

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is actually Dr. Ken Walker, a practicing physician in Toronto who writes many columns at his Bristol Harbour residence.