At this time of year, we have so much to be merry about. In the last couple of decades, there has been enormous progress in medical treatments, and as a result several of my friends are still alive who surely would have died amid the technology of yesteryear. Every invention of a new medical procedure, every discovery of a new medicine, is an example of what God gives to mankind – the gifts of intelligence, insight and creativity. It’s way too easy to overlook what that kind of progress means to all of us and our families.
Certain things have long been taken for granted, such as eyeglasses (legend has it that Ben Franklin invented bifocals). Dentures have been around a long time, too – George Washington had wooden teeth. Today schoolchildren routinely look through microscopes at bacteria, but two centuries ago there was no understanding of the role of bacteria.
Only the very elderly among us remember what it was like before penicillin was discovered. Even well into the 20th century, if a child got a disease like pneumonia, it was usually fatal. A century ago, parents were wise to have 6 or 8 children, to have confidence that a few of them would live to adulthood. World War I closed with an armistice because more soldiers were dying of influenza than from bullets.
At Civil War museums, the surgical tools of the 19th century are on display. Amputation was the customary treatment for a bullet wound in the arm or leg. Another museum piece from the more recent past is the Iron Lung; and with it the disease of Polio, now prevented by routine vaccination. Most viewers of the movie Forrest Gump had no concept of his childhood affliction.