Medical Mysteries
Home Up Civil War

1 - Current Status 2 - Medical Conspiracy 3 - Burzynski 4 - Royal Rife 45 - Morris Fishbein 6 - Medical Mysteries 7 - Civil War 8 - Twisted Golden Rule 9 - Corruption

Cancer Diaries

Part Six: Mysteries of Science

Written by Rick Archer
September 2013


In our previous chapter on Morris Fishbein, I made little effort to disguise my shock and contempt for people like Fishbein who have gone out of their way to suppress natural cures for cancer.  In their desperate attempt to hang onto the existing ineffective and quite painful chemotherapy-radiation-surgery treatment commonly used today, millions have died and millions have suffered.  Their motive appears to be greed and money, the so-called root of all evil.

In the process, I have been accused of maligning the Medical Establishment. 

I grow weary of having you repeatedly malign the motives of "the medical establishment" and the intelligence and the commitment to the health of their patients of physicians who do not agree with your point of view.

If I given anyone else a similar impression, please accept my profound apology.  My Cancer Diaries are hardly an indictment of the entire Medical Community. 


The Origin of My Respect for Doctors


Considering the anger I have displayed towards Mainstream Medicine, it may come as a surprise to learn that I have profound respect for doctors and medical researchers.  Yes, I think the medical industry completely deserves the criticism implicit in these stories.  Yet at the same time, I think doctors are brilliant people.  Maybe that is why I am so disappointed in them.  Why they allow these crooks to dominate them is difficult to comprehend.

The origins of my respect began in college.  As you may know, Johns Hopkins, my alma mater, is famous for its medical program.  That includes its prestigious Pre-med program for aspiring physicians.  I suppose you would have to be very serious about medicine to see the beauty in disease. 

It is a real advantage to list a Hopkins degree when applying to medical school. If two people apply for medical school with similar grades, but there is only one spot open, a degree from Hopkins will make a big difference.  

During my undergraduate years at Johns Hopkins, I had the privilege to count numerous pre-med students as friends.  I can testify from personal experience that every one of them were among the most intelligent, hard-working students on campus. 

I can also relate from personal experience that I was able to observe first-hand the rigorous gauntlet these young men faced in their search for a career in medicine. 

It is common knowledge that medical schools take only the best and the brightest.  Since there are only a limited number of spots available in medical school, with so many equally talented people vying for one of those precious spots, the competition for grades at Hopkins was brutal.  As always when the talent is equal, it usually boiled down to who worked the hardest. 

Here again, I had personal experience.  One of my part-time jobs was supervising Hutzler's Reading Room, a large, cozy study hall.  This ultra-quiet room was designed for study. The lighting was subdued and the long room was carpeted to keep down the noise.  This room was full of bookcases, comfy leather chairs and long, smooth study tables made out of oak.  Hutzler's was open all night long.  In my opinion, Hutzlers was more popular for studying than the Library. 

My job gave me the perfect vantage point to observe the uncanny discipline of the pre-med students.  I watched in quiet respect as they toiled away endlessly in their attempt to master the material.  I had a pet theory all the Pre-meds congregated in there because misery loves company. 

On the nights before one of the big exams, the Pre-meds were always the last to leave.  For that matter, some didn't even bother to leave.  They were going to pull what was known as an "all-nighter".  Maybe this would give them the edge to answer that one make-or-break question on the next day's chemistry test.  That question might become the difference between making the A instead of the B on the All Mighty Curve.

Sometimes I pulled the graveyard shift. 

All night means ALL NIGHT.  The room never closed.  Someone had to supervise.  I hated this midnight till 7 am assignment because I was useless the next day, but someone had to do it.  Fortunately our group was large enough that I only drew the assignment every two weeks or so.  My fellow workers and I rotated this unwanted time slot depending on our own homework and test schedules. 

Once in a while, I would get the graveyard shift on a night when there was a huge Chemistry test the next day.  My elevated chair at the front desk gave me an eagle's nest to survey the room.  Slowly but surely the room would thin out until the only ones left were the Pre-meds.  On test night, at 2 am there might be fifty or more boys scattered across the vast room.  Considering the class size was 200, that meant 1 in 4 students were studying deep into the night.  That's Hopkins for you - 25% of the entire Chem class pulled an all-nighter.  When I say these boys were "serious", I am not exaggerating.

When they had to rest, they would doze in a chair or simply lie their heads down on the table.  Then they would wake up and study some more, leaving only when it came time for the test.  That is the kind of sacrifice they were willing to make to get into medical school. These young men were dedicated.

You may have noticed I said 'young men'.  The school didn't go coed till my Senior year.  That was they year they let in 9 young ladies.  Considering there were 2,000 male undergraduates, why even bother?  When faced with 1 in 200 odds, this same view was shared by my entire circle of pre-med friends.

Trust me, I was lonelier than hell throughout college. The only reason I went to Hopkins was they gave me a full scholarship.  I was very poor.  But most of my Pre-med friends had a wide choice of schools with actual women. Even though these boys knew full well how lonely they would be for female attention for four long years, they still chose to come to Hopkins. 

That alone should indicate how much a "Hopkins degree" meant to these Pre-med students. 

It is to medical people like those After-Midnight Warriors that I extend my apology.  I understand that my Cancer Diaries have given their amazing profession a black eye.  However, now that I have shared the story of Morris Fishbein, at least now it should be obvious why I am so angry.  Although Fishbein is gone, I have no doubt that he groomed someone as equally ruthless to take his place.  Judging from the Burzynski story in Chapter Three, obviously the baton has been passed on.  When I speak of the "Medical Establishment", that is simply because I have no better name to use for the amoral cut-throats at the top.  Maybe I will call them the Conspirators from here on out.

For those medical professionals who resent my use of the term "Medical Establishment", I hope this clarification helps.  I might add that this does not in any way mean I excuse the Conspirators responsible for the witch hunts against the alternative cancer cure practitioners. There is no doubt in my mind these corrupt individuals exist.  If their presence gives the Medical profession a bad name, then I have a suggestion.  Get rid of them.

That said, despite the evil at the top, there can be no question that American medical schools produce some of the finest medical minds in the world.  Perhaps the greatest moment in American medical history took place in the Fifties.

The Scourge That Crossed Our Nation

Earlier I spoke of my acute loneliness during my college years at Johns Hopkins.  There were times when I just couldn't take it anymore.  About once a month, I would drive from Baltimore, Maryland, down to Northern Virginia for a much-needed break. 

My beloved Aunt Lynn and Uncle Dick knew how much I was struggling.  They gave me permission to come down any time I was desperate for human warmth. 

During the day, Lynn would invariably sit me down for a pep talk.  She would ask how it was going.  Mostly she would offer sympathy and perhaps a suggestion here and there. 

Just knowing this kind woman cared about me made all the difference in the world.
 To this day, I care for Lynn as if she were my own mother. 

Uncle Dick was my mother’s favorite brother. I was named for him.  However, thanks to Dick Nixon, I preferred to shorten my name to 'Rick'. 

Uncle Dick was a very kind man.  Over the years, my uncle became a real hero to me.  There was a time when Uncle Dick actually paid my way to an expensive private school here in Houston out of his own pocket.  In fact, he did it for two years!  That incredible gesture paid huge dividends.  It led to my full scholarship at that private school which in turn led to my full scholarship to college which in turn led to my full scholarship to graduate school.  Without Uncle Dick’s generous sacrifice, this chain of scholarships would never have been possible.  

Small wonder that my Uncle Dick is a man I admire.  I owe much to Dick and Lynn, two people who were better parents to me than my own set.

Like Aunt Lynn, Uncle Dick was equally concerned about me.  We would have our conversations late at night after Lynn and his four children had gone to bed.  We would watch Johnny Carson together till the wee hours of the morning.  This was a special time for me.  One night I asked him why he always limped so badly.  Uncle Dick smiled wanly. 

“You wouldn't know this, Rick, but I was once a very good athlete.  Back in high school, I was captain of my football team.  I could not only walk just fine, I could run all dayI was a lineman and pretty good at it.  I even tried out for the Penn State football team, but learned quickly I simply wasn't big enough to play major college football.  My first clue came when I lined up across Rosie Grier, a huge man who would go on to be All-Pro for the Rams.  He flattened me like I was a bug.  However I loved the game, so I stuck around.  I was accepted onto the Gold team that scrimmaged with the varsity every day. 

I was still in the Navy when I contracted polio.  It was 1955 and I was stationed in Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay. I think I contracted it from the water at the Patuxent River Naval StationOne day out of nowhere I noticed I had a fever.  I was staggering and losing my balance.  The next thing I knew, I collapsed.  I could not even walk.  My buddies had to half-carry me to the clinic.  The doctors suspected polio almost immediately.  Then I called Lynn to give her the bad news.  I was scared. Everyone was terrified of polio.  I honestly wondered if I would ever walk again.

It took Lynn about half a day to drive down from Pennsylvania.  When I saw her, Lynn was white as a ghost. The poor woman was paralyzed with fear.  Sure enough, her worst fears were confirmed.  The doctors were now certain I had polio.

Poor Lynn was in shock.  She knew there was no cure for polio.  At first she was worried that I would be stuck in an iron lung for the rest of my life.  Then she was worried that I would never walk again.  Fortunately while I was in the hospital my condition did not get worse.  

I was in a lot of pain for a year, but in time the pain subsided.  However, I still could barely walk.  I could only get around with the use of crutches.  It would be years before I could walk again without a crutch.

This was a pretty bleak time for us.  We had an infant son and I was a cripple.  Thank goodness IBM took a chance on me.  Why I will never know.  I couldn't even walk into the room for the interview.  I could not help but notice the interviewer's eyes switched to my crutches on several occasions.

That was twenty years ago.  My weak leg is still a real handicap.  Every time I climb steps I want to scream in pain.  Some days are better than others for me, and some days not so much.  Eventually you learn to live with the suffering.


The Emergence of Polio

Polio has been around for a long time.  It has existed quietly for thousands of years as an endemic pathogen.  Polio emerged in a big way in the 1880s when major epidemics began to occur in Europe.  Like most viruses, it began to spread.  Soon after, widespread epidemics appeared in the United States.

The first major polio epidemic in the United States hit Vermont in 1894 with 132 cases.  A larger outbreak struck New York City in 1916, with more than 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths. As the number of polio cases grew, the paralytic disease changed the way Americans looked at public health and disability.

Epidemics became regular events, primarily in big cities during the summer months.  These polio epidemics left thousands of children and adults paralyzed.  It also killed many of its victims.  No one was even sure where the disease came from.  The fear of catching it became rampant; this provided the impetus for a "Great Race" towards the development of a vaccine.

The fight against polio got under way in 1938.  That is when Basil O'Connor founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis thanks to the request of our nation’s most famous polio victim. 

And who might that be?

His name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, America’s president.

Basil O’Connor was a former law partner of President.  One day Roosevelt called O’Connor into his office and asked him if he would head up this important project.  O’Connor agreed on the spot.

Many people think that Roosevelt tried to keep his polio a secret.  That is not true.  The American public was aware that Roosevelt had been stricken back in the 1921.  What they weren’t aware of was how serious the problem was.  Indeed, when the world wasn’t looking, Franklin Roosevelt was an invalid confined to a wheelchair. 

Like my uncle who wondered what message his crutches sent to the interviewer, Roosevelt was certain the image of that wheelchair would ruin his chances of election.  Roosevelt made sure that no one outside his immediate circle knew that he was totally crippled.

Roosevelt was 39 years old when he had been stricken in 1921.  However Roosevelt refused to give up his political ambitions.  And why should he? 

Roosevelt might be handicapped, but his mind wasn’t affected.  After a lengthy convalescence, he decided to run for the governor’s office in New York.  However Roosevelt greatly feared the American public would turn against him if they knew how badly he was crippled.  He needed their respect, not their pity. 

So the future governor of New York and 4-time American President devised a way to keep his secret hidden from the world.  In private, FDR spent most of his time in a wheelchair, but in public, he had his sons and bodyguards act as secret crutches to give the admiring crowds the illusion of walking.  The men would walk next to the President and secretly support him while FDR appeared to be walking under his own power.  The deception worked like a charm.  The American Public was completely fooled.  If anything, they admired FDR even more for licking the disease which crippled ordinary people.

Personally, I imagine most people would have admired him just as much if they knew the truth.  I certainly admired my uncle for his courage.  But that was a chance Roosevelt wasn’t willing to take.

March of Dimes

In 1938, FDR's friend Basil O’Connor helped set up the first March of Dimes fundraising program.  Radio networks across the land offered free 30-second slots for promotion. Listeners were asked to send in a dime.  The response was phenomenal.  The White House received 2,680,000 letters within days.

Unfortunately, World War II intervened.  It was a real shame, but the fight against polio had to be put on the back burner. 

However, after the war, polio returned to the forefront as Public Enemy Number One.

Polio was an especially cruel disease because it attacked mostly children.  Parents were panic-stricken because no one could figure out how the disease was being transmitted.  Apart from the atom bomb, America's greatest fear was now polio. Actually, most people feared Polio more since the chances of catching it seemed so high. 

Polio was being referred to as the worst plague in American history.  As a result, scientists were in a frantic race to find a way to prevent or cure the disease.

During the war, Jonas Salk had worked at the University of Michigan developing an influenza vaccine at the behest of the U.S. Army.  After the war concluded, in 1947, he was appointed director of the Virus Research Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

It was in Pittsburgh that Salk began to put together the techniques that would lead to his polio vaccine.  He was already well aware of the principle of vaccination.  He knew that if the body is artificially exposed to a harmless form of a disease virus, the body will produce antibodies that resist or kill the dangerous form of the virus if later exposed.

Salk was certainly not the only man who visualized a vaccine as the solution to the problem.  Where Salk differed was his belief that protective immunity could be induced without infection by a living virus such as those used in the vaccines against smallpox and rabies. In developing the influenza vaccine during the war, he had observed that protection could be established using noninfectious, inactivated viruses.  In other words, Salk “killed” the virus first, then found a way to use it anyway.

This was an important observation.  Early attempts to develop a vaccine ran into numerous hurdles. A vaccine tested on 10,000 children by two researchers at New York University provided no immunity.  Then came the bad news.  Because the researchers were experimenting with highly dangerous live vaccines, six of the participating children had been killed.  Three others were left permanently crippled. 

After that horror story, no researcher wanted to go anywhere near other vaccine trials and no parents dared offer their children up as guinea pigs.  Progress against the disease came to an alarming halt.

Meanwhile Salk's research caught the attention of Basil O'Connor, president of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.  O’Connor was impressed by Salk’s confident claim that he could create a SAFE vaccine.  On a hunch, O'Connor decided to bet the farm on this Salk guy.

In 1948, O’Connor convinced his organization to make Jonas Salk the point man in the country's efforts to cure polio. They poured huge amounts of funds into his clinic.  Salk assembled a skilled research team and devoted himself practically non-stop to this work for the next seven years.  He attacked his project with the zeal of a missionary.

Unfortunately, the cure did not come overnight.  In fact, the problem got even worse.  There was an especially cruel epidemic in 1952. 

During the worst part of the outbreak, hospitals across the nation were filled with crippled patients housed in iron lungs.  The victims of polio were usually children or very young adults. 

Every day the newspapers published heart-rending pictures of dozens of small children lying helpless as they were kept alive by these giant metal breathing machines. 

The cases dramatically increased during the summer when children were home from school. No one could figure out why.  What could be causing this disease? 

The unknown origin of the disease caused great fear.  It led parents to take extraordinary precautions.  
Parents kept children home from school, avoided parks and swimming pools, and allowed their kids to play only in small groups with the closest of friends. 

Furthermore, those friends had to demonstrate their total health before anyone let them in the door. 

As the fear of polio increased year after year, funds to combat it increased from $1.8 million in the first year to $67 million by 1955. Research continued non-stop during those years, but it looked hopeless.  To the dismay of many, everything scientists believed about polio at first was wrong.  Years had been wasted chasing down many blind alleys.  Even worse, after the test which killed the six children, no one had the courage to try again.  

American historian William O'Neill wrote:

“This was the situation when young Jonas Salk entered the picture.  No researcher wanted to become a baby killer.  Experiments were put on hold.  Salk succeeded where others had failed because he decided to use a safer method known as the ‘killed virus’.”

No one really gave Salk’s idea much hope.  How can a virus that has been 'killed' create immunization?  Despite the general lack of enthusiasm for this approach, Basil O'Connor backed Salk totally.  

After successful tests on laboratory animals, Salk’s vaccine next had to be tested on human beings. Now everyone held their breath.  On July 2, 1952, assisted by the staff at the D.T. Watson Home for Crippled Children, Jonas Salk injected 43 children with his killed virus vaccine.

A few weeks after the Watson tests, Salk injected children at the Polk State School for the retarded and feeble-minded.  To the relief of everyone, no one died and no one became paralyzed. 

In November 1953, at a conference in New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Salk said, "I will be personally responsible for the safety of the vaccine."

Salk then announced that his wife and three sons had been among the first volunteers to be inoculated with his vaccine.  That brave move won Salk a lot of support.  If he was willing to risk his own family, then maybe he could be trusted.  Salk concluded his talk by saying the time had come to take his vaccine to the national level.  Salk had inspired the entire country.

Throughout 1954, the scale of the support for Jonas Salk’s project was both staggering and exhilarating.  It reminded many people of the same energy that fueled America’s entry into World War II.  

Thanks to the hope generated by Salk’s potential cure, the entire country was galvanized.  In 1954, at least one hundred million people contributed to the March of Dimes.  Seven million donated their time and labor to put on the March of Dimes. They included fund-raisers, committee workers, and volunteers at clinics and record centers.

Now that the money was there, Salk devised a massive test program.  The field trial set up to test the vaccine developed by Salk and his research team was the most elaborate program of its kind in history.  It involved 20,000 physicians and public health officers, 64,000 school personnel, and 220,000 volunteers. 

Over 1,800,000 school children ages six to nine participated in the trial.  Joining America in the test were children from Canada and Finland. 

Known as “the Polio Pioneers”, half the children received the vaccine and half received a placebo.  Furthermore one-third of the children who lived in areas where vaccine was not made available were observed to evaluate the background level of polio in this age group.

The entire country went “all in”.  Everyone had a stake in the outcome.  Everyone did whatever they could to help.

A 1954 Gallup poll showed that more Americans knew about the polio field trials than could give the full name of the US President.  According to medical author Paul Offit,

"more Americans had participated in the funding, development, and testing of the polio vaccine than had participated in the nomination and election of the president."

On April 12, 1955, the results of the massive nation-wide test were ready to be announced.  This date had been selected for a reason.  It was exactly 10 years to the day since the death of President Roosevelt, the man who got this project started in the first place.

During the test phase, Salk had asked his mentor Dr. Thomas Francis to be the monitor of the results.  So it was Dr. Francis who took the podium at the University of Michigan that day. 

Five hundred people filled the room.  That total included 150 press, radio, and television reporters.  There were 16 television and newsreel cameras standing on a long platform at the back.  Across the country, 54,000 physicians were sitting in movie theaters to watch the broadcast on closed-circuit television. 

The event was also being broadcast live on radio.  Eli Lilly and Company had paid $250,000 – a monster sum in those days - to broadcast the event. It was money well spent.  Every single American turned on their radios to hear the details, department stores set up loudspeakers, and judges suspended trials so that everyone in the courtroom could hear.  Europeans listened in on the Voice of America.  The entire planet held its breath.

As Francis took the podium, the room fell to a dead silence.  The anticipation and the tension was practically unbearable.  Francis stood silent for a moment, obviously taking in the amazing drama.  

Then Francis smiled.  He declared that the vaccine was not only safe, it was effective.  The room erupted with joy.  Everyone began hugging the nearest person and cried wrenching tears of happiness.

Paul Offit writes about the event:

"The presentation was numbing, but the results were clear: the vaccine worked.  Inside the auditorium Americans tearfully and joyfully embraced the results. By the time Thomas Francis stepped down from the podium, a national celebration had broken out. 

Church bells were ringing across the country, factories were observing moments of silence, synagogues and churches were holding prayer meetings, and parents and teachers were weeping.

One shopkeeper painted a sign on his window: ‘Thank you, Dr. Salk’.

'It was as if a war had ended and the most bitter enemy defeated,' one observer recalled."

Rick Archer's Note:  As one can see, the results were astounding. In the two years before the vaccine was widely available, the average number of polio cases in the U.S. was more than 45,000.

By 1962, that number had dropped to 910, mostly from children in rural areas that had no access to vaccination.

n the days that followed, the next step was to immunize the entire nation. I was one of the millions of kids who participated.  I guess I was about 6 at the time. A sad irony is that the Salk vaccine was released to the public about one month after my Uncle contracted polio.

As for Jonas Salk, he was hailed as a "miracle worker". 

There is one final footnote to this story.

Jonas Salk had no interest in personal profit.  Salk’s sole focus had been to develop a safe and effective vaccine as rapidly as possible.  His only wish was to be given the wisdom necessary for the chance to save America’s children. 

When Salk was asked by CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow who owned the patent to his vaccine, the scientist replied:  "There is no patent.  How could you patent the sun?" 

Jonas Salk, an American hero.


Ignaz Semmelweiss

Although few of us have never heard of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweiss, he is someone we all owe a great debt to.  This is the man who discovered the importance of washing our hands.  As his reward, he was driven insane.

It is a very interesting story, so I will share it with you. 

But first I would like to share an insight.  My background is in the Social Sciences which means, unfortunately, that I have little knowledge of medicine. 

So when I realized this story dealt with a medical problem known as Puerperal Fever, my first instinct was to look it up.

I ran across a medical treatise that was 35 pages long and contained 17,000 words. 

The purpose of the paper was to trace some of the ideas on puerperal fever which were published in medical treatises during the period from 1760 to 1850.

After reading the article for a while, I realize I was absolutely stunned by its complexity. It staggers the mind just how much information is out there.  There was no way I could absorb this much material unless I really put my mind to it.  I decided it wasn't worth my effort. 

That is when it dawned on me that today's doctors have the identical problem.  They are besieged by so much information that unless it affects them directly, the simplest coping mechanism is to simply ignore it.

As for me, finally I gave up.  Instead I used the "Find" function to see if there was anything about Semmelweiss relevant to my story.  I found this one single mention on Page 21:

Towards the end of the period under consideration, a physician in Hungary produced work that was later to be regarded as seminal in the understanding of what is now seen as the infectious nature of puerperal fever. However at the time, his work was largely ignored. In 1860 Ignaz Semmelweis published work, which he had first embarked on about fifteen years earlier, titled "The etiology, concept and prophylaxis of childbed fever".  Semmelweiss has not been given prominence in this present paper, partly because his writing does not appear to have been given great attention by his own contemporaries.

Mind you, this is the man who solved a problem that killed countless women in his time, but he rated no more than a mere paragraph in a 35 page masterpiece. 

And now, with that less than stirring endorsement of our main character, let us begin the story of a much-maligned hero who was driven to insanity.

Puerperal Fever in the 1800s

As it turns out, the reason none of us have ever heard of "puerperal fever" is that it doesn't really exist any more. Puerperal fever is now rare in the West due to improved hygiene during delivery.  The few infections that do occur are usually treatable with antibiotics.

However, from the 1600s through the mid to late 1800s, this disease was the leading cause of death in child birth. Pregnant women were terrified of getting "The Fever" as it was called on the streets of Europe. 

It is impossible to discuss health in the 1800s without discussing disease.  Consistent good health was the possession of only a small percentage of a population. Lacking a germ theory of disease, people ate contaminated food, drank contaminated water, and lived amid animal and human waste without blinking. Life expectancy in this era was somewhere between thirty and forty years.

Lacking knowledge of good nutrition, people suffered from chronic indigestion, fatigue, anemia, food poisoning, and other digestive ailments. The unchecked spread of bacteria, viruses, and insects resulted in epidemics of "ague" (aka malaria), cholera, diphtheria, dysentery, polio, smallpox, and typhoid, crippling or abbreviating many lives. 

Tuberculosis, commonly known as consumption, was the leading cause of death in the Nineteenth century. Chronic bouts of influenza, pneumonia, and other endemic maladies further reduced not only life's quantity but its quality.  Life was very grim in those days, especially for children and mothers.  Not only did half of all children die before their tenth birthdays, countless women died in childbirth.


Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis was the chief resident in the First Obstetrical Clinic of the Vienna General Hospital back in 1846.

His unit saw mostly poor women, many of whom were prostitutes.   Back in those days, pregnancy was seen by many women as a death sentence.  It was considered far safer to end the pregnancy. 

To combat this problem, maternity institutions such as the one in Vienna were set up across Europe to address the rising problem of infanticide of illegitimate children.  The clinics charged no fee and offered to care for the infants.

This made the clinic attractive to underprivileged women. In return for the free services, the women would be subjects for the training of doctors and midwives.

Semmelweiss had no particular interest in Puerperal fever, but he knew exactly what it was.  Puerperal fever was a devastating disease back in his day. It affected women within the first three days after childbirth and progressed rapidly, causing acute symptoms of severe abdominal pain, fever and debility.

Semmelweiss oversaw two units.  In his role as supervisor, Semmelweiss was presented with a strange problem right out of the Medical Mystery chapter.  The First Clinic of the hospital had an average maternal mortality rate due to puerperal fever around 10%.  The death rate of the Second Clinic was considerably lower, averaging less than 4%.

Unfortunately this strange disparity become known on the streets outside the hospital.  The two clinics admitted on alternate days but due to the bad reputation of the First Clinic, women begged to be admitted to the Second Clinic.

If they were assigned to the "Death Clinic", some women were so afraid of dying that they would rather give birth in the streets.  They would have the baby delivered at home, but would pretend to have given sudden birth en route to the hospital, a practice known as street births.  This meant they would still qualify for the child care benefits without having to be admitted to the clinic.

Semmelweiss was puzzled about several things.  First, he could not begin to imagine why the incidence of puerperal fever was so much higher in one unit than the other. 

Second, the problem was actually worse than just 4% compared to 10%.  On certain days, the "Death Clinic" would mysteriously be visited by a rash of deaths while on most days there was no difference between Clinic One and Clinic Two.  To Semmelweiss, it was like playing Russian Roulette.  Five out of six days there was no danger at all, but on the bad days, watch out.  Even more troubling, the rate had risen to 18%.

Another thing Semmelweiss was puzzled about was the fact that puerperal fever was rare among women giving street births.  

"To me, it appeared logical that patients who experienced street births would become ill at least as frequently as those who delivered in the clinic.  What protected those who delivered outside the clinic from these destructive unknown endemic influences?"

Semmelweiss was a sensitive and deeply humanitarian man. 

He was severely troubled by the higher mortality rate in his First Clinic and took it personally.  In his words, "these deaths made me so miserable that life seemed worthless."   With his conscience tormenting him day and night, the search for the cause and control of this pitiless disease became his life's work.

Semmelweiss started a meticulous process of eliminating all possible differences. 

Since the two clinics used almost the same techniques, the doctor noted the individuals who worked there were the only major difference.

The First Clinic, aka the Death Clinic, was the teaching service for medical students.  The Second Clinic had been selected in 1841 for the instruction of midwives only.  Try as he could, Semmelweiss could not see how the more skilled physicians might be contributing to a higher rate than midwives.  If anything, it should be the other way around.  The trained physicians should surely have the safer clinic.

Semmelweiss reviewed the facts.

  1. Street births were safer than midwives. 
  2. Midwives were safer than physicians. 

Semmelweiss grew more puzzled by the minute.  This made no sense. 

A year passed without Semmelweiss making the slightest bit of headway.  He was growing increasingly frustrated.


The breakthrough occurred in 1847 following the tragic death of his good friend Dr. Jakob Kolletschka. 

Recently Kolletschka had been accidentally poked with a student's scalpel while performing a postmortem examination. 

Now it was time for the medical examiners to see why Kollestschka had died.  Kolletschka's own autopsy showed a pathology identical to that of the women who were dying from puerperal fever. 

A series of questions raced through the doctor's mind.  Semmelweiss speculated that the scalpel that had first cut through a cadaver had likely caused his friend's death. 

Was there something deadly inside that cadaver?  And what was on that scalpel that could make a man sick?  Although the naked eye could see no connection, Semmelweiss imagined there had to be some connection between cadaveric contamination and puerperal fever.  Was it possible that doctors and medical students working with cadavers could be somehow giving a disease to the women during delivery?

Noting that students move between the dissection room and the delivery room without washing their hands, on a hunch, he set a new policy. From now on, doctors must wash their hands in a chlorine solution when they left the cadavers.  Maybe the problem was caused by dirty hands.

Semmelweiss had concluded that he and the medical students carried some sort of mysterious "cadaverous particles" on their hands from the autopsy room to the patients they examined in the First Obstetrical Clinic.

This theory would explain why the student midwives in the Second Clinic, who were not engaged in autopsies and had no contact with corpses, saw a much lower mortality rate.

One problem - the suggestion of some sort of unknown "cadaverous material" was a real stretch.  The germ theory of disease had not yet been developed.  Semmelweiss was taking a real chance by suggesting the existence of some danger that no one could see.

On the other hand, it seemed worth the risk to at least test his theory.  He instituted a policy of using a solution of chlorinated lime, a type of bleach, for washing hands between autopsy work and the examination of patients.

Semmelweiss found that this chlorinated solution worked best to remove the putrid smell of infected autopsy tissue.  He hoped that perhaps destroying the smell would also kill the contaminating "cadaveric" agent hypothetically being transmitted by this invisible material.

The results were shocking.  The mortality rate in the First Clinic instantly dropped 90%. It was now comparable to that in the Second Clinic. The mortality rate in April 1847 was 18.3%.  After two months, the rate was below 2%.

Seeing the instant results of cleanliness, Semmelweis did not stop with washing hands.  Remembering the deadly scalpel that killed his friend, now he began washing medical instruments as well as hands. 

One year later, the death rate in his clinic was down to zero.  It wasn't a miracle... it was the triumph of medical intuition combined with observation and common sense.

The Downfall of Semmelweiss

Imagine curing one of the most dreaded diseases of the time and being hounded to death for your trouble.  It seems inconceivable, doesn't it?   Women were terrified of this disease.  Once a woman contracted it, the fever was a death sentence.  Should not Semmelweiss have become a hero just like Jonas Salk?

Dr. Ignaz Semmelweiss had essentially eradicated child bed fever during childbirth simply by advocating for increased hygiene in the delivery room.  One would assume that Semmelweiss would become a celebrated man.  Such was not the case.  His life was now ruined.  How can this be? 

At first, Semmelweis said nothing.  It was one thing to simply order compliant medical students to wash their hands.  They were used to doing what they were told and not ask questions. 

It was an entirely different matter to expect a group of eminent, dignified physicians to suddenly accept some crazy theory of 'cadaverous particles'.  Semmelweiss expected that his theories would be met with skepticism. 

At the time, there was quite a lot about disease that was not understood.  There were all sorts of theories attributing disease to many different and unrelated causes.  With no knowledge of germs, doctors of that day did not believe hand washing was needed.

"Doctors are gentlemen, and gentlemen's hands are clean."

Semmelweiss didn't agree.  His hypothesis was there something on those hands that transferred to the women.  However, he knew his idea that cleanliness was the answer would be considered extreme.  He thought it safer to keep his mouth shut. 

However, a friend published two papers on the method.  Semmelweiss could hide no more and now he was ordered to explain himself.  The doctors laughed and jeered.  Semmelweiss was largely ignored, rejected or ridiculed. 

The hospital director had reacted fiercely.  Semmelweiss had made a dangerous enemy.  The director felt his leadership had been criticized.  He retaliated by blocking Semmelweiss' promotion.  Acting on the director's cue, the Viennese doctors turned on the Hungarian immigrant.  He was now a stranger in a strange land.  Semmelweiss was completely isolated by a sea of hostility.

After a year of harassment by the medical community in Vienna, Semmelweiss was dismissed from the hospital for political reasons.  He was forced to move back to Budapest.

There he brought his methods to a far more primitive hospital. Semmelweiss went to work.  He cut the death rate by puerperal fever to less than one percent, but didn't stop there.  By performing autopsies on all victims, he systematically isolated the various causes of death. He set up control groups and kept careful statistics on his methods.  Finally, in 1861, he wrote a book on his methods.

The book went nowhere.

Despite overwhelming theoretical arguments and empirical evidence, Semmelweiss' ideas were not embraced. Instead, he was treated with scorn and attacked by his fellow physicians.  To the doctors of the mid-19th Century, the very idea that a gentleman could cause illness because he was unclean was offensive.

Understandably, Semmelweiss grew more and more frustrated.  How stupid could these people possibly be?  Semmelweiss could not accept the obstinacy of people who were supposedly dedicated to healing. He was outraged by the indifference of the medical profession. Semmelweiss decided to retaliate.  He began writing open and increasingly angry letters to prominent European obstetricians.  He grew more and more polemical, at times denouncing his peers as 'irresponsible murderers'.

Here is a fascinating example.

Rebuffs to his struggle for wider application of his doctrine were disturbing to Semmelweis. He particularly resented attacks by the self-serving forces of the authoritarian medical establishment, and he lashed out against them. His doctrine was opposed by powerful members of the academic hierarchy such as Professor Kiwisch and Scanzoni of Würzburg. Mortality from puerperal fever on the services of some of these Professors of Midwifery ranged as high as a barbarous 26% under Kiwisch at Würzburg.

The damning evidence that they were themselves the remorseless messengers of death was a scarcely veiled threat to their pride and eminence. Semmelweis was unsparing in his condemnation of those who denied his doctrine in spite of the high mortality rates in their own institutions.

This excerpt come from his open letter to Professor Scanzoni of Würzburg who, while professor at Vienna, had disparaged Semmelweis's earliest work:

Your teaching that the Würzburg epidemic of childbed fever is caused by unknown atmospheric influences or puerperal miasma is false.  It is based on the dead bodies of lying-in women slaughtered through ignorance. . . I have formed the unshakable resolution to put an end to this murderous work as far as lies in my power so to do. . . If you continue teaching your students this false doctrine, I denounce you before God and the world as a murderer, and the History of Puerperal Fever will not do you an injustice when, for the service of having been the first to oppose my life-saving lessons, it perpetuates your name as a Medical Nero.

Wow... a Medical Nero!  That was quite a tirade.  The years of controversy had turned the man so bitter that he had lost all patience.

His contemporaries, including his wife, believed Semmelweiss was losing his mind.  Sadly, they were probably right.  The four years since the publication of his book had turned him into a ranting madman.   In 1865 he was committed to an asylum. 

Strangely enough, fourteen days later he was dead.  Although some say Semmelweiss was beaten to death by the guards, the consensus is that Semmelweiss either cut his finger or perhaps was wounded during the beatings.  If true, in the dirty asylum, Semmelweiss had fallen victim to the greatest of ironies. 

He had contracted the same infection that had become his life's work.  He had saved the lives of thousands of mothers only to die from the same disease that had killed his friend Kolletschka.  Whatever the truth, Semmelweiss died a broken, pitiful man.

Fortunately, Semmelweiss did not die in vain.  That same year, Joseph Lister began spraying a carbolic acid solution during surgery to kill germs.  Lister was a friend and protégé of the brilliant French scientist Louis Pasteur.  Once Lister ran across Semmelweiss' manuscripts, he sensed immediately that Semmelweiss was right.  Lister instituted practically every suggestion Semmelweiss had made.  Soon puerperal fever ceased being a threat.

In the end, it was Joseph Lister who gave our unhappy hero his due. Lister said, "Without Semmelweiss, my achievements would be nothing."

In her book Woman As Healer, Jeanne Achterberg wrote that the colleagues of Semmelweiss "simply refused to believe that their own hands were the vehicle for disease." Achterberg continued, "Instead they attributed the disease to a spontaneous phenomenon arising from the 'combustible' nature of the birthing woman."

Achterberg adds that Semmelweiss was treated as a heretic, someone little better than a witch at Salem Village.

"Semmelweiss' academic rank was lowered, his hospital privileges restricted.  Despondent, he was committed to an insane asylum, where he died of blood poisoning, a disease not unlike the puerperal fever he had almost conquered."

It would be difficult for one to imagine a more cruel fate.

The progress of science is strewn, like an ancient desert trail, with the bleached skeletons of discarded theories which once seemed to possess eternal life

Arthur Koestler

"Evidence that might cause us to question our beliefs is used instead to reinforce our beliefs. If long held beliefs are challenged, we feel a need to defend them. And as long as we are defensive, our vision will be cloudy at best.  To remain blind to our beliefs and paradigms, to refuse to question them, cuts off any real possibility of change."

Dr. Julian Whitaker


Science Has Been
Wrong Before

I believe science and medicine offer amazing intellectual challenges.  Yes, unlike the doctors of the Semmelweiss era, we know all about germs now.  And we know a lot more than that.  But I am certain there are still more invisible things in medicine and science that we don't know about yet.  There is so much mystery in the Universe.  Anyone born with a sense of curiosity is bound to be endlessly fascinated by a scientific or medical career probing for answers.

That includes medicine.  Anyone who has ever watched the TV medical show House knows full well that medicine holds all kinds of unsolved mysteries to this day.

The story of Semmelweiss is a perfect example that Science doesn't always get it right.  When confronted with glaring evidence that dirty hands were the likely culprits in the high mortality rate of the mothers, the doctors of 1860 behaved like closed-minded bigots.

Talk about dropping the ball!  Today it is so painfully obvious that Semmelweiss was right that we forget the men who rejected Semmelweiss were the most educated members of their generation

Today we laugh.  My word, that happened practically back in the Stone Ages!!  How thick-headed can those cavemen possibly be?  We are so much smarter today. 

But let's stop for a second and ask ourselves this question: Is it possible we can be just as blind today on certain things as these men were 250 years ago??

I have no medical training.  I barely know the difference between a peptide and a bacteria.  Who am I to argue that there have been alternative cures for cancer? 

Take a man like Stanislaw Burzynski from Chapter Three.  In my opinion, Burzynski is very close to a breakthrough in cancer treatment.  But that's just my opinion. I am very well aware that I have no training and I have no proof.  So I decided to ask a Hopkins-trained medical researcher what he thought about Burzynski.

Rick's Statement: 

"Let Burzynski go about his business without the constant harassment. If the man is wrong, then let his failed results speak for themselves. Like herbal tea and apricot seeds, his cure isn't 'hurting' anyone, so leave him to do his research in peace. "

Hopkins Cancer Researcher:

"Let me first start by explaining why I am hesitant about even entering this discussion. To discuss this with you would be like an astronomer commenting on an article written by a layman that the moon is made of cheese. The debate is, frankly, beneath him/her. And it would be insulting to have his or her name connected with such a debate.

That is how I and 99% of the scientific and medical field feel about Burzynski's current approach to cancer therapy.

(Just as I'm sure 99% of astronomers feel the moon is not made of cheese, despite how closely it resembles swiss cheese with its' color and craters). And don't get me wrong; there are many spirited debates in biology, in academic and industry settings, including dozens of countries on what will bring us closer to the cure.

But these are based on peer reviewed, independently verified data.  Data collected by testing with preclinical models (i.e. tissue culture cells, mice, ...), and then clinical trials in humans, measuring safety and efficacy. Burzynski has none of this bolstering his "cure".

And your conspiracy angle is ludicrous considering the number of people and governments that would have to be involved.

At the risk of being insulting, Rick, you don't know, what you don't know."

I think that sums it up pretty well. This comment made by a conventional cancer researcher is typical of the attitude of Mainstream Medicine towards Burzynski.  As it stands, the majority of today's medical community denounce Burzynski to be little better than a fraud. To even begin to give Burzynski the benefit of the doubt is beneath contempt.

This man seriously doubts the possibility that Burzynski is on the right track.  His mind is made up.

Let me say this man has a point.  For me to be right that Burzynski's cure for cancer has real potential, countless members of modern medicine who know a hell of a lot more about medicine than I do would have to be taking the wrong approach.  For example, it seems ludicrous that people would bet on a philosophy major like me over a man with a doctorate in Cellular and Developmental Biology. 

Is it even possible that he could be wrong? 

Although it seems far-fetched that a highly-trained cancer researcher could be wrong about Burzynski, I contend it is not out completely out of the realm of possibility.  

Over the centuries there have been some beliefs that were real whoppers.  History is filled with examples of long-held beliefs that defy all credulity.  

Let's take a fun stroll down memory lane.

At the risk of upsetting the Creationists, scientists agree the Earth is a bit older than the 6,000 years as suggested in the Bible. 

Current estimates, based on radioactive dating, place the age of the planet at around 4.5 BILLION years.  Hmm, those biblical scholars may have been a bit off.  

Once upon a time, the Bible was considered a scientific work.  People took it for granted the Bible was accurate even when it didn't always make much sense. The age of our planet is a good example.

Back in the 17th century, a religious scholar named Archbishop Ussher took a hard look at the Bible. He estimated that creation took place in 4004 BC.

Bishop Ussher’s specific chronology dating the creation to 4004 BC became the most accepted and popular timeline, mainly because this specific date was attached to the King James Bible.  Add in nearly 2,000 more years since the birth of Christ to get to the 18th century and you get about 6,000 years.

The church made sure that number came into wide acceptance.

What is interesting is the number of people today who still take the 6,000 year Bible estimate seriously.  Our good friend Wikipedia, an aspiring modern day Bible in its own right, has something to say about the controversy.  Wikipedia cites a 2006 Gallup poll saying 43% of Americans believe that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so."

The Poll adds that the percentage of believers decreases as the level of education increases. 

Don't ask me who is right.  When I stop and think about it, I don't have any training whatsoever to contradict the Bible or the scientists.  We have reach a point in civilization where we are all deeply dependent on science and technology, yet hardly any of us can even begin to understand how all this stuff works.  And that includes the methods science uses to date the Earth.

Unfortunately, we are all dependent on the work of others.  I don't have any way to know how old the Earth is.   So who is right and who is wrong?  Good question.  It all boils down to whom you choose to believe.  While I have been trained to accept the word of Science, other people have been trained to accept the word of their religious leaders. 

Same thing with cancer research.  Most of us have been trained to accept the word of modern medicine.  Mr. Skeptical prefers the word of alternative medicine.  Mr. Research prefers the word of conventional medicine.  As for me, I read the arguments from both sides of the aisle and see they both make good points.

I conclude from the cancer research disagreement that there are a lot of things about the Universe we don’t know much about.  That is what makes the search for "The Truth" so interesting. 

When it comes to mystery, Science and Medicine are the two best Games in town.   However, both Science and Medicine have a long history of chasing up blind alleys.  Isn't it a shame that God doesn't ring a little bell whenever we are on the right track? 

For example,
I seem to remember some guy named Copernicus who suggested the Sun, rather than the Earth, was at the center of the galaxy.  This happened around 1543.  Copernicus then had the good sense to die immediately of old age rather than face a firestorm of protest.

The unlucky fate of being one of the first people to agree with Copernicus fell to Giordano Bruno, an Italian philosopher and scientistThroughout his life Bruno championed the Copernican system of astronomy which placed the sun, not the Earth, at the center of the solar system.  He opposed the stultifying authority of the Church and refused to recant his philosophical beliefs throughout his eight years of imprisonment by the Venetian and Roman Inquisitions.  Finally the Church had enough of his rebellion and sentenced him to death.

At this, Bruno famously replied, "Perhaps you pronounce this sentence with greater fear than I receive it."   It takes a brave man to die for his beliefs! 

On February 16, 1600, the Roman Catholic Church executed Bruno for the crime of heresy. He was taken from his cell in the early hours of the morning to the Piazza dei Fiori in Rome and burnt alive at the stake.  To the very end, Church authorities were fearful of the ideas of a man who was known throughout Europe as a bold and brilliant thinker.  In a peculiar twist to the gruesome affair, the executioners were ordered to tie his tongue so that he would be unable to address those gathered.

Upon the death of Bruno, Galileo stepped forward to defend the Copernican system.  Bad move. Now it fell upon Galileo to take the heat.   Galileo was tried by the Holy Inquisition in 1633.  Galileo was found "vehemently suspect of heresy" and forced to recant his ideas under threat of torture.  Galileo, now an elderly man too weak to resist, gave in.  The foremost scientist of his day spent the rest of his life under house arrest. 

Can you imagine the stupidity of it all? 

The man they call "the Father of modern physics" and "the Father of modern science" was locked away for the rest of his life.

Over the centuries religious intolerance has led to other appalling mistakes.  One need look no further than the Spanish Inquisition or the Salem Witch Trials to know this.

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.
Blaise Pascal

The story of the Sun controversy is the most dramatic, but there are plenty of other stories where long-held beliefs were laid to rest with great difficulty Another well-known example was the widely-held theory that the Earth was flat. 

Thanks to a guy named Columbus and a few other brave sea explorers, that notion disappeared around the end of the 15th century. The common myth was that the world was flat. If so, then Columbus was indeed the bravest of the brave for risking his life by challenging that view.  Give him credit for that.  However, most scholars agree that Columbus was pretty sure the Earth was round.

Unfortunately, modern research now suggests that Columbus in nowhere near the greatest explorer in history, but rather the luckiest.  There is increasing evidence he was rewarded for being stupid.  Columbus simply made the most brilliant blunder in history. 

A spherical Earth had been the general opinion of Ancient Greek science. This view continued through the Middle Ages among the educated.  As early as the sixth century B.C., the Greek mathematician Pythagoras surmised the world was round, and two centuries later Aristotle backed him up with astronomical observations. By 1492 most educated people knew the planet was not shaped like a pancake.

What stopped all other explorers from trying the Western route was not the threat of sea monsters or falling off the cliff at the edge of the world, but rather a good grasp of Mathematics.

Since their calculations said the western route was an enormous distance, why bother?  In their opinion, the Moon might actually be closer than India if they sailed to the west.

The game of the day was to find a sea route to India, the land of riches.  At this point in time, the two choices were a land route through Egypt that would someday become the Suez Canal or a lengthy sea trip around South Africa.  Both routes were painfully slow. 

But to assume that going west would produce a faster route was unthinkable! 

Where Columbus differed from the generally accepted view of his time was his (incorrect) belief in a significantly smaller diameter for the Earth.  Columbus claimed that Asia could be easily reached by sailing west across the Atlantic. Of course, he may have just said that to get the job. Those costly exploring gigs were hard to get.

For nearly a decade, Columbus lobbied European monarchies to bankroll his quest to discover a western sea route to Asia. In Portugal, England and France, the response was always the same: no.   And why not?

The scholars in the day of Columbus made calculations that pegged India as being three to four times FURTHER to the west than to the east.  A quick look at Google Earth confirms that fact.  India is about 5,000 miles east from Portugal as the airplane flies, but almost 20,000 miles taking the western route of Columbus.  Based on their own calculations, the scholars dismissed Columbus's claim that the Earth was much smaller as nonsense. 

Consequently these same experts told the monarchs of these countries that his calculations were wrong and that the voyage would take much longer than he thought.

Oddly enough, the royal advisors in Spain raised similar concerns to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. However, they had just gotten rid of the Moors and were feeling lucky. 

It turned out the naysayers were right. Columbus had dramatically underestimated the earth’s circumference and the size of the oceans. But, luckily for him, he ran into the uncharted Americas.   We all know what happened from there. 

Columbus has gone down in history as one of our greatest men.  Only recently has modern thinking suggested Columbus' discovery of the New World was not due to skill, but rather his ignorance. The New World had been discovered not by the greatest explorer of the day, but by the most incompetent one.  Columbus was literally the only sailor dumb enough to try this route.  Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.

Sometimes incompetence is useful. It helps you keep an open mind. - Roberto Cavalli 

Compounding his mistake, Columbus was so stupid that when he landed in the Bahamas, he was certain he had found the outskirts of India!

Columbus wasn't sure what to make of his discovery.  Columbus was just barely smart enough to discern he wasn't in India, but he stuck to his guns and assumed he was at least close to India.  Columbus concluded he had arrived in a scattering of islands just to the east of India. Therefore Columbus decided to name this chain of islands "The West Indies".  All natives of the West Indies were to be referred to as "Indians".

This mistake has doomed every person in America to call our North American indigenous people "Indians" ever since.  Thanks to Columbus and his goofy math skills, everyone from Gandhi to Geronimo are commonly referred to as "Indians".

Believe it or not, to the end of his life in 1506, Columbus still maintained that he had reached Asia.

Medical Follies

Columbus, unfortunately, is not the only fool in history.  He is simply the most famous one.

These kind of follies are not limited to astronomy, science and exploration. The history of Medicine is also lined with mistakes and crazy theories.   Over the centuries, archaic concepts such as alchemy, bloodletting, phlogiston and phrenology were once popular, then eventually discarded.  But these were just the side shows.  They were nothing compared to some of the major medical boo-boos along the way.

For example, back in ancient Greece, the so-called birthplace of modern medicine, doctors like the second-century Greek physician Galen believed that the liver (not the heart) circulated blood while the heart circulated some sort of mystical serum known as "vital spirit”.

It wasn't until 1628 that English physician William Harvey let everyone in on the big secret.  He wrote a book with a catchy title - "An Anatomical Study of the Motion of the Heart and of the Blood in Animals".  It took a while to gain acceptance, but eventually the medical community got it right… the heart pumps the blood, not the liver.  Hard to believe, right? 

Today we take DNA for granted as the building block of all living organisms, but it wasn’t always that way.  DNA was discovered in 1869, but for a long time it went unappreciated.  In the eyes of the medical community, DNA was an afterthought.  Although DNA was doing all the work, no one figured that out.  DNA was always overshadowed by its flashier protein counterparts in the minds of the researchers.  Those proteins surely held the ultimate secret to life.

Even after experiments in the middle part of the 20th century offered proof that DNA was indeed the genetic material, many scientists held firmly that proteins, not DNA, were the key to heredity. DNA, they thought, was just too simple to carry so much information.  

It wasn't until Watson and Crick published their all-important double-helical model of DNA’s structure in 1953 that biologists finally started to understand how such a simple molecule could do so much.

Hmm.  Here’s another one.  What about germs?  We take that discovery for granted too.  However, as we read in the Semmelweiss account, even as recent as the late 19th century the doctors didn't really see the need to wash their hands before picking up a scalpel.

The result was a lot of gangrene.  Most early-19th century doctors tended to attribute contagion to "bad air" and other causes.  Meanwhile countless injuries during the Civil War that should not have been life-threatening resulted in death. 

Stonewall Jackson was a notable example.  In 1863 Jackson was accidentally shot by his own man, a sentry who lost his cool. Jackson was hit by three bullets, two in the left arm and one in the right hand.  However, none of the wounds were considered serious.   However, sure enough, the left arm developed gangrene and had to be amputated.  His death soon followed.

Meanwhile Semmelweiss died in the insane asylum in 1865.  He had gone mad because no one would listen to him.

As it turned out, over in France Louis Pasteur was working on the same issues as Semmelweiss.  In 1856, Pasteur received a visit from a man called Bigo who worked at a factory that made alcohol from sugar beet. Bigo’s problem was that many of his vats of fermented beer were turning sour.  Much of the beer had gone bad and had to be thrown away. From a business point of view, this was a disaster. Bigo asked Pasteur to find out why his beer kept spoiling.

After using a microscope to analyze samples from the vats, Pasteur found thousands of tiny micro-organisms. He became convinced that they were responsible for the beer going sour. Pasteur believed that these organisms were the CAUSE of the putrefaction of the beer, not the result as others claimed.

Pasteur continued his work on this theme by studying other liquids such as milk, wine and vinegar. In 1857, he was appointed Director of Scientific Studies at the Ecôle Normale in Paris. Between 1857 and 1859, Pasteur became convinced that the liquids he had studied were being contaminated with microbes that floated in the air.

The medical establishment ridiculed him:

"I am afraid that the experiments you quote, M. Pasteur, will turn against you. The world into which you wish to take us is really too fantastic." - La Presse, 1860

Pasteur was vilified in public.  However, rather than give up, he was determined to fight for what he believed in.  Pasteur started to devise tests to prove that he was right.

In April 1864, Pasteur explained his beliefs in front of a gathering of famous scientists at the University of Paris. He proved his case beyond doubt – even if some of those present refused to believe him.  The eminent doctor Charlton Bastian stood up and maintained his belief that putrefaction came from within and not from invading micro-organisms. 

The entire Victorian Era was filled with controversy.  First Semmelweiss, then Pasteur, then Lister were met with open opposition for their heretical ideas that unseen germs were causing wide-spread damage. 

Fortunately not everyone was close-minded.  Once Louis Pasteur explained his theory of germs in the 1860s, certain people started listening. It took a while, but doctors like Joseph Lister realized that hospitals and doctors had the potential to pass on life-threatening germs to patients.  

Building on Pasteur's work, Lister pioneered the idea of actually cleaning wounds and using disinfectant. Then he suggested doctors might think about washing their hands.

Of course now Lister came under attack.  Lister had been invited to leave Edinburgh and join the prestigious King’s College Hospital in London. The newspapers reported Lister as saying that it was his duty to go to King’s because the teaching of surgery in London was very bad.

Such publicity did not go down well with his future London colleagues.

"Who is this ignorant professor from an insignificant Scottish University," they said, "that he should dare to criticize the great London teaching-schools?"

It was left to Pasteur to finally get it through their thick skulls that germs were the problem.  According to Dr. Emile Roux, one of Pasteur's assistants, the actual cause of the puerperal fever was not revealed until 11 March 1879. On that day Pasteur was attending the Academy of Medicine in Paris and the subject of the disease came under discussion.

One of (Pasteur's) most weighty colleagues was eloquently enlarging upon the causes of epidemics in lying-in hospitals; Pasteur stood up and interrupted him from his place.

"None of these things cause the epidemic; it is the nursing and medical staff who carry the microbe from an infected woman to a healthy one."

And as the orator replied that he feared that the microbe would never be found, Pasteur went to the blackboard and drew a diagram of the chain-like organism (the streptococcus), saying:

"There, that is what it looks like!"

Pasteur's conviction was so deep that he could not help expressing it forcibly. It would be impossible now to picture the state of surprise and stupefaction into which he would send the students and doctors in attendance.  With an assurance and simplicity almost disconcerting in a man who was entering a lying-in ward for the first time, he criticized the hospital's appliances and declared that all the linen should be put into a sterilizing stove.  No one said another word in opposition.    

[ source ]

Thus ended the agonizing search for the cause and prevention of puerperal fever. Vive le Pasteur!

Stories like these make you wonder.  One hundred years from now, what will people say about today’s methods for cancer treatment?  Will people laugh and say today’s “modern” approach to cancer treatment was the equivalent of putting the Earth in the center of the Universe? 

In my opinion, today's conventional approach to the cure of cancer isn't working very well.  When Patrick Swayze and Steve Jobs have access to the best cures of modern medicine and get nowhere, it is pretty hard to have much confidence in conventional treatment.

So who is right?  Who has the right approach to the Holy Grail of a cure for cancer?  Is it Burzynski or is it the Medical Establishment?

Ask yourself who you would put your money on... or better yet, your life.  When you get cancer, it becomes your life you are betting on.

An old error is always more popular than a new truth.

German Proverb

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

Arthur Schopenhauer


The Story of Smallpox

Smallpox was once the most feared disease in the world.

An estimated 300 million people died from smallpox in the 20th century alone. This virulent disease is so powerful it kills one in every three people it infects.

Smallpox was particularly catastrophic in virgin populations. The Spanish inadvertently owe much of their success in conquering the Aztecs and Incas in Mexico in the 16th century to smallpox.  Unlike the Spanish, the native Indians had no immunity to the disease, having never encountered it before.

A century later the North American Indians suffered a similar devastation. In the 18th century, smallpox decimated the aborigines when it reached Australia, the last corner of the world to have escaped its ravages.

Just to see a picture of someone with smallpox is enough to scare the wits out of anyone.  Even today no cure for smallpox exists.  Fortunately we have little to worry about because smallpox is currently eliminated from the planet. 

However, our government has decided to keep a small stockpile of smallpox "just in case".  Just in case for what? 

It was the discovery of vaccination that solved the problem of smallpox.  This took place in 1800.  Today vaccination is something we all take completely for granted, but not many people know the remarkable story behind its discovery. 

We owe the discovery of vaccines to an Englishman named Edward Jenner.  Jenner is the man who gave us our first vaccine.  In so doing, he conquered Smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases in history.  Jenner is often called "the Father of Immunology". Jenner is said to have "saved more lives than any other man in history".  

Edward Anthony Jenner (1749 – 1823) was an English physician and scientist from Berkeley, Gloucestershire.  In Jenner’s day, smallpox was just as deadly as cancer is today.  Voltaire, the French philosopher, estimated that in his time 60% of the population caught smallpox and 20% of the population died of it.  There seemed to be no solution to this terrible disease

Fortunately, Jenner happened to be in the right place at the right time.  Like so many other discoveries, Jenner combined the work of others before him with his own insight.  He had access to three different pieces of the puzzle.

For starters, the concept of inoculation was already in existence.  However, it carried serious risks.  In fact, a person was just as likely to die from a smallpox inoculation as he or she was to catch the disease from the environment.  So there wasn’t much value in even bothering.

Jenner was also aware that several physicians had recently noted that anyone who had previously contracted a far less dangerous disease known as Cowpox seemed to have a mysterious immunity to Smallpox.  

Cowpox was a disease similar to smallpox, but much less virulent.  In fact, it was rumored to be a blessing to catch Cowpox, but no one knew a direct step to get so lucky other than hang out with cows all day. 

Found in Jenner's records was the notation that Jenner heard from a dairymaid, “I shall never have smallpox for I have had cowpox. I shall never have an ugly pockmarked face.

That proved to be the inspiration for Jenner.  Pondering this, Jenner concluded that cowpox not only protected against smallpox but perhaps it could be transmitted from one person to another as a deliberate mechanism of protection.

In May 1796, Edward Jenner found a young dairymaid, Sarah Nelms, who had fresh cowpox lesions on her hands and arms.

On May 14, 1796, using matter from Nelms' lesions, he inoculated James Phipps, the 8-year-old son of his gardener.

Jenner knew it was very dangerous to use a human as his guinea pig, but he figured the worst thing that would happen would be the boy might develop cowpox... not the dreaded smallpox.

Now Jenner sat back and observed.  Subsequently, the boy developed mild fever and discomfort. Then 9 days after the procedure he felt cold and lost his appetite.  Everyone held their breath.  Fortunately, the next day, James felt much better.  

Now came the test of fire.  In July 1796, Jenner inoculated the boy again, this time with matter from a fresh smallpox lesion. No disease developed, and Jenner concluded that protection was complete.

Emboldened by his success with the boy, Jenner widened his sample.  Jenner vaccinated over 23 volunteers – mostly children – with the same cowpox material.  . 

This took some real guts What if the injection got them sick?  The volunteers all knew they were taking a huge chance.  They too were the equivalent of guinea pigs.

Sure enough, practically every subject immediately ran a fever.  Every parent was full of apprehension.  Fortunately, they all breathed easier when the fevers quickly subsided. 

Now Jenner took an even bigger risk.  He deliberately exposed the children to smallpox.  The vaccine worked!  Not one of the subjects got sick. 

It was now 1796. After Jenner successfully tested his hypothesis on the 23 subjects, it was time to report his findings to the Royal Society.  But he didn’t get very far.  Edward Jenner faced great skepticism when he announced his discovery of vaccination.

To his consternation, the Royal Society refused to even publish the initial paper.  

Jenner was incredulous.  He had clear proof that his vaccine protected people from the most dangerous disease on earth and all these learned doctors did was yawn. 

Undeterred, Jenner went back and did more tests and took down more statistics.  Then he resubmitted his paper.  The medical establishment, ever cautious, deliberated at length over his findings.  A great argument ensued. 

During the time that the physicians deliberated, Jenner was widely ridiculed.  

Some of Jenner's fiercest critics were the clergy.  Sermons proclaimed that it was repulsive and ungodly to inoculate someone with material from a diseased animal (cowpox). Some objectors believed that the vaccine was “unchristian” because it came from a lowly animal.

There was great fear involved too. What were the consequences of receiving material originating from cows?  Would people begin to develop cow features themselves?  Would they get sick with something besides smallpox?

Of course we laugh today, but take into account the fear of the unknown can be quite crippling.  Let us not forget the children who died from the polio vaccine that didn't work in our story about polio. 

Meanwhile Jenner waited.  1797. One year passed.  More debate.  1798. Two years passed.  More debate.  Whispers came to him about the many surgeons who did not want Jenner to succeed. These men were the variolators whose large incomes were threatened by Jenner's safer and more effective cowpox treatment.

Variolation was a risky precursor to vaccination.  If it worked, great, but 2% of the people died from the procedure itself.  In addition, the mild form of the disease which the patient contracted could spread, causing an epidemic.  Victims of variolation could be found at all levels of society; King George III lost a son to the procedure as did many others. 

Another years passed. 1799.  Finally in 1800 the Royal Society decided to test Jenner's ideas out on their own.   When they got similar results, the wait was over.  Jenner was proven correct.  Meanwhile four long years had passed waiting for implementation of this life-saving vaccine.

Vaccination proved to be one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of all time.  In time, Jenner’s discovery of vaccination has made it possible to greatly reduce some of the world’s deadliest epidemics and diseases, from cholera and measles to the bubonic plague.

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

Arthur Schopenhauer

Doctor Oz

"Is the most trusted doctor in America doing more harm than good?"

In Chapter Three of my Cancer Diaries, I said that it was the support of Burzynski by Dr. Oz that finally convinced me to watch Part I of the two Burzynski documentaries. 

What I didn't say is that I spent an hour investigating Dr. Oz first.  I found a 9 page article about Dr. Oz in the February 2013 New Yorker Magazine written by Michael Spector.  Spector suggested that Mehmet Oz might be hurting Americans.

So what exactly is Dr. Oz doing to hurt America?

Spector took Oz to task for being too open-minded with his TV show by giving dangerous credence to so-called fringe medicine... like Burzynski, for example.

Here is an interesting excerpt from page 7 and 8 of Spector's New Yorker article:

Mehmet Oz refers to the academic world as a “fortress,” and he is determined to tear down its walls.

In the past, his enthusiasms, even when unsupported by data, have usually fulfilled the Hippocratic oath to do no harm.  Lately, however, he seems to have moved more firmly into the realm of tenuous treatments for serious conditions.

On one recent episode, “Dr. Oz’s 13 Miracles for 2013,” he included “a revolutionary new way to live years longer: it’s red palm oil.”  He went on, “Its red color is perfect, because I think of it as a stop sign for aging.”

I asked Oz several times why he promotes that kind of product, and allows psychics, homeopaths, cancer theorists and purveyors of improbable diet plans and dietary supplements to appear on the show.

Oz replied that he takes his role as a medium between medicine and the people seriously, and he feels that such programs offer his audience a broader perspective on health.

Ultimately, if we want to fix American medicine we will need skeptical and smart patients to dominate.  They will need to ask the hard questions, because much of medicine is just plain old logic. So I am out there trying to persuade people to be those patients."

And, to Oz, that often means telling his viewers what the Medical Establishment doesn’t want them to hear:  that their answers are not the only answers, and their medicine is not the only medicine.”

But, when he tells his audience, with no credible evidence, that red palm oil may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, is he empowering people?  Or is he encouraging them to endanger their health with another “miracle”?

Addressing such issues, however, is part of what Oz describes as “the un-discussed conversation—the one we need to have but don’t.” He describes modern medicine as a “civil war” waged between conventional physicians and those who are open to alternative cures for maladies ranging from anxiety to cancer; he considers it his mission to walk the line that divides them.

But more often his show seems to erase that line completely, with results that may be less benign than Oz and his many viewers realize.

I want no more barriers between patient and medicine. I would take us all back a thousand years, when our ancestors lived in small villages and there was always a healer in that village—and his job wasn’t to give you heart surgery or medication but to help find a place for safe conversation.

There are many legitimate and articulate opponents of conventional medicine. But Oz has consistently chosen guests with dubious authority to argue those positions. Joseph Mercola, an osteopath, runs, one of the most popular alternative-health Web sites in the country.

Oz has described Mercola as a “pioneer in holistic treatments,” and as a man “your doctor doesn’t want you to listen to.” .... When Oz says that Mercola is “challenging everything you think you know about traditional medicine and prescription drugs,” it’s hard to argue. “I’m usually earnestly honest and modest about what I think we’ve accomplished,” Oz told me when we discussed his choice of guests. “If I don’t have Mercola on my show, I have thrown away the biggest opportunity that I have been given.”

I had no idea what he meant.  How was it Oz’s “biggest opportunity” to introduce a guest who explicitly rejects the tenets of science?  

“The fact that I am a respected professor—one of the youngest professors ever—at Columbia, and that I earned my stripes writing hundreds of papers in peer-reviewed journals,” Oz began. “I know the system. I’ve been on those panels. I’m one of those guys who could talk about Mercola and not lose everybody. And so if I don’t talk to him I have abdicated my responsibility, because the currency that I deal in is trust, and it is trust that has been given to me by Oprah and by Columbia University, and by an audience that has watched over six hundred shows.”

I was still puzzled. “Either data works or it doesn’t,” I said. “Science is supposed to answer, or at least address, those questions. Surely you don’t think that all information is created equal?”

Oz sighed.
“Medicine is a very religious experience. I have my religion and you have yours. It becomes difficult for us to agree on what we think works, since so much of it is in the eye of the beholder.  Data is rarely clean.”

All facts come with a point of view. But his spin on it—that one can simply choose those which make sense, rather than data that happen to be true—was chilling.

“You find the arguments that support your data,” Oz said, “and then it’s my fact versus your fact.”

Read More

So what is my point?

The impression I got from the New Yorker article is that Dr. Oz would be considered "overly open-minded" by his peers. Oz made it clear that he doesn't think science is nearly as precise as it pretends to be. Even today, there is still a lot of guess-work involved in what works, what doesn't, and the reasons "why" and "why not".

Dr. Oz reserves the right to have his own views on medicine based on his experience, instincts, and personal insight. Just like religion, Oz contends so much about medicine is unknown that some of his ideas are based on a type of faith, or 'intuition' if you prefer.

Dr. Oz says his professional excellence has given him the right to state his own opinions even when they fly in the face of conventional wisdom. In other words, just because the data isn't there to prove something works doesn't mean it doesn't bear further investigation.

Dr. Oz said that he was one of the few guys in medicine who could talk openly about controversial figures like Burzynski with impunity. Interesting statement. 

After I read what Oz had said, I decided to watch the Burzynski documentary. "Okay," I said to myself, "If Dr. Oz is willing to put his reputation on the line for this Burzynski guy, that is good enough for me."

I like Dr. Oz.  I also like Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN.  Both men have an honesty about them I find reassuring.  I sense that these men will tell me what I need to know regardless of the professional consequences. 


The Man Who Cured Ulcers and Stomach Cancer

It is very easy to laugh at the complete ignorance of the Victorian Era medical community that turned a blind eye to Ignaz Semmelweiss, Louis Pasteur, Edward Jenner, and Joseph Lister.   While countless victims died, the doctors of the day turned their backs on these brilliant medical innovators. 

History always has the last laugh.  We now know what a bunch of close-minded idiots those opposing doctors were back in the old days. 

The evidence was right before their eyes and they ignored it to save their pride, their dignity, and their pocketbooks.  Then they did the same thing with Smallpox and germ theory.

The danger is that we assume that our modern Medical Community would NEVER be so ignorant.  No doctor would make the same mistake today.

Oh really?  From what I gather, most doctors are pretty sure of themselves these days.  Check out this Semmelweiss quote.

In keeping with our purpose, this account of the contributions of Semmelweiss to the control of puerperal fever will serve as a reminder of the state of the art in their time.

It will also call attention to the striking contrast between the slowness with which medical advances were accepted in the mid 1800's and the readiness with which new concepts and technologies are adopted in the present day.   [ source ]

Please keep that quote in mind as you read the following story.

Barry Marshall is the 2005 Nobel Prize winner for Physiology and Medicine.  That said, I wager that unless you are in the medical field, you have never heard of Dr. Barry Marshall. 

Marshall is the man who discovered that ulcers are caused by a bacteria.  Not only that, he also discovered that ulcers are easily cured by antibiotics. 

Furthermore, Marshall discovered that people who develop stomach cancer always have an ulcer problem first.  Now that Marshall has found a way to cure ulcers easily, stomach cancer has virtually disappeared.  How amazing is that? 

Only one problem.  By daring to challenge long-standing medical beliefs, Marshall was met with tremendous rejection. 

Barry Marshall seems to be the modern day equivalent of Dr. Semmelweiss.  No, he didn't go insane.  What he did do was take an amazing gamble in order to get people's attention. 


It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his income depends on his not understanding it .

Upton Sinclair

The Story of Barry Marshall

Barry Marshall had just made an amazing discovery.  He had found not only the cause for ulcers, but he knew how to cure them as well.

However, Marshall got nowhere.  He couldn't get published, he couldn't get anyone to listen to him, he couldn't get funding, and he was constantly ridiculed and disrespected. 

Mainstream gastroenterologists were dismissive, holding on to the old idea that ulcers were caused by stress.  They were positive that ulcers were the unfortunate psychosomatic consequence caused by the heavy stress of modern life.

Marshall knew better.  These people were all wrong.

So why did Marshall think his ideas were so vigorously opposed? 

He concluded his solution was going to cost a lot of wealthy people a lot of money. 

Let's examine this Interview from Discover Magazine.

Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, 2005 Nobel Winners for Medicine

[ Note:  These excerpts are drawn from the March 2010 issue of Discover Magazine written by Pamela Weintraub ]

Weintraub: How did you come to rethink the cause of ulcers?

Marshall: Before the 20th century, the ulcer was not a respectable disease. Doctors would say, “You’re under a lot of stress.” Nineteenth-century Europe and America had all these crazy health spas and quack treatments. By the 1880s doctors had developed surgery for ulcers, in which they cut off the bottom of the stomach and reconnected the intestine. We’re pretty certain now that by the start of the 20th century, 100 percent of mankind was infected with Helicobacter pylori, but you can go through your whole life and never have any symptoms.

Weintraub: How did you get the word out about your discovery?

Marshall: I presented that work at the annual meeting of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in Perth. That was my first experience of people being totally skeptical. To gastroenterologists, the concept of a germ causing ulcers was like saying that the Earth is flat. After that I realized my paper was going to have difficulty being accepted. You think, “It’s science; it’s got to be accepted.” But it’s not an absolute given. The idea was too weird.

Weintraub: Then you and your research partner Robin Warren wrote letters to The Lancet.

Marshall: Robin’s letter described the bacteria and the fact that they were quite common in people. My letter described the history of these bacteria over the past 100 years. We both knew that we were standing at the edge of a fantastic discovery. At the bottom of my letter I said the bacteria were candidates for the cause of ulcers and stomach cancer.

Weintraub: That letter must have provoked an uproar.

Marshall: It didn’t. In fact, our letters were so weird that they almost didn’t get published. By then I was working at a hospital in Fremantle, biopsying every patient who came through the door. I was getting all these patients and couldn’t keep tabs on them, so I tapped all the drug companies to request research funding for a computer. They all wrote back saying how difficult times were and they didn’t have any research money. But they were making a billion dollars a year for the antacid drug Zantac and another billion for Tagamet.

You could make a patient feel better by removing the acid. Treated, most patients didn’t die from their ulcer and didn’t need surgery, so it was worth $100 a month per patient, a hell of a lot of money in those days. In America in the 1980s, 2 to 4 percent of the population had Tagamet tablets in their pocket. There was simply no incentive to find a cure.

Weintraub: So how did you finally convince the medical community?

Marshall: I didn’t understand it at the time, but Procter & Gamble [the maker of Pepto-Bismol] was the largest client of Hill & Knowlton, the public relations company. After I came to work in the States, publicity would come out. Stories had titles like “Guinea-Pig Doctor Experiments on Self and Cures Ulcer,” and Reader’s Digest and the National Enquirer covered it. Our credibility might have dropped a bit, but interest in our work built.

Whenever someone said, “Oh, Dr. Marshall, it’s not proven,” I’d say: “Well, there’s a lot at stake here. People are dying from peptic ulcers. We need to accelerate the process.

And ultimately, the NIH and FDA did that. They fast-tracked a lot of this knowledge into the United States and said to the journals: “We can’t wait for you guys to conduct these wonderful, perfect studies. We’re going to move forward and get the news out.” That happened quite quickly in the end. Between 1993 and 1996, the whole country changed color.

Weintraub: Even now, though, isn’t it hard for new ideas to be heard when medical journals are gatekeepers of the status quo?

Marshall: It’s true, but they have their ears pricked up now because every time a paper comes to them, they say: “Hang on a minute, I had better make sure that this is not another Barry Marshall paper. I don’t want to have my name on that rejection letter he shows in his lectures.”

Now instead they might hesitate for a second, then say, “It’s so off-the-wall....but is it true?”

[ Source ]

Dr. Jekyll

In 1981 Barry Marshall began working with Robin Warren, the Royal Perth Hospital pathologist.  Two years earlier, Warren had discovered the gut could be overrun by a hardy, corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Helicobacter pylori.

Working together, Marshall and Warren realized that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is the cause of most peptic ulcers. 

As you have read, Marshall's work was met with incredible skepticism.  Mainstream gastroenterologists were dismissive, holding on to the old idea that ulcers were caused by stress.  If Marshall was right, this would reverse decades of medical doctrine holding that ulcers were caused by stress, spicy foods, and too much acid. 

Biopsying ulcer patients and culturing the organisms in the lab, Marshall traced not just ulcers but also stomach cancer to this gut infection. The cure, he realized, was readily available: antibiotics.

Now Marshall had to test his theory, but no one would cooperate and no one would listen to him. 

Unable to get anyone to sanction his test, Marshall watched in horror as ulcer patients fell so ill that many had their stomachs removed or bled until they died.  But Marshall's hands were tied.  Unless he was willing to break the law, there was nothing he could do about it. 

Marshall was unable to make his case in studies with lab mice because Helicobacter pylori affects only primates.

Marshall was likewise prohibited from experimenting on people without permission from medical authorities.  Gone were the days when Edward Jenner could give his gardener's son cowpox as a medical experiment.  If Marshall tried that today, he would lose his license.

Watching his patients continue to suffer and die, Marshall grew desperate. So Marshall devised a remarkable strategy to get people's attention.  He decided to run an experiment on the only human patient he could ethically recruit: himself. 

That's right... Marshall offered himself up as a guinea pig.

Marshall drew some Helicobacter pylori from the gut of one of his ailing patients.  Then he stirred it into a broth and drank it.  Now he waited. 

As the days passed, he developed gastritis, the precursor to an ulcer.  Then he started vomiting.  Then his breath began to stink.  He felt sick and exhausted. 

Back in the lab, Marshall biopsied his own gut, culturing H. pylori.  Despite how sick he was, Marshall smiled.

His unbelievable stunt had worked.  Marshall had actually infected himself with an ulcer... thereby proving his point what REALLY CAUSED ULCERS.

Marshall now had all the evidence he needed to show that bacteria were indeed the underlying cause of ulcers.

But he was also a very sick man.  Now what?  The standard treatment at the time for an ulcer was surgery to remove the diseased part of the stomach. 

Would Marshall be forced to undergo surgery?  Actually, no.  Marshall had the foresight to work out his cure in advance.

Weintraub:  What led up to your most famous and most dangerous experiment, testing your theory on yourself?

Marshall: I had a patient with gastritis. I got the bacteria and cultured them, then worked out which antibiotics could kill his infection in the lab—in this case, bismuth plus metronidazole. I treated the patient and did an endoscopy to make sure his infection was gone.

After that I swizzled the organisms around in a cloudy broth and drank it the next morning. My stomach gurgled, and after five days I started waking up in the morning saying, “Oh, I don’t feel good,” and I’d run in the bathroom and vomit.

Once I got it off my stomach, I would be good enough to go to work, although I was feeling tired and not sleeping so well. After 10 days I had an endoscopy that showed the bacteria were everywhere. There was all this inflammation, and gastritis had developed.

I wasn't really worried.  After all, I had already tested my own culture with antibiotics ahead of time.  I knew I could lick this thing.

That’s when I told my wife.

Weintraub:  Are you serious?  Do you mean she didn't know?  How did she react?

Marshall:  I should have recorded her response.  Of course she screamed.  Then she said something completely unintelligible, but I knew the meaning was that I had to stop the experiment STAT and take some antibiotics.

My wife was paranoid that she would catch it and the kids would catch it and chaos — we’d all have ulcers and cancer.

So I said, “Just give me till the weekend.”

She said, “Fair enough.”

Weintraub:  You published a synthesis of this work in The Medical Journal of Australia in 1985.  Then did people change their thinking?

Marshall:  No. My work just sat there as a hypothesis for another 10 years. Some patients heard about it, but gastroenterologists still would not treat them with antibiotics. Instead, they would focus on the possible complications of antibiotics.

By 1985 I could cure just about everybody, and patients were coming to see me in secret—for instance, airline pilots who didn’t want to let anyone know that they had an ulcer.

Weintraub:  When did you realize H. pylori caused stomach cancer, too?

Marshall:  We observed that everybody who got stomach cancer developed it on a background of gastritis, an irritation or inflammation of the stomach lining.

Whenever we found a person without Helicobacter, we couldn’t find gastritis, either. So as far as we knew, the only important cause of gastritis was Helicobacter. Therefore, it had to be the most important cause of stomach cancer as well.

Marshall's discovery allowed for a breakthrough in understanding a causative link between Helicobacter pylori infection and stomach cancer.

Marshall realized that the only people developing stomach cancer had to develop a gastric ulcer first.  By curing ulcers with antibiotics, stomach cancer had no place to take hold.  So in a sense Marshall had cured this scourge as well. 

Fourteen years!  It took Marshall four years to get published in 1985 and then TEN MORE years to finally get the Medical Community at large to listen to him. 

In the end, Marshall had to poison himself just to get their attention.  It was Semmelweiss all over again. 

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

Arthur Schopenhauer

1 - Current Status 2 - Medical Conspiracy 3 - Burzynski 4 - Royal Rife 45 - Morris Fishbein 6 - Medical Mysteries 7 - Civil War 8 - Twisted Golden Rule 9 - Corruption
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