I am currently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. It is a fascinating book about misfits and underdogs. In essence, he chronicles how individuals with limitations overcome. In fact, he proposes that it is these limitations that enable them to be successful. By learning to deal with adversity, they learn powerful skills that propel them ahead in life. I agree with him on many things however at other times I think he makes some illogical leaps. One particular section that grabbed my attention was his unpacking the life and career of Emil Freireich. Emil lost his father at an early age, hated his mother, barely survived medical school, and was fired seven times. However, he eventually rose to prominence by taking extraordinary risks in the area of leukemia treatment (now you see why it grabbed my attention). At the time, acute leukemia was a death sentence. He witnessed seventy children die his first year while he was working in the cancer ward. It is this bleak reality that prompted Freireich to develop a “whatever is necessary” mentality to treating this cancer. He began to work on various medical treatments towards platelets and chemotherapy. Each time he was scorned by the medical community. They thought he was crazy. Yet, he didn’t care. He felt there was hope for this disease. In the end, his pioneering treatment was a game-changer for leukemia treatment resulting in a 90% survival rate.
Several thoughts rattle in my mind as I think about this story. First, we should be very thankful for modern medicine. If I had been diagnosed with leukemia fifty years ago, I would have had very little hope of survival. Yet, I can be thankful today simply because of God’s providence in allowing me to be born in 1971 rather than 1931. I oftentimes hear disdain towards the health community. I think it is partly fueled by the skyrocketing cost of health care and the numerous political opinions on healthcare reform. I also think that we have an entitled mentality when it comes to life. If something does not go exactly our way we get annoyed and frustrated. We play the victim. Some of the likely targets are hospitals, doctors, and nurses. It seems recently they are being scorned with increased frequency. Yet, they serve to provide the best medical treatment possible (under conditions where there is little room for error). Like Freireich, they are passionate about alleviating the suffering of those they care for. People like my oncologist who takes time to answer my every question simply to calm my fears. I am thankful when he turns to my son and asks him, “Do you have any questions about leukemia?” I was not expecting that. Yet, he cares for me and my family. Yet, so often many like him are not appreciated.
Second, I am thankful for the pioneers who risk their reputation and sacrifice their time to discover medical breakthroughs. I’ll be honest I oftentimes live in the now. I am thinking primarily about what treatment is available in 2015. What do the current statistics say for those undergoing chemotherapy currently? When I hear a new drug trial on the news related to cancer my ears pop up. Why? Because it is relevant to me now. However, the pioneers are also relevant to me now because modern treatment stands on the shoulders of those who went before them. Yet, until I read this book, I never gave thanks for those of the previous generation who dared to do something extraordinary. Yes, I had passing thoughts however never a deep appreciation. Sadly, I am definitely influenced as a member of the “now generation.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18 encourages us to “in everything give thanks.” This includes not simply the present circumstances but everything surrounding it including history figures. I’m thinking that if I took time to appreciate those that laid the foundation for me in so many areas, I might be less prone to grumble when something doesn’t go quite right today.