Monday, June 30, 2008

Russert's Death

The death of newsman Tim Russert earlier this month highlighted an important fact: medical science doesn't have all of the answers. An article in the New York Times illustrates the discomfort that this realization creates.

Mr. Russert, the moderator of "Meet the Press" on NBC News, took blood pressure and cholesterol pills and aspirin, rode an exercise bike, had yearly stress tests and other exams and was dutifully trying to lose weight. But he died of a heart attack anyway.

An article in The New York Times last week about his medical care led to e-mail from dozens of readers insisting that something must have been missed, that if only he had been given this test or that, his doctors would have realized how sick he was and prescribed more medicine or recommended bypass surgery.

Clearly, there was sorrow for Mr. Russert's passing, but also nervous indignation. Many people are in the same boat he was in, struggling with weight, blood pressure and other risk factors — 16 million Americans have coronary artery disease — and his death threatened the collective sense of well-being. People are not supposed to die this way anymore, especially not smart, well-educated professionals under the care of doctors.

Mr. Russert's fate underlines some painful truths. A doctor's care is not a protective bubble, and cardiology is not the exact science that many people wish it to be.

It's kinda scary to realize that you can do all the right things and still have a fatal heart attack.