Are any of you old enough to remember the days when the shoe stores used to do x-rays of your feet so that you could get the ‘perfect fit’ for your new shoes? Think I am making this up? Here you go:
In the late 1940′s and early 1950′s, the shoe-fitting x-ray unit was a common shoe store sales promotion device and nearly all stores had one. It was estimated that there were 10,000 of these devices in use. This particular shoe-fitting x-ray unit was produced by the dominant company in the field, the Adrian X-Ray Company of Milwaukee WI, now defunct. Brooks Stevens, a noted industrial designer whose works included the the Milwaukee Road Olympian and an Oscar MeyerWienermobile, designed this machine.
For the full story, read this link about this wonderful practice. If you look into the link, you will see that the URL is the museumofquackery.com.
In today’s world, newer, faster, more sophisticated and more dangerous machines are in use in our hospitals throughout this country.
The New York Times reporter Walt Bogdanich is doing a powerful series entitled The Radiation Boom.’ Last Tuesday, January 26, 2010, he did a piece - ‘As Technology Surges, Radiation Safeguards Lag,’ in which he recounts a series of horror stories – unfortunately very real to those who suffered from outrageous neglect. For just a sampling of these tragic stories, I offer you the following:
In New Jersey, 36 cancer patients at a veterans hospital in East Orange were overradiated — and 20 more received substandard treatment — by a medical team that lacked experience in using a machine that generated high-powered beams of radiation. The mistakes, which have not been publicly reported, continued for months because the hospital had no system in place to catch the errors.
Mr. Bogdanich then tells the story of a man in New Orleans who received 38 straight overdoses of radiation for his prostate cancer and a man in Texas who was extensively overdosed by a medical physicist, whose excuse was he was ‘overworked.’
Three days before this article, on January 23rd, the same reporter wrote a chilling story about a 43 year old man, Scott Jerome-Parks, who died in 2007 after receiving treatment for his tongue cancer during which the techinicians failed to detect a computer error that directed a linear accelerator to blast his brain stem and neck with misdirected beams of radiation on three consecutive days. Read his articles for all the horrifying details – but not while you are about to eat.
While these devices are said to be of enormous help in providing a more accurate attack of a tumor by radiation in the hands of those properly trained to use them, they also appear to be one of the modern day tools sought by many hospitals apparently not well trained in the use of these wonderful yet potentially lethal devices.
Mr. Bagdanich quotes a rather credible source regarding the dangers associated with these devices and those who use them:
Linear accelerators and treatment planning are enormously more complex than 20 years ago,” said Dr. Howard I. Amols, chief of clinical physics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. But hospitals, he said, are often too trusting of the new computer systems and software, relying on them as if they had been tested over time, when in fact they have not.
In a very recent story by USA Today reporter, Liz Szabo, we are told how NIH will start reporting in the electronic medical records just how much radiation its patients receive from CT scans and other procedures. The rationale is simple – concern that people are receiving too much lifetime radiation exposure from medical tests.
Ms. Szabo reports that -
A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine in December estimated that radiation from such procedures, whose use has grown dramatically in recent years, causes 29,000 new cancers and 14,500 deaths a year.
A second Archivesstudy that month said the problem could be even worse, calculating that patients get four times as much radiation from imaging tests as previously believed. Children are particularly vulnerable because they’re small and still growing.
Xrays for shoes? If we only knew then what we know now. Can the same be said about all these diagnostic radiographic tests? The NIH program appears to be a step in the right direction. Another ‘right step’ might be for the institutions using these devices to take a step back and reassess what safeguards are in place for patients undergoing treatment and/or diagnostic studies such as those recounted by Mr. Bogdanich and others – oh yeah – heard about what happened at Cedars-Sinai?