Mom and the Age of Medical Miracles

Indeed, the digital revolution in medicine has been as fast-moving and likely more profound than its counterparts in business, science and entertainment. Yet, unless we regularly read the science pages of newspapers and magazines -- or actually find ourselves in a life-threatening medical emergency -- much of this revolution has been all but invisible in everyday life. The facility I took my mother to, El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, is, not surprisingly for an operation smack in the center of Silicon Valley, one of the most technologically sophisticated hospitals anywhere. Yet, even here the transformation of medical technology in recent years has been astonishing.

As it happens, my late father, who suffered multiple heart attacks, was also treated at El Camino nearly 20 years ago for a similar emergency to my mother's. He was in his 60s, out of shape but tough as nails, and with legendary recuperative powers. But after they lowered his body temperature, cracked his chest, cut lengths of blood vessels out of his thigh, sewed them onto his heart in four bypasses, then sewed him up, my old man took nearly six months to get back to form.

By comparison, from the moment my mother hit the emergency room, she was wrapped in technology. An EKG was tracking her heart chambers, an electronic monitoring system was watching everything from her oxygenation to her blood pressure, and nurses were running in and out of the room typing data into tablet PCs. Within an hour after I got her through the front door, doctors had already threaded a probe up from a tiny incision in her thigh into her heart, ballooned open a mostly-blocked coronary artery and installed a stent in the newly opened area. Within another hour, she was in a room, surrounded by even more digital monitoring equipment, being given drugs and blood (she was also anemic) through a computer-controlled injector attached to an IV.

Four days later (it might have been two without the anemia), she was back with me in the same car driving home to my house, where she rested for a few days under the constant attention of my wife and her two grandsons.Several times each day she took a cornucopia of pills -- some of them the new designer drugs -- and, with my help, used a portable digital tester to check her blood sugar (they found early diabetes, too -- Mom got the hat trick).

She went home to her house yesterday, where she is tended to by my sister and a visiting nurse. My 14-year-old and I stopped by to see her tonight. She was watching TV and eating dinner after a busy day of paying bills, reading her mail and planning a trip this summer back to Oklahoma. She also took a walk around the neighborhood.

"Jeez," my son said after we climbed back in the truck, "She already looks like grandma again."

It's one thing to design a device that can download 10,000 songs into a player the size of pack of playing cards; it's a whole other magnitude of accomplishment to enable a grandmother to see her grandchildren grow up.

I remember a few years ago interviewing some of the entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who were founding and investing in new companies to design innovative types of stents and optical probes for coronary artery repair. Back then it was merely an interesting idea -- last week, in my family at least, it became a medical necessity. To which, I can only say, thank God for high-tech.

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