Archive for Sunday, June 11, 2006

Wisdom later in life beats blissful ignorance

June 11, 2006


Throughout my growing-up years, I read - as did my father before me - the plaque on my grandmother's wall: "It's what you learn after you know it all that counts!"

Haven't we all known people who think they know something and don't want to be confused by facts that might prove otherwise? I once watched husband Ray try to convince an elderly male relative that antifreeze must be mixed with water in order to protect a car from freezing. The man insisted that straight antifreeze would be better protection. If he applied his belief to his radiator that winter, he kept very quiet about his expensive repair bill.

A truly appalling incident occurred when Barry Marshall, an Australian doctor, presented evidence that most stomach ulcers were caused by bacteria and could be cured with antibiotics and Pepto-Bismol. His audience at the convention, composed of medical professionals who firmly believed that stomach acid caused ulcers, laughed him off the stage. Later, Marshall was philosophical about their derisive treatment, saying: "When I was in medical school I was given the impression that everything had already been discovered in medicine. It must have been the way it was taught."

So sure was Marshall of the reliability of his study that he drank the bacteria, gave himself an ulcer, then healed it with his prescribed cure. A later scientifically approved study showed Marshall's evidence was correct. It makes you wonder how many of his jeering colleagues - who clearly thought they knew everything there was to know about ulcers - ever admitted they were wrong. If not, I'm pretty sure Marshall isn't worrying about it. He won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his discovery.

You can learn a lot if you don't close your mind to new ideas - even those that seem silly. For example, I recently learned that my dishwasher wasn't washing dishes as clean as I'd like because they were TOO clean when I washed them. Sounds weird, doesn't it? Still, I tried what the repairman suggested - "Squirt a little ketchup on a plate before you start the cycle" -- and it works! Why? Well, he said when the Environmental Protection Agency made companies change the specifications for dishwashing detergents, manufacturers formulated detergents to react with acid in foods to boost cleaning power.

Because my parents encouraged me to be open-minded, most of my mistakes are due to the "smart too late" factor rather than the "know it all" kind. I am glad I was never tempted to smoke cigarettes, but a lot of my extended family and friends became addicted to the habit before its dangers were fully known.

However, while I currently slather on sunscreen, I once spent whole summers sunbathing at the pool without that protection. Sun causes lots of problems, among them, wrinkles. If you were a sunbather and are old enough to have a few wrinkles, check those areas where the sun didn't shine. I'm guessing there will be very few wrinkled tummies or posteriors (nudists excepted, of course).

Today, I wouldn't think of getting into a car without buckling up, but when we were teenagers, my friends and I never wore seat belts while riding in the car. But wait ... cars didn't HAVE seat belts then. I shudder when I think that my children were not secured in car seats in the back seats of several different automobiles we owned. Even now, some friends - when I am safely buckled in their front passenger seats while they are driving - will throw their arms across my chest to keep me from flying through the windshield when they brake hard. They, like I, clearly were accustomed to driving with a toddler standing on the front seat beside them.

I remember the first child's car seat I bought. It was made of blue canvas stitched onto a light metal frame which hooked over the front seat, and it had a cute plastic steering wheel that squeaked when pushed. Thank God I never had a wreck with a kid riding in that car seat; my outstretched arm would have been a better safety device.

And think about the millions of menopausal women sans hot flashes who were suckered into hormone replacement therapy because their doctors said it was good for their bones (yes) and hearts (NOT!). Too late they learned of the increased risk of breast cancer - a risk so great that a study into those risks was stopped rather than further endanger study participants. Even doctors sometimes get smart too late.

As long as science continues its march, we'll all be smart too late about things we think we know, like my late elderly friend who learned one incontrovertible fact in college: You can't split the atom.

Would that we still couldn't!

Marsha Henry Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence. Information about purchasing her book, "Life Is More Fun When You Live It Jest for Grins," is available by calling 843-2577 or e-mailing


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