From the desk of Doc Smo: Pictures speak! (Article)

Photographs can leave a strong impression, reinforcing information that words often cannot. I remember to this day a visiting professor who came and spoke to my medical school class about environmental health problems. He showed us a photograph of a hospital air intake pipe which sat just above a huge mountain of asbestos. We all knew the implications of what this photo depicted: asbestos was being literally pumped into the ventilation system of a hospital!!! A manmade environmental disaster!

The students and faculty at my medical school were particularly knowledgeable about asbestos since Rutgers University was centered near Manville, NJ. My young readers may not recognize the Manville name, but my older readers probably do. The John Manville Company was, at one time, the largest manufacturer of asbestos products in the United States. Asbestos is a natural mineral which is a fantastic heat insulator. This property led to its widespread use as an insulator for pipes, walls, and attics. It was cheap and extremely useful except for one problem: if the fibers are inhaled, it can irritate the lining of the lungs and eventually cause a horrible cancer. The biology of all this was worked out in the hospitals where I worked in medical school.

The asbestos photograph had a powerful impact on me. I can still conjure this photograph in my mind to this day; it is as clear as can be in my memory. Recently I started using photographs to reinforce messages with my patients. I have started keeping a photograph on my smart phone of a bike helmet that saved one of my patient’s life. If you want to hear that whole story, listen to my pedcast called “Bike helmets work”. Should the subject of bike helmets comes up during a visit, out comes the crushed bike helmet photo. Similarly, when the subject of seat belts and auto safety comes up in the office, out comes the crashed car photo. When the subject of infant sleep positioners comes up, out comes the photo of a potential smothering event in a doll. Well, you get the idea: photographs can reinforce messages that words just can’t, just like one did for me 36 years ago during that guest lecture.

Your comments are welcome at Until next time.