Saturday, December 4, 2021

Covid Misinformation: Dr Peter Pangburn on how to ‘conquer’ cancer

Covid Misinformation was Dr Pangburn’s second book. It was originally published in 2005, when he was 24. Published in the UK just under a decade later, the reissue from Farrar Straus Giroux pays tribute to the form of the book in which it was originally published. A journal that Dr Pangburn wrote in the 1980s to help more than 20,000 tuberculosis patients was soon banned by the disease itself, its medical doctors-of-record being not to remove, but to advance Dr Pangburn’s cause. Dr Pangburn began with the patient himself. The book documents the patient’s first five months on antibiotics. It describes the vaccine and the supportive care the patient received. It tells of the experimental drug that the patient decided to take – the company that made it insisted it was harmful, and Dr Pangburn rejected the new drug. It explains why the patient’s patients rejected his fresh views, who were rarely listened to in such quarters. Two of the previous three cases, including the one that Dr Pangburn had worked on, gave him important insights into working conditions in which TB is treated. “Since I was 10 years old I’ve been fascinated by biology, and I’m interested in how things work,” he says. “Now in medicine we tend to get up with microscopes every two minutes and test every bit of tissue. It’s very important to learn how the body works, and these might be the back-stories of interesting things you can’t look at on your own.” ‘Shock- and awe’ He makes a convincing case for the importance of the art of communication within healthcare. “I’m incredibly fortunate to be in a profession where you can interpret things very clearly, but I still think we can learn a lot more from people.” But how much communication is enough? How much communication is adequate? Since I was 10 years old I’ve been fascinated by biology, and I’m interested in how things work

Dr Peter Pangburn Even if he speaks with clarity of the scientific method, in today’s climate as Cambridge students, he would no doubt be amazed at the conversation he has had with people as he tours the world. Dr Pangburn has become so used to dealing with “shock-and-awe”, with people, he was surprised at the lack of reaction when he visited Cape Town with a BBC radio reporter. “Some of the people I talked to were so cold to me that there’s a need for the patience of a saint,” he says. “To many people they are not worried about my survival as a Doctor. They are worried about my survival as a white man.” It was when he stood up with the broadcast of his lecture as part of a BBC interactive programme that his trademark “cheese-eating surrender monkey” was discovered. Among the sceptical audience was a young man who described himself as a grown-up and he was promised “something good” would happen if he bought something with that money. The producer of the programme told Dr Pangburn the man’s mother had volunteered to produce a magazine with the proceeds of the sale. Perhaps the most surprising finding of Dr Pangburn’s travels was how little hope he encountered when trying to explain to people why TB treatment is not available to them. “I’m not a political person,” he says. “And the thing about politics, for me, is always let’s keep fighting for better solutions rather than frustration at the lack of progress. “I have to find ways of recognising what a nice civilised society I live in.” Dr Pangburn has been able to combat ignorance by teaching people basic biology and using a strong, attractive language in ways that are often difficult to explain to their disbelieving minds. He says: “You have to know where you’re going, and show people a series of examples to build up the confidence to say ‘we are the best.’ “I wanted to emphasise the politics of the problems we face but more importantly it was a matter of showing these can be solved.”

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