Steve Jobs: Computer Geniuses and Medical Mysticism, a Very Bad Combination

Brilliant computer innovators may not be so brilliant in all domains.

It is well known, and well documented for many decades, that pancreatic cancer is often extremely aggressive and detected relatively late due to lack of early symptoms.

Its detection should lead to aggressive treatment ASAP, such as radiation/chemotherapy or the Whipple procedure, if the person is to survive.

I consider this tragic:

Jobs Tried Exotic Treatments to Combat Cancer, Book Says
New York Times
Steve Lohr
Oct. 21, 2011

… His early decision to put off surgery and rely instead on fruit juices, acupuncture, herbal remedies and other treatments — some of which he found on the Internet — infuriated and distressed his family, friends and physicians, the book says. From the time of his first diagnosis in October 2003, until he received surgery in July 2004, he kept his condition largely private … Mr. Jobs put off surgery for nine months, a fact first reported in 2008 in Fortune magazine.

(Per Yahoo finance) … he also was influenced by a doctor who ran a clinic that advised juice fasts, bowel cleansings and other unproven approaches, the book says, before finally having surgery in July 2004.

I would replace the term “doctor” above with the onomatopoeia imitating the noise made by females of the species Anas platyrhynchos.

Medical mysticism and “alternative therapies” may have their place, especially in hypochondriacs and for relatively minor problems (in my view, via the placebo effect), but not in dire, well studied conditions such as cancer of the pancreas. A brilliant computer entrepreneur, one of the world’s best, may have been unnecessarily lost due to the seduction of medical mysticism.

In such diseases, sadly, an Apple a day does not keep the doctor – or the grim reaper – away.

— SS

10/22/11 Addendum:

This story has a personal angle of sorts to it. In the early 1970’s when I began my fascination with computers, I became friends with Hank, a brilliant computer programmer and fellow ham radio enthusiast, shown stting in this picture from the George Washington High School (Phila., PA) 1973 yearbook in front of our high school’s DEC PDP-8/S:

Me (standing, right), Eric Benshetler (standing, left), and Hank O’Neill (sitting), 1973.

Hank had a distrust of medicine. I last saw him when I was in Residency, when he visited my home to see my ham radio setup. He became a programmer working on military weapons systems, the B1B bomber I was told. I was told this, unfortunately, at his funeral just a few years ago. He’d developed a severe respiratory infection and tried to “tough it out.”

He died at home, apparently of pneumonia. A few dollars worth of antibiotics would probably have saved him. At the funeral, his friends told me he spoke occasionally of his former computer friend who’d gone into medicine. I was quite sad at his funeral. All he’d needed to have done would have been to call me. I’m sure I could have talked him into treatment.

— SS