Saturday, January 15, 2011

Data and Simple Fix

Apart from Think and Grow Rich, Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics blew my mind away. Below is written from memory based on what I can remember. Enjoy!

From Super Freakonomics

In the past, childbirth was a dangerous affair. 1 out of 10 deliveries would see to either the death of the mother or infant or both.

The story was in Venice during the 1840s. It was found that women who gave birth in the top-notched hospitals, were more likely to die from child delivery. In particular, those who were delivered by doctors were twice as likely to die from complications (8%) than those by midwives (4%). Such complications were termed as puerperal disease.

Many possible explanations were spun:
1. Misconduct by the mothers during the first trimester (e.g. wearing tight corset)
2. Foul air in the delivery room
3. Trauma from the outrage of modesty by doctors - most if not all were male during the 1840s.
4. And etc.

Note that these reasons had not apparent solution. Most were figments of someone's imagination, with no solid grounding. It was not until one man by the name of Semmelweis that later came to analyse the statistics, that the reason was found.

Semmelweis first ruled out the explanations one by one by using logic. He found that women who gave birth at home and subsequently arrived at the hospitals did not have such high death rates. So it would be strange that only women who delivered in the hospital "misbehaved" during the first trimester. As for reason number 2, the air in the delivery room was the same for those delivered by midwives. In the case of reason number 3, it did not explain why the occurrance was only for delivery when we also had women who suffered from other ailments but did not exhibit such "trauma".

It was through an accident that Semmelweis found out the real reason -- from the death of a friend who died from a cut while carrying out autopsy. His friend died from the cadaverous materials from the cut.

What happened was during the 1840s, in the top-notched hospitals, the doctors were all busy with conducing autopsies on dead people to understand the cause of the death. Most rushed to the delivery ward with a only cursory clean of their hands at most. As a result, women in labor and being attended to by the doctors had a higher chance to die due to cadaverous materials. The explanation was further buttressed by the fact that women in longer labor had a higher death rate. It was because the longer the labor, the higher the number of proddings by the doctor to check the uterus which increased the risk.

Once the cause was identified. The fix was simple and easy. Doctors who performed autopsy had to wash their hands with a sprinkling of chorine with lime. The rest as they say is history. The death rate from deliveries performed by doctors fell to the level similar to those by midwives.

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