Review: The Discovery Health Channel

Originally published in The Ottawa Citizen September 4, 2001

Beginning September 7, 2001, The Discovery Health Channel (DHC), an offshoot of the Discovery Channel will be available to Canadian digital cable and satellite subscribers. I had the opportunity to preview three new shows scheduled to premiere September 8, 2001.

The most exciting show of the bunch is Leeches, Maggots, and Bees. It is not for the squeamish. A short history of their therapeutic origins precedes each segment. It graphically depicts the use of living organisms for specific medical complications. These animals provide elegant solutions to otherwise difficult medical and surgical problems. Several plastic surgeons and internists demonstrate how they incorporate these animals into their practice.

Leeches are used to save extremities such as ears, fingers and toes. When a finger is severed, reattachment is not always successful. Tiny blood vessels that provide blood circulation into the finger are injured. This can lead to gangrene and the loss of the digit.

Interesting and detailed animated graphics illustrated how the leech does this amazing feat. It attaches itself into the skin by three cutting ãteethä. A blood thinner (anticoagulant) is injected into the attachment site to prevent blood from clotting. It then gorges itself on the blood that is sucked through the finger. These fat slimy little guys stimulate blood to flow through the finger providing vital time for the injured blood vessels to heal. Once healed the circulation to the finger is restored.

The image of writhing entwined maggots on a diabeticâs foot ulcer may stop you from enjoying your spaghetti dinner for the next little while. Some skin infections and ulcerations do not respond well to antibiotic use. Antibiotics can have a difficult time penetrating skin wounds and ulcers due to poor blood circulation or accumulation of pus and dead tissue. Bacterial resistance to the antibiotic can hamper healing.

Maggots feed only upon dead or decaying tissue. Normal tissue is left alone. They do not crawl over your body but stay confined to the wound. Used in the United Kingdom, they inject a substance into the wound dissolving the bacteria and dead cells. They consume this material thereby cleaning out the wound. This dramatically improves healing of the injured site.

Despite the initial skepticism of their efficacy, scientific investigation of these two therapies proved that they indeed were of value. They are now used by increasing numbers of physicians and surgeons.

Bee venom was portrayed as a treatment for Multiple Sclerosis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. However it was made clear that scientific evidence is scant and that further studies are required.

The human face of medicine was depicted in Lifeline: St. Vincentâs Hospital. The lives of an orthopedic surgeon, two plastic surgeons and their patients were followed by the cameras. Their interactions were genuine and not staged. The doctorsâ passion for their work and empathy for their patients was evident. What I liked was the emphasis placed upon the patient. They talked about how their illnesses and treatment affected them their families.

It is a feel-good episode that holds the viewerâs attention with graphic surgical procedures and commentary. It remains well focused and balanced teaching the viewer about the medical procedures and their impact upon the patient. It is well paced, woven into a cohesive story and thoroughly entertaining.

Extreme Body Parts was the most sensationalistic of the three. The head was the star attraction in this episode. The anatomy was reviewed as well as the mechanism of some head injuries. The evolution of facial features of different races was shown to be due in part to environment and geography.

A history of Frankenstein-like experiments to keep monkey brains alive after head transplants and other surgical procedure of that ilk were presented to support the premise that successful head transplants are possible today. A neurologist discussed the scientific background for this proposal both pro and con.

A segment on cryogenics dealt with freezing heads for future use. When frozen the ice crystals that form in the brain rip apart brain cells. It proposed that in the future nanotechnology could repair these cells leading to a successful head transplant. People pay $60,000 US for this opportunity.

On balance these shows contained relevant well researched medical information covering new and exciting territory. Hypotheses were examined using established scientific principles. Good critical questions were asked and propelled each episode along its intended path. The graphic sequences were content appropriate with minimal sensationalism or gross-out factor.

DHCâs show schedule includes new shows that are indeed intriguing and exciting. If they are of the same quality as what I have seen, DHC will be a winner.

© Dr. Barry Dworkin 2001

Send a Comment