The new biography of Steve Jobs confirms what was already pretty well known about the pancreatic cancer that killed him earlier this month. That is, that the man widely hailed as a genius did a pretty dumb thing when diagnosed with cancer in 2003 — he denied he had it.
Or rather, he denied he had anything serious enough to need treatment with serious medicine. Rather:
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 — secret from Apple employees, executives and shareholders, who were misled.
Later, Jobs did turn to Western medicine to fight his cancer. But from the fall of 2003 to the summer of 2004, when he finally had surgery, he dithered. Everything we know about cancer stresses early detection and treatment as key to long-term survival. So it’s not a leap to conclude that Jobs may have acupunctured himself into an early grave.
It’s unclear whether Jobs thought acupuncture and juice were a real treatment, or if something else was going on in his famously intelligent head. He wouldn’t be the first person who, when faced with a deadly threat in the prime of his life, simply refused to see it as such. In the world Jobs lives in, there’s certainly no shortage of this sort of thinking, and California’s reputation as the center of it is well-earned.
My doctor friend Frank and I would occasionally bat this ball around over beers. Why were some people so ready to believe practitioners of quackery like iridology, Reiki and at least some chiropractic — yes, I think it can be effective for back and neck pain, but asthma? Please — and not their doctors? Why is a guy who went to the Colon Cleanse Academy more believable than one who interned at Johns Hopkins? We ran down the list of million reasons, but Frank, unlike most MDs, was always willing to put a big part of the blame on doctors themselves, the most visible actors in the insane ongoing stage play of American health care. They helped build their own prison, then complained the view was obscured by iron bars. Doctors are, speaking generally, very smart control freaks (like Steve Jobs, come to think of it), and patients frequently are not. After the thousandth emphysema patient who refuses to quit smoking but still complains of symptoms, it’s easy for a doctor to get high-handed, and that arrogance can seep into interactions with all patients. Pretty soon, you are the doc whose patients desert him for a nutritionist. And you have lots of company.
“Doctors like to complain about the patient who comes in with a sheaf of printouts from the internet,” he would say. “But that patient is the one who is taking responsibility for their own health. It’s all in how you look at it.”
In some ways, knowing Jobs was one of those patients humanizes him as much as his other widely reported flaws. Life is a terminal disease, after all.
The Huffington Post got their hands on an early copy, too. This is the story they pulled from it:
Jobs, who was known for his prickly, stubborn personality, almost missed meeting President Obama in the fall of 2010 because he insisted that the president personally ask him for a meeting. Though his wife told him that Obama “was really psyched to meet with you,” Jobs insisted on the personal invitation, and the standoff lasted for five days. When he finally relented and they met at the Westin San Francisco Airport, Jobs was characteristically blunt. He seemed to have transformed from a liberal into a conservative.
“You’re headed for a one-term presidency,” he told Obama at the start of their meeting, insisting that the administration needed to be more business-friendly. As an example, Jobs described the ease with which companies can build factories in China compared to the United States, where “regulations and unnecessary costs” make it difficult for them.
Yes, regulations and unnecessary costs, like federal laws on how hard you can whip your workforce, and how many pollutants you may dump into the soil and waterways and air around your factory. I hate to say it two days in a row, but that’s f’ing rich. Yes, Jobs was “prickly,” the root of which is “prick.”
A pivot into the bloggage, and then I’m on to other things:
When I was younger, and would fantasize about exchanging faces with other women in the world, one who always ended up on my top-five list was Charlotte Rampling. Those amazing cheekbones. Those incredible, hooded eyes. That jawline. So beautiful. I saw a trailer for a new documentary about her yesterday. My oh my, but she’s gotten old. (Still looks great. It’s the bone structure.) I have a feeling that of all the women of a certain age who say they’ve never had work done, she is telling the truth.
I agree with James Fallows: Good for WDAV, an NPR station that for once acted with common sense when considering the after-hours work of one of its employees.
A morning’s worth of work to do, and then I’m going to rake leaves. Have a great weekend.