By Dr. Jim Ferguson

Philosophically, I am a 20th century man who finds himself transported into the 21st century.  Mark Twain once wrote a book about time travel and a man who was transported backwards in time to King Arthur’s court.  That Connecticut Yankee found himself so technologically advanced within legendary 6th century England that he was considered a wizard.  Having been dragged forward to this 21st century I am certainly no wizard.  In fact, this Southern boy finds himself often mystified by the techy world of the 21st century.

The internet (which was not invented by Al-gore) is a wonderful place for the curious.  When something comes up that I need to learn, Mr. Google is my guide, just as the Roman poet Virgil was Dante’s guide in “The Divine Comedy.”

The movie Jobs was about Steve Jobs and the Apple Computer company.  The one thing I remember was that Jobs felt his computer should be an extension of the person, a useful tool, like a shovel is to me in my garden.  And now with an Apple iPhone in my hand the knowledge of the world is available to help me care for my patients and to satisfy my curiosity.  Some complain that there’s a lot of misinformation on the Net, and that is true.  However, there is even greater truth because of the diverse opinions available to the seeker.  There is of course a difference between facts and truth, and the seeker finds the latter if he sifts the information and uses his brain and heart.

I wrote an essay several years ago about differences between the sexes.  It’s unfortunate that our politicized and politically correct culture so often dwells on our differences instead of celebrating them.  The Apostle Paul two thousand years ago noted that we all have differing gifts.  Our differing perspectives actually promote a broader vision and a closer approximation of the otherwise elusive truth.

It is well known that the average American woman lives longer than her male counterpart.  I could get quite peevish about this inequality and say it isn’t fair, but that would be ridiculous.  Life isn’t always fair.  A recent report from our good ole CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) caught my attention with new data showing Americans are living longer.  In fact, the average American can expect to live to almost seventy-nine years old.  It’s too bad that men put a drag on this longevity curve, since boys born in 2012 can expect to live only seventy–six years, whereas girls can plan on eighty-one years of life.  I wonder where the notion of the “weaker sex” originated.

I was also intrigued by a recent interview on the Net with Dr. Marianne Legato, professor emerita at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.  This doctor maintains that there are twice as many boys conceived as girls, and yet the male/female birth ratio is about equal.  She went on to explain that more males perish in utero than girls, and males have more difficulty than girls if born prematurely.  The doctor says this is because males are not as hardy as females and slower to develop than girls.  To lend some credence to the doctor’s assertions, most of us have observed that boys do seem to lag behind girls, at least until physical maturity.

I’ve heard many women wonder aloud, “Where have all the available men gone?”  It can’t be that all the “good men are taken” as some women say.  Perhaps more marriageable men are lost due to accidents.  The CDC reports that death from accidents ranks as the third leading cause of death in men, whereas accidents rank sixth in women’s mortality.  Dr. Legato says that the brain’s frontal lobes develop more slowly in men than women, and this is associated with greater risk taking in men.  Scientists believe that the frontal lobes of the brain (behind your forehead) are important for rational thought, risk assessment and responsible behavior.   We’ve all heard some variation of the joke, “What are the last two words of a (fill in the blank) male?”  The punch line goes, “Watch this!”  I thought about this as I watched my grandson on the playground recently.  He was actually less adventuresome than some of the girls of comparable age, one of whom was actually a bully of the other kids.  So much for generalities.

Doctors have wondered for years why women seem to develop coronary artery disease later in life than men.  It was thought that estrogen must be the cause since, with menopause and declining estrogen levels, coronary artery disease significantly increases in women.  Actually, a research study was done in men with coronary artery disease.  They were given estrogen as a therapeutic maneuver to try and reduce recurrent heart attacks.  That didn’t work out very well – or prevent recurrent cardiac events.

Perhaps being the traditional bread winner with job stress is what kills men earlier than women.  I don’t believe this, and can testify that being responsible for a two year old all day long is also quite challenging.  It will be interesting to see if modern role reversal in the work place or the necessity of both parents working to support the family will take a toll on our health.  I know the stress level of single parenthood, often associated with poverty, is even higher and translates to poorer physical and mental health in all family members.

It is well known that men tend to visit the doctor less often than women.  Perhaps we men were schooled to “be a man and not a cry-baby.”  Some have called this the John Wayne syndrome.  Data suggests that women may in part be healthier because they don’t ignore issues and share their concerns with each other better than men.  Conceptualizing and then verbalizing our concerns relieve stress and lessen isolation.  Along this same line of thought, a minister friend of mine has noted that women more often ask for intercessory prayer than men do.

Interestingly, data shows that married men are healthier than those without wives, perhaps because we have a partner with whom to share life’s struggles.  Maybe it’s the civilizing effect women have on their men folk.  Or perhaps it’s because that same good woman drags her man to the doctor when she can no longer stand his whining!