William Riggs
Ignaz Semmelweis

         In the middle of the 19th century the obstetrics ward of Krakenhaus Hospital in Vienna, Austria was supervised by Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis. In his role there he watched fully 10% of his patients die of “childbed fever” after giving birth. Women in that hospital frequently begged to be admitted to a neighboring ward where the death rate was a “mere” 2% (about average for that day). Dr. Semmelweis carefully monitored the practices used by care providers in both wards, but could find no difference. He meticulously synchronized their delivery techniques, ventilation, diets, and laundry care. No meaningful distinction could be identified – except for the horrendous death rate.
          The shockingly high mortality rate remained a mystery as Dr. Semmelweis took a leave of absence for four months. When he returned, he learned that the death rate in his ward had dropped to match the other ward! What had changed? Only his presence or absence! He later deduced that HE was the killer, for it was he who had performed the autopsies on women who died of the disease and then – without washing his hands – delivered the babies of his living patients. He correctly concluded that tiny contaminated “invisible particles” had somehow clung to his hands and been unwittingly passed to his patients.
          He instituted a regimen of hand washing with antiseptic solution in both wards and the death rate soon dropped to almost zero! Like him, you and I often need look no farther than the mirror to find the source of our greatest problems.  
          Self-deception is perhaps the greatest obstacle to success in life, for incorrectly diagnosing a problem will inevitably result in ineffective attempts at a “cure.” Here is the brutal reality: almost everyone is living the life of his or her own choosing, for almost every life story is simply the inevitable consequence of thousands of choices each person has made: to exercise or not, to eat properly or improperly, to work hard or to slack off, to discipline oneself or loaf, etc. Do you have the courage to ask yourself if you are really the source of your own maladies? And then to institute a new regimen in your own life?

William Riggs

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