One current misconception is the idea that modern medicine can fix anything. But to be brutally honest, modern medicine can’t fix a thing. What it can do is a pretty good job of dealing with the symptoms of a lot of things.

“But, Dr. Marcum,” I can hear you say, “how about a broken leg? Doesn’t a doctor fix that?”

It’s true that the doctor can set the leg. He or she can make it so you don’t have to limp for the rest of your life. But as for the healing of that broken bone, the doctor can only watch and be amazed.

“How about cancer?” you ask. “Don’t we praise God for cancer survivors?”

Absolutely! But many others who receive the same treatment, experience the same therapy, go through the same procedures die of their disease. Regardless of the survival rate, nothing was fixed. At best we’d have to say that a rampaging cancer was slowed—which is a good thing indeed. Life was extended through the application of modern medicine. Unfortunately, that extension often comes at a terrible price, including mutilation and collateral damage to other organs.

And here’s the scary part: people who have heart disease, who suffer from cancer, who fight debilitating pain, who stand in lines at drugstores waiting to fill their endless prescriptions, who sit and watch television commercials extolling the power of the latest and greatest pharmaceutical firmly believe that their doctors or the pills are providing a cure to their ills. They think they’re getting “fixed.” But the truth is, they’re wrong.

So what do we do when we’re facing a health crisis? The short answer is “It depends on the crisis.” The long answer is “It depends on the cure.”

I divide illness into two categories: acute illness and chronic illness. Acute means that something needs to be done right now, this second, or a patient could die. That certainly describes David as his heart malfunctioned on the examination table. He needed action, and he needed it now.

Chronic describes a condition of ongoing, frequent duration, one that is always present. Although David’s heart attack was sudden and acute, it was the result of something that had been going on for a very long time. Arteries do not fill up with plaque overnight. That is why, when his wife asked, “How could this happen?” I knew I needed more information about my patient before I could answer her fully. David’s heart attack wasn’t the problem. It was the result of the problem.

Modern medical technology can be breathtaking in its effectiveness in treating acute illnesses. For instance, an article in the August 2011 issue of the medical journal Circulation reported that the average period from the time a patient arrives in the emergency room with a heart attack to the treatment to open the artery is down to sixty-four minutes. This is an amazing use of modern medicine to save lives every day. Most people are completely unaware of what goes on behind the closed doors of science laboratories and medical institutions. Our ability to learn and understand the universe and the human body is expanding faster than at any time in history. Force fields are no longer science fiction. Machines can now render objects invisible. Using atom smashers, scientists are hoping to discover more about the universe and the relationships between energy and matter. With enough energy, they are hoping to actually create matter. Teleportation of matter (the act of moving something simply by thought) is more than a theory at this point. Some discoveries are even being kept secret because of their military significance.

There are now computers performing unbelievable computations. Our DNA has been sequenced, providing a glimpse not only into what is but also into what may be. I’ve been reading about something called nanotechnology, in which scientists are making very, very small particles capable of going into cells, diagnosing a problem, and delivering specialized medicines to address that problem.