First of all, thank you for your kind words, I really do appreciate them !
The first thing to do would be to backup your data. Then, use "Disk Utility" (while booted from the Panther install CD or another partition) to "Repair the disk" -- not the permissions. Would it report any errors, repeat the operation 3 or 4 times until it states that the disk "appears to be OK".
Would it still fail to repair the disk, you can initialize your partition and put your data back. Initializing a volume will usually solve all directory issues.
However, you should make sure that the hard drive in itself isn't physically damaged and that you do not use applications that could damage it. The S.M.A.R.T. status is a good thing to look at, for example.
Let me know if this helps !