Mays and blues

DAB Matula Thoughts May 4, 2018

Mays, blues, & other thoughts
3855 words

 

One.

Each May brings a sweet spot to Ann Arbor’s calendar with mild temperatures, bright colors, chirping birds, and happy graduations. Foliage on the UM Medical Center ‘Hill” is a welcome sign of May and a favorite sight, seen above from last year, is a weeping ornamental cherry with spectacular magenta flowers. It sits outside the dean’s wing so enjoy it while you can, as that area is scheduled for demolition due to anticipated new construction. Magenta, a tertiary color and the complementary color of green, comes from mixing equal parts of blue and red on computer screens, midway between the two primary colors on a color wheel or with paint or crayons.

Maize & blue colors are prominent in graduations of the 19 schools and colleges of the University of Michigan this month. Michigan’s official azure blue is not quite the bolder darker “Go-Blue” color so well-known through our athletic programs. Azure blue is halfway between blue and cyan. Wikipedia describes azure blue as the color of the sky on a clear day, although looking out the window on a recent flight to Seattle it seemed that the sky can have many shades of blue.[Below: sky & mountains south of Great Falls, MT, with 737 engine.]

Medical School graduation is a grand occasion at Michigan and rightfully so being a milestone of medical education, the moment of awarding the M.D. The ceremony, at Hill Auditorium next week, reconnects attendees to the roots of our profession. Even if you don’t have a family member in the graduating class or are not a departmental chair sitting on the stage, the event is a lovely way to spend an hour or two on a springtime Friday, see the Michigan colors in the academic gowns and join a recitation of the Hippocratic Oath.

 

Two.
Resident and fellow graduation. Less widely recognized and less ceremonious. but equally important, is the career-defining milestone of a medical career, when residents and fellows celebrate completion of their training programs. Residency graduates are the capstone product of medical education, coming from the phase of graduate medical education (GME) that may exceed twice the time of medical school itself. Michigan has nearly two times as many residents and fellows in training as medical students at any moment and the education of all of them requires a large base of patients for clinical experience, especially at the higher levels of complexity. This is the key reason for the current expansion of Michigan Medicine; a referral base in the range of 4 million patients is necessary to support 2000 medical learners at Michigan Medicine, 28 of whom are in the Urology Department. Add to these nursing students, pharmacists, dentists, and others training and its clear how much depends upon a broad patient base.

[Urology graduation/Chief’s Dinner, 2015 – UM Art Museum.]

Numerous trainee graduations of clinical departments are scattered throughout Ann Arbor this month and next. The graduates then quickly immerse in their fields of choice to become independent practitioners. In time, they will be the experts of their generation and in this lengthy and complex educational process, “The Maize and Blue,” as the University of Michigan is informally called, is unsurpassed.

Urologists with Michigan roots comprise the Reed Nesbit Society, named after Michigan’s first urology section chief. Later this May the American Urological Association (AUA) holds its annual meeting where we will host our Nesbit reception that Sunday night in San Francisco. If you are reading this newsletter, whether Nesbit alumnus or friend, you are welcome to join us, so please contact our office for details. Our Department of Urology will have a vigorous presence at the AUA, with well over 100 presentations of various sorts and our faculty are active in most leadership forums and arenas.

 

Three.
The AUA origin story begins with Ramon Guiteras, a prominent New York surgeon who had interest and skills in genitourinary surgery. After work one day in 1900 he took his team to an East Side tavern, The Frei Robber, that featured homemade wine and limburger cheese. The pungent cheese kept other patrons strategically away from the clinical shoptalk. Amidst the fruitful conversation, the group named itself the New York Genitourinary Society and decided to meet periodically.

Genitourinary surgery was then a facet of general surgical practice and some surgeons like Guiteras were consolidating the special skills, knowledge, and new technology of its practice. Guiteras proposed a new word for the field, combining the Greek terms for urine (uro) and study (logy) and it seemed to catch on, even if semantically it doesn’t quite hit the mark of accuracy. Guiteras, no doubt, intended the word to capture the idea of the practice and study of the urinary (and genital tracts) as evidenced in his subsequent textbook of 1912.

The NY Genitourinary Society continued to meet at various locations. Two years later, assembling at the home of Guiteras, in February, the group renamed itself the American Urological Association, an intentional stretch, even though they all were New Yorkers. They held a “convention” in June, 1902 at Saratoga Springs. Membership expanded and the following year a second “annual convention” was held in New Orleans and a third in 1904 in Atlantic City, with 34 members in the convention photograph. In 1905 the group met in Portland, Oregon, reflecting the national growth.

By 1910, 320 active and 16 honorary members were listed and Hugh Cabot became president. His presidential address the following year, at the Chicago convention was: “Is Urology entitled to be regarded as a specialty?” Clearly, the Guiteras neologism had been accepted. Cabot’s Modern Urology in 1916 was the second authoritative urology text in the 20th century, and Young’s in 1926 would be the third.

Cabot’s rhetorical question reflected daily tension in the workplace between general surgeons and genitourinary specialists, still widely considered “clap doctors.” General surgeons resisted the loss of turf to a new cadre of highly skilled genitourinary surgeons like Cabot who were claiming the new clinical territory. Anesthesia, antisepsis, analgesia, and modern technology with electrical illumination, x-rays, cystoscopes, and precision instruments allowed the new breed of lithotomists to differentiate themselves. When Cabot came to Ann Arbor in 1920 he opened up the era of academic and modern clinical urology at Michigan.

 

Four.

Blues. Medical School and residency training graduations are highpoint in our circle of educational life. Above from the 2013 Medical School graduation you see current academic vice-dean Carol Bradford, former EVPMA Mike Johns in maize and blue, along with former dean Jim Woolliscroft.

While Michigan’s maize and blue is far flung around the world, another shade of blue, that of Levi Strauss, is truly ubiquitous, visible every day, nearly anywhere you find people on Planet Earth. I felt a little creepy when I captured the street scene below, but I wanted a picture of an anonymous person wearing these universal trousers. Such is the nature of human beings, that if a centralized government mandated everyone to wear a blue jeans uniform, people would find any excuse and no doubt risk punishment to avoid the uniformity. Ironically, despite their pervasive presence, blue jeans are an expression of individuality and freedom to be casual, comfortable, and at liberty to choose from a variety of jeans that seems nearly infinite in terms of hues, logos, fit, manufactured wear and tear (often with holes and rips), as well as actual states of well-earned damage. Blue jeans seem to be a mark of a free society.

Cotton’s utility is enormously important, but its production and manufacture tied to particular geographies came historically (and perhaps currently) at the cost of great human misery. Fustian, a heavy cloth woven from cotton, an odd word for most modern ears, is also used for pompous or overblown speech, deriving from cotton padding in clothing. The ancient city of Fustat, Egypt’s first capital under Moslem rule, was a center for cotton manufacturing, although it’s subsumed now by Cairo. Jeans, a trouser fabric, emerged from Genoa, Italy and Nimes, France. The term, jeans, may derive from Genoa. Denim, another cotton fabric, came from serge de Nimes. Dungaree was a thick cotton cloth allegedly named for a dockside village near Bombay called Dongri. Exported to England, dungri made good workman’s clothing that were often colored blue, as were jeans. The coloring dye, indigo, mostly came from Pakistan, although American plantations became another large source until indigo synthesis was developed in Germany in the 19th century.

Levi Strauss, an 18-year old German immigrant, with his mother and 2 sisters in 1847 joined 2 older brothers who had begun a dry goods business in New York City. Strauss’s name at birth (February 26, 1829) was Loeb Strauss, but he changed it to Levi in New York for ease of pronunciation. The family came from the Franconia region of the Kingdom of Bavaria, where Levi’s birthplace is now a museum.

[Strauss home, Buttenheim, Bavaria. Source: Wikipedia.]
After a stop in Louisville, KY to sell dry goods, Levi became an American citizen early in 1853 and moved to San Francisco in March of that year to head the family’s new shop in the epi-center of the Gold Rush. He lived with his sister Fanny and her family. The business, Levi Strauss Company, flourished, selling imported dry goods brought by ship to San Francisco and Fanny’s husband, David Stern, helped run the firm. Jacob Davis, a Reno tailor who regularly purchased bolts of cloth to make clothes, wrote Strauss in 1872 to ask for help patenting a heavy-duty trouser with copper rivets at stress points at pocket corners and base of the fly. After trials of different materials, including cotton duck (a linen canvas), they settled on denim (Genoa style “genes”) dyed blue. Davis and Strauss shared costs to develop the patent application and on May 20, 1873 US patent No. 139,121 was issued to Davis for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings.” These were originally called “riveted waist overalls.” Miners liked the durable trousers and “Levi’s” soon became popular with cowboys as well. The company grew robustly. Strauss never married and after he died in 1902, he left his estate and company, worth around $6 million dollars, to his 4 nephews.

 

Five.
The same year Strauss got off the boat in NYC, a Philadelphia physician, Samuel David Gross, published a book in 1851 that marked the start of a new era for the practice and study of genitourinary diseases. Gross, at Jefferson Medical College, was the most prominent of a new era of general surgeons, empowered by the new tool of anesthesia and skilled with broad capabilities across the human anatomic terrain, including areas that would devolve to surgical sub-specialists over the next century. As it happened, Gross was particularly interested in the genitourinary system, and proved his mastery of the emerging field with his textbook, A Practical Treatise on the Diseases, Injuries and Malformation of the Urinary Bladder, the Prostate Gland and the Urethra.

Having exemplified one paradigm shift, Gross missed the boat in failing to take note of antiseptic surgical technique, in spite of Lister’s convincing evidence published in 1867. The famous Gross Clinic painting by Eakins in 1875 celebrates Gross as a powerful surgeon, at first glance, but in fact calls him out as an “antisepsis denier” in contrast to the more rational Agnew Clinic, painted by Eakins 14 years later, coincidentally also in Philadelphia. Gross had no excuse, the conclusive antisepsis work by Lister in 1867 in The Lancet was well-recognized across the world. Gross obstinately led the American reaction against antisepsis saying in 1876:

“Little if any faith is placed by an enlightened or experienced surgeon
on this side of the Atlantic in the so-called carbolic acid therapy of Professor Lister.”

This story was nicely told here at our Chang Lecture on Art and Medicine in 2014 by Charlie Yeo of Jefferson Medical College. Both Gross and Agnew embraced the belief that general surgeons, true to their adjective, should cover the entire anatomic terrain when surgery was necessary. Evolving technology and specialized knowledge would make it impossible for that paradigm to persist. Ophthalmology was one of the earliest modern specialties to find its own turf. Genitourinary surgery remained encompassed within general surgery for a longer time, even though a number of leading authorities in general surgery embraced genitourinary skills by the turn of the 20th century. New technical skills and specialty knowledge was exceeding the ability of most general surgeons to keep up across the entire anatomical terrain and the growing number of subspecialty experts craved conversations and identification with each other.

 

Six.
Festschrifts are academic celebrations to honor people and careers, and two of these coincided, in Seattle, for great genitourinary surgeons. By chance, after my arrival for these, I ran into Nesbit alums Atreya Dash and George Schade who had just emerged from a conference at the Fred Hutchinson Institute (below, Nesbit 2004, 2013).

The next day, Virginia Mason Clinic (VMC) celebrated Dr. Robert Gibbons who, among many other things, pioneered the indwelling ureteral stent. After service in Korea, Bob was recruited to the clinic early in his career by Nesbit trainees Tate Mason, Jr. and Roy Correa (Nesbit 1949, 1965). The Michigan/VMC relationship grew deeper with Bob Gibbons’ mentorship of Jim Montie (below: Jim & Bob).

The day began with Grand Rounds at VMC, continuing through dinner on Mercer Island at the home of Kathy Kobashi (Section Head, Urology & Renal Transplantation) and Chris Porter (Uro-oncologist and Co-director of Clinical Research at VMC). Other VMC, UM, and personal connections emerged during the celebration. We saw Gary Kaplan, UMMS alumnus and the legendary VMC Chairman & CEO, who has returned many times to advise us in Ann Arbor (below: Gary, Chris, Kathy.)

John Ryan, VMC vascular surgeon, gave a wonderful talk on the use of the gracilis muscle in urology. We noticed him wearing a Nesbit Society tie from his dad, Dr. John Ryan (Nesbit, 1948). Steve Skoog, my friend since our days at Walter Reed and former chief of pediatric urology in Portland, OR (below) and John and Mary deKernion, friends and role models since my days at UCLA, were also on hand to honor Bob.

[Below: Jean and Mary DeKernion.]

Wally Gibbons, nephew of Bob and urologist in Wenatchee, Washington, came for the event. Wally’s group recently hired Ian McLaren (Nesbit 2017) who we hear is doing very well, as Nesbit alumni do. [Below: Wally Gibbons, Bob Gibbons, Bob’s daughter Jennifer Hayes, Jack McAninch, Kathleen Kobashi, Becky Schwaegler, Fred Govier, Jim Gasparich.]

The following day we celebrated Dr. Richard Grady, former UMMS student who became a pioneering pediatric urologist at Children’s Hospital under the mentorship of Mike Mitchell, innovator of the transformational single stage exstrophy repair. Rich carried this technique, along with general pediatric urology, fearlessly around the world, to underserved and sometimes dangerous locations. Rich’s event, held in the lovely University of Washington Research Buildings in downtown Seattle, featured friends of Rich from all over North America. It was a moving and richly educational day, highlighting Rich’s skill as a surgeon, educator, and connector of people. His kindness, optimism, and social responsibility were extraordinary, seemingly coalesced into his sunny smile, right to the end last year when brain cancer cruelly interrupted Rich’s life in spite of courageous therapeutic efforts.

Rich’s last appearance at the AUA national meeting was in New Orleans (below, 2015) where he had a podium appearance wearing a head device that he cheerfully explained was “birth control for brain cancer” utilizing tumor-treating fields (TTF) for an antimitotic effect that interferes with glioblastoma cell division and organelle assembly by delivering low intensity alternating electric fields (below). A randomized clinical trial for glioblastoma with TTF and maintenance temozolomide involving 695 patients in 83 centers found a median progression-free survival of 6.7 months in the TTF group vs. 4.0 months in those without the electricity, with corresponding improvement in median overall survival, a small but meaningful step. [Stupp et al. JAMA. 318:2306, 2017.]

 

Rich and his wife Laura moved to Southern California for another clinical trial (Chimeric Antigen Receptor T cell therapy) at City of Hope where he was the first patient to complete the treatment that, in fact, melted away his tumors, although the effect was not durable. Nonetheless, the astonishing result was an important increment of progress. Honoring Rich were Dave and Sue Bomalaski (Nesbit 1996) from Anchorage, where, Dave after retirement from the Air Force, practices with the Indian Health Service. Mike Mitchell from Milwaukee and Joe Borer from Boston are seen below on either side of Dave (below).

[Above: Grady Festschrift group photograph.]

 

Seven.
Hospice is an important part of healthcare. Most of us in the business of healthcare go to great lengths to avoid speaking of death. We want to be optimistic saviors of life and are uncomfortable speaking directly of its end. Having had little or no training in terminal life, we offer no more to our current trainees. Fortunately, our geriatric colleagues, palliative care experts, and hospice teams are uncommon exceptions to the rest of us. Rich’s last days were eased by hospice care as were those of a good friend, John Reed, former UM Law School Dean and neighbor of Dr. Chang, who passed away recently, having nearly reached 100 years of age with full capacities until the end of 2017.

Australian writer, Cory Taylor, published a noteworthy memoir two years ago, detailing her struggles with melanoma since 2005, noting among other issues that a metastasis obstructing her urinary tract “necessitated the insertion in 2011 of a plastic stent to keep my right kidney functioning.” She didn’t report further urinary tract issues, so presumably the stent was changed periodically and kept that area of her anatomy out of harm’s way.

Her book, Dying: a Memoir, confronts a phase of life that most people will experience, unless their death is violent or otherwise totally unexpected. Taylor’s writing is lucid, frank, and lacking in self-pity. I found the memoir unexpectedly comforting. As Taylor looked back on her life, toward the end, she objectively examined its many positive memories, and voiced particular regrets but didn’t let them drift into immobilizing grief. She explored the lure of personal euthanasia, finding comfort in obtaining the means for it, yet was held back by downsides she imagined: the horror of the person who would come upon her corpse and the idea that the taking of her own life would define her.

“It worries me, for instance, that my death certificate would read ‘suicide’ as a cause of death, with everything that the term implies these days: mental angst, hopelessness, weakness, the lingering whiff of criminality – a far cry from, say, the Japanese tradition of seppuku, or suicide for honour’s sake. The fact that cancer was actually my killer would be lost to posterity, as would the fact that I am not, by any fair measure, mad.”

 

Eight.

Indigo Carmine, a dye used by urologists, became unavailable sometime last year until we got it back on our shelves recently, as Bruce Angel (Urology Nursing Service Lead) informed me. A note he forwarded me from the OR pharmacies explained that the price has gone up from $3.00 per ampule to $123.45. Indigo Carmine (indigotindisulfonate sodium) solution was once used to in testing renal function, but now is mainly used to find ureteral orifices during cystoscopy. An intravenous injection of 5 ml (40 mg) appears in urine within 10 minutes.

Indigo is a natural dye extracted from certain plant leaves, most commonly the tropic genus Indigofera, that also has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is one of the less common natural colors and has an ancient record. Junius Bird (1907-1982), an American archeologist born in Rye, New York, and a possible inspiration for the fictional Indiana Jones, excavated a prehistoric settlement in Peru in the 1940’s that yielded the earliest evidence for human use of indigo dye.

 

Nine.

 

 

Sunshine on a cloudy day. When Smokey Robinson, in 1964, penned the lyric “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day and when it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May,” he identified sunshine and May with the sweetest things in life. His inspiration, “my girl” of the song, was his wife Claudette and fellow Miracles band member. [Above: 1965 album; below Claudette Rogers Robinson, March 12, 2013 at star for the Miracles in Hollywood. Wikipedia.] I saw Smokey on a plane a few years back and he was still a magnetic presence, 50 years after that enduring song. May is a busy time for most people, but it’s an optimal time to restock and recharge the sweet memory bank with sights, sounds, and experiences of Spring.

Whether tomorrow brings sun or clouds, the greatest 2 minutes in sports, The Kentucky Derby, will bring its own form of sunshine for the crowd, the champion, and those who pick the trifecta. This will be the 144th race, although the trifecta only goes back to the 1970’s when the betting opportunity of picking first and second place finishers in order expanded to the first three. Smokey’s trifecta seems to have been Claudette, sunshine, and May.

 

 

Ten.
More shades of blue. Azure, as a color name traces back to the days of heraldry, deriving from the deep blue stone, lapis lazuli. A lighter blue, bleu celeste, more closely mimics the sky. Royal blue, darker than azure, dates back to a dress made for Queen Charlotte, consort of King George III. Driving down Washtenaw Avenue in May, east of the campus, you will see many blues splashed on “The Rock.” These colors come from real buckets of paint, rather than tidy computer color wheels and display the exhilaration of school kids anticipating the end of school and the freedom of summer or the intoxication of graduation. Some people driving by this object to the messiness, but most of us take pleasure in the exuberant freedom its colors reflect, with the schoolkids as stand-ins for the rest of us.

[Above: The Rock.]

[Above: refracted May sunlight on carpet. Below: color wheel from Wikipedia.]

Jill Macoska, Nesbit faculty alumna and currently the Alton J. Brann Endowed Distinguished Professor in Science and Mathematics and Cancer Biology at University of Massachusetts in Boston, was just back in Ann Arbor for the graduation of her daughter Nicole. Jill wrote last month to identify those tiny blue flowers mentioned here last month. “Good morning, David – Those tiny blue flowers are called ‘squill’; they and snowdrops are usually the first bulbs to poke their heads up out of the snow in spring!  Boston has been a good fit for the Macoska family. Nicole came back to UM for a double major in Political Science and Communications (Below: Class of 2018, high distinction, Phi Beta Kappa.).

Jill wondered how many new UM alumni children and grandchildren came from the Urology Family.

Department chairs no longer sign Medical School diplomas individually by hand. I miss the scheduled sessions when we took our turns signing upwards of 200 certificates (extras, because a few inevitably get messed up). It might be viewed as a waste of time, but for me it was a reflective ceremonial interlude. A sweet “hard-stop” in the busy cycle of academic medicine, the signing reminded me that we are here in our roles at Michigan for very consequential reasons. Below you see Dr. Valerie Opipari, Chair of Pediatrics, a few years back with the azure seal of the maize and blue up close.

 

Thanks for reading Matula Thoughts.

David A. Bloom
University of Michigan, Department of Urology, Ann Arbor
All rights reserved

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