November matters

DAB What’s New Nov 3, 2017

3742 words

The matula, an historic symbol of the medical arts and title of this electronic periodical, was the transparent beaker used to examine urine in the pre-scientific days of health care, as people sought explanations for and expectations from their illnesses. Fear and uncertainty exacerbate human illnesses and our earliest prehistoric ancestors found comfort from their fellows in clans and caves to care for and sometimes heal them. The matula is a useful metaphor for the acts of looking, listening, and examining evidence to discover what really matters in clinical situations.

In ancient days what really mattered to people with illness or injury were the issues of treatment and prognosis: what can be done to help, what comes next, will I live, or will I die? The specific matter of diagnosis was most likely subsumed by the idea of what caused the problem. Gods, fates, cosmic forces, evil-doers, bad luck, or obvious injury were likely culprits before germ theory, organ-based dysfunctions, or other explanations based on a verifiable conceptual basis of health and illness. A sense of prognosis, however, was of practical value.

Uroscopists inspected urine for color, consistency, clarity, sediments, smell, and sometimes taste of urine, to find clues for treatment and prognosis. This was not illogical. Pink urine from infection or trauma might be followed by recovery. Gross blood and particulate sediments would suggest recurrent bladder stones. Scanty concentrated urine from dehydration might signal severe gastroenteritis and a grim prognosis. Uroscopy grew into a complex pseudoscience with fanciful claims of prognostic significance based on intricate characteristics of urine samples. Newer tools, such as the stethoscope and microscope superseded matulas and the future will bring better tools.

Thoughts about the future occasionally slide into dystopian visions and invite the question: what really matters to each of us? Putting aside occupational questions of healthcare professionals (making a diagnosis, ascertaining a treatment), political ideology (conservative or liberal, R or D, libertarian or socialist), or pragmatic issues (where do I live, what car do I drive, what’s for lunch?), we each have our own beliefs, although ultimately most people share similar fundamental desires for safety, comfort, and peace of mind. Family and friends matter.

We cherish personal liberty, physically and intellectually. Beauty, curiosity, and clarity matter. Social matters are important to most people; kindness, truth, integrity, respect, belonging, and sustainability are essential in a civilized world. The last item may seem a bit out of place, but as we sustain health, welfare, independence, and safety, for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our descendants, by simple logic we need to sustain our environment.



With Michigan’s gorgeous autumn colors fading in the rear-view mirror, November’s matula brings Thanksgiving into sight and notably the iconic holiday images of Norman Rockwell. His Four Freedoms paintings, based on Franklin Roosevelt’s State of the Union Address in 1941, illustrated the freedoms that FDR thought mattered greatly: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. These freedoms extended the sense of the liberty entrenched in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, – that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, …”

Roosevelt’s four freedoms are more specific than the liberty mentioned in The Declaration at the dawn of the Revolutionary War, although political liberty was not far from Roosevelt’s mind when he gave the speech 11 months before the U.S. entry into World War II. The speech also slyly broke with America’s non-interventionism, by advocating support for our allies already in armed conflict. The words of Roosevelt and paintings of Rockwell mattered greatly to Americans in the 1940’s and they seem to matter now in this new century. Rockwell’s Four Freedoms paintings appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1943 and were used in war bond posters and postage stamps.

Rockwell also painted enduring images of healthcare professionals, some modelled on his neighbor Dr. Donald E. Campbell. After this topic was discussed in previous pages of WN/MT (March 4 & May 6, 2016) the doctor’s great granddaughter, Moira Dwyer, kindly sent us information and photographs that the family kept. Dr. Campbell, born in 1906, graduated in 1939 from Middlesex Medical School and practiced in Stockbridge, Massachusetts providing nearly the full spectrum of medical care to his community. He retired at 83 and died in 2001 at 95. Like the English physician, John Sassall, detailed in John Berger’s book, A Fortunate Man, Campbell was an indelible part of his community, providing far more than clinical services for patients by going beyond the specificity of medical conditions of his patients to understand their co-morbidities, inner needs, and social constraints. [Matula Thoughts Oct, Nov, Dec. 2016 & Feb. 2017]

As a footnote to Dr. Campbell, Middlesex College of Medicine and Surgery was founded in 1914 in East Cambridge, Massachusetts and was affiliated with a hospital of the same name. The campus moved to Waltham in 1928 and by 1937, it also included schools of liberal arts, pharmacy, podiatry, and veterinary medicine in addition to its school of medicine. Accreditation by the AMA became problematic, ostensibly due to issues of funding, faculty, and facilities although many claimed the merit-based admission policy and unusually diverse student body of Middlesex grated on the far more homogeneous American medical establishment at mid-20th century. Medical schools then maintained ethnic and religious admission quotas and Middlesex was an unabashed outlier with its diverse student body. In 1946, the Middlesex trustees transferred the charter and campus, with the hope that the medical and veterinary schools would be continued, to a foundation that created Brandeis University two years later. Middlesex Medical School did not survive the transition to the new university.


It is a profound community asset to have a Campbell or Sassall and it is impossible to fully measure their impact as a citizen, leader, mentor, and role model. These essential anchors of society bring not just their professional skills, but also their values, leadership, and expectation of fairness to a community. They look out for the common man and particularly for the most vulnerable members of the community. It is no coincidence that a universal ploy of anarchists, revolutionaries, and authoritarian pretenders as seen widely across the planet, is assassination of these “honest brokers.” The moral example and leadership of doctors such as Campbell and Sassall is our ultimate expectation for the medical professionals we teach. These mentors and role models act as epigenetic factors for the larger “superorganism” of humanity. They are operational factors between human genetics and civilization.

Education and training of physicians changed since 1939 when Campbell graduated medical school. The 4-year curriculum deepened with the growing scientific basis of biology and disease while graduate medical education (GME) also expanded with enlarging technology and new specialties of health care. The period of residency practice and study is now the career-defining facet of a doctor’s learning. Nearly 80 years since Dr. Campbell’s graduation, medical students enter fields of GME in as many as 150 areas of focused medical practice with learning experiences that may exceed twice the years the trainees spent in medical school.

Healthcare education differs from that of lawyers, engineers, and most other career paths. Physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and dentists require an immediate educational context of patient-care. The University of Michigan recognized this fact in 1869 when it converted a faculty house into a hospital, thereby becoming the first university to own and operate a medical center. We recognized this anew when we began to create a wider health care network, in the past few years, capable of supporting our large educational mission, now educating 900 MDs and health care PhDs, 1100 residents and fellows in medicine, as well as dentists, nurses, and pharmacists. One could easily argue that universities should offer a wider coherent educational milieu. A grander educational vision to include all parts of the health care workforce (physician assistants, surgical scrub technicians, medical assistants, etc.) would have a great effect on state economy and on our workforce pipeline. It could be done with robust partnerships not only with the UM Flint and Dearborn campuses, but also with our adjacent and regional community colleges.


In its more rudimentary days, the UM academic health center was distinguished by its implementation of  fulltime clinical faculty, terminology indicating that physicians who practiced or taught exclusively within a teaching hospital had a fulltime salary independent of their patient care revenue at that site. In the early days of UMMS this model attracted national luminaries such as Charles de Nancrede in 1889 and Hugh Cabot in 1920. de Nancrede was an attending surgeon and clinical lecturer at Jefferson Medical College, among other Philadelphia medical institutions, and was a major name in American surgery as a clinician, teacher, and pioneer in antiseptic and aseptic technique. At Michigan he presided over the construction of the new West Hospital in 1892, established a world-class surgery department where he practiced exclusively, and wrote an influential textbook of surgery. [World J. Surg. 22:1175, 1998.] Cabot was an even more stellar addition, coming from Boston as an internationally known urologist, where he had become disillusioned by the monetary nature of medical practice.

The world of healthcare practice, education, and investigation is different in the 21st century. The few academic medical centers that will survive well in the future will be those with the best and brightest geographic fulltime faculty, the majority of whom will be busy clinicians. Their milieu may well depend upon robust clinical productivity that brings the most challenging clinical problems to them and their facilities, but this will also require a very substantial volume of more routine clinical work as the context for education of all learner groups and clinical trials, in addition to inspiring basic science investigation. This clinical milieu will require a robust array of endowed professorships to give faculty a modest disconnect from clinical practice to allow teaching and academic work.



Fellow professionals. Modern specialty-based health care has shifted emphasis from individual all-knowing utility-player doctors like Campbell and Sassall to large teams that deliver their parts of today’s healthcare. The knowledge base, growing list of specialties, and technology of medicine today is so great that the centrality of a single physician is a model that no longer works well for health care delivery. Furthermore, linguistic confusion arises as other terms are awkwardly deployed to indicate all healthcare providers (not just physicians) more inclusively. This matter became acute as we have been creating bylaws for our new University of Michigan Medical Group (UMMG). A good nomenclature solution arose from Gerald Hickson, a Vanderbilt pediatrician (above), speaking to the UMMG this summer about programs that build professionalism and create a culture of safety. His phrase, fellow professionals, nicely includes MDs, DOs, nurses, PAs, physical therapists, podiatrists, occupational therapists, optometrists, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, medical assistants, etc. [Hickson et al. A complementary approach. Acad. Med. 82:1040, 2007]


Medical professionals are under stress today from many sources, but the idea of a career in medicine still drives some of the best and brightest young people into our work, as judged by the medical school and urology residency applicants we see each year. I’ve just read applications, personal statements, and letters of recommendations from nearly 70 candidates for our 4 positions to start next July, and again I am blown away by the breadth and depth of these fourth-year medical students who will, all too soon, become our successors as urologists. They will have to resist the pressures to commoditize, corporatize, and industrialize their work as the 21st century rolls along. The electronic record is one of the pressures. A paper in Health Affairs last April surveyed primary care physicians and found they spent 3.17 hours on computers (desktop medicine) for every 3.08 hours spent with patients. [Tai-Seale et al. Electronic health record logs. Health Affairs. 36:655, 2017.]

It is impossible to predict the world that will envelop our successors. The conceptual basis they will learn and the skills they acquire are merely momentary assets. Ideas and techniques will change as long as human progress continues. The values, mores, social skills, curiosity, imagination, and ultimate kindness of our successors will be the principle assets to distinguish their careers, their effects on their communities, and their value to society in general. The influence of their ambient role models is as important as the book-learning and clinical skills imparted in graduate medical education. The epigenetic nature of values, mores, social skills, and role models show us, our colleagues, and our successors how and when to deploy the vast stores of information and skills we have accumulated. Just as importantly, some among them will be inspired to discover new knowledge and develop new skills.



With Thanksgiving coming up, I’m appreciative for precarious and relative world peace, food security, respite from climactic disasters, and the happy, healthy, lives we may have. [Above: Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1914, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts.] The great minds who have made this world so interesting are another blessing, people who looked at the world with clarity to make observations or find patterns that escaped everyone else at their moments.

The name, Conrad H. Waddington, probably doesn’t spring to mind, but is worth consideration. Born on a tea estate in Kerala, India, around this time of year in 1905 this British developmental biologist introduced the concept and word epigenetics. At age four he was sent off to England to live with family members while the parents remained at work in India for the next 23 years. In England, a local druggist and distant relation, Dr. Doeg, took the boy under his wing and inspired his interest in sciences. At Cambridge, “Wad” took a Natural Sciences Trips (a flexible curriculum across sciences) and earned a First in geology in 1926. With a scholarship he studied moral philosophy and metaphysics at university, assumed a lectureship in zoology, and became a Fellow of Christ’s College until 1942. During WWII he was involved in operational research for the Royal Air Force, and in 1947 became Professor of Animal Genetics at the University of Edinburgh where he worked for the rest of his life except for one year at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Waddington’s landmark paper in 1942 begins with four lovely sentences.

“Of all the branches of biology it is genetics, the science of heredity, which has been most successful in finding a way of analyzing an animal into representative units so that its nature can be indicated by a formula, as we represent a chemical compound by its appropriate symbols. Genetics has been able to do this because it studies animals in their simplest form, namely as fertilized eggs, in which all the complexity of the fully developed animal is implicit but not yet present. But knowledge about the nature of the fertilized egg is not derived directly from an examination of eggs; it is deduced from a consideration of the numbers and kinds of adults into which they develop. Thus genetics has to observe the phenotypes, the adult characteristics of animals, in order to reach conclusions about the genotypes, the hereditary constitutions which are its basic subject-matter.” [Waddington. Endeavor. 1: 18-21, 1942]

Later on the first page he suggests the term epigenetics to encompass the “whole process of developmental processes” that carries genotypes into phenotypes. The influence of Dr. Doeg, whom Waddington called Grandpa, was no doubt significant. The specifics of Dr. Doeg eluded me as I read about Waddington. Too bad, because it would have been illuminating to understand the nature of the fruitful mentorship that shaped Waddington’s curiosity, lucidity, communicative skills, and sociability that left him a context to discover what he did.



Black Bart, legendary stagecoach robber, committed his last robbery on this date in 1883. He specialized in Wells Fargo robbery, and it’s a bit ironic that the bank’s more recent history indicates it has internalized that larcenous bent to its own customers. Black Bart was actually Charles Earl Boles, variously known as Charley Bolton, a gentleman bandit in Northern California and Oregon. Born in Norfolk, England, he and his brothers joined the California Gold Rush in 1849. The brothers died and by 1854 Charles was married and living in Decatur, Illinois with a wife and four children. After serving in the Civil War he returned to California and gold prospecting in 1867, leaving his family behind. In 1871 Bolton wrote his wife and described an unpleasant encounter of some sort with Wells Fargo & Company agents and vowed revenge. He fulfilled the vow, adopting the name Black Bart, and robbed at least 28 coaches in California and Oregon, although never fired a weapon or harmed anybody. The last known robbery was in Calaveras County, between Copperopolis and Milton, when he was wounded in the hand while escaping. Detectives found personal items at the scene and through laundry marks traced a handkerchief to a San Francisco laundry on Bush Street. They quickly located Boles, living in nearby boarding house, and convicted him of the November 3 robbery.

Black Bart served four years at San Quentin and after release he was constantly shadowed by Wells Fargo detectives. In a letter to his wife he said he was tired of the attention, and disappeared after being last seen near Visalia on February 28, 1888. A distinctive feature of Black Bart was that he was consistently a gentleman, always polite and never using profanity. It might be said that he was a rare and exemplary professional in his business, living according to his values. His sense of mission will never be exactly known to us today, but Black Bart was somehow compelled to right some perceived wrong and, like most of us, he needed an income so Wells Fargo was a fitting opportunity.

Even in his risky occupation Black Bart remained kind and harmless, other than theft from a corporate entity of questionable kindness itself, it turns out. If he could act kindly in spite of living on the edge as he did, health care professionals such as us might consider him as a role model, although somewhat of a peculiar one. Somewhere along the line he must have had the parenting, mentorship, or experience that built his character of kindness, larcenous though it might have been. [Above book cover. Black Bart: Boulevardier Bandit. George Hoeper. Word Dancer Press, 1995]



Jack Lapides. As we unearth stories of Michigan Urology, colorful anecdotes come to light and many involve Jack Lapides. The personal story of a patient who underwent a life-changing Lapides vesicostomy was told on these pages in July and that gentleman was ultimately laid to rest in a ceremony at Arlington in August. Another story from a former medical student was that of Jack teaching the students the art of cystoscopy when he would ask the students to peer over his shoulder and look through the scope to describe what they saw.

It is said that Lapides sometimes mischievously disconnected the light source cord as someone leaned in to look and occasionally an uncertain student provided a fanciful description of the dark or black field. This may have been one origin of his Black Jack moniker, although just as likely it might have been related to the fear he struck among rookies in his expectation for high standards and excellence. Dr. Lapides’s conferences were legendary. He was exacting and tough, requiring that all presentations be stripped of jargon and abbreviations. The IVP, for example, was intravenous pyelogram. Conferences today are more causal. The tradition of teaching conferences persists, but on a larger canvas since Lapides’s days with 4-5 faculty, our scale having increased by a factor of 10. Just below is Thursday morning Grand Rounds. Further below is the Friday AM Mott imaging conference that follows a formal review of operations scheduled the following week. In both instances we have outgrown our rooms.

Yet another Lapides anecdote turned up last week when I was at the American College of Surgeons (ACS) meeting and spent an evening with Lou and Ginger Argenta (below: with Tony Atala of Wake Forest, in San Diego October, 2017).

Lou had been our plastic surgery head in my early years at Michigan and innovated, with Michael Morykwas at Wake Forest, the Vacuum-Assisted Closure (VAC) device, a paradigm-changing system to manage burns and wounds. For this he won the Jacobson Innovation Award from the ACS in 2016. Lou recalled how Jack Lapides, in his retirement years, took up welding and small engine repair, learning and teaching them at Washtenaw Community College. Jack kindly performed a welding repair on the broken bicycle of young Joey Argenta, and the work held up for years of further bicycle abuse.

Lapides stories will undoubtedly continue to emerge. The man and his work had a long reach.


What really matters to us, to our patients, to our colleagues, to our community, and our 7 billion global brethren is a deep question usually lost in the daily hustle of life. Most people have roughly similar ideas about what matters, although each has a particular take on things. Donald Campbell, Charles de Nancrede, Charley Bolton, Jack Lapides, Dr. Doeg, CW Waddington, FDR, and Rockwell had their particular world views that shaped their legacies. All, no doubt, shared many of the things that mattered to them, although each likely ordered and interpreted those characteristics idiosyncratically, perhaps Black Bart most peculiarly.

It is no accident that the four essential freedoms that Roosevelt identified have a strong basis in health care. Freedom from want is most obviously tied into food security, but it could just as easily be interpreted as freedom from needs that rationally include shelter and health care. Freedom from fear was illustrated by Rockwell as a fear of illness, but safety and personal security could just as easily have been the visual that Rockwell used. Liberty in the political sense is not so far from liberty in its mobility sense. An authoritarian regime may enforce curfews or travel restrictions, just as health conditions restrict people from being out and about to participate fully in society. If governments are to promote life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the four freedoms are essential.

Human values and role models are the factors that translate human beings into the superorganism of human civilization. Those factors can go the way of apoptosis or can epigenetically build a prosperous, just, beautiful, robust, and sustainable version of itself for the next generation.

[Autumn foliage, my neighborhood 2017]


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

February, Sunday feelings, and Monday facts

DAB What’s New February 3, 2017

February lows and highs; Sunday feelings, Monday facts
3916 words



February is the nadir of winter as well as the shortest and most variable month, with average snowfalls of 13 inches, highs of 35℉, and lows of 20℉ in Ann Arbor (U.S. Climate Data. Wikipedia). Even though not quite the coldest month February seems the wintriest, lacking the enticements of December holidays and the exhilaration of January’s new year. This February, a regular one without the extra day, allows only 20 business days to pay the challenging bills of academic urology. Educational and research expenses always exceed their funding streams and require clinical and philanthropic dollars to maintain them.


[Michigan team and the Korle-Bu and Military Hospital staff, Accra.]

Last month 3 faculty and 2 residents escaped Michigan winter for a week of operating and teaching in Ghana. Sue and the late Carl Van Appledorn initiated this yearly trip and other generous donors help offset its draw on clinical revenue. John Park, Casey Dauw, and our former faculty member Humphrey Atiemo (now Program Director at Henry Ford Hospital) accompanied by residents Yooni Yi (UM) and Dan Pucheril (HFH) spent a productive week in Accra. Casey led the team in performing the first successful percutaneous nephrolithotomy in that part of the world. The Korle-Bu Hospital, affiliated with the University of Ghana, is one of the largest teaching hospitals in Africa. John Park will give further details in an upcoming What’s New/Matula Thoughts.


[Casey at bat.]

Back here in the USA the economic side of health care is ambiguous. Governmental funding, public policy, regulation, corporatization of the clinical domain, market segmentation, and escalating costs in pharmacologic/technology industries are some factors in the turmoil. Most healthcare industries maintain the public trust and behave admirably in seeking profits and market share – we certainly see this in the companies with whom we deal such as Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, Boston Scientific, Storz, etc.

A few egregious actors stand out. The Mylan company’s repackaging of a natural chemical (epinephrine, for which nature holds the patent) with a syringe and needle was a mildly clever gimmick, but creating a monopoly for this lifesaving device and raising the prices for a two-pack from $100 in 2007 to $608 in 2016 is greed beyond the bounds of public acceptance. Mylan’s half price “generic,” offered recently, is a pathetic peace-offering to the public – a generic of a generic is elementary Orwellian Newspeak. [Epinephrine auto-injectors for anaphylaxis. JAMA; 317:313, 2017.] Teva Pharmaceutical was another one of the six drug makers recently sued by 20 state lawmakers on price fixing. These two companies are the largest generic drug makers by market cap. (It must have been awkward for Mylan’s CEO Heather Bresch to justify EpiPen prices because of research and development expenses in testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last October.) [M. Krey. Investor’s Business Daily. Mylan launches cheaper EpiPen generic amid drug pricing saga. 12/16/16.] Below: Table A from 10/5/16 letter from CMS Administrator Andrew Slavitt to Senator Ron Wyden regarding Medicaid and Medicare Part D Expenditures on EpiPen products.




Regulation for the public good is essential in a world economy of 7 billion people and GDP of $78 trillion. All businesses exist because of the public trust, going back to the early days of the limited-liability joint-stock company, a story explained in a book called The Company that Julian Wan gave me years ago [John Micklethwait & Adrian Woolridge. Modern Library, NY 2003.] Most US businesses understand their public responsibilities, but uncommon greedy actors erode public trust and diminish the standards for the rest.

Regulation is under attack. It is inevitable that government regulations dampen corporate bottom-lines and short-term economic growth, that is the nature of regulation, but few rational people can deny that serious regulation of highway traffic, airways, nuclear energy, banks, health care, etc. is in the public interest. Offensive governmental regulatory overreach is bound to happen in any complex bureaucracy and should be called out when discovered, but these instances hardly disprove the necessity for regulation by impartial public agencies and civil servants in a healthy democratic society.

By now, in February’s wintry days of cold and snow, the EpiPen story is old news, but we hope that the protective regulatory functions of governmental regulation do not get snowed over or subsumed by corporate world grudges. Like most things in life, balance is essential.




The world’s deadliest known snowstorm began this February day in 1972, lasting a full week and killing around 4,000 people. The blizzard centered on the city of Ardakan in southern Iran, the region of Shiraz, cultural capital of Iran and known for the eponymous grape. Storyteller Isak Dineson (Baroness Karen Blixen-Finecke, 1885-1962) linked that grape to urology in her short story, The Dreamers: “What is man when you come to think about him, but a minutely set, ingenious machine for turning, with infinite artfulness, the red wine of Shiraz into urine.” Blixen created coherent and compelling stories at a moment’s notice, and told her own life story in the 1934 book Out of Africa, that became a film in 1985 with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. The complete passage in The Dreamers is particularly intriguing and relevant to urologists.

“ ‘Oh, Lincoln Forstner,’ said the noseless story-teller, ‘what is man, when you come to think upon him, but a minutely set, ingenious machine for turning, with infinite artfulness, the red wine of Shiraz into urine? You may even ask which is the more intense craving and pleasure: to drink or to make water. But in the meantime, what has been done? A song has been composed, a kiss taken, a slanderer slain, a prophet begotten, a righteous judgement given, a joke made…’ ”  [Isak Dinesen. Seven Gothic Tales. The Dreamers. 1934, Random House. P. 275.]

Blixen’s choice of Lincoln for the first name of one of the three central characters in her imaginative story is curious, for although it is a well-known surname it is an uncommon given name.


[Karen Blixen and brother Thomas Dineson on her farm in Kenya, c. 1920s. Royal Danish Library.]


Imagination is the ability to form ideas, images, and sensations without direct sensory input. The practice of medicine, its instruction, and its innovation demand imagination. The imagination to think through the plausibility of things, is inseparable from critical thinking. Observation and reasoning, experience and experiment, are feats of imagination that challenge dogma with new ideas in search of the best truth possible. Such creative thinking is a necessary, but often forgotten piece of the essential skeptical analysis that good physicians and scientists practice and instill in students, residents, fellows, and colleagues.

A recent Lancet article referred to the early American physician Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), who called imagination “… the pioneer of all other faculties.”

“When Rush spoke of imagination, he wasn’t talking about dragons or unicorns, he called that mental faculty fancy, and fancy had no place in medicine. Rather, Rush was talking about how the doctor’s mind gathered observations and experiences, shifting and shaping them until new truths became clear. Memory was a component of this imagination, and understanding resulted from it.” [S. Altschuler. The medical imagination. The Lancet. 388:2230, 2016.]

I’d challenge the claim that no hard line exists between those dragons or unicorns and the new ideas, hypotheses, and truths we hope to discover. Fanciful fiction, visual art, and music enrich mental milieus and provide metaphors, symmetries, dissonances, harmonies, and analogies that make clinical work and science sharper, more multidimensional, and of greater relevance than they would be without the “fancy.” E.O. Wilson infers this in his conclusion to Consilience, a book named for and about the unity of knowledge.

“The search for consilience might seem at first to imprison creativity. The opposite is true. A united system of knowledge is the surest means of identifying the still unexplored domains of reality. It provides a clear map of what is known, and frames the most productive questions for further inquiry. Historians of science often observe that asking the right question is more important than producing the right answer. The right answer to a trivial question is also trivial, but the right question, even when insoluble in exact form, is a guide to major discovery. And so it will ever be in the future excursions of science and imaginative flights of the arts.” [EO Wilson. Consilience. Alfred A. Knopf. New York.]

Creativity can also spring from irrational thought as a song in the new film La La Land suggests. Audition (The fools who dream) sung by Emma Stone: “A bit of madness is key, to give us new colors to see. Who knows where it will lead us and that’s why they need us.” Human exploration of reality requires consilience of all the tools we can muster, including scientific knowledge, historical facts, stories, and imaginative fancy.



When you read a story or experience visual art you may discover something new to which your brain can connect and that will illuminate other stuff in your brain at that moment or later on in reflections, dreams, or sudden denouements. Those connections provoke imagination, test reality, and elicit wisdom that affects your world view and your work. Insight and inspiration from art provide limitless opportunities in the practice, teaching, or investigation of medical care. The story of British pediatrician Harry Angelman (1915-1966) offers a minute and excellent example of illuminating connection.

“It was purely by chance that nearly thirty years ago (e.g., circa 1964) three handicapped children were admitted at various times to my children’s ward in England. They had a variety of disabilities and although at first sight they seemed to be suffering from different conditions I felt that there was a common cause for their illness. The diagnosis was purely a clinical one because in spite of technical investigations which today are more refined I was unable to establish scientific proof that the three children all had the same handicap. In view of this I hesitated to write about them in the medical journals. However, when on holiday in Italy I happened to see an oil painting in the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona called . . . a Boy with a Puppet. The boy’s laughing face and the fact that my patients exhibited jerky movements gave me the idea of writing an article about the three children with a title of Puppet Children. It was not a name that pleased all parents but it served as a means of combining the three little patients into a single group. Later the name was changed to Angelman syndrome. This article was published in 1965 and after some initial interest lay almost forgotten until the early eighties.” [Quotation from Charles Williams. Harry Angelman and the History of AS. Stay informed. USA: Angelman Syndrome Foundation. 2011.]

Giovanni Francesco Caroto (1480-1555), the Renaissance painter in Verona, created the Portrait of a Child with a Drawing and the circumstances of the subject will probably never come to light. It may well be a coincidence that the picture resembled the patients that provoked Angelman’s curiosity.


[Chromosome 15]

Deletion or inactivation of genes on maternal chromosome 15 with silencing of the corresponding normal paternal chromosome is responsible for AS. Similar genomic imprinting, but with deletion or inactivation of paternal genes and silencing on the maternal side happens in Prader-Willi syndrome, that shows up more often in our pediatric urology clinics. These two conditions along with Beckwith-Wiedemann and Silver-Russell syndromes were early reported instances of human imprinting disorders. An excellent update on these conditions appeared last month in Science. [J. Cousin-Frankel. Fateful Imprints. Science. 355:122-125, 2017]


New residents. We just matched our new cohort of PGY1s, a stage of medical education once called internship, that starts each July to initiate the transition of medical students into specialists. The medical student is the last universal common ancestor in the evolution of a medical specialist. About 150 areas of focused practice (per American Board of Medical Specialties) are available to freshly minted MDs and those last universal common ancestors in medicine evolve into the new species of their chosen specialties during their residencies.

This educational experience is a primary reason we exist as a Department of Urology. The UMMS was formed to produce the next generation of physicians for the State of Michigan in 1850 when this mission required 2 years of medical school lectures to achieve the MD necessary to practice medicine. The medical school then needed only 5 faculty and 2 departments (Medicine as well as Surgery and Anatomy) to provide that education. Today’s world of specialty medicine requires 4 years of medical school (with lectures, laboratory work, and clinical experience) as well as graduate medical education in one of 100 areas of specialty training offered here in Ann Arbor. Our medical school faculty numbers 2500 in 30 departments. We educate, at any moment, about twice as many residents in specialties as medical students – and the period of residency training may be more than twice as long as medical school itself.

New members of the UM Urology family are: Juan Andino with BS, MBA, and MD degrees from UM; Chris Tam with BS from UC San Diego and MD from the University of Iowa; Robert Wang with BA and MD degrees from Washington University in St. Louis; and Colton Walker with BS from Stanford and MD from Louisiana State University in New Orleans. Who knows where they will lead us?


Darwin & Lincoln’s birth, on the same day in the same year, was the wonderful coincidence of February 12, 1809. Two more different circumstances for those neonates would be difficult to imagine although both families had roots in England. Both men had big imaginations that changed the world in positive ways that endure today. Darwin arrived in the center of the civilized world, Shrewsbury England, to a prosperous family. His grandfather, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, was one of the great thinkers of his time and his father Dr. Robert Darwin was a successful physician. The house where Charles Darwin was born was distinguished enough to have a name, The Mount. Abraham Lincoln was born in a small primitive cabin, now long gone, on the Sinking Spring farm on the western periphery of a nation barely 33 years in existence. The nearest town, Hodgenville, didn’t even get its name until 1826, long after the Lincoln family, short on money and education, had moved on.


[Above: Photo by Herbert Barraud, last known picture of Darwin. 1882. Huntington Library. Below: Last known high-quality Lincoln photo, March 6, 1865. Library of Congress.]


Darwin’s idea, The Origin of Species, contained the belief that species couldn’t breed with different species. The classic example of reproductive isolation that many of us recall from childhood was the mule, the result of a donkey and horse breaking the species barrier recreationally, but the resulting progeny was sterile and incapable of creating a further bloodline. That belief in a barrier to interbreeding, or hybridization as biologists term the process, has fallen away in the new era of genomic information. The Neanderthal and Denisovan genes in the Homo sapiens genome is a rather intimate example of species interbreeding. It turns out that hybridization has played an important role in evolution throughout most kingdoms of life.  The mule is joined by the liger (lion/tiger), Hawaiian duck (Mallard/Laysan duck), red wolf (coyote/gray wolf), and pizzly (polar/brown bear). Domestic dog and wolf interbreeding has given wolves a variant immune protein gene, β-defensin, that conveys a distinctive black pelt and improved canine distemper resistance to wolf/dog hybrids and their descendants. [Elizabeth Pennisi. Shaking up the tree of life. Science: 354:817-821, 2016.] In a practical sense for our work in healthcare, bacterial swapping of DNA presents great challenges. Darwin recognized a mighty force – nearly as mysterious and pervasive as gravity – that crops up way beyond biology. Even in social ebbs and flows of life, Darwinian forces are at play, for surely they have made markets, politics, and academia increasingly creative.


LUCA. Central to the multiple facets of our interests and knowledge as clinicians, surgeons, and urologists, we are ultimately biologists. In that spirit, the mystery of how life began on Earth is an irresistible intellectual puzzle and if you align to the Darwinian line of the speculation the concept of a very simple common ancestor holds traction.

Such a single cell, bacterial-like organism would have begat the three great domains of life: archaea, bacteria, and later the eukaryotes. Of the 6 million protein-coding genes in DNA data banks, William Martin et al at Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf speculated that 355 were present in that most primitive of ancestors, called the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA). These probably originated around volcanic sea vents that supplied just the right conditions. Whether or not LUCA came from sea vents, warm ponds, or other environments should become clearer as biologists dig deeper into our roots. LUCA might have looked like any of the archaea and bacteria we recognize today with stiff walled rods or cocci. More complex shapes required the flexible cell walls that came later with eukaryotes. LUCA probably existed as an anaerobe in a vent-like hydrothermal geochemical setting and was based upon 355 genes according to a paper from the Institute of Molecular Evolution at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf.


[Figure from MC Weiss, FL Sousa, N Mrnjavac et al. The physiology and habitat of the last universal common ancestor. Nature Microbiology. 1, Article number 16116, 2016.]

Much has happened since LUCA. Given the Darwinian trials of variation by error in the face of minor and gross environmental challenges over millions of millennia, new species developed in fits and starts. The Cambrian explosion of new creatures was one of many responses of speciation to planetary change. We humans seem to be at the far opposite end of the phylogenic spectrum from LUCA. Our complexity is not just a matter of our biology and our cerebral skills, but no less a matter of the social nuances that elaborate the human condition.


A Fortunate Man. The classic study of an English general practitioner in the 1960s, alluded to on these pages last year sharpened my perspective as a physician. [John Berger, A Fortunate Man, Random House, NY 1967.] The ancient perspective of healthcare, documented since medical recipes in ancient early Egyptian papyri and Hippocratic writings, was a matter of dualities: one patient-one physician, one problem-one solution, and one teacher-one student. This changed in the past century due to medical specialties and technology that have introduced unmeasurable complexity. Patient care and medical education are no longer two-body problems, but are now part of a multidimensional healthcare matrix.

Even that multidimensional professional matrix is dwarfed by the complexity of patients with their own multidimensional physical, mental, familial, social, economic, political, and environmental comorbidities. You might lump all these comorbidities together and simply call them “the human condition” that Berger probed in A Fortunate Man, hinting that we really have little sense of what our patients are all about. However, as we practice our art, we become better at understanding the holograms of the patients as they present themselves in our clinics even in the short time frames at hand and the insistence of electronic health records and economics that force us to default to two-body problems (augmented with a few clever comorbidities that can permit a more realistic billing code).

Berger died last month (January 2) at 90 in the Parisian suburb where he lived. I didn’t know much about him since I read his book just last year (and I wish I could remember who told me to read it). Berger (pronounced BER-jer,) was known as a “provocative art critic” in the obituary by Randy Kennedy that included this example:

“He was a champion of realism during the rise of Abstract Expressionism, and he took on giants like Jackson Pollock, whom he criticized as a talented failure for being unable to ‘see or think beyond the decadence of the culture to which he belongs.’” [Kennedy. New York Times Tuesday January 3, 2017.]

The obituary ran for three columns and mentioned a number of Berger’s books, but not A Fortunate Man.


That other birthday celebrant of February 12, 1819, would also have been 198 years old this month. Human biology at its best wouldn’t have given Lincoln that chance, but it was political extremism that cut him down short of his potential fourscore and ten years. While Darwin’s ancestors provided more than a hint of greatness for their descendent, Lincoln’s ancestry offered no such clue, but his insatiable drive for education and personal distinction contrasted remarkably with the rest of his family. His improbable success in law and politics leveraged his even more unlikely ascent to the presidency of the United States. No one could have predicted that his ultimate comorbidity would have been an actor with a Philadelphia Derringer at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865.




[Top: Currier & Ives print of assassination April 14, 1865. Middle: The actual Derringer. Bottom: 0.41-caliber Rimfire cartridge.]

Lincoln’s assassin jumped to the stage and escaped on a horse waiting near the backstage door. The following day he stopped near Beantown, Maryland (now Waldorf) seeking treatment at the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, an acquaintance, for a broken left fibula. Mudd cut off Booth’s boot, splinted the leg, provided a shoe, and arranged for a local carpenter to make a pair of crutches. After catching some sleep at the doctor’s house Booth travelled on to Virginia where he was caught and killed on April 26. Mudd was arrested, charged with conspiracy, and imprisoned at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. He tried to escape once, but became a good prisoner and was released after pardon by President Andrew Johnson on March 8, 1869. Mudd returned home to Maryland where he lived until January 10, 1883 dying of pneumonia at 49 years of age. Mudd’s grandson, Dr. Richard Mudd, unsuccessfully petitioned a number of presidents (Carter and Reagan) and also failed in other avenues to clear the family name of the stigma of aiding Booth. The family name remains Mudd.


[Booth escape route. Wikimedia Commons. Courtesy, National Park Service.]

Our world has changed enormously since Lincoln’s time. The American democracy is better, healthcare  is more effective, and the Earth even when viewed from far out in our solar system looks amazingly different (below); Edison’s electrical illumination, invented in 1880, has impacted both the visible planet and environment due to the fossil fuel consumption for those lights.


A short book on Darwin and Lincoln, Angels and Ages by Adam Gopnik [Alfred A. Knopf, NY 2009] noted:

“What all the first modern artists, from Whitman to van Gogh, have believed is that, for whatever reason, and however it came to be, we are capable of witnessing and experiencing the world as more than the sum of our instincts and appetites. Our altruism is not simply our appetites compounded; our appetites are not simply our altruism exposed. ‘Reason … must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense,’ Lincoln said, and reason alone can point us to its limits. We can argue about anything, even about the nature and meaning of our mysticisms. [Kenneth] Clark called our liberal faith ‘heroic materialism’ and said it wouldn’t be enough. Human materialism or mystical materialism, is closer to it, and it remains the best we have. Intimations of the numinous may begin and end in us, but they are as real as descriptions of the natural; Sunday feelings are as real as Monday facts. On this point, Darwin and Lincoln, along with all the other poets of modern life, would have agreed. There is more to a man than the breath in his body, if only on the hat on his head and the hope in his heart.”


[Footnotes: Numinous = inspiriting spiritual or awe-inspiring emotions. Mystical = having spiritual meaning neither apparent to sense or obvious to intelligence.]



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

Matula Thoughts. September 2, 2016.

DAB What’s New Sept 2, 2016

Matula Thoughts. September 2, 2016. News & views.

3821 words


Sept 2016

One.   Summertime news.  Yesterday was the beginning of meteorological autumn and tomorrow is Michigan’s first football game of the season, here at home with Hawaii. Ann Arbor days were hot this summer, but are getting shorter, although not so short yet since we can travel between home and work in daylight at least in one of the directions. [Above: the drive on Huron Drive] September was the seventh month in the old Roman calendar when March served as the first month of ten in the year (see April 1st Matula Thoughts). Calendar reform added January and February to create a 12-month year and September got demoted to the ninth month, but retained its historic name.

       We had a good summer, overall, in spite of local, national, and worldwide tragedies admixt with the ongoing environmental degradation of which we are no longer innocent. Our particular geographic microcosm, however, has been mostly pleasant and constructive with the entry of new house officers, promotion of their seniors, incorporation of new fellows, and initiation of first year medical students. We enjoyed the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, Art Fairs, Chang-Duckett-Lapides lectureships, White Coat Ceremony, and lovely three-day weekends that come to an end with Labor Day on Monday. A few weeks back Mani Menon from Henry Ford Hospital gave a brilliant Grand Rounds talk on his remarkable achievement of translating radical prostatectomy to the robotic platform, and thus introducing a new paradigm of therapy worldwide (below: Mani Menon, Khurshid Ghani, Andy Brachulis). Stu Wolf had his last day a week ago and will now be doing his part to build a new medical school in Austin, Texas.


In mid-August we lost a wonderful colleague and pediatric surgeon, Dan Teitelbaum (pictured below), after a difficult struggle with brain cancer. Dan partnered with us in the Disorders of Sex Development program and was a world authority on pediatric gastrointestinal problems both clinically and in the research world. Dan was more than just a colleague, he was a kind, skilled, and reliable partner-in-care and his excellence made us better. We could always count on Dan. Brain cancer, all cancer, is an evil destroyer of the good things in life. We are making progress against cancers on many fronts, but not in time for Dan.


A road trip this summer to Toronto featured Sick Kids Hospital’s Gordon McLorie symposium for the latest news in pediatric urology. [Below: McLorie Symposium] The Olympics captured much attention during my visit north of the border and, flipping back and forth on television, it seemed that Canadian coverage favored more actual sports and news than broadcaster celebrities and opinions on American networks.

McLorie Symposium

Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers appeared back in Ann Arbor at the Summer Festival one evening. Many of us (of a certain age) recall the classic song, The End of the Innocence, Hornsby wrote with Don Henley in 1989. At the Power Center Hornsby and the Noisemakers expanded the piece into an amazing long version with riffs, explorations, and pleasing dissonances. I wondered if the composers intended some reference to Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake in 1789 and 1794, but in any case the piece struck me more meaningfully this summer than when I first heard it years ago. Jeff Daniels joined the Hornsby ensemble for an encore and performed his new composition on the iconic environmentalist Henry David Thoreau.


Back in 2009 Daniels and E.O. Wilson received honorary degrees from The University of Michigan (pictured above). Wilson, above on left, is our planet’s most credible spokesman for biodiversity. Recognizing this at a dinner in their honor, Daniels commented self-effacingly something like: “I really don’t know why I am here, for after all, my claim to fame is a film called Dumb and Dumber.” In fact, both honorees are substantial contributors to society and they have comfortably crossed intellectual boundaries. Daniels’ work, for example in The Newsroom, not only entertains, but also speaks to the better nature of mankind, offering an example of a trustworthy television journalist navigating the challenges of corporate broadcasting. Wilson, on the other hand, successfully ventured out from his academic world with the novel, Anthill.

Blake - innocence

[Title page: Songs of Innocence and Experience Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. 1826 edition. At Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK]



Two.   Experience. A new season of academic medicine begins each September and renews the process of turning innocent medical school graduates into experienced urologists. Medical students cram our urology services to test out the idea of careers in urology and audition for 4 available PGY1 (intern) slots, while our residents quickly ascend their ladders of experience and our faculty hone their practices.

Consult DB

Above you see Julian Wan at Grand Rounds presenting awards to residents Duncan Morhardt, Amir Lebastchi, and Parth Shah for their achievements with consults in Julian’s innovative Tour de Consult. The next picture shows faculty and residents that same Thursday morning at 7 AM listening to talks from medical students. The newly redecorated conference room is a big improvement over its previous 1986 version, although we still run out of space.

Grand Round

Our residents, however, are enjoying ample private space in their new residents’ room we gained recently and which was significantly upgraded thanks to contributions by Jens Sönksen (Nesbit 1996) and a number of other alumni. [See picture on our matching departmental Instagram, courtesy Pat Soter]

This autumn we expect 21 clinical clerks (six 4th year medical students from UM and 15 from other medical schools) to rotate with us. The individual Grand Rounds presentations they make during their stints over the course of my career at Michigan get better and better in sophistication of presentation skills and subject mastery, indicating that the next generation of urologists should surpass us. Later this autumn a subset of our faculty will personally interview about 40 other students from a pool of 350 applicants. In December we will rank all applicants just as they will rank us, a computer will do the matching and by February we will know the names of our next 4 entering residents.

Autumn will also be busy with sectional and subspecialty conferences, national meetings of the American College of Surgeons and other organizations. Abstracts will be due for next year’s big clinical congress of The American Urological Association in Boston. Family life restructures for many of our faculty when children head back to school. Also this fall a presidential election will take place, so make arrangements now so you can vote on Tuesday, November 8.  I’ve learned from sad experience that busy clinicians and staff cannot count on finding a voting window during election day unless they have made deliberate plans, like absentee ballots, far in advance. Unprepared, you may get lucky – or not.




Radio tuner 1920s

Far from the town crier and printed circular, radio was a big step in the dissemination of news. Radio itself began in 19th century, arguably with the wireless telegraphy patent of Guglielmo Marconi in 1896, but the first tuning system, patented a century ago, brought choice and accessibility to the public. Ernst Alexanderson, an engineer for General Electric in Schenectady, New York, developed the selective tuning system. Station choices grew on AM radio [Above: vintage radio tuner c. 1920s, Wikipedia] and later with FM, thanks to generous regulation and commercial competition. When I spent a year training in Great Britain as a resident in 1976-77 only 4 radio choices were available on my radio, in addition to an off-shore “pirate” station, because government tightly controlled airwaves.


[Radio & Television Magazine X (2): June, 1939. NY: Popular Book Corporation]

Television portended the end of radio after the first public television broadcast in 1927 and color TV in the 1960s made the medium even more irresistible. The prophecy was wrong, however, as radio rebounded with multiple new consumer channels and TV became just the newer communication layer. Radio stations provided “narrow networks” of sports talk shows, partisan political commentary channels, business news stations, religious channels, local news, weather, and some splices to television channels. Reemergence of radio’s early variety shows appeared with Garrison Keillor and the ubiquity of NPR gave radio large new audiences; the final broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion this past July 2 completed its extraordinary 42-season run. Commercial satellite radio produced an explosion of new radio species for an astonishing range of human interests from Elvis to POTUS Politics. Cable TV ended the domination of broadcasting networks, although the proliferation of new television channels added only precious few of quality.

Radio and television “news”, however maintained a sense of integrity with trusted journalist/broadcasters such as Edward R. Murrow who told it clean and straight, in contrast to advertising or propaganda. At some point, however, the term “content” subsumed “news” and clarity began to vanish. Entertainment mingled with news broadcasts and trusted news broadcasters appeared in fictional stories further blurring the border between truth and fiction.

Podcasts, cable and satellite media, and other innovations offered content to seriously compete with network television and the movie industry. Home Box Office (HBO) produced its first original movie for cable TV in 1983 (The Terry Fox Story) and other memorable films and series followed including Breaking Bad (2008-2013) and The Newsroom (2012-2014) with Jeff Daniels who should inspire a future generation of good journalists. (What Game of Thrones inspires is not so clear). Personal phones, computers, and video streaming bring yet newer layers and innovations to communication, information, and entertainment. Mini-series binge-watching eroded prime time network television while Netflix’s video streaming expanded into a new model of content production. Abandoning the pilot and sequential release of episodes, House of Cards (2013) offered an entire series for immediate consumption. The bottom line: new communication technologies add new layers rather than replacing the older media.




Alex Zazlovsky

Quorum sensing.  A few months ago at Grand Rounds Alex Zaslovsky, representing the lab of Ganesh Palapattu, gave an excellent presentation showing how platelets communicate with tumor cells to help them metastasize.

A process much like bacterial quorum sensing seems to be occurring, and perhaps this type of communication is prevalent throughout all life forms, whether gaining a consensus in a microbial biome to release endotoxin or a majority in a society for an election or an action on an issue. Strictly speaking, quorum sensing is a matter of individual gene regulation in response to news of cell population density. In other words, gene expression is coordinated according to the size and needs of the population. In the larger sense, quorum sensing allows individuals, that by themselves may be insignificant, to become superorganisms. Bacteria thus act in congress like multicellular organisms and this process works in bigger species such as social insects, fish, mammals, and likely all biologic creatures in ways we have yet to understand. This phenomenon brings us back to the seminal work of E.O. Wilson who linked ant pheromones to sociobiology and then to human consilience.

Quorum sensing is basically a matter of getting news, that is acquiring information about the environment so as to change or maintain behaviors. Weather (temperature, humidity, and pressure) is a form of news, but news about other creatures (one’s own species and different ones) also has great relevance for the immediate and intermediate future. Just as people learn individualistically, they collect news idiosyncratically. A hurricane or a full solar eclipse in mid-day gets everyone’s attention, but most news we need or crave is more discrete, while the media we employ to collect it are many and increasing in variety. Newspapers, radio, television, personal computers, and smart phones expand human quorum sensing and newsgathering far beyond the wildest expectations of Gutenberg with his printing press. New forms of social media layer upon each other and get tested in the market. Michigan Urology has its regular What’s New email, web site, Facebook page, Twitter Account, Matula Thoughts blog, and will now test out a weekly Instagram photograph that we hope will attract not only viewing interest, but also contributions from the readership.

We started putting Matula Thoughts on a web site three years ago mainly as an archive and an alternate access because our What’s New email list was getting cumbersome. While we don’t know much of our ultimate email audience, due to multiple forwarding, the web site provides visibility of readership as seen in the snapshot below of the first 6 months of 2016.

MT readership 2016


Five.   Thoreau away thoughts.  Coming into work one day this summer I was listening to an audio book by Chris Anderson, the head of TED Talks, and had just come to his optimistic conclusion about mankind when I stepped out of my car on the Taubman lot and was offended by a bunch of pistachio nutshells someone had dumped on the deck. My first thought was “What jerk did this?” but after reconsidering I thought Why should I care?


After all I was wearing shoes and those shells weren’t going to hurt my feet. They don’t harm the environment, aside from minor aesthetic degradation, and even so some modern artist might consider the pattern a compelling expression of random human graffiti. Possibly I myself had been such a jerk making similar transgressions in the past, before my sensibilities (presumably) matured. No sharp demarcation exists between the clueless citizen and the clinically certified narcissist, although most of us can tell the difference at any moment. Another label for the parking lot perpetrator springing to mind was the less complimentary anatomical term for the gastrointestinal tract terminus, a word that has an important place in organizational theory (RI Sutton, The No Asshole Rule, The Hachette Book Group, 2007). Thanks to the ubiquitous cell phone camera I was able to record this minor breech of civility for a teaching opportunity. The lesson being that the environment is our nest, but general appreciation of its limits is poor, in spite of great thinkers from Lucretius to Henry David Thoreau to E.O. Wilson who have tried to raise our sensibility.


Thoreau was a curious fellow, best known for his Walden Pond seclusion, possibly because he didn’t consider himself very sociable. The above daguerreotype was taken in response to a request by Calvin R. Greene, a Thoreau disciple living in Rochester, Michigan. Greene began corresponding with Thoreau in January, 1856 and asked for a photographic image, that Thoreau initially denied, saying: “You may rely on it that you have the best of me in my books, and that I am not worth seeing personally – the stuttering, blundering, clodhopper that I am.” Greene’s persistence paid off and in June of that year Thoreau sat for three daguerreotypes at 50 cents each in Worchester, MA at the Daguerrean Palace of Benjamin Maxham. Henry David must have at least liked the third image, sending it to Greene, noting: “… which my friends think is pretty good – though better looking than I.” [Image and description, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC]



Six.   News. It’s a nice coincidence that NEWS could be an acronym for north, east, west, and south. The reality, though, is that the English term arrived in the 14th century as a plural form of “new” information. For 14th century English village folk, relevant news included weather, gossip, crop issues, births & deaths, accidents, plague, and war. In turn over time town criers, newspapers, radio, and television carried news among villages, through cities, and across continents. A new profession arose as journalists pieced events together and investigated them to derive factual stories. Photographs and today’s video clips offer powerful encapsulations of news in images and voices. Aggregation of news and targeting it to audiences with narrow interests is not new, we saw it in People magazine, the Racing Form, and Popular Mechanics, but daily news aggregation on the internet compiles information on a global scale and devastated the business model of investigative journalism. The Newsroom attended to the tensions between regurgitated information, narrative truth, and corporate self-interest. Human quorum sensing is immeasurably more complex than that of E.coli, although the basic principles must be quite similar. The variety of ways to collect and disseminate news from quorum sensing to Instagram will continue to expand, and each of our growing number will adapt our own methods and devices to capture what we will.

Newsboys Pose c 1890 copy

[Ann Arbor newsboys c. 1890]



Seven.    Urology news & Ig Nobel Thoughts. Later this month the 2016 Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony takes place at Harvard’s Sanders Theater (September 22) to introduce 10 prizewinners for accomplishments “that make people laugh then think.” We expect no winners from the ranks of UM Urology, although it is worth mentioning that one winner last year was a study of mammalian urination times that found “golden rule” wherein urination times ranged around 21 seconds regardless of the species or bladder volume. This work, published in PNAS (a curious acronymic homonym), begs further investigation to explore gender differences, age effects, and the relations to various pathologies such as BPH [Yang et al Proc Nat Acad Sci 111:11932, 2014]. Notably, the first reference in the paper was Frank Hinman, Jr.’s book On Micturition (1971). The Ig Nobelists, however, missed Hinman’s smaller limited edition book called The Art and Science of Piddling [Vespasian Press, San Francisco, 1999] Hinman (shown below) playfully censored the retromingent stream of the rhinoceros on the book cover. To what end this unusual direction of micturition has evolved remain unclear, but extinction may void the species before an explanation is discovered.


Hinman-office copy



Eight.   Photography. If you happen by the National Archives, as we did on a brief visit to Washington this summer, you might spot the Daguerre Memorial on Ninth Street by the Department of Justice. American sculptor Jonathan Scott Hartley (born in Albany, NY 1844, deceased 1912) produced the relief bust of Louis Daguerre honored by a female figure representing fame while a garland encircles the globe in homage to the universality of photography. Harley also made busts of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau’s friend and colleague.

Daguerr Statue

Daguerreotypes transitioned to portable film cameras and now digital images on universal camera phones that allow great visibility of the particulars of the world. Visual images are fundamental to modern communication and newsgathering. Walking near the Daguerreotype monument we noticed a discarded snuff can in a planter box similar the pistachio shell arrangement shown earlier, further evidence that the great pageant of humanity marches forward and continues to leave its mark, although now subject to universal documentation.


A yearly photographic competition of The Lancet, called Highlights,  further opens the door to the world’s cellphones and cameras. Last year’s contest yielded 12 winners detailing: a ruined hospital in western Syria, moments of patient care, community action, a poster showing health advantages of raised beds with mosquito nets, smoking prevention, Ebola hot zone management, road traffic accidents, cleft lip repair, and the politics of social justice. [Lancet. Palmer & Mullan. Highlights 2015: pictures of health. 386:2463, 2015]



Nine.   A somber note. Last month this column concluded with reference to the Hiroshima bomb, an existential threat that has increased since 1945 by many orders of magnitude. There is little question what Henry David Thoreau, among many wise thinkers of the past and present would say on this matter of nuclear weapons: they must be contained and their spread prevented. Failing that, a doomsday scenario is not unlikely and only luck has prevented this from happening so far. A new book, My Journey to the Nuclear Brink by William Perry (US Secretary of Defense 1994 – 1997), explains our precarious situation better than anything else I’ve read. You can understand his point in a “Cliff’s Notes” fashion by going directly to Perry’s website, but his book is quite compelling and readable. Perry, currently emeritus professor at Stanford University and senior fellow at its Hoover Institution, founded the William J Perry Project in 2013(, a non-profit organization intended to educate the public on the current dangers of nuclear weapons. Addressing close calls of the past, Perry reveals that the Cuban Missile Crisis came far closer to the brink that most people suspected, but for two unreported “mistakes” on both sides of the conflict (USA and Soviet Union) that prevented nuclear deployment. Today the risk is greater and more complex as the weapons are far more massive and numerous than 71 years ago over Hiroshima. Opportunities for accidents, terrorism, rogue nations, territorial disputes, or mistaken perceptions of “responsible” nations are too many to count.


[Above, Hiroshima before blast, above ground zero, with 1000 foot circles marked; below, after the explosion with not much left standing.]






Cassandra. In Greek mythology, Cassandra was a curious prophet, who turned out to be an ineffective communicator. Attempting to seduce her, Apollo gave her the power of prophecy, but when she refused his advances he spat into her mouth with the curse that no one would believe her prophecies. Prophecy skepticism has endured since her time. Right or wrong, but forecasts require consideration, especially when backed by information, whether in the form of news or other information. [Cassandra, in front of burning Troy, by Evelyn De Morgan, 1898]

The current likelihood of a nuclear incident is great and in recognition of this an exercise called Mighty Saber was held last year by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency at Fort Belvoir, Virginia to simulate a detonation in a US city and trace the origin of the device. An article by Richard Stone in Science concluded: “… to have any chance of unraveling the details of a nuclear attack, investigators have to lay the scientific groundwork – while hoping it will never be needed.” [Stone. Science. 351:1138, 2016]

The world is full of danger and nuclear devices are but one of a number of catastrophic threats. This fact needs to be acknowledged as people go to the polls to vote for their legitimate self-interests that may involve party loyalties, economic matters, civil rights, first and second amendments, immigration, border security, health care equity, public education, government size, gender issues, free speech, law enforcement, etc. Our ultimate self-interest, however, is immediate survival of our species and the security of our children’s future. With this in mind we individually must make the best choices we can for the elections at hand. Just as importantly we, as a society, must do a far better job of leadership succession to prepare educated and wise future civil leaders rather than leaving succession up to random populists, celebrities, or narcissists who crave power and the ultimate corner offices. Geopolitical and world market stability are severely challenged and we are terribly short of good leaders and great ideas. The grim political landscape at hand, however, doesn’t give anyone of us the right to be aloof from the politics and processes of representational government.

You may ask what does all this have to do with our profession, our patients, our trainees, and our science? The answer is – everything. Our successors won’t consider us innocent if we hand over to them a diminished future in a dysfunctional society on a damaged planet. Join the important political conversations, the next generation is counting on it.


Thanks for reading Matula Thoughts for this first Friday of September, and on future first Fridays if you are so disposed.

David A. Bloom

University of Michigan, Department of Urology, Ann Arbor

Matula Thoughts June 3, 2016

DAB What’s New/Matula Thoughts June 3, 2016


 3659 words

Periodic explanation: What’s New is a weekly email communication from the University of Michigan Department of Urology. Most Fridays it is distributed internally to faculty, residents, and staff, dealing with operational specifics, personnel, and programs of the department, but on the first Friday of the month it is general in scope as “a chair’s perspectives” and is distributed more widely to alumni and friends of the department. The website (blog) version is


Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 8.22.24 AM

One.          Springtime & Montie. Spring declared itself in Ann Arbor early last month when flowers, shrubs, and trees began to wake up from the winter, while many Michigan urologists headed out to San Diego for the national meeting of the American Urological Association. There Jim Montie received the Lifetime Achievement Award, a distinguished honor for a great career.

[Picture above: NCRC trees waking up near the Keller Laboratory; below: kudos to Jim Montie]

JM Award

Michigan Urology owes much to Jim who took the helm during a turbulent era of our Section of Urology in the Department of Surgery in 1997. He stabilized our unit without disturbing its essential deliverable of kind and excellent patient-centered care while standing solidly for the other key parts of our academic mission, education, and research. Jim led our Section of Urology to departmental status and became inaugural chair in 2001. As a world-class clinician and surgeon his reputation is unsurpassed. Jim’s foresight in recognizing the potential for health services research in urology and his courage in “betting the farm” on it within our new department led to our key position in academic urology today. This is a good year for Montie awards, as Jim will also be receiving the UM 2016 MICHR Distinguished Clinical and Translational Research Mentor Award.

Montie, Straffon

Above you see Jim in an older picture with his own mentor, Ralph Straffon (Nesbit 1959), another great Michigan Urologist. Ralph, also honored by the AUA during his lifetime, became President of the American College of Surgeons and led the Cleveland Clinic to its excellence.



Two.          AUA & Nesbit. The national meeting of the American Urological Association is an annual ritual that mixes science, technology, networking, and reunions to the general advantage of our field of urology and to the public it serves. Our Department of Urology figured prominently at the meeting this year with over 120 presentations by faculty, residents, and fellows. Additional work produced by our Nesbit alumni at large and former students nearly doubled that number. The MUSIC reception on Saturday highlighted productive collaborations of urologists throughout Michigan and regionally that have measurably improved urologic practice. Envisioned by Montie and led in turn by John Wei, Brent Hollenbeck, David Miller, and now Khurshid Ghani, the collaborative is an international model for medical practice improvement, centered where it should be centered – at the professional level. This lean process approach has been generously funded by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan.


[MUSIC Collaborators: Khurshid Guru of Roswell Park, DAB, Jim Peabody of Henry Ford, Ahmed Aly of Roswell Park]

Our Nesbit Reception on Sunday evening hosted 130 alumni, faculty, residents, and friends of Michigan Urology from Sapporo, Japan to Copenhagen, Denmark. We additionally were pleased to see chairs from other departments of urology in this country including Joel Nelson from Pittsburgh, Mani Menon from Henry Ford Hospital, Marty Sanda from Emory, and Tom Stringer from Gainesville, Florida (former chair). Three father-son urology pairs attended our event – Ian & Robert McLaren, Len (Nesbit 1980) & Jack Zuckerman (currently at Portsmouth Naval Hospital), and Mike and Michael Kozminski (Nesbit 1989, 2016). In spirit we thought of Carl Van Appledorn (Nesbit 1972 who passed away last month) and his son Scott, a urologist in practice in Kirkland, Washington. Another urology family attended the Nesbit reception – Kate Kraft and her uncle Kersten Kraft (a urologist trained at Stanford and in practice in the San Jose area). Kersten coincidentally is a relative of Norm Hodgson (Nesbit 1958), a great pediatric urology pioneer who practiced in Milwaukee. Other UM Michigan urology pairs, not in San Diego this year, include Cheng-Yang and Ted Chang (Nesbit 1967 & 1996), Marc & David Taub (Nesbit 1971 & 2006),  the late L. Paul Sonda II & his son Paul Sonda III (Paul II finished urology under Lapides at Wayne County Hospital in 1962, Paul III Nesbit 1978), and of course Reed Nesbit and son-in-law Roy Correa (Nesbit 1965).


[Above: Bob & Ian McLaren, below: Len & Jack Zuckerman]


Jens, Dana

[Above: Tim Miller (London, UK), Jens Sönksen (Nesbit 1996), Jim Dupree (faculty), Dana Ohl (Nesbit 1987).

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Below: Miriam Hadj-Moussa (Nesbit 2016), Quentin Clemens (Nesbit 2000), Lindsey Cox (Nesbit 2015), Irene Makovey (Cleveland Clinic), Yahir Santiago-Lastra (fellow, Nesbit 2016)]



Three.    Corrections & kudos. Like me, you are likely deluged by email, electronic feeds, newsletters, and blogs so you necessarily pick and choose what you attend to with the slow thinking part of your brain (to use terminology of Daniel Kahneman – Thinking, Fast and Slow, 2011). I am thankful that this monthly column, What’s New/Matula Thoughts, has found a loyal readership to inspect these words in detail and catch me up for inaccurate claims. My friend John Barry is one of those who keep me on my toes. After my mention of Joe Murray in our March edition (with reference to the history of human renal transplantation and my old teacher Will Goodwin), John referred me to a historical paper in the Journal of Urology he authored with Joe Murray in 2006 [Barry & Murray. The first renal transplants. J. Urol. 176:888, 2006]

Reading this paper I learned that the first human kidney transplantation was performed in 1933 by Yu Yu Voronoy in the Ukraine, although the outcome was not good. Other attempts followed in Boston, Chicago, and Paris, but the first long term success was achieved by Joe Murray along with Hartwell Harrison and their team in Boston in 1954. Total body irradiation improved subsequent results, followed by pharmacological immunosuppression. Goodwin was the first to use glucocorticoids to reverse rejection. The transplantation story is clearly more complicated than I thought.

Barry & Parry

[Two notable urologists: Parry & Barry]

John Barry (R) is shown above with Bill Parry (L), one of the great statesmen and historians of urology. Bill Parry had a distinguished urologic career in Oklahoma. Many paths in the history of worldwide urology trace back to Michigan and accordingly Bill credits William Valk (Nesbit 1943) for significant mentorship. Valk went on from Michigan to become Chair of Urology at the University of Kansas and served as President of the American Board of Urology. I recall Valk’s name from correspondence at the time I was getting my board certification. Valk spent six years in Ann Arbor amidst the heyday of BPH as the index disease of urology and TURP was its signature procedure.  Reed Nesbit and Ann Arbor were the international epicenter of prostate expertise. Things change in medicine and the TURP is giving way to other modalities (including the histotripsy method of Will Roberts and his team). Renal transplantation, once a core part of urology’s domain, remains so only at a few centers today including UCLA and Portland, Oregon where John Barry, former chair, is a rare urologist with a strong presence in that realm.





[Pythagoras, contemplating his idea: by Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Swiss artists recently exhibited at the Guggenheim]

History. Written history is ultimately a matter of finding clarity from evidence and out of critical analysis of anecdotal stories. New information improves the historical interpretation of events and is an important part of ongoing scholarly investigation that sharpens the rigor and truth of any field. Knowing the past adds meaning to today and gives perspective to the challenges of tomorrow.

Mathematics, for example, is best understood from the perspective of the stories of people, from Pythagoras, to Euclid, to Newton, to Fermat, etc. Whether Newton’s apple was a real event, a thought experiment, or a wild speculation may never be known unless some evidence turns up from a discovered letter, a diary, genetic evidence of an apple orchard at the site of Newton’s garden, or a time machine. The story of urology is also incomplete, but is rapidly evolving from the days of Hippocrates’ admonition against cutting for stone to the latest chapter of robotic prostatectomy. All stories bear re-inspection and who, after all, is better equipped to do the scholarly inspection than those participants with knowledge of each story? Historical inquiry is a fundamental part of the scholarship of all disciplines.



Five.          Change is in the air. A recent paper called Injurious Inequalities, by David Rosner of Columbia University, caught my attention with the statement: The close relationship between a nation’s physical health and its economic and political health has been a central tenant of statecraft since the rise of the mercantile economy in the 18th century. [D. Rosner. Milbank Quarterly 94:47, 2016] On more levels than easily counted, politics and health are closely linked. Today’s public is uneasy and change is in the air. Of course change is what elections are about, but this time the issues and consequences of their resolution seem more substantive. Change was in the air around the time of the Arab Spring, yet humanity doesn’t seem to have benefited from the resulting change. Certainly the sum total of human happiness is no greater since that springtime. Stability may not be relished by the populace, but it seems preferable to unbounded terrorism, genocide, massive waves of immigration, and erosion of national borders.

When I was a youngster, learning to spell, the rumor on the streets of my pre-adolescent peers was that the longest word in the English language was antidisestablishmentarianism. Being a nerd back then, it was somewhat of a rite of passage to know that fact and to be able to spell the word. Probably our language has longer words and, anyway, nerds today define themselves digitally. Antidisestablishmentarians seem to be a rare breed currently, or perhaps disestablishmentarians are barking louder today in political conversation directed at taking down establishments, an ambition that seems rather anti- conservative.

Antidisestablishmentarianism has roots in 19th century Britain, developing as a political position opposing liberal proposals to disestablish the Church of England as state church for England, Ireland, and Wales. The word now refers to any general opposition to those who would disestablish government, public programs, or other established parts of society.



Six.       Germinal ideas. Sometimes disestablishmentarianism is the right thing. Recently these pages discussed Holmes, Semmelweis, and Lister with reference to the germ theory, an essential building block in the modern conceptual basis of health care. Many authorities of the time not only were nonbelievers, but  became vehement antisepsis-deniers.  Amazingly, incomplete appreciation of the reality of germ theory is still evident in the under-utilization of genuine handwashing, covering coughs, or sneezing into handkerchiefs. The setting for Semmelweis, at the University of Vienna, is an illuminating case study. The late Sherwin Nuland, surgeon and faculty member at Yale and friend to many here at the University of Michigan wrote about this in his introduction to a modern translation of Semmelweis’s book.

“The University of Vienna, most particularly its medical school, was a hotbed of revolutionary activity. The uprisings of 1848 were strongly supported by the younger faculty members, largely because the university was under stifling control of government ministries. Some of the major positions at the school were held by professors who were old in years and who owed their power to close connections with those very same bureaucrats. They became arrayed against the younger faculty whose liberal policies and new ideas in research and pathophysiology they opposed.” [Nuland in Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever by Semmelweis. Classics of Medicine Library. Birmingham, 1981. P. xvi.]

The ideas of Semmelweis, embraced by only a few of his mentors and colleagues, were perceived by the establishment as threatening. Nuland frames this as a conflict between “the flow of true understanding of pathophysiology versus the fuzzy theoretics of nonscientific medicine.” The younger crowd in Vienna embraced the new idea that puerperal fever was transmissible. Semmelweis made the proper and seminal distinction that childbed fever is a transmissible but not a contagious disease.

Semmelweis had been an upstart outsider in the eyes of established senior colleagues who controlled appointments and when his appointment as assistant in obstetrics expired in March of 1849 it was not renewed. Younger colleagues (Rokitansky, Skoda, and Hebra) spoke on for his idea and ultimately coaxed the authorities to allow Semmelweis to speak about his work and urged Semmelweis to give a talk at the Vienna Medical Society. This happened on 15 May 1850, although Semmelweis didn’t submit written remarks. Accordingly the speech, first public record of his idea, was only recorded as an abstract in the minutes of the society. Nonetheless Semmelweis must have been somewhat persuasive and he was offered a minor clinical appointment. This must have offended him, however, and he abandoned Vienna and his supporters abruptly in October of 1850. The Etiology was not published until 1860 and Semmelweis died in 1865.




Poppy field

Poppy fields. One free afternoon during a recent meeting in Texas, Martha, Linda Shortliffe, and I visited the LBJ Ranch north of San Antonio and west of Austin. Remembering the LBJ presidency, but hardly a student of the era, I was surprised to realize the shortness of LBJ’s terms, somewhat over 400 days in total, and equally surprised to learn that Johnson spent a quarter of that time at his ranch, requiring a large entourage of support. A poppy field nearby (shown above) caught our “fast-brain attentions” and we pulled over for slow-brain inspection. I recalled two other poppy fields. One, you too might remember, was  in The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. The original text in 1900 portrayed the vapors from the poppy field as enticing fatal sleep – and only narrowly did Dorothy and her companions escape.


In the 1939 film the 5 travelers were lulled into temporary sleep that allowed nasty flying monkeys to carry them off to the Wicked Witch of the West.

Poppies 2010

The other poppy field I recalled was real in Normandy, France in 2010. Intending to visit the famous beaches and other sites of WWII, we came across a large poppy field on the mainland from which I first viewed Mont Sainte-Michel, floating a short distance offshore. The Normandy poppies although sparser than we would see in Texas 6 years later were equally stunning. [I took the picture, below, with my Blackberry camera phone, which could hold little more than a few dozen pictures].

Field notes: The poppy is a flowering plant in the Papaveraceae family according to the binomial system of Linneaus, who was far better known for his botanic studies than for his short career as a proto-urologist in early 18th century Stockholm .

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 5.05.23 PM

[Robert Berks sculpture of Linnaeus, Chicago Botanic Garden. Taken May 23, 2009]

The species, aptly named Papaver somniferous, is the source for well-known medicinal and “recreational” alkaloids, in particular opium and morphine. Poppy seeds, edible and tasty, lack the narcotic factor and are also a source of poppy seed oil. The poppy fields of Flanders became terrible places of trench warfare during WWI and perhaps for that reason poppies, like rosemary, are a symbol of remembrance around Memorial Day.



Eight.        Memorial Day & sad transitions.

Earlier this week (May 30) we paused at Memorial Day. You may recall that Memorial Day was first celebrated in 1868 as Decoration Day in memory of soldiers who died in the Civil War, although it was only celebrated in the north until 1890. After WWI the holiday honored the memory of all Americans who died in wars, and in a cosmopolitan sense it also reminds me of anyone who dies in service to their fellow man or those who die from the disservice of their fellows. Memorial Day reminds me, too, of the waste of war, some wars being sadly virtuous while others are failures of diplomacy and excesses of greed, tribalism, and stupidity.

The federal holiday was traditionally celebrated on May 30, whatever day of the week that happened to be. In 1968 the Uniform Holidays Bill created 3-day holiday weekends, with the last Monday of May assigned to Memorial Day.

Most acutely, Memorial Day reminds me of friends gone by such as Carl Van Appledorn (Nesbit 1972) last month, and last year Gordon McLorie, Tom Shumaker, Bill Steers, and Adrian Wheat, a career Army surgeon and expert on Civil War medicine.


[Above: Joe Cerny, Carl, Cheng-Yang Chang. Below Gordon, Tom & Sharon Shumaker, Bill Steers, Adrian Wheat]


Tom & Sharon 2013 copy





Nine.         Good transitions. This year 4 anchors of the Urology Department are moving on to great new phases of their careers.

Gary F

Gary Faerber is in Salt Lake City with a terrific urology team at the University of Utah where his wife Kathy Cooney is the new chair of internal medicine at the University of Utah. Gary will be returning to us for quarterly clinics at our Hamilton FQHC in Flint.

Lee, Cheryl

Cheryl Lee will become chair of urology at Ohio State, an opportunity not only for a new challenge, but also a chance to get her family in the same city as her husband’s twin and his family. She will be a loss not only for us in the Urology Department, but also for our Dean’s Office where she has been managing the Office of Career Development for the Medical School.


Our irreplaceable Ann Oldendorf is retiring. No one can sort out a complex UTI or deal with complex neurourological dysfunction such as seen with interstitial cystitis with more expertise, patience, and kindness than Ann. Our PA Gayle Adams will be picking up some of that work, but Ann was a unique talent.


Stuart Wolf will be moving to Austin, Texas, and we have had a long “heads-up’, as this has been a planned family transition. He will be in on the organizational stages of a new medical school as Associate Chair for Clinical Integration and Operations of the Department of Surgery and Perioperative Care at the Dell Medical School of the University of Texas at Austin.

Austin, Columbus, and Salt Lake City are lucky to get these extraordinary medical talents and superb Michigan people. We will be honoring all 4 faculty at the autumn Nesbit Society Dinner here in Ann Arbor, and hope for a large turnout of alumni and friends.



Ten.       Graduation, JOW, & predictions.


Medical school graduation last month in Ann Arbor featured our former dean, Jim Woolliscroft as speaker. You can see a video clip of the lovely event. Jim’s speech offered 7 lessons for the graduates that are well-worth repeating:

  • Recognize and respect your good fortune that medicine is an inherently meaningful profession.
  • Patients are not clients – you are not service providers but professionals who share an ancient responsibility to those you serve.
  • Yours is a healing profession, not primarily a curing profession. Cure is not always possible, but your presence can be valued just as much.
  • Recognize the individuality of patients. The experiences, comorbidities, and expectations of each is unique. (Jim recalled a patient who taught him that no single patient has, for example, a 20% chance of an outcome or complication – for that patient the chance is zero or 100%).
  • Making the correct diagnosis is important – don’t jump to conclusions based on what you are familiar with or what’s in your toolkit.
  • Maintain curiosity and awe of the infinite variety of the human condition. From here on, your patients and your colleagues will be your teachers.
  • Take care of yourself and your relationships. Make time to reflect.

I especially liked Jim’s fourth lesson and the predictive bearing of statistics on the individual patient. Yogi Berra, in better words than mine, said that predictions are unpredictable. Four years ago, when we were in the midst of another presidential election season, change was also in the air and predictions were no better then than they are today. Jim’s next three points, culminating with reflection, will help your inquiry and critical thinking lead you out of the poppy fields to the right choices of antidisestablishment or disestablishment.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 8.52.34 AM

[Taken from my TV October 22, 2012]

If anyone had asked a year ago for predictions of probable high profile medical topics one year hence (i.e., now) Flint, Michigan and the Zika virus would not been at the top of any lists. Yet these topics figure prominently today’s nightly news, daily papers, and top medical journals. Zika, a Flavivirus that injects a single RNA strand into the host cells, was recently discovered to cause acute myelitis, Guillain-Barre, macular atrophy, and microcephaly, for a start. A bite from an infected mosquito (daytime active Aedes aegypti or A. albopictus) gives you a one in five chance of getting the viral infection with headaches, maculopapular rash, fever, malaise, conjunctivitis, and joint or back pains. (Yes, that’s only a 20% chance, but when it’s you that gets the bite it’s all or nothing.) Vaccines are on the way, but until then all you can prescribe is rest and symptomatic treatment. Zika is also spread from mother to fetus, as well as sexually.

As for water security – a single April issue of The Lancet contained articles on toxic water in Flint [The Lancet 387:1499, 2016] and Bangladesh [The Lancet 387:1484, 2016]. These stories are neither random nor coincidental, but part of the growing collective evidence of environmental deterioration and climatic instability. Such issues occupy some of our attention today, but will likely dominate much of the attention of our successors.

So what might we predict for the hot topics one year hence? I would put a major bet down that climatic heat will be a key feature of some of them.

Meanwhile, to help cope with daily change and challenges, good advice  comes from the display labeled HOW TO WORK BETTER at the Guggenheim Museum in the exhibit mentioned above by Swiss Artists Peter Fischli & David Weiss.











Shortliffe poppies

[Texas Hill Country poppy field. Linda Shortliffe, 2016]


Postscript: July 21 (Thursday at 5PM) Chang lecture on Art & Medicine: Don Nakayama, pediatric surgeon, will speak about his unexpected discovery in the Diego Rivera Murals. July 22 9 AM Duckett Lecture in pediatric urology – Caleb Nelson and Lapides Lecture – Bart Grossman.

David A. Bloom

University of Michigan, Department of Urology, Ann Arbor

Matula Thoughts May 6, 2016

DAB What’s New May 6, 2016

Matula Thoughts Logo2

(3948 words)



Carl Van Appledorn, friend, Nesbit alumnus, and colleague, passed away last week. Carl trained under Jack Lapides and fulfilled an illustrious career as a superb urologist and beloved physician at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. He spent a mini sabbatical in pediatric urology in Cambridge, England working with Bob Whitaker and when I came to Ann Arbor, Carl welcomed me most generously although I was “the competition.” We talked periodically about patients and I admired his work and gracious manner. As a University of Michigan and Nesbit alumnus, he supported his alma mater to the hilt. Later in his career Carl and his wife Sue developed an interest in international health for the underserved and they focused their attention in Ghana. Among other efforts, they facilitated care for a youngster with bladder exstrophy whom they brought to Ann Arbor and Mott Children’s Hospital with his mom for reconstructive surgery by John Park. The Van Appledorns generously created an endowment between the departments of Urology and OB/GYN for clinical and educational links to Ghana and the program is ongoing and growing. Carl’s passing is sad news indeed, but his name will carry on with his global program.



One.           May, at last.

May 2015

Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan Campus are especially lovely just now (shown above from the west side of the Cardiovascular Center last year). Cold days and wintry mixes are over and we are primed for spring. May brings, among other things, academic commencements, watershed moments when change is in the air. Last month in this column we referred to a commencement address by President John F. Kennedy at American University in 1963, for its relevance to environmental stewardship.
With Cuba “back” in the news recently, Kennedy’s speech is also relevant at a geopolitical level. In the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962, when a showdown with the Soviet Union took us very close to the brink of nuclear war, Kennedy knew that world security was precariously dependent on constructive dialogue with our adversaries and his commencement address, called Strategy for Peace, helped turn the tide of the escalating confrontation and ushered in an improved era of diplomacy. A cautionary phrase from the speech is worth repeating again this month: “For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.”                             Thanks to the Internet, you can scour the world for notable commencement speeches, that while typically forgotten in the momentary excitement of most graduates and families, are retained the collective human memory of newspapers, libraries, and YouTube clips. An NPR web site ( lists 354 of The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever.



Two.           Significant speeches.
Even when unconnected to graduations, speeches may open opportunity for commencement of a new idea, if an audience picks up on it.
Around this time of year in 1850, May 15 to be exact, a young physician Ignaz Semmelweis gave a talk to the Imperial Viennese Society of Physicians urging physicians at Vienna General Hospital to clean their hands when they went to the delivery room. Animal experiments and clinical observation, coupled with a mentor’s death after an autopsy wound in 1847, convinced him that childbed fever was due to contaminating agents. His clinical experiment showed that the simple act of hand rinsing in chlorine markedly decreased the high incidence and fatality of childbirth sepsis in his hospital. While not a commencement speech, his talk might have commenced a new era in health care, but few in Semmelweis’s audience accepted the idea. (Our colleague at Michigan and current editor of Milbank Quarterly, Howard Markel, presented a discussion of this on PBS News Hour last year and John Park recently referred to it in his Mott Children’s Hospital blog.)
The same opportunity had been missed seven years before the Semmelweis speech when Oliver Wendell Holmes advanced the contagiousness concept at an evening scientific meeting of the Boston Society for Medical Improvement, yet the idea gained no traction. In 1867 Joseph Lister working in Glasgow wrote 2 papers in The Lancet that conclusively showed how antiseptic techniques converted the universal fatality of open fractures into probable survival, yet colleagues again failed to accept the idea. Listerian antiseptic methods were first only appreciated by German physicians and the idea diffused slowly back to England and the rest of the world over the next 20-30 years. Even today, we could do a better job of regular handwashing (actual washing, rather than “Purell” propaganda, in vogue today).
Failure of commencement of the ideas of Holmes, Semmelweis, and Lister is another cautionary tale for us today. A quote on a cover of The Lancet several years ago sums it up well: “The most entrenched conflict of interest in medicine today is a disinclination to reverse a previous opinion.” [Yudkin, Richter, Gale. Lancet 377:1220-1221, 2011.] While academic health centers have self-righteously implemented stern conflict of interest policies, we seem oblivious to the proven fact that it is not the ballpoint pen with drug company logos or the pizza from surgical suppliers at grand rounds that we have to fear, rather it is our own prejudices that close our minds to new ideas.



Three.           UMMS graduation.

Cropsey copy

[Above: University of Michigan Medical School. c. 1850. Cropsey painting.]

This month the UMMS will graduate its 166th class of medical students. Back in 1850, when Semmelweis spoke to an unreceptive audience in Vienna and cattle grazed in front of the Medical School in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s first M.D.s were about to go out to independent general practices in a world quite different than today. What inspired those students to study medicine then is a matter of conjecture for us now, but it is likely that role models, the ability to help people, the respectability of the occupation, and perhaps some attraction to body of knowledge of human disease, were motivational factors.
Those same motivational factors are at play for our class of 2016 about to graduate, but newer attractions such as the magic of health care science and technology, cures for cancer, and surgical wizardry including robotics, lure many of young people to medicine now. Some students are also inspired by deep personal and family health care experiences.
What is also different now from the 19th century is that after graduation nearly the entire class of 2016 will continue further formal education in residency training for 3-10 additional years before they are ready for independent work in one of nearly 150 areas of focused practice.
While the curriculum and conceptual basis of medical practice have changed enormously, the spirit of professionalism and necessity of continuous learning through experience, reason, and study have remained constant. Medical school and residency training are now just a start. Even back in 1850 medical societies and professional journals played key parts in what we now call professional development. Students and physicians, even more readily today, travel to distant sites of expertise to improve knowledge and skills. In today’s world, conferences, visiting professorships, and web-based educational programs intensify learning experiences as knowledge and technology accrue with dizzying speed.


[UM Health System 2016]



Four.           Role models.


This picture shows former Dean, Jim Woolliscroft and former Interim EVPMA, Michael Johns, at Medical School Commencement several years ago. As of January 1 this year those two jobs have been rolled into one, namely Marschall Runge (seen below), an equally great role model for students, residents, and faculty.


[Marschall at the Urology Retreat March, 2016 Michigan Union]
Jim will be our Medical School commencement speaker later this month and I’m sure he is focusing intensely on his remarks right around now. Our rich history at Michigan and the changing world of medical practice, education, and research may enter his speech, and I bet he will also have something to say about professionalism and the lifelong learning required of physicians today.
Role models often conflate into ideas and images of idealized doctors. Last month we contrasted Norman Rockwell’s idealization (shown below) to the crayon artistry of a 7-year old girl illustrating a clinic visit: the family is looking at the viewer while the physician is turned away facing the computer while dutifully documenting the encounter. In our brave new world of technology, computerized documentation is a poor surrogate for the essential transaction of the doctor-patient relationship. The classic role model of the attentive, kind, and expert physician will become only more highly prized and that should be the Michigan Difference in our medical graduates, trainees, and faculty.

Family Doc

It turns out that Rockwell’s idealized physician was an actual doctor named Donald Campbell and I learned this through Maria Muller of our development office, who wrote me after she read Matula Thoughts in March, that Dr. Campbell was the grandfather of a friend of hers.

1989 -- Stockbridge, MA: Dr. Donald E. Campbell, model for artist Norman Rockwell's illustrations, smiling, walking arm in arm with his daughters (L) Jeanie Campbell Jones and (R) Bonny Campbell Flower, who holds her daughter Hana. (Photo by Steve Liss/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

[1989 — Stockbridge, MA: Dr. Donald E. Campbell, model for artist Norman Rockwell’s illustrations, smiling, walking arm in arm with his daughters (L) Jeanie Campbell Jones and (R) Bonny Campbell Flower, who holds her daughter Hana. (Photo by Steve Liss/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)]

         Campbell was Rockwell’s neighbor in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and for many years the sole regional physician, charging $2 for an office visit and $3 for a house call. Born in 1906, Campbell was educated as a physician and married, in time fathering 4 daughters. He retired at 83 just after making his last house call in 1989 and died in Stockbridge at 95 on May 14, 2001. [New York Times article May 16, 2001. Photo via Getty Images for a payment of $150]



Five.           Three stories.
After residency training at UCLA I went on to obligated military service at Walter Reed Army Medical Center under Ray Stutzman and David McLeod, enjoying my time so much that I stayed for an additional 2 years, leaving when Ray retired from the Army to join Patrick Walsh at Johns Hopkins. Dave is still in uniform in Washington.

Stutzman, DAB, McLeod

[McLeod, Bloom, Stutzman at USUHS]
At Walter Reed I re-encountered an older friend of my family who was working at its Institute of Research (WRAIR). This distinguished physician became my patient, in fact his was the last radical prostatectomy that I performed in an adult. Long gone now, he told me at the time that it had been his idea to create the weekly section in JAMA called A Piece of My Mind. How accurate this claim is I have no way to know, but without reason to doubt him I’ve been regularly attached to this column and frequently refer to its essays. Three recent ones are of particular interest.
  What Now? What Next? was written by a pulmonologist and medical intensivist at the University of Pennsylvania who became a patient in his own ICU and discovered, in the experience, that the current idea of shared decision making with acutely ill patients, especially on an a-la-carte basis (formal consents for central lines, transfusion, hyperalimentation, etc.) may be ill-advised: “I think we should bundle consent for the acute phase of intensive rescue. … Whether on a ski slope or battlefield, or in an emergency department, operating room, or intensive care unit, the foundation of respect for patient autonomy lies not in multiple permissions and consents, but rather in mutual understanding and trust. In the context of acute critical care – once the goals of care are clearly defined – we clinicians (thankfully, I am one of ‘us’ again) should not substitute asking permission at every step for the hard and time-consuming effort of earning trust.” [J. Hansen-Flaschen. JAMA 315:755-756, 2016]
The second essay, The Unreasonable Patient, came from a palliative care physician at the University of Pittsburgh and discusses a man in his early 50s with metastatic prostate cancer. At a terminal point in his life the patient, Walt, was viewed by the health care team as “unreasonable.” The author writes: It turned out that Walt wasn’t ‘unreasonable’ – he just wasn’t completely understood. After getting to know him better – after sitting and taking the time to explore his emotions and concerns – it was clear that Walt knew what he wanted, but he needed information in a certain way. He needed a recommendation without ambiguity, and he needed someone to speak to him as Walt the Husband and the Mechanic, not Walt the Man with Prostate Cancer. [A. Thurston. JAMA. 315:657-658, 2016]
I had initially missed the third essay, until it was sent to me by an extraordinary applicant to our OB/GYN residency. Caiyun Liao is an MD/ MPH doing research at Johns Hopkins and I got to know her through our Nesbit alumnus Sherman Silber. The article is called A Place to Stay and was written by Yale physician Bennett Clark. [JAMA 315:871, 2016] Clark shows how a patient taught him that what makes the hospital a hospitable place to live and die is “having people,” meaning having genuine human connections around him. This thought, expressed so much better by Clark than by me, circles back to Paul Kalanithi’s observation (last month’s Matula Thoughts) that, for many people, life’s meaning is found in their relationships and connections. These externalities bring meaning to our individuality.



Six.           Electronic journal club.
When I began this periodic essay for our Department of Urology, alumni, and friends in 2007 I thought it might serve as a sort of electronic journal club and I still harbor hopes that some readers will guest-edit a paragraph or entire issue to join me in this process. (What have you read that you want to tell the rest of us about?) These three articles from A Piece of My Mind are linked and offer much to consider.
Hansen-Flaschen’s observation as a patient in the ICU reflects a very particulate level of concern: My visual world reduced to the confines of a small room. The space was both familiar and foreign to me as I looked outward for the first time from the head of a hospital bed. There was both little and much to see. The clock showed the wrong date and time. The sink faucet dripped. Two ceiling tiles were stained by previous water leaks. The harsh overhead lighting cast yawning shadows that provoked my imagination. By comparison to Ebola wards in West Africa last year, the annoyances of inaccurate clocks, ceiling tiles, and dripping faucet are less compelling than the very matter of survival. Yet, in the industrialized world and most expensive health care system on the planet, I wonder why we can’t address these simple matters of hospitality. Our basic “hotel management” is too often inhospitable to patients. Even our newest hospitals can’t coordinate the clocks – why bother to have them if they’re correct only twice a day? Little things are important to patients and visitors, such as working elevator lights, paper towels in clean bathrooms, and general orderliness.
Another point to make comes from Thurston’s paper, when he said … after sitting and taking the time to explore his emotions and concerns… We use this phrase a lot – sitting down to talk and listen. Posture in space is not the point, this expression of speech conveys the idea that we are taking time (more time than might be usual or expected) by sitting down to listen and respond.



Seven.          Big questions.
Last month I asked you to consider what might be the big questions in health care and offered a short list with thoughts regarding the first question.
a.) What is health care?
b.) How should it be provided?
c.) How is it improved and how does innovation occur?
d.) How is it taught?
e.) How is it funded and how are escalating costs managed?
The second question follows naturally; if you consider all the things that comprise health care and then imagine the various avenues society can use to provide those things, you need to decide what health care goods every human in a society should have by right. Few could argue that clean air and water, food safety, prevention of communicable disease, along with maternal and pediatric care, are mandatory for everyone in a modern just society. So, too, is care for trauma or other general hazards of life.
At the other extreme, some services are purely discretionary – such as Botox for wrinkles or plastic surgery for facelifts. However, things get complicated because Botox for neurogenic bladder is sometimes very necessary, as is plastic surgery for craniofacial reconstruction. No insurance system or single payer system can reasonably satisfy the overall demand for health care – from the fetus to the end of life, the demand curve for health care and the therapeutic possibilities in our toolkit are growing relentlessly. A variety of systems and avenues are necessary, but wise choices need to be made and agreed upon as to what services are mandatory public goods, what services are discretionary, and what robust systems can provide these facets of health care.



Eight.           Harvey & hearts.

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Four hundred years ago William Harvey, the English physician we referred to last month, began a series of anatomy talks as Lumleian Lecturer at the Royal College of Physicians in London. By coincidence William Shakespeare died just the following week at Stratford-on-Avon. [JAMA 315:1524, 2016] Harvey continued to study and learn while he taught and practiced medicine and 12 years later, in 1628, published some extraordinary findings, cleverly introduced at the annual book fair in Frankfurt, Germany, to ensure wide publicity and dispersion. He offered a novel explanation for the systemic circulation based on the pumping of blood from the heart to the body and brain. The short title of the book was De Motu Cordis, but you will find it on Amazon as On the Motion of the Heart and Blood.
Harvey was on my mind last month since his birthday was on that entertaining first day of April, back in 1578. Those were dark times in Europe with civil wars, witchcraft persecution, and sectarian violence, but the spirit of inquiry and discovery was not quiescent. Francis Drake was circumnavigating the globe and European universities were holding their own, for the most part, nurturing ideas and preparing for the next generation that would include Harvey and other bright lights.
Harvey came to mind again when I read a review of a new novel called The Heart, by Maylis de Kerangal, a French writer. Being on the road at the time (visiting professor in Houston at Baylor) and intrigued by the review, I succumbed to the temptations of Amazon and ordered the book (apologies to local booksellers Literati and Nicola’s Books). The story takes place in a single 24-hour period, much like the Homeric Odyssey, but it happens in France when a 19-year old dies after a motor vehicle accident. The book runs from the instant the young man wakes up to join friends for morning surfing to the moment the team that transplanted his heart to an older woman leaves a Parisian operating room. The accident and subsequent transplantation of the heart involved many individuals, including the boy, parents, girlfriend, doctors and nurses in the rural hospital, transplant coordinators, transplant teams, and recipient in Paris. The victim and all these people have their own metaphorical “hearts” in terms of their feelings, motivations, and hopes. The personal tragedy, families, health care teams, and hope are all knitted together around a single human heart that transcends the story. The story is compelling, although the translation and a few technical details fall short. Urologists have a place in the story as the anchor positions in the operating room sequence of the multi-organ harvest.

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A final Piece of My Mind reference: Louise Wen’s article 2 weeks ago in JAMA, called Meeting the Organ Donor [JAMA. 315:1111, 2016]



One of the pleasures of academic medicine is the chance to visit great centers of excellence and learn from them while teaching residents. I’ve done my share of these tours, and as my career winds down. I don’t expect to be doing many more, but recently enjoyed such a chance to visit Baylor Medical School and friends at Methodist Hospital. Fannin Boulevard in Houston is one of the world’s greatest constellations of health care assets, a tribute to the life and vision of the great cardiac surgeon, Michael DeBakey (1908-2008), role model to thousands of students, trainees, and colleagues. His surgical and educational contributions are unsurpassed in world-wide medicine. DeBakey’s knitting ranged from Dacron grafts to clinical, educational, and research institutions that resulted in the combination of Baylor Medical College, Methodist Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital, MD Anderson Cancer Hospital, superb urology training programs at Baylor and the University of Texas Houston, Ben Taub Hospital, Hermann Hospital, Texas A&M programs, etc.
The balance was sadly disrupted by governance and leadership blunders, severing the cherished Baylor-Methodist bond. As a result Methodist Hospital of Houston, oddly now, has its academic affiliation with Cornell in Manhattan. The unfortunate story, well recounted in a weblink the residents sent me, could well have been our misfortune at Michigan as one of the perpetrators had been selected by a former UM president and Board of Regents to be our EVPMA, but withdrew in favor of a better deal from Baylor. [Weblink: courtesy Michael Brooks PGY 5 at Baylor- Article in Texas Monthly, March 2005, by M. Schwartz. The marriage of Baylor College of Medicine and Methodist Hospital should have been made in heaven—and until recently, it was. Their nasty breakup is a bell tolling for American medicine.]
In spite of the institutional breakup, urologists and their educational programs in Houston get along very well and gave me a great 3-day visit. Edmond T. Gonzales, Jr., the founder of pediatric urology in Houston, had been the first partner of Alan Perlmutter in Detroit. Edmund is a wonderful role model as a pediatric urologist, teacher, and leader. By a rare coincidence he, Ed McGuire, and Jean DeKernion had been on the same dormitory floor as young men in college together in New Orleans.

Baylor fac & DAB

[Above Baylor faculty; Below Baylor case conference. Edmond – top right]

Res Conf

Boone & Bloom

[Above: with Tim Boone. Below: two old friends now in Houston – David Roth chief of pediatric urology and former intern with me at UCLA, Brian Miles former resident with me at Walter Reed and later colleague at Henry Ford Hospital]

Roth & Miles


[Above: Chester Koh at robot performing pyeloplasty on pancake kidney in the Edmond Gonzales operating room. Below: Residents at dinner.]

Residents dinner

[Below: Michael DeBakey, museum photo]


Harvey, DeBakey, and thousands of physiologists and physicians who followed have extracted increasingly detailed knowledge of the heart as a living physical entity, but it takes imaginative exploration of the heart’s metaphysicality, such as Maylis de Kerangal’s penetration of this realm, for complete understanding. Fiction thus builds a better understanding of reality.



Ten.           UMMS & Department of Urology Notes.
Since Jim Montie’s era as chair transitioned to mine in 2007, our department has grown with only modest attrition consisting of Humphrey Atiemo to the Henry Ford System, Jerilyn Latini to Alaska’s Indian Health Service, Dave Wood as CMO of the Beaumont Hospital System, and Jill Macoska as endowed professor at the University of Massachusetts. In terms of joint faculty we lost Ken Pienta to Johns Hopkins. This year, however, we lose four more of our best. Nevertheless, our fulltime faculty will nonetheless grow to around 40 after the loss of Gary Faerber and his wife Kathy Cooney to Salt Lake City (Kathy, our joint faculty member, became chair of Internal Medicine and Gary joined the urology team there), Cheryl Lee to become chair of urology at Ohio State, Stu Wolf to help form a new medical school of the University of Texas at Austin, and the irreplaceable Ann Oldendorf is retiring. On the plus side, Sapan Ambani, Casey Dauw, Priyanka Gupta, Chad Ellimoottil, Arvin George, and Sam Kaffenberger will join our faculty this summer and more candidates are in play for FY 17.
Why the growth? Several reasons: A.) Our 7 clinical divisions, although already robust, need more bench depth to accommodate our growing clinical needs and future faculty turn-over; B.) Increasing sub-specialization demands more people in areas of tightly focused practice; and C.) Our newly reorganized UM Health System needs a larger clinical footprint to sustain our educational programs and to remain relevant in the new paradigm of American health care.
Residency training programs learn from each other through the recurring interchanges of visiting professorships, national meetings, research collaborations, migrating students and trainees, etc. It is nonetheless healthy for programs to undergo more formal evaluations through internal reviews and external reviewers as we have done recently with Bradley Leibovich of the Mayo Clinic, Mark Litwin of UCLA, and Ed Sabanegh of the Cleveland Clinic. They were superbly analytical and very helpful.

Bradford, Carol

Most recent news: Carol Bradford, our chair of Otolaryngology, was named by Marschall Runge and the Regents as inaugural Executive Vice Dean for Academic Affairs, as the UMMS puts a new structural paradigm in place.

Thanks for looking at our monthly commentary for May 2016.
David A. Bloom, University of Michigan, Department of Urology

Matula Thoughts December 4, 2015

DAB What’s New/Matula Thoughts

December 4, 2015

Paris, Band-Aids, & the coarse emotions of mankind

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1.    Hosp corridor Dec December is at hand, although in the busy everyday world of clinical medicine days and seasons seem to blur. Nevertheless, clues abound that make it  hard to mistake this holiday month. Above you see the second floor corridor of UM Main Hospital with decorated windows on a previous early weekend December morning. The holiday season has grown from theological roots to a cosmopolitan sensibility of advancing human welfare. This is a time of year we try to think beyond ourselves and the hunger of others is especially compelling whether in front of you on downtown streets of Ann Arbor or in the news reports from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, or South America. Food security is as much, if not more, an essential part of human welfare and health as the specific morbidities that capture our attention as specialists.

Astrologic, seasonal, and meteorological explanations of illness are residues of the more superstitious days of medicine, but with nuggets of truth these links remain in play today. The seasonal and climactic influences on human welfare and health are unquestionably substantial, and as the dinosaurs discovered large extraterrestrial bodies can impact life on Earth.  Our bodies down to the cellular level pay attention to calendar, clock, and climate. Illnesses like holidays have seasonality; we know that the incidence and mortality of coronary artery disease peaks in winter and reaches a low in summer while many other conditions also have their own seasons. [Pell JP, Cobb SM. Quarterly J. Med 92:689, 1999] Then, of course, there is the “July effect,” the enduring speculation that it’s risky to be ill in the hospital when new house officers start on the job. Happily today it’s December and all our house officers are well seasoned.

A 1984 music video from the movement called Band Aid “Do they know it’s Christmas?” is a 4-minute classic that is as fresh today as it was 31 years ago – you can find it on YouTube. The supergroup, formed by Bob Geldof of the Irish band Boomtown Rats, raised over $24 million for famine relief in Ethiopia with the video. The most recent incarnation, Band Aid 30, raised funds for 2014 Ebola victims and prevention.

 Feed the world 



2.     We humans, uniquely among all species, are intensely emotional and inquisitive about our health. Healthcare in any season is a matter of attending to small and large problems, from Band Aids to urosepsis 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and each of us needs help from time to time attending to these problems. Victorian novelist George Eliot wrote: “What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other?” This may not be a universal human sentiment, but it surely is a key part of a good physician’s credo and any society must have good physicians. Healthcare workers naturally prefer fixing medical problems and otherwise helping their patients rather than completing electronic medical records or collecting RVUs. Healthcare is also a matter of teaching patients (and learning ourselves) how to live healthier and manage the morbidities and comorbidities of life. We do this work individually, in teams, and across the larger geopolitical world. Tempting as it is, even as specialists in the comfort of our specialized fields, we can’t ignore that larger geopolitical realm. Our urologic cocoon is a fulfilling workspace, yet we have no choice but to also attend to the geopolitical space through curiosity about events around us, by speaking out, and leading when we can. The world is predictably disruptive and explosive, as witnessed just last month in many places from Mali to Paris, the latter more properly an epicenter for peace, as with the Treaty of Paris of 1763 (ending our French and Indian War), the Treaty of 1898 (ending the Spanish American War), and more recent attempts to restore international order.

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference is now meeting in Paris (Nov 30-Dec 11), nearly coincidental in timing to the recent terrorism events. This is the 21st annual meeting of a team that aims to achieve a legally binding and universal international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases and to contain global temperature within 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. Forward-looking businesses are starting to recognize the simultaneous necessity and business opportunities of global stewardship. 



3.     On this day, 4 December, in 1918 President Woodrow Wilson crossed the Atlantic for WWI peace talks in Versailles, a suburb of Paris. That made him the first US president to travel to Europe while in office. After a trip back home for 3 weeks in February he returned to Versailles for the duration of the talks until June. Wilson’s personal physician Cary Grayson accompanied him on both trips and remained with him the whole time in France. The outcome of the talks was the Versailles Treaty of Peace with its inclusion of the League of Nations. Wilson believed in the League of Nations as a hedge against future conflict and on his final return home (shown below) undertook a nationwide tour to campaign for the treaty, but suffered a stroke in October of 1919. Grayson and Mrs. Wilson masked the severity of the stroke from the government and the public, while Senate Republicans opposed the treaty. Henry Cabot Lodge proposed a compromise that Wilson refused. Ultimately the Senate rejected the treaty and the U.S. never joined the League of Nations. Wilson’s internationalism didn’t take hold in the USA, but his efforts were admired internationally with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919.


Wilson wasn’t at his best in those days with urologic issues in addition to the stroke. Severe benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) with urinary retention further hampered his effectiveness as a politician in that critical time. In the days when our Journal of Urology attended to matters of urologic history, an excellent paper by Fogg, Kutikov, Uzzo, and Canter addressed this interlude of Wilson’s health. [J Urol 2011, 186:1153] Historical scrutiny has also revealed Wilson’s paradoxical gaps as a humanist. His racial views and employment decisions, whether as President of Princeton or of the United States, although considered “centrist” for early 20th century America, were strongly bigoted against non-whites and non-Christians.  [Berg AS. Wilson. 2013. The case against Woodrow Wilson. New York Times. Editorial November 25, 2015]



4.     Dec Limbourg North of Paris by 24 miles sits the Musée Condé and library at the Château de Chantilly in Oise, housing the manuscript Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry with its beautifully illustrated monthly panels. The December panel is remarkable. While traditional iconography for the Christmas season would feature a more nostalgic visual, this panel shows the more visceral details of dogs dismembering a boar after a hunt with the Château de Vincennes of Charles V on the horizon and the trees curiously still in leaf (a warm winter?). The castle still stands in that Parisian suburb. The scene, as in all the Duc de Berry illuminations, depicts everyday agrarian life with people going about their daily business. Illness, disability, and intimate details of healthcare, urologic issues most particularly, were too indelicate for such public display, although such aspects of everyday life were real concerns for everyone then as they are today.           

Urology has progressed with technology and new knowledge, yet it remains focused on its genitourinary geography, staked out in ancient Egyptian times with urethral catheterization, in Hippocratic days with lithotomy, and in the nineteenth century with cystoscopy. Gone are the days of Frère Jacques Beaulieu, the itinerant lithotomist, who travelled throughout France in the early 18th century with his “certificates of cure” and removed agonizing bladder stones with his secretive technique. [JP Ganem, CC Carson. J Urol 1999;161:1067]

Nowadays, urologists work in teams and seek innovation for their own practices while freely disseminating their ideas and techniques to others. Urology, at least as much as the other core facets of medical practice, is a social business. President Wilson’s urologic issues would be treated better and more expeditiously today,  and even better tomorrow with, perhaps, the histotripsy technology pioneered here in Ann Arbor by Will Roberts and his team of biomedical engineers and radiologists. 



5.     Like many of our faculty, I’ve been on the road this autumn in that pursuit of new ideas and knowledge, in addition to dealing with the clinical and administrative work flows at home. In Irvine, California at Ralph Clayman’s festschrift I heard state of the art talks on stone disease. Ralph seems glad to be back to the real world of urology after his five years of good service as medical school dean. In Nijmegen, Netherlands I participated in the 50th anniversary of the excellent Radboud University Medical Center urology unit. Their discovery, education, and clinical work is world-class, and the visit gave me some thoughts related to our impending 100 year anniversary of Michigan Urology. The American College of Surgeons, with its annual meeting in Chicago this fall, is an important avenue of engagement for urologists from the educational, discovery, and public policy perspectives. A visiting professorship in Portland, Oregon game me a chance to see another superb department of urology, formerly headed by John Barry and currently by Chris Amling. My colleague Steve Skoog leads the pediatric urology team, our former medical student Sarah Hecht is performing well there as a resident, and some of our finest Michigan Urology graduates are leading in the regional practice of urology. Steven Steinberg was Michigan’s contribution from the McGuire days here in Ann Arbor and Rou and Jeff are more recent Nesbitonians.

Wheat & Wang

[Nesbit alumni Jeff Wheat and Rou Wang, now of Portland, during my visit]

In Baltimore the 100th anniversary of the Brady Institute coincided with the Clinical Society meeting hosted by Alan Partin and Pat Walsh. We heard superb presentations from Hopkins faculty, including Ken Pienta (formerly with us in Ann Arbor) and Nobelist Carol Greider who discussed her work on telomeres. She extolled the virtue of “curiosity-driven research” and told how her work was inspired by investigations of Tertrahymena thermophila. (In this odd single celled animal, with only 40,000 chromosomes, the telomere was recognized as tandemly repeated hexanucleotide sequences.) [EH Blackburn, JG Gall. J Molec Biol 1978;120:33] A number of Michigan names showed up in slides of other talks presented in Baltimore: Chinnaiyan, Feng, Tomlins, and Roberts, for example. Hopkins’ new clinical facilities are lovely and functional, yet they have artfully left strong structural remnants of their rich history as a storied urology department.

 Carol Greider

[Picture: Carol Greider advocating curiosity-driven research and showing slide noting that “New discoveries come from unlikely places”]



6.     Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 8.02.19 AM  Ann Arbor’s first snowfall took place this year, somewhat early, on November 21. With winter many plants go dormant and others  self-destruct, while most of us animals simply endure the cold and prepare for the next warmer seasons. What’s New, our monthly newsletter, is getting ready for a new calendar year. This communication began in the dean’s office of Allen Lichter around 2001 and morphed into a Urology Department weekly profile of individuals and teams in 2007. On the first Friday of each month we have carved out an issue for my gratuitous thoughts. Nearly 3 years ago we mounted a simultaneous version of the first Friday piece on a blog site and called it Matula Thoughts, with the idea that older pieces could be archived and that the communication could be accessed more easily than email that has become too crowded and too painful a place for most of us to linger. The blog site (wordpress) also allows us to visual the reach of this monthly habit of our Department of Urology.

World Nov 24

[Above, 2015 blog visitors, geographic distribution. Below, histogram of last 3 years.]

Histo Nov 24

For me this communication is a periodic Band-Aid for the excessive emails, endless Twitter feeds, and other electronic distractors. Matula Thoughts also provokes curiosity, for example, with the word Band-Aid, that you might consider a brand name. Invented as recently as 1920, the story goes that Earle Dickson (1892-1961), a cotton buyer at Johnson & Johnson, had a wife named Josephine who often cut or burned herself while doing housework and cooking. His handmade prototype (squares of gauze kept in place by crinoline on a roll of tape) allowed Josephine to manage her own wounds. Dickson continued to refine his product and by 1924 the company had a machine that could mass-produce sterile adhesive bandages. With trademark genericization Band-Aid lost its protective status and became a generic term for all adhesive bandages.


[Thank you Wikipedia. Our annual $100 contribution is in your bank for 2015, and no doubt you’ll need another one in 2016. “The Story Behind Band-Aid Brand” Changing Times; The Kiplinger Magazine December 1964: p. 32]


7.     In 2016 we will begin a new iteration of administrative structure at the University of Michigan Medical School and Health System. Except for a several year interlude after February 1930 when the regents fired Hugh Cabot as dean (he was Michigan’s founding urologist-educator), the University of Michigan Medical School has always had a dean. On January 1,2016 the duties of the dean will be added directly to the job description of Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, Marschall Runge. We must thank our outgoing dean, Jim Woolliscroft, for his 8 years in associate dean positions and 9 years of service as dean. Jim has been a superb internist, educator, and statesman of medicine. We hope he will remain with us for in these tricky times and turbulent socioeconomic waters we need his good counsel and intellect. The clinical chairs established an annual lectureship on medical education in Jim’s name and a perpetual full tuition medical student scholarship. [Picture below Jim Woolliscroft and his early mentor and previous chair of Internal Medicine at Michigan, Bill Kelly at the UM vs. MSU game this autumn]

JOW Bill Kelly

Clin chairs JOW

[Picture above: Clinical chairs & Dean Woolliscroft after presentation of Woolliscroft Lectureship and Scholarship]



8.     Preview of 2016. I can’t predict much of anything for the upcoming year, other than to say we should expect the unexpected – we should anticipate surprises that may be planetary and in our ecosphere, geopolitical and terroristic, economic, healthcare related, regional, and intramural here at the University of Michigan. We can’t change the occurrence of most of these events, but we can reinforce our values and rehearse our responses. A recent article in Pediatrics by Plant, Barone, Serwint, and Butani called “Taking humanism back to the bedside” concludes with a quotation from George Eliot in Middlemarch that might help reset our humanism thermostats [Pediatrics, 2015; 136:828].

“We do not expect people to be deeply moved by what is not unusual. That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all of human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrels’ heartbeat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.”


George Eliot was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880) about whom much more could be said than space now permits. Her only known photograph is an albumen print from around 1865 and held in Paris at the Bibliothèque Nationale.



9.     Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 7.50.01 AM Beaches. On that recent trip to Portland, Oregon  as visiting professor, my friend Steve Skoog (former resident of mine at Walter Reed and subsequently our Duckett lecturer here in Ann Arbor) took us to Cannon Beach, where we saw Haystack Rock, shown above. Beaches like this are places to find relaxation, recreation, and inspiration among the waves, seaweed, seagulls, crabs, fish, and bivalves that are doing their daily jobs. We all need moments to unwind and walk around, although perhaps not so obtusely as Eliot believed “well wadded in our stupidity.” For us humans, the beach is expected to be a place of peace, so we are shocked when we encounter perversity there in the form of fatal riptides, tsunamis, the terrifying fiction of Jaws, or real sporadic shark attacks. The predicted rise of the oceans should give us pause as well. Perversity is a word that fits nicely here, meaning something so wrong that it is strange or offensive. Such things are wrongheaded, that is turned away from that which is right or good. Perversity is something that is obstinate in opposing what is reasonable or good. Perversity persistently intrudes on humanity, as we have seen most recently in Paris.



10.  By now most people have forgotten Aylan Kurdi the 2-year old boy who drowned with his mother and 4-year old brother in the Mediterranean off the coast of Turkey while fleeing the civil war in their native Syria. Their intended destination was the island of Kos. This was the site of the Hippocratic School of health, education, and the enduring oath 2.5 millennia earlier. Perversely, the bitter irony of the image of Aylan Kurdi lying on a beach to the east 20 miles away is less enduring in our minds than shark attacks in the recent news. Shark attacks on humans occur on an infinitesimally small scale and the Kurdi family tragedy is just one of millions this year alone. How can it be that our brains lead us to fear sharks more than ourselves?

Syrian toddler

The innocent suffer the most from mankind’s follies such as self-righteous tyrants, political and religious zealots, bigotry, corporate greed, failed national policies, and diplomatic breakdown. The staggering numbers of international refugees (60 million by last count and half of these are children) will exhaust all nations. Any solution to this crisis, if there is to be a solution, is not a matter of expanded quotas in kindly nations. Solution is beyond the ability of any sovereign nation. The solution requires strong international agency that demands national responsibility and accountability, enforces national borders, stewards human future by means of planetary sustainability, and protects the common man above all ideologies, religions, economic theories, biases, and disputes. Wilson’s League of Nations was a valiant, but failed attempt. The United Nations of today is a weak work in progress, although clearly better than nothing as we hope for a favorable outcome of the human experiment. We need some sort of vaccination against the ideological and sectarian viruses for which human brains seem so susceptible. The current crisis of 60 million refugees fleeing civil wars hasn’t been enough to galvanize international response. Greater crises are likely to come from instability of climate, geology, cosmos, and terrorism. With 2016 at hand, we have to hope our species can get its act together soon. While science will provide some tools to that end the essential political solutions will come from educated and humanistic world citizens. Art, in particular, can pull us out of the cocoons of daily life and serve as an antidote to our “well wadded stupidity” for in the words of George Eliot: “That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind.”


Thanks for reading What’s New and Matula Thoughts and best wishes for 2016. 

David A. Bloom

Matula Thoughts September 4, 2015

DAB What’s New/Matula Thoughts September 4, 2015


Matula Thoughts Logo1

Labor & laborers: “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a society work, a civilization work.” Vince Lombardi

[This monthly email to faculty, residents, staff, alumni, and friends of the University of Michigan Medical School Department of Urology is alternatively published as an email called What’s New]

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 1.    September returns a serious tone to the calendar and recent world market volatility adds to the sobriety. With vacations over we buckle down to the work of a new academic year in our evolving academic medical center. The fiscal year has already been in play for 2 months and the numbers look good so far.

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Our Faculty Group Practice, now known as the UMMG (UM Medical Group), is figuring out how to deliver the best care we can in nearly 150 Ambulatory Care Units attuned  to our other missions (education and research), to our inpatient functions, and to the needs of our environment. The UMMG Board meets monthly and delegates operational details to 4 key committees (Executive Committee, Budget & Finance Committee, Clinical Practice Committee, and the Bylaws Committee). [Picture above: David Spahlinger our Executive Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs and Director of the UMMG with Philippe Sammour, Senior Project Manager UMMG. Picture below: UMMG Board of Directors – August 2015]

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The UMMG is a multispecialty group practice of more than 2000 faculty with many other providers and staff in well over a hundred specialties and areas of precisely detailed expertise. The coordination of all these practices among our clinical departments and within our health system at Michigan is a work in progress – and the progress is good. As large as we are, however, we are too small to fulfill the expectations of the patient population we serve today and too small for our research and educational aspirations for tomorrow. Given a steady increase in clinical volume of 6% a year for many years, without infrastructure growth to match, we find ourselves deficient today in terms of clinic facilities, hospital beds, operating rooms (12 short by recent analysis of our daily needs), faculty (at least 250 FTEs short for today’s clinical volume), faculty offices (550 too few today), etc. We also fear that we may be too small to matter in the grand scheme of health care as it is evolving nationally in the face of the Affordable Care Act and the consolidation of networks. In spite of all these problems we are still pretty good compared to our peer institutions as things stand, although modest impending changes in our health system structure and governance will likely bring us much closer to realizing our potential as an unsurpassed integrated health care system and academic medical center – an effective team, a leader, and one of the few truly best. At the University of Michigan we often refer back to our great coach, Bo Schembechler, for his inspiring phrases, notably: “The team, the team, the team.” A fellow great coach, Vince Lombardi who died 45 years ago as of yesterday, echoed some of the ideas of Adam Smith the lead quote this month.

2.     September began last Tuesday and meteorological autumn in the Northern Hemisphere starts this month. Farmers traditionally begin the harvest, schools come into session, and the workday, as we noted, becomes a little more serious. Labor Day anticipates the seasonal transition and brings to mind Adam Smith who famously observed (with the examples of the butcher, the brewer, and the baker) that civilization requires specialization of work, although two millennia earlier Hippocrates made a similar recognition that medical practice requires specialization. In the Hippocratic world that first particular brand of work happened to be urology, manifested back then as lithotomy – the cutting for (bladder) stone. Were Hippocrates to visit us today at UMMG in a time machine, the only specialty he would recognize out of the hundred plus areas of practice would be urology – the single specialty he deferred to “specialists of that art.” The knowhow involved with cystolithotomy was rightly described as an art, just as the practice of medicine today is often still called an art. Artists go even further back in time: cave-dwelling paintings, long before Hippocrates, prove visual artists were among the earliest branches of the human labor force.


3.    Sept Heures

We previously have commented on the beautiful monthly panels illustrated by the Limbourg brothers in a book of prayers called The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Brothers Herman, Paul, and Johan were Dutch miniature painters from the city of Nijmegen active in early 15th century in Europe. Like Diego Rivera, closer to our time, the brothers travelled to the best sponsors who could commission their art. In 1416 the artists and the Duke of Berry died abruptly (likely from a plague pandemic) and their ambitious Très Riches Heures was completed by others. The September panel, shown above, features a harvest with 5 people picking grapes, while a man and pregnant woman seem to be supervising (the managers?). The grapes are placed in baskets, transferred to mules, then moved to oxen carts. Presumably the actual wine-making processes took place within the castle walls along with other trades and crafts. A fair degree of work specialization was evident at the Castle of Saumur there in the France’s Anjou wine region. Worker productivity was of immediate concern to the Duke or whoever was in charge of the castle, with carrot and stick as the time-honored means of motivation.

 Feb 1848

[February Revolution in Paris at l’Hôtel de Ville. HFE Philippoteaux at Carnavalet Museum]

It was over 500 years later in France before the rights of workers achieved their due attention. The head rolling of the French Revolution was evidence of the disequilibrium between workers and those in charge of them, but it was not until 1864 that French workers obtained a legislated right to strike and in 1866 the right to organize. Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of his namesake, was the force behind these workers’ rights. His big moment had come in 1848 when the February French Revolution (an aftershock of the big one in 1789) allowed him to change places in exile in England with the deposed King Louis Philippe who had lost the trust of the citizens. Louis-Napoleon then became France’s first president by popular vote in February, 1848. When his term of office ended in 1852 and he found a second term blocked by the Constitution and Parliament, Louis-Napoleon conveniently organized a coup d’etait, re-naming himself Napoleon III and reigning as Emperor until 1870 (coincidentally wrapping up that term on this calendar day – September 4).

Napoleon III

[Napoleon III by A. Cabanet. At Musée du Second Empire. Compiègne]


 4.     In the heyday of industrialization some types of work were especially dangerous and abusive, although workers had little recourse to ask for safe conditions or fairness. Labor unions arose to occupy the need to balance the worker and employer disequilibrium. Labor Day, to be celebrated next Monday, is a marker for this necessary balance. Forward-looking businesses today embrace the belief that workers themselves are the best source of workplace knowledge and have the best motivation to make better products, with greater efficiency and greater satisfaction for critical stakeholders. This idea is intrinsic to lean process systems that represent the newest evolutionary step in the human labor force. Enlightened leaders have come to realize that the health and happiness of workers are linked to productivity, but more importantly are human rights as well.

Unionization of dangerous occupations makes more sense than unionization of less risky trades – think mine workers versus postal workers – yet, work is work and few can argue that any worker can be abused by any manager or any system. The recent exposé of alleged management abuse of workers at Amazon illustrates this point. Nonetheless, unionization of white collar cognitive professions takes some explanation for, by their very nature, professions have their own intrinsic protections. When professions are commoditized, however, and their members believe themselves treated poorly, unionization becomes a rational step. Unionization of professions might not be necessary in a perfect world, but this world is far from perfect. The Eastern Michigan University faculty are unionized, for example, while the University of Michigan faculty are not. While I am no authority on the EMU story, that particular unionization was likely a direct result of faculty grievances against past administrations. At the University of Michigan, though, the nurses, houses officers, many hospital employees, graduate students, and lecturers are represented by unions. The bottom line is the old story that power has a corruptive tendency and a just equilibrium must exist between labor and management.


[Ann Arbor News, August 12, 2015. The 690 EMU AAUP Professors reach a tentative agreement for annual 2.5% raises, changes in health care payments, administrative support, and research incentives]

Administrators and leaders can become self-important and smug (urology chairs are not immune). In the words of the respected Stanford business professor, Robert I. Sutton, some managers are worse than jerks, if you accept the use of his term in his book title.

Sutton RI

[Sutton RI, The No Asshole Rule. 2007 ]


5.     All people, governed or managed, need to believe that they are being treated fairly and that their voices are taken seriously by leadership. No employee can expect to agree with all organizational decisions, but an overall sense of fairness and responsiveness to individual opinion must pertain. Fairness is a fundamental human belief, evident too in many of our fellow primates plus some other mammals, but unique for humans among the eusocial species (bees, ants, etc.), as mentioned here last month in regard to E.O. Wilson’s work. Beliefs and language govern us with greater sophistication than the governance by pheromones and patterned behaviors of the other eusocials. We shouldn’t disparage pheromones, however, as they provide colonies the ability to react to observations of its individual members monitoring the challenges and opportunities of the environment. In this way the colony becomes a superorganism. We humans have infinitely greater communication tools to govern and regulate ourselves using facial expressions, noise, language, audible conversations, writing, music, visual art, customs, manners, beliefs, laws, and other ways of conveying information. When the public shares a general perception of fairness, civil harmony is likely to pertain, if not hell can break out. Just as corrosive to society as abusive work, perhaps even worse, is the inability to find work. A few weeks ago I heard the author Walter Mosley being interviewed on NPR by Renee Montagne about his experiences as a 12-year old boy in Watts during the riots of 1965, just 50 years ago. Mosley said, simply: “You could feel the rage”  – a statement capturing the raw emotion that exploded on the streets after a young man was arrested for drunk driving. [NPR. Morning Edition. Renee Montagne: Walter Mosley remembers the Watts Riots. August 13, 2015] Ten years after the riots I rotated from UCLA to Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital in Watts and the effects of the riots were still present physically on the streets and emotionally among the people. My time at MLK was personally and educationally a good experience, I liked the hospital and its gritty esprit d’corps. It was quite a contrast to UCLA’s upscale Westwood campus. The full time staff at MLK felt a part of the community, where the daily struggles were still too often very raw. I didn’t fully understand the rawness then. A new book, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates however, brings one closer.


6.     The first French Revolution of 1789-99 was not the only time in history when it people’s opinions mattered and we see evidence of the power of public opinion again and again. Wise political leaders, administrators, and managers understand that protests, strikes, riots, civil disobedience, or revolutions are unfortunate recourses when public opinion and leadership clash. Political lobbying, referendums, and orderly change of representational governance are more civilized, kinder, and less wasteful. Opinion surveys are another tool to understand stakeholders, with the first documented opinion poll occurring in 1824 when a Pennsylvania “straw poll” found Andrew Jackson leading John Quincy Adams 335 to 169 in the presidential race. Jacksonian democrats thought they had the election in the bag.

John Quincy Adams

[JQ Adams’ daguerreotype c. 1840s; Smithsonian Archives. Although Jackson had more popular votes and expected to win, Adams, a great statesman and politician, gained the support of Henry Clay to win the presidency, serving from 1825 to 1829, when Jackson finally gained the position]

A straw poll is a figure of speech referring to a thin plant stalk held up to the wind of public opinion to see which way it is blowing. George Gallup in Iowa in 1936 added science and statistics to the methodology of opinion sampling. Elmo Roper and Louis Harris entered the field of predictive polling around that time. Perhaps the darkest day for that business was the mistaken prediction of Thomas Dewey’s “defeat” of Harry S Truman in the 1948 presidential election by 5-15 percentage points. Although Gallup explained his error by noting that he concluded polling three weeks before election day, his humiliation endured, demonstrating to us once again that numbers are mere human inventions that may (or may not) approximate reality. All data must be viewed with suspicion, no numbers or numeric manipulations are sacrosanct.


Some thoughts on surveys, but first, a disclaimer: I don’t like spending time on surveys and am quick to delete requests for them in my email. Personal bandwidth in this “age of information” is crowded and in clinical medicine the crowding is especially intense. Last winter I decided to try to list email requests for surveys consecutively over the prospective calendar year, but my effort lasted less than 3 weeks. I gave up after more than 2 dozen such well-intended requests whether from the medical school, the health system, the university, colleagues from other institutions, my professional organizations, etc. The proliferation of surveys, however, is not a bad thing, but rather a reflection of democratic society; others care what we think. Many stakeholders in our work and community want to assess their services to us and hope to discover our opinions of their contributions. The fundamental problem is not their curiosity, but rather our limited bandwidth. No one can satisfy all the requests: you must pick and choose.


 7.     Just about 50 years ago at this time of year, the Rolling Stones released their hit song “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards the lyrics referred to sexual frustration and commercialization.


Who would have believed that 50 years later the matter of satisfaction in health care (on the part of patients, providers, and employees) would be major matters of national attention? When I was an associate dean, Gil Omenn and Doug Strong asked me to create a faculty satisfaction survey. After a few reminders, I did this with Skip Campbell, aiming for a very brief set of less than 10 questions to assess satisfaction of the faculty regarding their work and environment. To convince faculty to fill this out we sent out a cogent personal initial request with a few reminders and provided a generous window of time. The response rate turned out quite good. Widespread dissatisfaction was discovered concerning the faculty’s ability to deliver the clinical care they deemed appropriate. This data was an important factor in shaping the transfer of ambulatory care management from the hospital administration to a “faculty group practice.” The information obtained also gave the dean an ability to assess the general “faculty temperature” and understand relative degrees of satisfaction in each department. Since then, the faculty satisfaction survey has been shaped to ascertain more granular information at specific worksites and it has grown in size and complexity. Currently at Michigan we have a number of additional  “satisfaction” surveys, but the following ones affect us most directly.

a.)     Faculty satisfaction survey. Take this one seriously – it is important to us. Variances from our past numbers or from other departmental data are  analyzed carefully by the dean, leadership, and our fellow departments.

b.)     Employee satisfaction survey. This gauges how the tens of thousands of employees in the medical school and health system view their work lives and work places. We examine the details at many levels in our administrative hierarchy. The dean also discusses this data with chairs in the yearly evaluation process.

c.)     SACUA administrators survey. This comes from the University of Michigan Faculty Senate and queries faculty about their immediate administrators (in our case, this is me) and all the others in the long line to and including the president. Medical School participation in this has generally been weak, perhaps indicating faculty sense of remoteness from the central campus.

d.)     Patient satisfaction surveys are increasingly tied to clinical re-imbursement. Initially the UM Health System used Press Ganey surveys of patient encounters. This company has a 30-year history of healthcare experience and the consistency of data was useful for year-to-year comparisons, but we are now constrained to switch to the HCAHPS (Hospital Consumers Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) survey, provided by vendors on behalf of CMS. The change disconnected us from our historic data. HCAHPS queries a random sample of patients 48 hours – 6 weeks after discharge and asks 27 questions related to their hospital experiences.

e.)     Those pesky reputation and quality surveys.  The US News and World Reports surveys not only rescued a dying newsmagazine, but also galvanized attention and resources of every major health care system and medical school in the country. How do we stand in 2015 national rankings?  Our Department of Urology is number 10 nationally.


[Above: Urology Department Spring Retreat, realigning ourselves and listening to each other]

Our Medical School stacks up as #5 for primary care and #10 for research.  Our Hospital ranked number 10 in pediatric specialties and number 11 in adult specialties (in spite of our stubborn determination over the past 16 years to avoid joining the “nurse magnet hospital” list).

Recent “quality” ratings such as ProPublica are attracting attention. These low hanging fruits of public data commercialization to date offer incomplete information and lack meaningful context. While these products may have commercial and titillational value, on the scale of meaningful data so far they set the bar at the left end (near zero) of the Likert Scale. By the way, the originator of the Likert Scale, Rensis Likert, was a UM alumnus who died 34 years ago as of yesterday (September 3, 1981) at age 78 of bladder cancer here in Ann Arbor. He is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery, just a short walk from our offices. More on him in a future What’s New/Matula Thoughts.


8.     It is wonderful to see a resurgence of high quality labor in Detroit and Shinola is a premier example. Shinola shoe polish originated as a brand in 1907, was trademarked in 1929, and became popular during WWII.  Anyone who was in the military then and for a generation thereafter usually had a can of shoe polish at hand because shoes were expected to have a high shine, outside of combat conditions. A spit shine was literally obtained by spit. (When I was in the Army, however, newer permanently glossy black shoes became available and all you had to do was wipe them clean.) During WWII a colorful phrase developed around Shinola, although its author will probably remain forever unknown. The phrase compared Shinola to a bodily output usually more formed than spit, although much less acceptable in public, even at baseball games or on sidewalks. The phrase established a basic measure of intelligence as the ability to discern that aforesaid product of elimination from Shinola shoe polish. The concept was captured beautifully in a scene in the classic film, The Jerk, with Steve Martin. [The Jerk, 1979, Directed by Carl Reiner] Anyway, in 2001 a venture capital firm in Dallas, Bedrock Marketing, acquired the name Shinola and began manufacturing watches, bicycles, the shoe polish, and leather products – all made in America and usually in Detroit. The company also produces a high-quality note pad that, unlike that of most competitors, has paper that doesn’t “bleed” with fountain pen ink. The pads are made here in Ann Arbor by Edwards Brothers-Malloy. Shinola headquarters in Detroit is in an Alfred A. Taubman Building. Of course that building’s name is well represented on our University of Michigan campus and especially in the medical school. Alfred passed away last year after an extraordinary life that continues to impact us so positively on our campus.


9.    Shinola

In this era of expensive but disposable athletic shoes, the well-shined shoe is less common than in the first Shinola era. My old chief of surgery at UCLA, Bill Longmire, would express visible distaste for sloppiness among his house officers, and sloppy shoes were quick to catch his eyes. Army experience made me an average shoe shiner and I still keep polish and a brush in the office. When I am on the road as a “travelling salesman” on behalf of our department I generally give myself time at the airport to see Rick Jackson, a shoe professional I’ve known for 30 years. Rick is at his job daily opposite gate 47 in Detrot’s McNamara Terminal and one of his chairs is my preferred place to sit and converse while at the airport. Rick also keeps track of fellow traveller urologists, such as Mani Menon. Stop by sometime and let Rick make you look more presentable. [Below: our own Gary Faerber and Dan Hayes of Hematology Oncology with Rick]



10.    Historically in the University of Michigan Health System, as well as at most other large health care systems, health care workers labored in disequilibrium with administration. All well-intended specialists in the health care labor force (physicians, nurses, managers, residents, hospital employees, researchers, administrators, unionists, etc.) pushed their agendas, but too often the ultimate agendas of patient care, education, new knowledge, and worker satisfaction were side-tracked. Full and effective faculty participation in the daily management of clinical work as well as strategic planning and deployment was an idea advanced here in the 1990s by Mark Orringer, but soundly rebuffed by the dean and hospital administration back then. The concept had legs, as it might be said, for it is a sensible Darwinian evolution and certainly in tune with the modern industrial ideas of lean process systems. The Faculty Group Practice (FGP) emerged around a decade later and has proven successful in its limited application to our ambulatory (outpatient) activities. In practice, however, the division of clinical work into ambulatory and in-patient spheres is artificial and ultimately counter-productive to our real goals of clinical excellence, safety, efficiency, ideal patient experience, education, new knowledge, and ultimate job satisfaction for all employees. With our current EVPMA, Marschall Runge, we sense new alignment of our health system structure and governance. (Marschall, by the way, is the grandson of a 1918 UMMS alumnus.) The FGP, now the University of Michigan Medical Group (UMMG), hopes to be a cornerstone in the alignment of all essential facets of our academic medical center to fulfill those elusive goals of clinical excellence and mission optimization as mentioned above. We should be able to accomplish this here at Michigan as well or better than any other place on the planet. Our history has set that precedence, our people are as good as they come, and we have, I hope, the collective will and drive to come together and get it done now that September is here.  

 Runge, Johnson

[Two UM health care laborers, a cardiologist and a gynecologist/obstetrician: Marschall Runge & Tim Johnson]


Best wishes, thanks for reading What’s New/Matula Thoughts and happy Labor Day.

David A. Bloom


Matula Thoughts August 7, 2015

Fair weather, formicidae, fables, and funambulism

3415 words


 1.   Brehm

August in Ann Arbor with long days of sunlight, warm breezes, and summer clothing is especially sweet by contrast to our winter days. Thanks to generous rains filling our rivers and refreshing the ground water Ann Arbor’s August is immersed in green. [Above: view from the roof of the Brehm Tower of Kellogg Eye Center. Below: kayaks by the Huron]


Birds, cicadas, tree frogs, and lightning bugs create accidental symphonies of sound and light in my neighborhood. Summertime in the Northern Hemisphere brings a measure of balance, relaxation, and sunny public spaces. Vacation allows time to recharge and summer in Ann Arbor is pretty much as good as it gets for doing that.


[Michigan Stadium from Ann Arbor Golf Outing]

August in parts of Europe is almost entirely set aside as vacation time for many workers, whereas in North America “work-life balance” is stricter with a week or two of vacation, plus the long weekends of Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. These thoughts remind me of an animated cartoon that I loved as a kid called the Grasshopper and the Ants, an ancient fable of Aesop recast by a young Walt Disney in 1934 in The Silly Symphony (you can find it on YouTube – it runs 8 minutes).


The gist of the story was that a grasshopper had fun and played all summer, while the neighboring ants aligned industriously to work throughout the sunny days storing up food and preparing for winter. When winter came, the cold and hungry grasshopper realized his sorry situation and came begging to the ants for food and shelter. According to Disney’s version, after a momentary reprimand the ants kindly took in the pitiful grasshopper who then entertained them with his fiddle over the winter. In the Aesopian corpus this story is The Cicada and the Ant (classified as Perry 373). The simplistic moral to the story is a useful lesson for children, but humans, unlike ants, need vacations; motivations in the human sphere differ from those in ant land.


2.   Screen shot 2015-07-18 at 9.09.21 AM

[EOW by DAB 2002]  

Ants and humans, E.O. Wilson teaches us, are among the very rare eusocial species on Earth. These colonial animals live in multi-generational groups where most individuals cooperate to advance the public good and to perpetuate the species into the next generation. In effect, their colonies are superorganisms that transcend  individual biologic lives and create civilizations turned over to successive generations. The meaning of individual lives, then, is simply to be found in their contribution to their tomorrow and the tomorrows of their successors. Ants accomplish this work by communicating via pheromones, chemical signals that Wilson and his collaborators elucidated. Pheromones, added to genetic and epigenetic capabilities, vastly enhance the ability of eusocial organisms to deal with and transmit information. The human luck of spoken and written language allows us to process information (sensory, narrative, and numeric), work cooperatively, and create new information that we deploy and pass along to successive generations. The cultural and scientific ways of thinking that emerged from language have produced creativity that has changed the Earth. Whereas internal motivation and environmental pressures inspire personal creativity, it is largely personal and political freedom that allows its dissemination, thereby expanding civilization intellectually and materially.

Tai Che 2

It is a beautiful thing to see people acting in harmonious synchrony. This picture I took outside the de Young Museum in San Francisco this spring shows a display of T’ai chi (太極拳), a Chinese martial art practiced for its health effects, focusing the mind for mental calm and clarity. No pheromones or visible rewards motivate this alignment, the motivation is internal. T’ai chi is lovely to watch, the harmony and synchrony registering pleasurably in the hardwiring of our brains. This is the stuff of art, the deliberate work of other people that we admire and that sometimes astonishes us. You can find beauty in a myriad of other aligned performances. The Stanley Cup playoffs are one example of exquisite and harmonious alignment of teams. Surgical procedures may fall into this realm; it’s interesting that in Great Britain the operating room is referred to as the surgical theatre. When synchrony is harshly enforced, however, as in the dark vision of industrialism depicted by the Diego Rivera murals in Detroit or the failed experiments of communism, alignment is not so pretty. 


3.  Diego Rivera

The cartoonish stereotype of disheartened industrial assembly line workers in the Rivera murals has been reinforced by generations of business schools and accounting management ideology. The belief was that managers should determine work-flow methodology and set production targets as if assembly lines were machines to be sped up or slowed down as managers deemed necessary. This is the essence of accounting-based management. The Toyota Process System, now embraced world-wide by forward-looking businesses as lean process methodology, turns this paradigm around, having shown that where workers are empowered to think, innovate, and take pride in their work, better products, greater efficiency, and customer satisfaction will result. Ironically, Toyota’s innovation was initiated over 60 years ago when the company’s founder visited Ford’s massive River Rouge plant just as Japan was rebuilding its industrial base after WWII. Where the American managers saw one thing in the Ford assembly line, the Japanese leaders saw something completely different. The following quote explaining “What Toyota saw at the Rouge” comes from an excellent book called Profit Beyond Measure, by H. Thomas Johnson and Anders Bröms: “When Eiji Toyoda told Philip Caldwell that Toyota had discovered the secret to success at the Rouge, his comment implied that what Toyota had perceived about operations at the Rouge was very different than what Caldwell and his Ford colleagues or their counterparts in the other Big Three auto companies had seen. For one thing, it seems that Toyota people did not view low cost at the Rouge in terms of its scale, its throughput, or its managers’ effort to impose external targets for speed and cost on workers in the plant. Instead, they seemed to perceive a holistic pattern permeating every minute particular of the system. On one level, the pattern that caught Toyota’s attention was the overall continuous flow of work in the Rouge as a whole. But at a much deeper level, they observed that work flowed continuously through each part of the system – literally through each individual work station – at the same rate that finished units flowed off the line.” (Caldwell was President of Ford at the time.) Toyoda saw an organic self-learning system in the assembly line, where expertise at work stations is continuously harvested by motivated workers to improve work flow and product. Jeanne Kin and Jack Billi floated this book to my attention a few years ago and it continues to strongly impact my view of organizational systems.


4.   Just as modern industry is embracing the concepts of Toyota Lean Processes, health care systems in their frenzy to cut costs while complying with increasingly onerous regulation are oddly embracing the failed experiments of management accounting that impose cost and throughput targets on health care providers. Data (numeric information) should inform decisions whenever possible, but it cannot be the sole driver of key operational choices. All data must be viewed as suspect for, after all, the numeric information we produce for ourselves is merely an artifact of human invention: numbers and their manipulation may or may not reflect reality accurately. Intense focus on data tends to obliterate stories (narrative information). Truth is elusive and while stories can be just as false or misleading as data can be wrong or misinterpreted, when stories resonate with truth, prove to be genuine, or otherwise offer value they get repeated and stick around. While the accounting mentality examines data for consistency and at its best extracts useful stories from data, the scientific mentality examines and hypothesizes stories and then seeks data to support the story and create a better one. Accounting is a matter of numbers, but science is ultimately a matter of stories. The human brain is hard-wired to relate to meaningful stories, and those ancient ones that endure, such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, and the Bible, endure because they give artful evidence of larger truths, exemplary behavior, or experiences that we keep repeating. Some stories are extremely succinct, but have enough truth that we keep repeating them like: Pythagoras’s story that for a right-sided triangle the area of the square on the side opposite the right angle equals the sum of the areas of the squares of the other two sides. Another durable story is that the area within a circle is its radius squared times an irrational number called pi.One might argue that by its very substance this story is irrational, but it sure seems to have held up through time. A newer story tells of the ultimate connection of light, matter, and energy, that is, is e=mc2. These stories seem to be true and have found their Darwinian niche in the human narrative.


5.   We are indoctrinated by stories since childhood. Fables, short stories with moral lessons, typically feature animals with human qualities. Aesop, supposedly a slave in ancient Greece (620-560 BC) a generation after Pythagoras and a century prior to Hippocrates, is the fabulist best known in the Western world. It is an astonishing demonstration of Darwinian durability that his fables have been repeated to children in most languages for well over 2500 years. Ben Perry, the 20th century authority on Aesop, indexed and edited Aesop’s stories for the Loeb Classical Library in 1952. One of the half dozen fables dealing with health care is The Old Woman and the Thieving Physician. This may have been added to the Aesop corpus rather than an original of the actual fabulist. The tale involves an elderly lady with sore eyes who asks a physician to cure her from anticipated blindness, but her deal was that payment had to await cure. The doctor made repeated house calls to apply salves and with each visit stole anything he could take away from the house. Once the cure was competed the woman refused payment saying that her sight seemed to be worse than ever since she now couldn’t see or find any of her household property. This characterization of the dishonest physician was number 57 of the Perry Index.


6.   Ben Perry was born in 1852 in Fayette Ohio and received his B.A. in 1915 from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D from Princeton in 1919. His early academic posts took him to Urbana Ohio University, Dartmouth, Western Reserve, and then, for the bulk of his career from 1924-1960 at the University of Illinois. He returned to Michigan as visiting professor in 1967 and died back in Urbana, Illinois in 1968. Perry concentrated his work in two minor genres, the fable and the ancient novel. The Perry Index includes all fables related to, ascribed to, or connected to Aesop and goes from #1 The Eagle and the Fox to #584The River-fish and the Sea-fish.  In addition, the Extended Perry Index goes from #585 Sick Lion, Fox and Bear to #725 Fish from Frying Pan into Coals. Curiously Aesop offered tales of all sorts of creatures and many occupations, but only the occasional doctor’s story in addition to the ophthalmologic case: #7 Cat as Physician and the Hens,  #114 The Physician at the Funeral, # 170 Physician and Sick Man,  #187 The Wolf as Physician, or #289 The Frog Physician, and #317The Unskilled Physician. Some of these were matters of impersonations while others like #57 above were character studies of the profession. Perry #427 was the classic Fox and Hedgehog story, resurrected for our time by Isaiah Berlin.


7.   The Art Fair is a special time in Ann Arbor. I lived here for about 10 years before I ever walked around in it – summertime is busy for those who take care of children, pediatric urologists included. In 1997 we started the John Duckett Lecture in Pediatric Urology, in honor of a colleague and a friend of Michigan Urology who had passed away that year. The idea was that this would take place on the Friday morning of the Art Fair, and we would close up most of our clinical and research work for the day. Our staff would simultaneously have Staff Education Day in the morning and the afternoon free for the Art Fair or whatever, as their annual birthday present. Over the years we have expanded the intellectual part of our Art Fair week with the Chang Lecture on Art and Medicine Chang on the Thursday and usually added a Lapides Lecture to the Friday session. This year we asked one person, Pierre Mouriquand from Lyon France, to do both the Chang and Duckett Lectures. In effect this was asking Pierre to walk a tightrope between two intellectual towers, and he navigated the line beautifully.  As a great pediatric urologist and a painter of substance and daily practice, he is well qualified on both fronts. The Chang Lecture consisted of Pierre’s story Slowly down the Rhône: the River and its Artists. He produced a magnificent talk bringing together not only art and medicine, but also geography.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 7.40.50 AM

His Duckett Lecture was Understanding the Growth of the Genital Tubercle: Why it is relevant for the Hypospadiologist.  Here he showed his mastery of the field with a brilliant update on embryology and challenging thoughts on surgical reconstruction of difficult dysfunctional anatomy. He fielded a series of case presentations from residents and later in the day attended our Disorders of Sex Development (DSD) team meeting and lunch, where he challenged the modern terminology and presented some videos that showed new concepts in reconstruction. In the evening at dinner our residents and the pediatric urology team got to know Pierre and his wife Jessica mixing technical talk, health systems discussions, and seeing how a couple successfully navigates the challenging world of life, family, and academic medicine. 

Pierre & Jessica

Regarding this first academic event of the new season of residency training (also called Graduate Medical Education or GME) I need to invoke a sports metaphor and say that “Pierre hit it out of the park.” Events like these fulfill the essential duty of the university: sharpening inquisitiveness, disseminating ideas, widening cosmopolitanism, and educating our successors.


8.   Chang Lecture on Art and Medicine 2016. Our speaker next year will be Don Nakayama, former chair of the Surgery Department at West Virginia. He wrote an interesting article in Pharos last year on the Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts. [The Pharos 77: 8, 2014] Perceptively, he recognized that the so-called Surgery Panel on the South Wall was not a depiction of “brain surgery” as art historians have claimed, but rather an illustration of an orchiectomy, a procedure much more attuned to Rivera’s view of the Rouge Plant workers. It is a great testimony to the vision of Edsel Ford to have brought Rivera, arguably the world’s best muralist of the time and an ardent communist, to Detroit to produce the work in 1932. Things didn’t go so well later in New York City when Rivera tried to repeat the experiment with the Rockefellers, but that’s another story.


[Lower right mural on the South Wall: the orchiectomy]

Caleb Nelson will be doing the Duckett Lecture and Bart Grossman will be doing the Lapides Lecture next year for an all-Nesbit Line up on that Friday of the 2016 Art Fair.


9.   Little Red Hen  Disney’s Silly Symphonies also included The Wise Little Hen, a version of a Russian folk tale more popularly known as The Little Red Hen. The nugget of the story was that the hen finds a grain of wheat and asks the other animals on the farm to help plant, grow, and harvest it. None chose to help, but after she harvests the wheat she asks again for help threshing, milling, and baking, but none step forward. After the bread is done, she asks who should help eat it – and of course everybody volunteers. The hen, however, says sorry “if any would not work, neither should he eat.” (The Wise Little Hen  included the debut of Donald Duck.) President Ronald Reagan referred to this story in 1976, citing a politicized version  in which the farmer chastised the hen for being unfair. After the hen was forced to share her bread, she lost the incentive to work and the entire barnyard suffered. This twist on the story made it a cautionary tale slamming the welfare state. While the story teaches children the importance of doing their part in terms of the daily work of the community it lacks the complexity of reality. Modern society is far more complicated than a barnyard and the line between personal responsibility and public beneficence (i.e. government) is tricky to arbitrate. Furthermore, many in society experience tragic bad luck beyond their control or are unable to assume personal responsibility. Reagan’s farmer had the un-antlike characteristic of compassion, a human quality that must have long-preceded even our biblical days. A society has to nurture personal freedom, creativity, and individual responsibility if it is to be successful, but without kindness and compassion a civilization is not a human one. After all, when Disney anthropomorphized his ants he gave them not just language, but also compassion.

Where do we draw the lines regarding personal freedom and such things as immunization mandates, smoking, drug use, obesity, and dangerous behavior? Should motorcyclists have to wear helmets? How do we provide health care to the indigent and incapable? How do we create health care equality and affordability? These questions ultimately get arbitrated in the political arenas regionally and nationally, generation after generation. Our nation walks on a tightrope between the cartoonish ideologies of the welfare state and what some might call individualism, capturing the beliefs of libertarianism, laissez-faire capitalism, and ethical egoism. Obviously neither the welfare state nor any “ism” has it right – the best path for a just, creative, and cosmopolitan civilization is a path in between the cartoons. The bad news of today (and maybe this is the bad news for every human era) is that cartoonish people find their ways to leadership and compel the rest of us along irrational paths that threaten  the future we want to turn over to our next generation. All citizens need to step up their understanding of the issues of public policy and health care as well as involving themselves in its regional and national discussions. We can no longer let politicians, accountants, and pundits alone shape the critical decisions.


10.  Funambulism. On this day, August 7, in 1974 a 24-year old Frenchman named Philippe Petit walked across a high wire he had rigged between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. He actually crossed the wire 8 times, performing for 45 minutes to the amazement of on-lookers in the towers. He must have looked like an  ant to those on the ground, and vice versa. Petit’s funambulism represents a perfection of self-alignment in terms of balance that few can achieve, yet it is also an astonishing display of self-confidence, clandestine preparation, and admirable civil-disobedience. Curiously funambulism defines tightrope walking and a show of mental agility interchangeably. Few can deny that serious tightrope walking is as much a matter of mental as physical agility and you have to admire the internal drive that motivated Petit to accomplish this heroic feat. That was art.


Postscript: With the start of August we saw the retirement of Jack Cichon, our departmental administrator, and Malissa Eversole is now steadily in place on the job. Jack managed the business and operational affairs of Michigan Urology for 20 years with great loyalty, integrity, and (at some challenging times) extraordinary courage under pressure. He becomes an honorary member of the Nesbit Society and we hope to continue to see him in the course of our departmental events, noting his broadened smile of relief from the administrative pressures of the University of Michigan Medical School and Health System that he served so admirably.   

Cichon 2015

Thanks for spending time with What’s New and Matula Thoughts.

David A. Bloom, MD

Department of Urology, University of Michigan Medical School

Ann Arbor


Matula Thoughts July 3, 2015


Matula Thoughts July 3, 2015

Independence, PGY1s, peonies, & art.

3673 words


©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Wash Monument

1.     It’s July and peasants farm and shear sheep outside the protective walls of a castle in the beautiful panel of the renowned 15th century illustrated manuscript, Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Life was safer within the castle walls than outside them. The authority in charge of the castle and grounds was a nobleman governing locally on behalf of a distant ruler and the governance was absolute. Many Julys have come and gone since the Duke of Berry (600 Julys since 1415) and government has become more representative throughout much of today’s world for villagers, city folk, and the rest of us who perform the daily work of civilization. The relationship between the authority we call government and “the people” has evolved based on principles extending back to the Magna Carta 800 years ago (June 15, 1215) and even before.

Magna Carta

[Magna Carta Brit. Lib. 4000 or so words in Latin on sheepskin]

The principles of authority for the United States of America are seated in the Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. If you’ve not read the book published last year by Danielle Allen, Our Declaration, you should do so this summer. It is an amazing study and quite readable. As discussed previously on these pages of What’s New and Matula Thoughts, Our Declaration will give you, among many other things, a more sophisticated sense of the idea of equality than you likely now have.


[1337 well-crafted words]

When the three Limbourg brothers of Nijmegen produced the “very richly decorated book of hours” for the Duke of Berry, the Duke probably felt little sense of equality with his workers. In some parts of today’s world things remain little different than in the days of the Très Riches Heures when dukes and kings had total unchecked authority over their subjects. Such nations are rarely successful in terms of aggregate innovation, intellectual contribution, education, environmental stewardship, industrial production, or social justice. Conversely, most modern nations today enjoy a shared belief that all people are equal before the law. In these places where the ideas of representative government, equality, personal liberty, and cosmopolitanism take hold, the potential of the human factor is unleashed and creativity emerges on a large scale. History shows that, when people have freedom to achieve their potentials, individual happiness and general human progress are served far better than when the state or crown decides what’s best for its people. Tomorrow we celebrate that particular success of government by the people, for the people, and of the people in our nation. Yet, these aspirational ideals remain under challenge not only by human imperfections in their implementation, but also by today’s iterations of tribalism, despotism, human subjugation, sectarianism, extremism, and war. The divergent symbolism of a castle and protective walls on one hand, and our iconic monument of an open society is striking.


2.     With July comes a new class of interns (PGY1s, residents) and fellows. I’ve enjoyed being a part of this cycle for many years. Our careers flip by in the blink of an eye and I myself was at that early stage of medical education not so long ago. Although relatively clueless back then, I had the ambition of becoming a credible children’s surgeon of one sort or another. With influences like Judah Folkman, Rick Fonkalsrud, Bill Longmire, Don Skinner, Will Goodwin, Joe Kaufman, and Rick Ehrlich, I was inspired to push ahead toward that ambition, but felt a long way from my goal and quite distant from a place in the “establishment” of pediatric surgery and urology. A year in London following the footsteps of David Innes Williams gained me a slight bit of early credibility in addition to lifelong friends in urology – Robert and Anita Morgan, John Fitzpatrick, and Christopher Woodhouse. A couple in the Royal Shakespeare Company, Mike Williams and his wife Judi, further broadened my perspective on the world, and I often think back to Mike’s description of their work as that of “travelling players.” This metaphor applies to us in academic medicine – we are travelling salesmen indeed, going here and there to sell our ideas, observations, clinical experiences, and research findings at national meetings and during visiting professorships. On my return from London I experienced an incomparable month with Hardy Hendren in Boston, filling a notebook equivalent to the size as that from 11 months in London. During that stay I further was schooled in gracious hospitality by Mike and Connie Mitchell and John and Fiona Heaney. Wonderful reminiscences and the start of deep friendships. Our residents and fellows are now assembling their own stories of educational experiences, no doubt as rich and meaningful to them.


3.     Most people at certain times of their lives entertain the nagging question of the meaning of life. The question comes up in good times or bad, in the midst of crises, or even randomly. It is too big a question to answer in a general sense and certainly beyond the reach of these small essays. Maybe it’s a silly question, a human conceit, for in the grand scheme of things it could be argued that the meaning of geology, for example, is of no less significance as a question. In the specific personal sense many people find life’s greatest meaning lies in the ways they individually make their lives useful to others. In this sense, then, the meaning of life is simply its public relevance. This might well be Darwin’s ultimate revelation: a life’s meaning is found in its specific relevance today and in its more general relevance to the tomorrow of future generations. The desire to do things for other people is deeply established in our genes and has been reinforced by millennia of human culture. Not only do we seek to have meaning individually to others and to our society, but we are compelled to construct a world where our generation’s children can create their own meaningful lives. It probably seemed easier for the kings, queens, and noblemen in the days of the Duke de Berry. They were born into a world where their meaning (in terms of the faulty surrogate of their self-importance) was pre-ordained, but that world didn’t offer much of a chance for anyone else, hardly a sustainable Darwinian scenario. Self-importance is a biologic necessity, but its socially-acceptable expressions occur across a spectrum with Mother Teresas on one end and Donald Trumps at the other.   Off that spectrum, deranged and delusional self-importance leads to shootings, bombings, and beheadings – public slaughterings designed to induce terror and 15 minutes of “fame” that in fact become horrendous perpetual shame for the perp. Random tragedy still stalks us and may never disappear, but our responses as a society are sometimes great and inspiring, as we witnessed in Charleston SC one week ago today.

AME Church

[Emanuel AME Church, Calhoun St. Charleston SC. June 30, 2015. DAB]

In spite of the personal good fortune of many of us today, our gift of freedom has not been making the world a better place uniformly. One bit of evidence that it’s not: the UN released figures last month showing that 60 million people, half of them children, are fleeing chaotic lands looking for safety, food, and asylum. This is a staggering and unprecedented number. It is mentally incomprehensible. Another bit of evidence: Pope Francis’s recent encyclical Laudato Si, warns that our failure of planetary stewardship has left even larger numbers of mankind living in piles of filth and at risk from effects of deleterious climate change. An article about this 192-page document said: “Pope Francis unmasks himself not only as a very green pontiff, but also as a total policy wonk.” [Faiola, Boorstein, Mooney. National Post (Toronto) June 19, 2015. A11]


4.     Last season’s interns are now seasoned house officers (PGY2s). They have performed admirably and are well on their way to becoming excellent urologists. Just as we will make them better, they will make us better. We look forward to their full-bore immersion in urology starting now.

PGY1s 2014 copy

[PGY2s:Ted Lee, Ella Doerge, Parth Shah, Zach Koloff]

Our new interns (PGY1s), mentioned here last month, have just come on board. When I started in that same position at UCLA on July 1, 1971, I stepped right into the game of hospital medicine, taking orders from the higher level residents, watching them and the attendings at work, and anxiously taking call, hopeful that a disaster wouldn’t blow up around me. The world has changed and now we give the new medical school graduates days of preparation for the complex systems of healthcare, the explicit and implicit expectations of their daily work, the hierarchy of graduate medical education, and the local idiosyncrasies of the University of Michigan (e.g. when we put on gowns and gloves in the OR the left hand is always gloved first). Only after a deliberate program of “in-boarding” do our new interns step into the real-time practice of clinical medicine. We hope the new members of our urology family will embrace our sense of mission and values. We hope they will pick up the professionalism of our faculty, staff, and their senior residents and fellows. We hope they will learn the histories of our department and institution and become inspired by those stories. We hope they will learn their craft and become superior in providing our essential deliverable: kind and excellent patient centered care, thoroughly integrated with innovation and education at all levels. The fact is, looking at our finishing chief residents and fellows this year, Michigan urology trainees are superior and we expect them to get even better throughout their careers.


5.     While governments, in many nations, have become more representative and recognize that they exist for the people they represent, one unintended, but inevitable consequence is that they become self-righteous. Authority corrupts itself. This happens today no less than it did for any of the Dukes of Berry and their counterparts over the past millennia. We should be wary that self-righteousness of large organizations is a feature of all self-organizing systems. This propensity is seen in the reordering of our haphazard health care system, for example in the ill-conceived HITECH Act that forced the jettisoning of perfectly good electronic medical record systems in favor of a few clunky propriety systems that satisfied arcane details of the law including the mandated “meaningful use.” We also see this in the overwrought “Time-Outs” in the operating rooms that default individual responsibility to a team check-list. (As a pilot in training, when I was a resident, the checklist was the responsibility of the pilot and co-pilot, not a formulaic team exercise of everyone on the airfield.) I thoroughly believe that health care, surgery most especially, is a team activity and that rigid hierarchy is not conducive to a highly performing team. However, rote adherence to a formulaic “Time-Out” for all operative procedures is equally counterproductive. We hope that the next generation of physicians, especially the urologists we educate, will not be taken in by regulatory self-righteousness of third party payers, national professional boards, state boards, and hospital systems so as to believe that the practice of medicine is a checklist, patients are clients, that a patient’s story is a dot phrase or series of templates, and that time-outs do not obviate Murphy’s rule. No check-list or algorithm can substitute for individual sensibility (and anxiety) of the operating surgeon. The formulaic and monitored checklist ritual, in fact, defuses the sensibility. Finally we pray that the ancient Hippocratic idea of listening to and looking at the patient (and the patient’s family) is where medical practice must begin and end – not with the computer and electronic health care record.


6.     Visiting professors challenge us with new ideas and perspectives. They offer our residents and fellows a more cosmopolitan view of the world of urology, and visitors take away strong impressions of the Michigan Urology Family. The same happens when we visit other institutions and see how their residents learn. I was recently at the University of Toronto as Bob Jeffs visiting professor at the time for their fellowship graduation and was duly inspired by the faculty, residents, fellows, nurses, and systems that Marty Koyle and his team have developed at Sick Kids’ Hospital. They have some great innovations that might fit us well. The children’s hospital is vibrant, welcoming, and user friendly.

Sick Kids fellows

[At Toronto Sick Kids: Kakan Odeh, Keith Lawson, Frank Penna, Paul Bowlin, DAB, Marty Koyle, Joanna Dos Santos]

Sick Kids

[Toronto Sick Kids Atrium & lobby from urology & surgery floor]

In Ann Arbor we recently hosted visiting professor Tim O’Brien from Guy’s Hospital in London and he gave a wonderful talk on his work ranging from bladder cancer to retroperitoneal fibrosis. He explained that he has given up doing clinical trials due to the overbearing regulatory paperwork and processes involved in setting them up and implementing them in Great Britain. Tim used a phrase that “the many were controlling the few” in the quagmire of clinical trial regulation. This is the opposite of the Duke de Berry’s situation where the few controlled the many and it begs the question: What is sovereign in a society and what is the source of its laws? It seems right that the people in a society should ultimately be sovereign and that the source of its laws should derive from cosmopolitan human reason and experience. Rules, however, should not be so oppressive as to impede the function and flourishing of the workers. A sheep cannot be sheared well and efficiently by a committee, nor can a bus be driven by a team representing all the diverse interests of the stakeholders of the passengers, neighborhoods of passage, and owners of the bus. Society has to trust its workers to a great extent, knowing that some mistakes will be made and accidents will happen, although minimized by means of education, training, sensible rules, and systems. It seems that clinical trials, and perhaps much of modern medicine driven by HITECH mandates, ICD-10, and other regulatory burdens is not flourishing. Anyway, Tim gave us a terrific visit and showed that we share many regulatory impediments with the U.K.

Tim O'Brien

[David Miller, Tim O’Brien, Kurshid Ghani at Grand Rounds in Sheldon Auditorium]



7.     Chiefs dinner Chief residents’ dinner. Our residents go from newly minted graduates of medical school to skilled genitourinary surgeons and excellent clinicians in a matter of 5 or so years. In that time we, as faculty, work with them initially as teachers, but increasingly as colleagues during the progression of their training. It is said that it takes around 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient at chess, golf, piloting, piano, or other specific tasks. The evolution of graduate medical education in urology to a 5-year program points to a gestational period of around 20,000 hours to achieve competency as a genitourinary surgeon. Our expectation at Michigan, however, goes beyond mere competency. We have a strong track record of producing not just urologists but the leaders and the best in urology, and this year I believe we did it again. Our yearly graduation dinner (pictured above) for the completing residents and fellows is a signature event in our calendar. We held it at the University of Michigan Art Museum for the first time this year. As intently as we work with our residents throughout the years of their training, the narratives of their lives, as told so excellently this year by their fourth year colleagues, Amy Li, Miriam Hadj-Moussa, and Rebekah Beach offered entirely new perspectives on our chiefs – Noah Canvasser, Casey Dauw, and Joanne Lundgren. We heard “the rest of the story” for these three who have come a long way from novice PGY1s. They have withstood the intense pressures of high-stakes clinical work in the ORs and at the bedsides. They have studied hard to compete in a rarified intellectual environment of high stakes exams. And they have solved problems for patients and eased their anxieties in the high stakes of urological disease and disability. Still, their learning and practice must continue, and the stakes only get greater as our graduates advance in their careers, but they have given us confidence that they will become the leaders and the best of urologists and physicians. Our graduating fellows, a notch higher on the learning ladder, have been equally superb and have now become truly independent: Lindsey Cox, Sara Lenherr, and Paul Womble.  The art gallery was an appropriate place to celebrate this milestone with them and their families. The Shirley Chang Gallery in the Art Museum is an especially lovely space to stroll and reflect.


8.     The four “Rs.” The world provides as many opportunities to stroll and reflect as individual imaginations allow. A few years ago our friend Bill and Kathleen Turner (Bill was chair at the Medical University of South Carolina as well as Secretary-Treasurer and then President of the American Urological Association) a few years back took us to Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina where a dozen or so Cistercian monks have developed a community with open gates for visitors to come stroll and reflect.


The unofficial motto of the abbey is: read, reflect, respond, and rest. Reading intends the sense of thoughtful examination of the world around us visually, literally, auditorily, and emotionally. You don’t have to go to exotic abbeys and other places to perform the four “Rs.” Here at home you can reflect in places like the Shirley Change Gallery and in May and June, you can wander in the University of Michigan Peony Gardens. These were designed and established in 1922 with many of the original plants donated by William Upjohn, an 1875 graduate of our medical school. The collection consists mainly of one species, Paeonia lactiflora, blooming in pinks, whites, and red. The peony is named after Paeon, a pupil of the Greek god of medicine Asclepius. When the teacher became dangerously jealous as his student began to outshine him, Zeus intervened to save Paeon by turning him into the flower. Thus you might argue that the peony symbolizes education’s ultimate aim – the success of producing students who outshine their teachers. The root of the peony is a common ingredient of traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Korean medicine. Indiana has made this its state flower.

Peonies Yun_Shouping Freer

[Peonies by Chinese artist Yun Shouping, 17th century. Freer Gallery]

Peony gardens

[UM Peony Garden, June 7, 2015]


9.     Hippocrates allegedly said: Life is short, and Art long; the crisis fleeting; experience perilous, and decision difficult. According to the way I read this enduring aphorism and the way it is punctuated, the fleetingness of life and durability of art are linked as one thought. Life creates art, but art transcends life, and being passed across generations epigenetically, art changes life by enhancing it, inspiring it, or altering its perceptions. My late aunt Evelyn Brodzinski, a painter throughout her life and a student of visual arts, once said in reply to my question as to what, actually, constitutes art “Art is anything that is choice.” In the process of creation, selection, and omission of material and information people produce content that, presumably, had some meaning to the artist. Craving meaning in our lives, we find value in inspecting the visual, literary, or musical content that had meaning for their creators. When we started the Chang Lecture on Art & Medicine in 2007, in honor of the Chang family of artists & urologists, we hoped to offer a yearly lecture that would link the 2 essential human interests of art and medicine in some way. The choices thus made by our lecturers over the years have been amazing, and last year’s lecture by James Ravin, ophthalmologist and author of the book, The Artist’s Eye, was superb. I eagerly anticipate this year’s talk by Pierre Mouriquand who is both a pediatric urologist and an accomplished artist.


The Chang Lecture, targeted to a general audience, has attracted growing number of friends and members of our community. “Public goods” of our university such as the Chang Lecture and the Peony Gardens are part of the social compact between the University of Michigan and its community.

Chang 2013


Chang 2014

[Top: Chang Lecture 2013; bottom: Hamilton Chang, James Ravin, Dr. Cheng-Yang Chang]


Tom & Sharon 2013 copy

[Tom & Sharon Shumaker, loyal Chang Lecture attendees. Tom passed away in January this year.]


10.    Universities are the single institutions of civilization that exist for tomorrow. At the individual level they provide a framework for individuals to find their specific relevance as well as to understand the cosmopolitan nature of the world and their responsibility in it. In the larger perspective they create new knowledge through inquiry and research to provide the ideas and technology of the future. It is no accident that the largest piece of most great universities has become the health care enterprise. This is totally appropriate since health care is a dominant part of the GDP, it ultimately affects everyone, and economically it employs 1 in every 6 citizens. The bedrock of the best medical school departments consists of its faculty and the glue to secure the best of the best is the endowed professorship. Last month we held a lovely ceremony in which we turned over three existing endowed professorships to three faculty members who will carry the names of the professorships along with their titles: Khaled Hafez the George Valassis Professor, Ganesh Palapattu the George and Sandra Valassis Professor, and Julian Wan the Reed Nesbit Professor. They are superb surgeons, noteworthy thinkers, and astute clinicians. The endowed professorships allow them a little independence from the daily pressures of clinical effort and funded research.  These three are smart and kind people of the highest order and I’m lucky to call them colleagues and friends. They epitomize the cosmopolitan nature of our department, medical school, and university. Cosmopolitanism is a term I’ve come to appreciate through the work of Kwame Appiah (another author for your reading list!) and it consists of the belief that all of us human beings belong to a single global community with shared values and principles. Julian, Khaled, and Ganesh will be teaching our next generation of physicians and producing useful new knowledge in the milieu of our essential deliverable: kind and excellent clinical care. Someday, their successors – the future Valassis and Nesbit chairs – will be doing the same in the world of tomorrow that we may hardly be able to predict, but that we have thus prepared for amply.

Triple prof

[Julian Wan, Khaled Hafez, Ganesh Palapattu]


Best wishes, and thanks for spending time on “Matula Thoughts.”

David A. Bloom



Matula Thoughts June 5, 2015

 Matula Thoughts June 5, 2015

(2686 words)

Summertime, wolverines, universities & other disparate thoughts from a clinical department of medicine at the University of Michigan


1.     Huron River  June at last. Even though clinical medicine is a 24/7 business, in contrast to the seasonality of the university calendar, we can’t help but notice that summer has arrived. Ann Arbor is a glorious place to be this time of year when you can walk along, fish, kayak, or canoe the Huron River (shown above with the Gandy Dancer in the distant background). Our applicants for residency training from the west coast or south see none of this lovely environment when we interview them in late November, a real recruiting disadvantage. Nevertheless, we have again recruited a superb resident and fellow cohort to start training with us next month. Spring and summer also bring the pleasure of seeing and hearing the birds in our neighborhoods. Surviving another rough winter and hatching their 2015 chicks, they bring to mind John James Audubon, who, born 230 years ago (April 26, 1785) in Haiti, documented and detailed all sorts of American wildlife, birds especially. His Birds of America is thought to have been the first book acquired by the University of Michigan after it moved to Ann Arbor in 1837. I learned this in an article by Kevin Graffagnino in The Quarto, the quarterly publication of our Clements Library [Fall-Winter 2014]. Kevin is the Director of the Clements, one of the crown jewels of the UM. The library’s magnificent reading room with its periodic displays is an ennobling place to spend a little time, although you will have to wait until the current renovations are completed.


[White House copy of 1826 painting of Audubon Portrait by John Syme]


2.     Gulo gulo. While Audubon is best known for his birds, his work also extended to mammals and included the Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, produced in 1845-48. The Quarto, mentioned above, included an image of a wolverine from the Quadrupeds (shown below). A miniscule number of wolverines still exist in the lower 48 states, but their Darwinian niche is contracting and it is unlikely that you or I will ever see one in the wild. Of note, a wolverine was spotted in Utah at a nocturnal baited camera station last summer. Kevin’s article says: “By one account, Ohioans were responsible for pinning the name ‘wolverine’ on Michiganians, claiming that they shared the animal’s ill temper and greedy nature.” Buckeyes can be relied upon for charming perspectives of their northern neighbors. 


Audubon’s wolverine

 The wolverine (Gulo gulo) is the largest land-dwelling species of the weasel family (Mustelidae). They have weights generally of 20-55 pounds but males have been found as large as 71 pounds. Their fur is thick and oily, making it very hydrophobic and resistant to frost. Like other mustelids their anal scent glands are very pungent. Aggressive hunters and voracious eaters, wolverines are extremely rare in Michigan outside of the Big House. The skull and teeth are the most robust of carnivores their size, allowing them to eat frozen meat and crush large bones. Gulo comes from the Latin term for glutton.


[National Park Service photo in Wikipedia. Taken in 1968]

Wolverine brown

[Wikipedia Commons, author Zefram, 2006]

 Wolverine ranges

[Wolverine ranges – Wikipedia]


3.     Linnaeus, nomenclature and humanity’s obesity. The identification of the wolverine as Gulo gulo is a convention of biologists that traces back to Carl Linnaeus in the 18th century (1707-1778). This Swedish physician got his professional start with a medical practice that rested heavily on its urological aspects and provided him the opportunity to initiate an academic career in Uppsala at the university where he developed his enduring nomenclature system. His university remains one of great institutions of worldwide academia.


Returning briefly to Gulo gulo, Linnaeaus never anticipated modern molecular biology, but ironically GULO also turns out to be L-gulonolactone oxidase, an enzyme that makes the precursor to Vitamin C in most living creatures although not Homo sapiens. GULO is nonfunctional in Haplorhini (namely us dry-nosed primates) as well as some bats, some birds, and guinea pigs. Loss of GULO activity in primates occurred around 63 million years ago when they (we) split into wet-nosed and dry-nosed suborders (Strepsirrhini and Haplorhini). It has been speculated that the critical mutation leading to loss of GULO production benefited survival of early primates by increasing their uric acid levels and enhancing fructose effects leading to fat accumulation and weight gain. (Johnson et al. Trans. Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 121:295, 2010) The human susceptibility to scurvy thus is a likely side effect of one of the critical evolutionary steps in the making of modern man. This amazing thought leads back to the University of Michigan and our beloved colleague Jim Neel, the founding chair, in 1956, of our Department of Human Genetics, that I believe was the first in North America, if not the world. Towards the end of his life, Jim often showed up for lunch in our medical center’s cafeteria, always toting his old well-traveled knapsack, and we had a number of provocative conversations on such matters as the biology of morality. Johnson refers specifically to Jim’s landmark “thrifty gene” paper of 1962 [Am J Hum Genetics. 1962;14:353-62] wherein Neel suggested that genetic adaptation of our primate ancestors to famine may have left modern day humans with an increased risk for obesity and diabetes when foods became plentiful. Johnson notes that while the thrifty gene hypothesis was initially well received “the inability to identify the specific genes potentially driving this response has reduced enthusiasm for the hypothesis.” Johnson’s 2010 paper revisits Neel’s hypothesis and argues that at least 2 critical mutations led to our genetic adaptation to famine: the silencing of genes necessary for Vitamin C synthesis and for uric acid degradation. These two “knock-outs” enhance the effect of fructose in increasing fat stores.   


 4.     Universities. The durability of Linnaeus’s university is no fluke. Darwinian forces have kept universities in play since their origin in the Middle Ages, and since then even grown their relative effect in society. When you think about it, it seems that universities are the only truly durable organizations that are legitimately here “for tomorrow.” A modern academic, David Damrosch, demonstrated this durability by quoting a study from the Carnegie Council, so permit me to repeat his observation. “A report by the Carnegie Council in 1980 began by asking how many Western institutions have shown real staying power across time. Beginning with 1530, the date of the founding of the Lutheran Church, the authors asked how many institutions that existed then can still be found now. The authors identified sixty-six in all: the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the parliaments of Iceland and of the Isle of Man – and sixty-two universities.” [Damrosch D. We Scholars. Changing the Culture of the University. Harvard University Press. 1996. p. 18] This is a powerful observation. For all their annoying features (medieval hierarchy, guild mentality, ecclesiastical titles, indentured work force, elitism, resistance to change, decentralization) universities function primarily to educate the next generation and advance knowledge.


5.     Named lectures. William J. Mayo, a graduate of the University of Michigan Medical School in 1883, left us $2000 as “a perpetual endowment for a yearly Mayo Lecture on some subject connected with surgery.” So that the fund could grow, he gave the first two lectures himself (1924 and 1925) and had his younger brother Charlie (a graduate of Northwestern University’s medical school in 1887) give the third lecture. Except for 1929, 1930, and 1945 the tradition has been continued. Reed Nesbit was the speaker in 1968. This year our colleague and friend Skip Campbell gave a superb talk called “From volume to value: charting a course for surgery.” He discussed our incipient brave new era wherein payments to health systems and individual physicians for services will disconnect from clinical volume alone (which is easily measured and indisputable) to parameters of quality and value (which are not so indisputably measured).

 Skip - Mayo Lecture

[Skip Campbell]


6.     Dick and Norma Sarns, friends and neighbors, have impacted our world and local community beyond easy measure. The impact of their company in Ann Arbor, Sarns Inc., innovator and producer of heart lung machine technology, has been incredible. The Sarns device was the one used by Dr. Christian Barnard in 1967 for the first human heart transplant. Other Sarns devices followed and the company was acquired in time by 3M and is now owned by Terumo Corporation. Cardiac rehabilitation became the next focus of Dick and Norma with their next company, NuStep, Inc. As benefactors to our community through the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, the University of Michigan, and numerous other nonprofits, the Sarns family has been uncommonly generous with astute focus on building a better tomorrow. The Sarns story is now permanently embedded in the  larger University of Michigan narrative in the Sarns Professorship in Cardiac Surgery. The choice of Rich Prager as the inaugural Sarns Professor is fitting. You may recall that Rich gave a magnificent Chang Lecture on Art and Medicine for us in 2013. You can revisit the  talk in his subsequent JAMA article on the murals of Henry Bethune (JAMA: PN Malani, RL Prager, “Journey in Thick Wood: The Childhood of Henry Norman Bethune”, JAMA, October 8, 2014, Volume 312.) Endowments such as the Sarns Professorship will allow the University of Michigan Medical School and Health System to recruit and retain the best of the best in academic medicine to teach the next generation, to discover new knowledge and technology for tomorrow, and to do these in the milieu of our essential deliverable – kind and excellent patient care.

Sarns  Rich Prager

[Top: Dick & Norma Sarns. Bottom: Richard Prager]


[Standing ovation for Rich Prager]


7.     Next week we will recirculate 3 three existing urology professorships in a ceremony that is long overdue (June 10 at 4 PM in the BSRB Auditorium). The Valassis endowment, originally given to Jim Montie by George Valassis, has grown enough to be split into two independent professorships. Ganesh Palapattu will be installed as the George and Sandra Valassis Professor, previously held by David Wood. Khaled Hafez will receive the George Valassis Professorship, previously held by Jim Montie. Julian Wan has taken over the Nesbit Professorship, occupied up till recently by Ed McGuire. These professorships will continue in perpetuity. These conjoined celebrations of the past and investments in the future will exist as long as the University of Michigan stands. We will need more endowed professorships here in Ann Arbor if we are to remain at the top of the game as a leader and one of the best in academic medicine as federal and clinical funding of medical education and research continue to slip.


 8.     The American Urological Association met in New Orleans this mid-May, having last convened in the Crescent City in 1997. University of Michigan faculty and residents had well over 100 abstracts, posters, podium sessions, and panels in addition to dozens of committee meetings. While it is impossible to even mention but a fraction of these, the MUSIC collaborative initiated by Jim Montie, deployed so excellently by David Miller and now assisted so well by Khurshid Ghani, was a highlight. This collaborative has brought many urologic practices and other urology centers outside the UM to podiums at the AUA in the interest of improving urologic care and practice. The quality, value, and safety of health care cannot effectively be managed centrally by government, industry, or national organizations such as the American Board of Medical Specialties. These attributes of excellence must be played out at the bedsides, clinics, operating tables, hospitals and in the offices of committed practitioners. Lean process believers would say that improvements in complex systems are most efficiently and effectively recognized and tested in the workplace, at the “Gemba” (lean process engineering terminology for workplace). Just as central management of a nation’s economy failed in the Soviet Union, central regulation of quality, safety, and “value” is a doomed experiment. Collaboratives such as MUSIC, built on trust and a desire to improve patient care, work best at the local and regional levels. An educational and social reception at the AUA showcased MUSIC and David Miller challenged the group to extend its work beyond prostate cancer to other urologic conditions. Walking through the main hallway of the giant convention center at the AUA meeting I kept seeing Toby Chai and Ganesh Palapattu on the video screen in the Rising Stars display. Michigan had a heavy presence at the AUA again this year.


9.     Our Nesbit Reception hosted more than 130 alumni, friends, faculty, and residents. For me the Nesbit Society events are high points of the year. We held this event at the 100 year-old Le Pavilion Hotel. Although hit hard by Katrina in 2005, Le Pavilion took in many of its employees with their families and pets in the wake of the devastation, yet was back up and running as a hotel by December of that year. The social part of a profession, especially a profession as social as medicine, is an essential part of its substance and pleasure and the Nesbit Society serves this function well. We had a large contingent from Denmark and the University of Copenhagen including Jens Sönksen and his daughter Louise who was a little girl when they lived in Ann Arbor. Barry Kogan, Bart & Amy Grossman, Marty & Anne Sanda, Kathleen Kieran, and our contributions to the Northwestern urology program (JO DeLancey, Diana Bowen, & Drew Flum) were on hand. So too were Sarah Fraumann and Jackie Milose who will both be doing reconstructive urology for the University of Chicago but at polar ends of the city. Stephanie Kielb of course is in the middle of the city on the Northwestern faculty. Jill Macoska was back from Boston and Bunmi (E. Oluwabunmi Olapade-Olaopa) was the most distant traveler, hailing from Ibadan, Nigeria. Many other former students and friends joined our faculty and residents for a lovely evening that Mike Kozminski and Julian Wan put together with Sandy Heskett and April Malis. Our next Nesbit event will be in the autumn (October 15-17), deep in the midst of football season and we have great expectations for our pigskin wolverines. With a new coaching staff on the scene we can well understand the need to have put aside our annual prostate cancer fund raiser, the Michigan Men’s Football Experience. It must be “first things first” for Coach Harbaugh’s team this inaugural year. While fund raisers come and go, our work in the Medical School and Health System remains nonstop without seasonality. Urologic research at Michigan continues to progress, with a number of exciting findings and technologies in play that will be discussed in upcoming departmental What’s New communications.

 Danes Jens & daughter

[Above-Danish contingent: L-> R Stefan Howart from Coloplast, Peter Oestergren, Lasse Fahrenkrug, Eric Halvarsen, André Germaine, Jens Sönksen. Bottom: Jens & Louise]

 Barry & Bart Marty & Cheryl

[Top-Barry Kogan Chair at Albany, Bart Grossman from MD Anderson; Bottom-Lindsey Herrel, Cheryl Lee, & Marty Sanda Chair at Emory]

 Osawa NPR ladies

[Top–Takahiro Osawa, Noburo Shinohara, Takahiro Mitsui; Bottom-Lindsey Cox, Yahir Santiago-Lastra, Anne Cameron]

 Alon, PAs, Jacuqi

[Alon Weizer, Jackie Milose, Mary Nowlin, Liz Marsh]


[Bunmi Olapade-Olaopa, Peter Knapp, Quentin Clemens]


10.    It is worth reflecting upon telltale signals that we either pick up or miss. On this particular day in 1981 the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that five people in Los Angeles, California, had a rare form of pneumonia seen only in patients with weakened immune systems. At the time this observation was a matter of only faint curiosity to most physicians, and of even less interest to the public at large until it turned out, in retrospect, to have been the first recognized cases of AIDS. In the crowded bandwidth of everyday clinical life, narrow subspecialty focus, and the administrative hassles of the practice of medicine it is important to keep a deliberate open mental channel tuned to the greater environment of healthcare and science. Many telltale signs that presage tomorrow surround us and one wonders what telltale signals we are missing amidst today’s noise and summertime moments.

May flowers [Lilacs in front of old Mott]

Upcoming events: Residents graduation dinner. Triple professorship installation. Chang Lecture on Art and Medicine Thursday July 16 – Dr. Pierre Mouriquand Professor Claude-Bernard University, Lyon, France: “Slowly down the Rhône: the river and its artists.”


Thanks for spending time on “Matula Thoughts” this month.

David A. Bloom