Matula Thoughts July 7, 2017

DAB What’s New July 7, 2017

 

The Fourth, stories, & art

3789 words

This commentary from the University of Michigan Department of Urology is sent out on the first Friday of each month in two versions, the email What’s New publication and the web posting matulathoughts.org. Matula is an ancient term for diagnostic flasks once used to inspect urine.

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One.              

July delivers a new cadre of interns/residents to hospitals around the country in the midst of divisive national controversy over healthcare. Momentary acronyms – ACA, MACRA, MIPS, AHCA, BCRA, etc. – rivet public attention, just as the next acronyms de jour will do a few years hence. Whatever paradigms and regulations spill out of Washington, the daily clinical work of healthcare, education of our next generation, and expansion of knowledge and technology will continue. New house officers leaping out of their starting gates this month may scarcely notice the regulatory nuances and social policy debates. I hardly noticed such matters at a similar time in my life in 1971, but today the impact of healthcare legislation and regulation seems increasingly important. These matters, furthermore, are deeply linked to the principles celebrated this past week, because foremost in America’s ongoing republican experiment is belief in human rights and self-determination and these are inextricable from health.

July 4th represents a pause of personal freedom and relaxation for most Americans. In addition to the general right of freedom, personal freedom requires a shared sense of social justice built on laws specific to given nations, societies and localities, such as speed limits in school zones, zoning rules, or sales taxes, yet aligned with universal human rights. Not all local laws meet the bar of social justice, examples are voting restrictions, sedition or blasphemy laws, childhood marriage, and eugenic sterilization. A book on the document that made the Fourth of July possible, Our Declaration written in 2014 by Danielle Allen, dissected The Declaration of Independence word-by-word, examined the milieu in which it was constructed, and distilled the underlying principles in its second paragraph (“We hold these truths to be self-evident …”) down to three “truths” after accounting for punctuation and syntax:

  • all people are equal in being endowed with the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, among others;
  • humans build governments to secure these rights and political legitimacy rests upon the consent of the governed;
  • when governments fail to protect these rights, people have a right to revolt. [Our Declaration. Liveright Publishing Corp. NY. 2014. 153.]

Fireworks2

[Fireworks, Barton Hills 2017]

 

Two.

The Declaration, read from a strict originalist or textualist perspective, or even interpreted from a common-sense viewpoint, places healthcare soundly within all three of those “inalienable rights.” Life speaks for itself, from birth through childhood and adulthood navigating the hazards of trauma, disease, and disability. Liberty is the matter of self-determination, a basic tenant of our nation and democracy. This is the freedom to make judgments, speak freely, pursue education, choose careers, or adopt life styles. Liberty requires personal independence and mobility, assets that logically depend upon health. The writers of The Declaration were specific in selecting pursuit of happiness as an inalienable right. The word, happiness, appears twice in the second paragraph of The Declaration. Happiness may have had a subtly different meaning 241 years ago, but it is likely that the Committee of Five charged by Congress to write The Declaration (Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston) did not intend a trivial or hedonistic sense. They recognized that people, individually and equally, shared the right to pursue happiness as they themselves determined that happiness and government was intended to be in service to its people: “…Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The Lancet last month included a relevant statement from a World Health Organization Working Group, speaking for health and human rights of women, children, and adolescents, but applying equally to all human beings and expressing the principles of The Declaration. The particular vulnerability of women, children, and adolescents throughout most of the world is a tragic reality built on countless stories, known and unknown. The Working Group comment extends beyond its particular portfolio because all human beings are vulnerable to catastrophes of climate, geology, famine, war, oppression, violence, economics, and biology.

“The powerful interplay between health and the human rights of women, children, and adolescents forms the cornerstone of the global development agenda. When their right to health is upheld, their access to all other human rights is enhanced. The corollary holds true. When their right to health is denied, the impacts inhibit their exercise of other human rights, undermining their potential …” [Halonen T, Jilani H, Gilmore K, Bustreo F. The Lancet. 389:2087-2089, 2017]

 

Three.

House officers and fellows explain their attraction to medical careers, at least in part, by belief in social justice and the opportunity to help people. Medical school debt, duty hours, documentation-compliance, RVUs, and personal well-being dampen those original attractors. Acrimonious debates on healthcare legislation center around views of healthcare as a right as opposed to healthcare as a commodity and personal responsibility. The words right and responsibility require deeper consideration, for example in a recent radio interview Tom DeLay, former U.S. Representative from Texas (1979-1983, 1985-2006) and House Majority Leader (2003-2005) stated he doesn’t believe that health is a right, but rather a responsibility. [Interview on NPR with Jeanine Herbst March 22, 2017.] His point that government has no “constitutional role in health insurance” is accurate from a textual Constitutional perspective, however to reduce the generality of healthcare to the particularity of health care insurance is neither logical nor helpful in the national debate. I use the DeLay quote only to introduce the consideration of healthcare as a right, not because of any claim to healthcare expertise or salutary wisdom regarding social justice he might offer.

Ian & Ted

[House officers Matt Lee & Ian McLaren choosing freedom over local rules.]

The truth in healthcare is close to home for most people. Health care involves each of us from antenatal days to final days of life. It is not productive to frame the national healthcare debate in the context of healthcare insurance, as insurance is only one method to fund a nation’s healthcare needs. Viewing the enormous panorama of national healthcare from only the insurance perspective makes no more sense than expecting the motor vehicle insurance sector to cover all motor vehicle costs including purchase, gasoline, cleaning, maintenance, safety inspections, collision repair, and damage from acts of nature, as well as highway safety, research and development, petrochemical sourcing, and traffic control.

The insurance industry, arguably, began at Lloyds Coffee House in 1686 of London as a source of shipping news and later marine insurance to mitigate catastrophic risks of sea commerce (above c. 1800 unknown cartoonist. Wikipedia). Insurance did not cover all expenses of sea trade, it covered true catastrophe, not operating costs, torn sails, or men overboard. The origin and evolution of American health insurance and the co-mingling of it with employment status is a story with many twists and turns, and federal involvement added further complexity. The result is an intertwined morass of funding streams and regulations, kinda looking like the Lloyd’s cartoon above. Rather than partisan ping pong, the solution to the national healthcare dilemma requires thoughtful bipartisan consideration of a framework to define rational public and private domains, responsibilities, and funding.

 

Four. 

Debate, essential to democracy, requires free speech and an open society that embraces education and cosmopolitanism. Conversations that challenge opinions, introduce ideas, and work toward consensus are fundamental to civic life as well as just and constructive public policies. This is how democracy works best, whether on national stages or in local workplaces.

Point counterpoint

We bring debate to Michigan Urology with point-counterpoint sessions at Grand Rounds when two residents square off with contrasting points of view to sway the rest of us. Our discussions are more prosaic than debates of health care as a right or commodity, because we are focused on learning urology. For example, Parth Shah recently offered the opinion that radical cystectomy should be performed by traditional open technique while Zach Koloff argued for the robotic platform (pictured above). They reinforced their positions with historical perspective and current data, deploying classic elements of argument. The impeccable characters of Zach and Parth represented ethos, their data supported logos of their claims, and considerations of pain, costs, complications, learning curves, and fiduciary responsibility bore pathos in the traditional rhetoric triad. The hospital conference room, newly refinished, was pretty much at capacity with about 45 in attendance including the usual 4-6 lurking at the back of the room with coffee and opportunity for stealthy egress.

 

Five.

The recurring biologic experiment of civilization evolved occasionally from the social networks animals depend upon to maintain each generation. A few eusocial species, if I may flip back to the writings of E.O. Wilson, create societies that successfully and become durable “megaspecies” in and of themselves. Wasp, bees, and ants are most notable, using chemicals or motions for communication. Specific signals trigger unified mass social actions such as directional movement, panic, or war. Ants, for example, manage their colonies with pheromones.

Fire_ants_01

[Above: marching fire ants, Stephen Ausmus http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos/dec04/k11622-1.htm]

The human advantage with civilizations is an ability to build and change them over centuries through communications transcending many generations and even millennia, allowing learning, creativity, and innovation. Individuals apply critical thinking, reexamine assumptions, experiment, analyze methodologically, and cooperate for durable change, passing information along to successive generations. Individuals naturally have individual points of view and debate allows cooperation and learning, leading to resolution, reconciliation, and centrism.  A strong center is essential for robust civilization, but just as ants and bees, humans are subject to mass manipulation by signals that, usually for us are money, ideology, propaganda, quackery, or charisma.

 

Six.

Conspiracy theories attract and entertain.  We are drawn to them, being hardwired to favor stories that fit our predispositions or play to our anxieties. Conspiracy ideas provide lazy mental short-circuits that displace critical thinking and rational re-examination of assumptions. Some conspiracies, of course, prove authentic, although my limited experience in the military and as an amateur student of history, is that major conspiracies are unlikely to remain long-concealed. Democracy is leaky due to First Amendment protections of free speech. Rare exceptions, such as campaigns that “loose lips sink ships” or the Manhattan Project, demonstrate that free society can maintain secrecy for critical intervals on rare occasions when the need is essential and widely understood. The rarity of these exceptions preserves their exceptionalism. When a regime tilts toward authoritarian rule and censorship becomes common, democracy slides away.

It is not wrong that news sources are polarized. The left side of the political spectrum reads left-sided sources while the right reads right-sided sources, and everyone blends opinions, facts, and stories to support their myths and to ascertain facts. The middle of the political spectrum is where democracy finds its balance, but sources of news and opinion that the center trusts are uncertain and conspiracy fears can spread like viruses.

400px-RoswellDailyRecordJuly8,1947

On this day in 1947 Major Jesse Marcel, intelligence officer of the 509th Bomber Group at Roswell Army Air Field inspected a debris field where an incident was claimed to have happened. [Above: Roswell Daily Record, July 8, 1947] Stories still emanate from that incident, blending facts and myths with no commonly-held authoritative version, but only colorful conspiracy theories. Those of us who grew up with the original X-Files series (1993-2002), centered around Roswell-type mysteries, are familiar with the haunting tune and the invitation to further inquiry: “the truth is out there.” The quest for truth is humanity’s big challenge.

All living creatures discern information from ambient noise. We humans create stories out of information and from the stories invent myths, models, and theories to derive meaning and utility. Careful analysis, by verification or scientific testing, pulls truth from facts, myths, models, and theories, nonetheless, truth remains elusive. The intersection of news and entertainment risks confusion and credibility as when the radio broadcast War of the Worlds in 1938 by Orson Wells created a minor panic for listeners who tuned in after its introduction as a radio play and thought that Martians were actually invading Earth. When trusted news anchors portray their roles in TV and film fiction they diminish their credibility. Worse, deliberate fake news tilts political opinion and instigates conspiracy fears that cannibalize civilized society by devouring trust that is the currency of civilized people.

 

Seven.          

Lapides copy 3

True facts. The story of Jack Lapides, former chief of urology here at Michigan, educator, and innovator (above) was briefly told in an obituary column his sister requested after he passed away. [New York Times. Nov 19, 1995] (The published version has a single typo, introduced by the newspaper that must have thought the reference to Charles Huggins was “Charles Higgins.”)  Jack’s surgical accomplishments continue to show up in urology clinics around the world, illustrating the long reach of an innovative surgeon. Surgeons fix problems, and one of Jack’s surgical innovations was the vesicostomy, a solution for bladder and sphincteric dysfunction by making an opening on the abdominal wall.

The concept and practice of urinary diversion preceded Lapides by many decades with the standard of care for neuropathic bladder in the mid-20th century consisting of suprapubic cystotomy, ureterosigmoidostomy, ureteroileostomy, cutaneous ureterostomy or nephrostomy. Lapides favored vesicostomy to eliminate urinary stasis, high pressures, and urethral incontinence, but standard ostomy devices were unreliable: “Initially, we employed the usual types of fecal colostomy devices for collecting the urine, but soon became disenchanted with the various appliances because of bulkiness, leaking of urine, skin reaction, malodor, and difficulty in changing the apparatus.”  [Lapides J, Boyd R, Fellman SL.  A urinary ileostomy device.  J Urol. 1958. 79:353-355.] Lapides created a device utilizing a rubber ring with changeable collecting condoms, being rapidly replaceable, streamlined and more acceptable to patients. As it gained popularity it came to be known as the Lapides urinary ileostomy. [Lapides J, Ajemian EP, Lichtwardt JR. Cutaneous vesicostomy. J.Urol. 1960. 84:609-14.]

Pediatric urologists utilize vesicostomy occasionally. Keith Schneider, pediatric surgeon in New York, and John Duckett, pediatric urologist in Philadelphia, subsequently described vesicostomy techniques of their own, but these were mostly replaced by Lapides’s clean intermittent catheterization methods after 1971 and the reconstruction approaches of W. Hardy Hendren. We honor the Duckett and Lapides names with lectureships here in Ann Arbor in July, as the first academic events of the residency training season. I carry the Lapides name with my endowed professorship and Hardy (mentor to John Park) continues to be an inspiration and friend to many of us in Ann Arbor.

 

Eight.

Intersecting story. Last year our departmental office got a call from Peggy Hawkins of Chevy Chase, Maryland, who identified herself as the sister of a former Lapides patient in need of help. Her brother, we can call Larry, was living in Florida and dependent on a vesicostomy Lapides created in June, 1968, but Larry was having trouble obtaining stomal supplies. Peggy, recalling the name Lapides, contacted our office for help. I called Larry and we got him in touch with our UM stomal experts who found some solutions.

Peggy called back recently to tell me that Larry recently passed away and filled me in on Larry’s amazing story. She assures me that Larry would have been pleased to share the following details of his life, particularly the importance of his vesicostomy to him.

Born in 1943, Larry was the only son in a family with two sisters. Popular and athletic, he played football and ran track in high school. After graduation from college with a major in political science he joined the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant and married his girl-friend. Larry was sent to Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in 1967. The Tét Offensive changed his life. Launched on January 30, 1968 by 80,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces during the Tét lunar new year holiday, the offensive was a coordinated series of attacks on over 100 cities and towns in South Vietnam. A mortar round that first day exploded just behind Larry causing tremendous concussive injury to his back and spinal cord with extensive shrapnel injuries, particularly to lung, liver, and upper extremities. The triage officer didn’t expect him to live, but Larry defied expectations and survived first to the field hospital, then to a general hospital in Japan, and next to Valley Forge Army Hospital in Pennsylvania, but with paraplegia and consequent lower urinary tract dysfunction that translated to sepsis and upper tract deterioration.

Bronze star

His medical condition continued to decline at Valley Forge and around this time a son was born. Larry separated from the Army in June, 1968 and was sent to the Ann Arbor VA that month where he came under the care of Jack Lapides who understood the deleterious nature of high pressures in the neurogenic bladder who explained that vesicostomy might extend Larry’s life another ten years, Peggy recalled. The procedure that June turned around Larry’s deteriorating clinical course and provided him another 48 years of independent life without urinary tract problems as long as he had access to stomal supplies.

After recovering from the operation and stabilization of his health Larry enrolled in law school in the fall of 1969, living in a nearby apartment with reasonable wheelchair access. With his Juris Doctorate he moved to Florida in 1972 mainly because of the flat terrain and more favorable climate, finding work in politics early on as an advocate for Veterans in Tallahassee. Larry received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star (above) with a “V” Device (for valor) in 1974. In 1978 he ran for public office and served 4 terms (1978-1986) in the Florida House of Representatives where he chaired the Veterans Affairs Committee and impacted a groundbreaking generic drug law. He was elected Dade County Commissioner 1988-1994 and sponsored nation’s first family leave ordinance (Miami-Dade employees 1992), helped the Miami community recover after Hurricane Andrew and found creative solutions to the influx of Haitian immigrants in Jackson Memorial Hospital and Dade County Public Schools. Larry served on the Board of Vietnam Veterans of America. His network of political friends included Bill Clinton and Senator Tom Harkin, who introduced the Americans with Disabilities Act in the Senate. Larry’s son died at age 34 in 2002, leaving Larry 2 grandchildren – a granddaughter who teaches kindergarten and a grandson currently serving in the Army. His step-son works for the U.S. Secret Service.

During his 48 years with a stoma Larry was able to engage socially and professionally. Never in those 48 years did he have a UTI, upper tract problems, or stomal problems, although access to stomal appliances, necessary for daily peace of mind, became increasingly difficult as the market for them disappeared. Larry died recently from multisystem problems, but without urinary tract issues. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

 

Nine.

The Tét Offensive of 1968 continued through February. Although a military defeat for the North it intensified the American public opposition to the war and created a crisis in the Johnson administration. The “credibility gap” that had become apparent in 1967 widened in 1968, the year US casualties peaked with 16,592 soldiers killed. In February that year the US Selective service called for a draft of 48,000 men and on February 28 Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara stepped down from office. McNamara had been a long-time college friend of my UCLA urology professor Willard Goodwin and coincidentally lived in Ann Arbor for a short period as president of Ford Motor Company. As early as mid-1966 McNamara, as defense secretary believed that “there was no reasonable way to bring the war to an end soon” and that we should quickly find a political solution with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. These were marginal opinions in the Johnson administration. [McNamara. In Retrospect. 1995. P 262] Many conspiracy theories abounded about the Vietnam War and some still resonate, but McNamara’s book lays out the story clearly, explaining the mistakes of management, failures of duty, and sins of pride led to escalation of conflict and flew out of control. The Fog of War. Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, a film by Errol Morris and a book by James Blight and Janet Lang, explains the cautionary tale.

 

Ten.

Chang Lecture.  Medicine without art is a commodity. Not to disparage commodities, we expect them to be dependable, available, and standard in quality. With health care however we prize human values of excellence, kindness, discernment, attention, discovery, innovation, and even virtuosity. For all of us as patients and families, our healthcare needs and expectations go beyond mere provision of commodities. Many services in medicine can be managed as commodities: blood pressure screenings, flu shots, blood draws, and dental hygiene are typical examples, although even these can be done artfully or not.  The routine blood pressure check requires thoughtful matching of cuff to body size and a few minutes of relaxation that puts the recipient at ease. Any human performance can be given with care, enthusiasm, and art – or not.

My aunt Evelyn Brodzinski, an artist, once said “Art is anything that is choice” after I asked her “What is art?” I quote her definition often. Art consists of the choices we make in the performances we give, whether delivery of a job, doodling on paper, whistling a tune, writing an essay, taking a picture, drawing a blood sample, or doing a surgical procedure. Any vocation can and should be performed artfully. Universities have a duty to propel this aspiration in all their fields of study, and the artful provision of healthcare should be at the top of any list of fields. The study of art is the study of choices in the world.

Gibbes

[Above: Lawrence exhibit Gibbs Museum, Charleston, SC]

We began the Chang Lecture on Art and Medicine in recognition of this obligation of our university. Such a lecture could just as easily come out of any of the 30 departments in our Medical School.  It could also have come from Michigan’s Department of Art History or School of Social Work. We brought it forward from the Department of Urology inspired by the linkage of art and medicine in the family of Dr. Cheng-Yang Chang, a urologist who trained and practiced at the University of Michigan, as well as founded a medical school in Taiwan and later practiced in Flint.  His father, Ku-Nien Chang was a famous painter in China and Dr. Chang’s oldest son is a urologist in Albany NY, trained here in Ann Arbor under Ed McGuire. Dr. Chang’s youngest son is a financial analyst in Chicago and one of UM’s best alumni supporters. This year Dr. David Watts, a prominent gastroenterologist in San Francisco and nationally-known humanist, will give the Chang Lecture July 20, 5 PM, Ford Auditorium.

AAAF 2016

[Life and the pursuit of happiness on Liberty. Art Fair. 2016]

 

Thanks for reading What’s New and Matula Thoughts.

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.

Menon

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.

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.

EO & JD

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 https://www.instagram.com/umichurology/, 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.

 

 

Three.

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.

1939_RCA_Television_Advertisement-1

[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.

 

 

Four.

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 matulathoughts.org 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?

Pistachio

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

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.

Piddling

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.

Skoal

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(http://www.wjperryproject.org/), 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.

AtomicEffects-p7a

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

AtomicEffects-p7b

 

 

Ten.

Cassandra

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 August 5, 2016

Matula_Logo1

Matula Thoughts – August 5, 2016

 

Summertime field notes, superheroes, and retrograde thoughts.
3975 words

 

Art Fair

Patient experience. Walking through the Art Fairs last month after great lectures from visiting professors, my thoughts wandered to Matula Thoughts/What’s New, this electronic communication that has become my habit for the past 16 years. It may be presumptuous to think that anyone would spend 20 minutes or more reading this monthly packet approaching 4000 words. Certainly, UM urology residents and faculty are too busy to give this more than a glance, and that’s OK by me. Of the 10 items usually offered I’d be happy if most folks just skimmed them and perhaps discovered one of enough interest to read in detail. Conversely, some alumni and friends hold me to account for each word and fact, and they are enough for me to know that this communication (What’s New email and Matula Thoughts website) is more than my whistling in the wind.

 

 

The_Doctor_Luke_Fildes copy

One.

Art & medicine. Luke Fildes’s painting, The Doctor, shown here last month, deserves further consideration in the afterglow of Don Nakayama’s Chang Lecture on Art & Medicine. [1892, Tate Gallery]. The duality of the doctor-patient relationship, ever so central to our profession, has gotten complicated by changes in technology, growth of subspecialties, necessity of teams and systems, and the sheer expense of modern healthcare. As Fildes shows, medical relationships in the pediatric world extend beyond twosomes and this actually pertains for all ages, since no one is an island. That nuance notwithstanding, the patient experience through the ages and into the complexity of today remains the central organizing principle of medicine.

Nakayama & Chang

[Dr. Chang & Don Nakayama]

An article in JAMA recently explored the patient experience via the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers & Systems (HCAHPS) Survey. Delivered to random samples of newly discharged adult inpatients, the 32 items queried are measurements of patient experience that parlay into hospital quality comparisons and impact payments. [Tefera, Lehrman, Conway. Measurement of the patient experience. JAMA 315:2167, 2016]

It is unfortunate that health care systems and professional organizations hadn’t previously focused similar attention on patient experience and only now are compelled to investigate and improve it by the survey. We may chafe and groan at HCAHPS, but it reflects well on representational government working on behalf of its smallest and most important common denominator – individual people.

Everyone deserves a good experience when they need health care whether for childbirth, vaccination, otitis, UTI, injury, other ailments and disabilities, or the end of life. If for nothing more than “the golden rule” all of us in health care should constantly fine-tune our work to make patient care experiences uniformly excellent because, after all, we all become patients at points in life. The individual patient care experience is the essential deliverable of medicine and the epicenter of academic health care centers from the first day of medical school to the last day of practice, after which we all surely will become patients again.

 

 

Twitter invasion

Two.

Educating doctors. Last week’s White Coat Ceremony was the first day of medical school class for Michigan’s of 2020. Deans Rajesh Mangulkar and Steven Gay with their admissions team assembled this splendid 170th UMMS class. Unifying ceremonies are important cultural practices and this one is an exciting milestone for students and a pleasant occasion for the faculty who will be teaching the concepts, skills, and professionalism of medicine. Families in attendance held restless infants, took pictures, and applauded daughters and sons. A “doctor in the family,” for most of the audience, happens once in a blue moon, a rare circumstance of joy, and certainly evidence of success and luck in parenting. The attentive audience for the 172 new students entertained only rare social media diversions. Julian Wan represented our department on stage.

Dee at White Coat

Dee Fenner’s keynote talk resonated deeply. She described her career as a female pelvic surgeon and its impact on patients and on herself. Dee talked about the symbolism of the white coat and skewered today’s hype about “personalized medicine”, saying that medicine is always rightly personalized; our ability to tailor health care to the individual genome is just a matter of using better tools.  Alumni president (MCAS) Louito Edje said: “This medical school is the birthplace of experts. You have just taken the first step toward becoming one of those experts.” She recommended cultivation of three fundamental attitudes to knowledge: humility, adaptability, and generosity. Students then came to the stage and announced their names and origins before getting “cloaked.”

Cloaking

The ceremony passes quickly, but is long remembered. Students shortly immerse in intense learning, although medical school is kinder today with less grading, rare attrition, and greater attention to personal success and matters of team work.

New student

My favorite “new medical student story” concerns the late Horace Davenport. He had retired before I arrived in Ann Arbor, but remained active in the medical students’ Victor Vaughn Society that met monthly at a faculty home for a talk over dinner. Davenport, an international expert in physiology, was a superb and fearsome teacher as one student, Joseph J. Weiss (UMMS 1961), recalled from the fall of 1957.

“In our first physiology lecture Dr. Horace Davenport grabbed our attention by announcing that the first person to answer his question correctly would receive an ‘A’ in physiology and be exempt from any examinations or attendance. The question was: ‘What happened in 1623? The context implied an event of significant impact to human knowledge. After a long pause the amphitheater echoed with answers: the discovery of America, the landing of the pilgrim fathers, the death of Leonardo da Vinci. Then Nancy Zuzow called out: ‘The publication of William Harvey’s The Heart and its Circulation’. There was sudden silence. She must be right. How clever of her. Of course a physiologist would see this landmark publication as an event to which we should give homage. Who would have thought that Nancy was so smart? Even Dr. Davenport was impressed. He asked her to stand, and acknowledged that she had provided the first intelligent response. ‘However,’ he noted, ‘that publication occurred in 1628.’ No one could follow up up on Nancy’s response. Dr. Davenport looked around the room, sensed our ignorance, realized we had nothing more to offer, and then said: ‘1623 was the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio.’ He announced that we would now move on and ‘return to our roles as attendants at the gas station of life”,’ and began his first in a series of three lectures on the ABC of Acid-Base Chemistry.” [Medicine at Michigan, Fall, 2000.  Weiss, a rheumatologist who practiced in Livonia, passed away in October 2015.  Zuzow died in 1964, while chief resident in OB GYN at St. Joseph Mercy, of a cerebral hemorrhage.]

First folio

 

 

Three.

New Perspectives. Visiting professors bring different perspectives and last month the Department of Urology initiated its new academic season with several superb visitors. Distinguished pediatric surgeon Don Nakayama gave our 10th annual Chang Lecture on Art and Medicine on the Diego Rivera Detroit Industry Murals. [Below: full house for Nakayama at Ford Auditorium]

Chang Lecture

I’ve been asked what relevance an art and medicine lecture has for a urology department’s faculty, residents, staff, alumni, and friends. Davenport would not have questioned the matter. This year, in particular, the lecture made perfect sense with Don’s discussion of what can now be called the orchiectomy panel in the Detroit Institute of Arts murals. Hundreds of thousands of people have viewed this work since 1933, including the surgical panel that art historians labeled “brain surgery” – a description unchallenged until Don revealed the scene represented an orchiectomy. His Chang Lecture explained the logic of Rivera’s choice.

Nelsons

Grossmans

Drach

[Top: Caleb & Sandy Nelson; Middle: Bart & Amy Grossman, Bottom: George Drach]

The day after the Chang Lecture, Caleb Nelson (Nesbit 2003) from Boston Children’s Hospital and Bart Grossman (Nesbit 1977) of MD Anderson Hospital in Houston delivered superb Duckett and Lapides Lectures. Caleb discussed the important NIH vesicoureteral reflux study while Bart brought us up to date on bladder cancer, greatly expanding my knowledge regarding the rapid advances in its pathogenesis and therapy. George Drach from the University of Pennsylvania provided a clear and instructive update on Medicaid coverage for children. Concurrent staff training went well thanks to those who stayed behind from this yearly academic morning to manage phones, clinics, and inevitable emergencies.

Lapides Lecture

[Above: Lapides Lecture, Danto Auditorium]

 

 

 

Tortise on post

Four.

Observation & reasoning. Don Coffey, legendary scientist and Johns Hopkins urology scholar, retired recently. Among his numerous memorable sayings he sometimes mentioned an old southern phrase: “if you see a turtle on a fencepost, it ain’t no coincidence.” A tortoise on a post isn’t some random situation that happens once in a blue moon, it is more likely the result of a purposeful and explainable action. (Of course, it is also not a nice thing.) Coffey was arguing for the importance of reflective and critical thinking as we stumble through the world and try to make sense of it, whether on a summertime pasture, in an art gallery, or in a laboratory examining Western blots.

[Above: tortoise sculpture on post. Mike Hommel’s yard AA, summer, 2016. Below: Coffey]

Coffey

feynman1

Richard Feynman (above), Nobel Laureate Physicist, offered a related metaphor.

“What do we mean by ‘understanding’ something? We can imagine that this complicated array of moving things which constitutes ‘the world’ is something like a great chess game being played by the gods, and we are observers of the game. We do not know what the rules of the game are; all we are allowed to do is to watch the playing. Of course if we watch long enough we may eventually catch on to a few of the rules… (Every once in a while something like castling is going on that we still do not understand).” [RP Feynman. Six Easy Pieces. 1995 Addison-Wesley. P.24]

Observation, reasoning, and experimentation are the fundamental parts of the scientific method that allows us to figure things out. Feynman’s castling allusion is brilliant.

EO Wilson_face0

[EO Wilson at UM LSI Convocation 2004]

E.O. Wilson went further with his thoughts on consilience, the unity of knowledge.

“You will see at once why I believe that the Enlightenment thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries got it mostly right the first time. The assumptions they made of a lawful material world, the intrinsic unity of knowledge, and the potential of indefinite human progress are the ones we still take most readily into our hearts, suffer without, and find maximally rewarding through intellectual advance. The greatest enterprise of the mind has always been and always will be the attempted linkage of the sciences and humanities. The ongoing fragmentation of knowledge and resulting chaos in philosophy are not reflections of the real world, but artifacts of scholarship. The propositions of the original Enlightenment are increasing favored by objective evidence, especially from the natural sciences.” [Wilson. Consilience. P. 8. 1998]

 

 

superheroes

Five.

Superheros. Somewhat to our cultural disadvantage our brains are hardwired to favor physical performance, entertainment, and appearances over intellectual leaps of greatness. We celebrate actors, athletes, politicians, musicians, and cartoons far more than great intellects. Worse, intellectuals in many periods of history were deliberately purged.

Coffey, Feynman, and Wilson are real superheroes of our time. Their ideas have been hugely consequential and they individually are role models of character and intellect. Another name to add to the superhero list is Tu Youyou (屠呦呦). My friend Marston Linehan first alerted me to her incredible story and discovery of artemisinin. It is also a story of how the better nature of humanity is subject to the dark side of our species and the nations we let govern us.

Born in Ningbo, Zhejiang, China in 1930 Tu Youyou attended Peking University Medical School, developed an interest in pharmacology, and after graduation in 1955 began research at the Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Beijing. This was a tricky time to be a scientist in Maoist China. Ruling authorities favored peasants as the essential revolutionary class and in May 1966, the Cultural Revolution launched violent class struggle with persecution of the “bourgeois and revisionist” elements. The Nine Black Categories (landlords, rich farmers, anti-revolutionaries, malcontents, right-wingers, traitors, spies, presumed capitalists, and intellectuals) were cruelly relocated to work or forage in the countryside while neo-revolutionaries disestablished the national status quo.

In 1967 as North Vietnamese troops contended in jungle combat with US forces, chloroquine-resistant malaria was taking a heavy toll on both sides. Mao Zedong launched a secret drug discovery project, Project 523, that Tu Youyou joined while her husband, a metallurgical engineer, was banished to the countryside and their daughter was placed in a Beijing nursery. Screening traditional Chinese herbs for anti-plasmodial effects Tu found Artemisia (sweet wormwood or quinghao) mentioned in a text 1,600 years old, called Emergency Prescriptions Kept Up One’s Sleeve (in translation). She led a team that developed an artemisinin-based drug combination, publishing the work anonymously in 1977, the year after the revolution had largely wound down and only in 1981 personally presented the work to World Health Organization (WHO). Artemisinin regimens are listed in the WHO catalog of “Essential Medicines.” Tu won the 2011 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award and in 2015 the Nobel Prize In Physiology or Medicine for this work.

Artemisia

[Above: Artemisia annua. Below: Tu Youyou with teacher Lou Zhicen in 1951]

Tu_Youyou_and_Lou_Zhicen_in_1951.TIF

 

 

Six.

It may be a human conceit to think of ourselves as the singular species on Earth capable of self-improvement. Considering the impact of Coffey, Feynman, Wilson, and Tu among other intellectual superheroes, imagination at their levels seems a rarity in the universe. Yet, any sentient creature wants to improve its comfort as well as its immediate and future prospects, for who is to say that a whale, a dolphin, a gorilla, or an elephant cannot somehow imagine a more comfortable, happier, or otherwise better tomorrow? In anticipation of another day, birds make nests, ants make tunnels, and bees make hives.

We humans have extraordinary powers of language, skill (with our cherished opposable thumbs), and imagination that provide unprecedented capacity to improve ourselves. Accordingly we easily imagine ourselves in better situations, whether physically, materially, intellectually, or morally, and as it is said, if we can imagine something we probably can create it.

Imagination of a better tomorrow is part of the drive for change as we consider our political future, although this can be risky. The intoxicating saying out with the old and in with the new has led to such things as the United States of America in 1776 or the Maastricht Treaty and European Union in 1992. Change, however, does not always produce happy alternatives, as evidenced by the Third Reich, the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the Arab Spring, or Venezuela’s Chavez era. Disestablishment does not predictably improve life for most people. The human construct, at its best and most creative, rests on a fragile establishment of geopolitical, economic, and environmental stability. The status quo that has been established may be imperfect, but is disestablished only at considerable risk.

Representational government and cosmopolitan society seem to be the best-case scenario for what might be called the human experiment wherein various factions of a diverse population come together to create a just social agenda and build a better tomorrow. The threat to this utopian scenario comes from factionalisms and tribalisms that insert narrow self -interests and litmus tests for cooperation into any consensus for agenda. We see this in the mid-east, in the European Zone, and in American presidential election cycles. Generally ignored or forgotten by competing factions and litmus-testers is the worst-case scenario of civil collapse. We experienced limited episodes of this in two World Wars, southeastern Asian catastrophes, central African genocides, Yugoslavia’s dissolution, and the collapse of Syria to name some instances. However sturdy we think human civilization may be, it is only a thin veneer in a random and dangerous universe. Civil implosions of one sort or another occur intermittently in complex societies, however we must become better at predicting them, circumventing them, and most importantly preventing their dissemination. Their catastrophic nature surpasses any sectarian interests or individual beliefs beyond the survival of civilization itself.

 

 

Moon June 17, 2016

Seven.

The Blue Moon, mentioned earlier, is a picturesque metaphor for an uncommon event. It’s actually not random, inasmuch as a blue moon is a second full moon in a given month (or other calendar period), so the next one can be accurately predicted. Since a full moon occurs about every 29.5 days, on the uncommon occasions it appears at the very beginning of a month, there is a chance of Blue Moon within that same month. The next Blue Moon we can expect will be January 31, 2018.

The song is a familiar one. It was originally “MGM song #225 Prayer (Oh Lord Make Me a Movie Star)” by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart in 1933. Other lyrics were applied, but none stuck until Hart wrote Blue Moon in 1935.

Nothing is visually different between blue moons or any other full moons. I took this picture (above) of a nearly full moon this June after some trial and error. A full moon is a beautiful thing and can’t help but give anyone a sense of the small individual human context. Friend and colleague Philip Ransley, now working mainly in Pakistan, spent much of his career aligning his visiting professorships around the world with lunar eclipses and lugging telescopes and cameras along with his pediatric urology slides. Receiving the Pediatric Urology Medal in 2001, barely a month after the tragic event of September 11, 2001, he spoke on lunar-solar rhythms, shadows, and their relationship to the human narrative: “… I would like to lead you into my other life, a life dominated by gravity and its sales rep, time. It has been brought home to us very forcibly how gravity rules our lives and how it governs everything that moves in the universe.” [Ransley. Chasing the moon’s shadow J. Urol. 168:1671, 2002]

PGR2

[PG Ransley c. 2005]

Ransley is currently working in Karachi, Pakistan at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation, the largest center of urology, nephrology, and renal transplantation in SE Asia. The pediatric urology unit at SIUT is named The Philip G. Ransley Department. [Sultan, S. Front. Pediatr. 2:88, 2014]

 

 

Eight.

Ruthless foragers. Earlier this summer a friend and colleague from Boston Children’s Hospital, David Diamond, brought me along for a bluefish excursion off of Cape Cod. These formidable eating machines travel up and down the Atlantic coast foraging for smaller fish. Like many other targets of human consumption, blue fish are not as plentiful as they once were, although they are hardly endangered today.

BluefishBiomass_Sept2015

[From Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission]

Just as we label ourselves Homo sapiens, the bluefish are Pomatomus saltatrix. Both, coincidentally, were named by Linnaeus, the botanist who got his start as a proto-urologist, treating venereal disease in mid 18th century Stockholm. His binomial classification system (Genus, species) is the basis of zoological conversation, although genomic reclassification will upend many assumptions. Also like us, the bluefish is the only extant species of its genus – Pomatomidae for the fish and Hominidae for us. Thus we are both either the end of a biologic family line or the beginning of something new. Our fellow hominids, such as Neanderthals, Denisovans, or Homo floresiensis didn’t last much beyond 30,000 years ago, although they left some of their DNA with us. It may be a long shot, but I hope H. sapiens can go another 30,000 years.

Bluefish

[Bove: ruthless foragers]

Teeth

Like us, Pomatomus saltatrix are ruthless foragers, eating voraciously well past the point of hunger. Their teeth are hard and sharp, reminding me of the piranha I caught on an unexpected visit to the Hato Piñero Jungle when attending a neurogenic bladder meeting in Venezuela some 20 years ago. Lest you think me a serious fisherman, I disclose there’ve not been many fish in between these two.

Pirhana

[one of 4 piranha geni (Pristobrycon, Pygocentrus, Pygopristis, & Serrasalmus that include over 60 species]

Linnaeus gave bluefish a scientific name in 1754, describing the scar-like line on the gill cover and feeding frenzy behavior (tomos for cut and poma for cover; saltatrix for jumper, as in somersault). I learned this from the book Blues, by author John Hersey (1914-1993), who was better known for his Pulitzer novel, A Bell for Adano (1944) or his other nonfiction book, Hiroshima (1946). [Below: Hersey]

Johnhersey

Michigan trivia: Hersey lettered in football at Yale where he was coached by UM alumnus Gerald Ford who was an assistant coach in football and boxing for several years before admission to Yale’s law school. Hersey became a journalist after college and graduate school in Cambridge. In the winter of 1945-46 while in Japan reporting for The New Yorker on the reconstruction after the war he met a Jesuit missionary who survived the Hiroshima bomb, and through him and other survivors put together an unforgettable narrative of the event. The bluefish story came later (1987).

 

 

Nine.

Today & tomorrow. Today is the start of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where 500,000 visitors are expected, presumably well covered and armed with insect repellent due to fears of Zika, an arbovirus related to dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses.
Tomorrow is a sobering anniversary. I was 11 days old, on August 6, 1945, when, at 8:15 AM, a burst of energy 600 meters above the Aioi Bridge in Hiroshima, Japan incinerated half the city’s population of 340,000 people. Don Nakayama wrote a compelling article on the surgeons of Hiroshima at Ground Zero, detailing individual stories of professional heroism. [D. Nakayama. Surgeons at Ground Zero of the Atomic Age. J. Surg. Ed. 71:444, 2014] We reflect on Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) not only to honor the fallen innocents and to re-learn the terrible consequences of armed conflict, but also to recognize how close we are to self-extermination. A new book by former Secretary of Defense, William Perry, makes this possibility very clear, showing how much closer we came to that brink during the Cuban Missile Crisis. [Perry. My Journey at the Nuclear Brink. Stanford University Press. 2016]

 

 

Ten.

Self-determination vs. self-termination. Life, and our species in particular, is far less common in the known universe than Blue Moons, it might be said, although those moons actually are mere artifacts of calendars and imagination. Art and medicine are distinguishing features of our species, Homo sapiens 1.0. The ancient cave dwelling illustrations of handprints on the walls and galloping horses, are evidence of our primeval need to express ourselves by making images. The need to care for each other (“medicine” is not quite the right word) is an extension from the fact that we are perhaps the only species that needs direct physical assistance to deliver our progeny. If our species is to have a future version (Homo sapiens 2.0) we will have to check ourselves pretty quickly before we terminate ourselves, through war and genocide, consumption of planetary resources, or degradation of the environment. While representational government, nationally and internationally, may be our best hope to prevent termination we will have to represent ourselves a lot better. That’s a fact whether here in Ann Arbor, in Washington DC, in China, Africa, Asia, or Europe.

Tribalism resonates with many deep human needs and it has gotten our species along this far, but H. sapiens 2.0 will have to make the jump from tribalist behavior to global cosmopolitanism. Sebastian Junger, a well-known war journalist, has written a compelling book that explores the human need for a sense of community that he describes by the title, Tribe. While we need better sense of community in complex cosmopolitan society, we cannot accept primitive tribalism, sectarianism, or nativism of exclusivity that exacerbate conflict among the “isms.” Tribalism cannot create an optimal or even a good human future whether the version is Brexist or ISIS, paths retrograde to human progress and the wellbeing of humanity in general.

Girl with pearl

[Girl with Pearl Earing, Vermeer, c. 1665, & viewers at Mauritius Museum, The Hague]

Reflections on art and medicine lead to cosmopolitan and humanitarian thought and behavior. Humanistic reflection, shared broadly, should track us more closely to a utopian scenario, rather than to catastrophe that is only a random contingency away.

Tulp

[Anatomy Lesson of Nicolaes Tulp. Rembrandt, 1632. Mauritius Museum, The Hague]

 

Thank you for reading our Matula Thoughts.

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

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]

Kayaks

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.

Golf

[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).

220px-The_Grasshopper_and_the_Ants

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.

Orch

[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.

Pettit

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