Matula Thoughts August 5, 2016

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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