Rules, boundaries, and stories

DAB What’s New June 1, 2018

Rules, boundaries, & stories

3722 words

 

One.

Colors explode as summer opens up in June around Ann Arbor. The visuals are unsurpassed in the UM Nichols Arboretum Peony Garden, adjacent to Mott Children’s Hospital. The garden is a few years short of a century old and derives from Dr. WE Upjohn’s flower collection (pictures above and below, May 29, 2018).

Schools let out in June and summer vacation begins for most students north of the equator, echoing our agrarian history when children needed to be free to work on family farms. Today, farms don’t depend on child labor and most schoolchildren come from urban/suburban homes, the rural: urban ratio having flipped in the last 150 years. In 1870, 25.7% of the US population (38.5 million) was urban and 74.3% was rural, while by 1990 the ratio was 75.2% urban and 24.8% rural (population 248.7 million) and the trend continues, although summer vacation still rules in most schools and workplaces. [Table 4 US Census Data 1993.]

Doctors in training don’t get summers off, they have full 12 month cycles of education, with one random month for vacation, and our new cohort begins its turn next month here in Ann Arbor. [Above: Grand Rounds.] Time has framed graduate medical education in urology since the formalization of the American Board of Urology in 1935. Urology trainees at Michigan spend five years of postgraduate training after medical school, shorter than my time of residency at UCLA, although residents today are increasingly likely to put in additional years for fellowship training. The idea of “duty hour” limitation was a reaction to a few bad training programs that exploited residents, and the 80-hour work week is the national standard for residents in training. Another quantitative constraint is the concept of minimum numbers of specific operative procedures.

A qualitative dimension of regulation, educational milestones, was implemented within the last decade. Milestones reflected the enticing idea that GME should not routinely progress only according to clock, calendar, and case numbers, but according to acquisition of skills. The increased burden of administrative time and paperwork to document milestones, however, has been unmatched by any demonstrable value for trainees or programs and, if common sense prevails, milestones will likely get swapped out for another idea or experiment. Nonetheless, it is clear that time and numbers alone should not be the only measures of residency education.

Our new GME cohort. Residents Kathryn Marchetti from UM, Kyle Johnson from University of South Carolina, Javier Santiago from Baylor Medical School, and Roberto Navarrete from Wake Forest School of Medicine. Fellows Giulia Lane from University of Minnesota (FPMRS) and Jeffrey Tosoian from Johns Hopkins Hospital (SUO).  New Faculty: Bryan Sack from Boston Children’s Hospital and Courtney Streur who completes her pediatric urology fellowship both join our Pediatric Urology Division. Kristin Chrouser has joined our faculty this year from the University of Minnesota in NPR and will be mainly at the VA.

 

Two.

Time, curiously, has no role in baseball, the game of summertime. The sport has no relation to a clock – rather milestones of innings, runs, and outs mark the game’s progress. In this, baseball lends itself to being the ideal summer sport, unfettered by time and limited only by accumulation of three failures or “outs” and innings unless bad weather intervenes or until it gets too dark to play.

Baseball at Night, a painting by Morris Kantor on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, shows a minor-league game in West Nyack, NY, around 1934. Stadium lighting was a rarity then, given the long days of summer when play could continue until dark, although twilight made the game tenuous. Stadium lights shifted quickly from novelty to necessity and major league teams have played deliberate night games since 1935.

It’s hard to imagine baseball or any other sport without limits and rules, even if arbitrary or parochial, such as the designated hitter rule that now applies to one major league but not another. Rules matter and when different leagues play each other, they find it necessary to have rules that supervene their particular league rules. Rules create fair playing fields, allowing games to go forward and conclude peacefully.

Rules are equally essential for other social activities, organizations, and governments. The USA has the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The State of Michigan has its own constitution and laws, including term limits that guarantee frequent refreshment of the state legislature, but at the expense of deep institutional knowledge of the state and its components. The University of Michigan has its Regent’s Bylaws and Standard Practice Guide, as well as Michigan Medicine’s own sets of Bylaws. In all of these we rely on consensus for decisions, achieved casually in daily operations, more formally in committees (using Robert’s Rules of Order), and more broadly by public voting.

 

Three.

Communication skills are a pre-requisite for medical practice in both the essential transactions of direct patient care and in the complex team play of modern specialty medicine. [Above in foreground, Brent Williams, Professor of Internal Medicine, communicating with Michael Giacalone, Jr., Chief Medical Officer of the Hamilton Community Health Network in Flint.] Listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills are taught with variable degrees of success in elementary schools up through college, but medical practice demands more vocabulary and capabilities. Medical students, it is said, double the size of their vocabularies.

The traditional algorithm of healthcare starts with listening to the concerns of patients and then probing for additional information to construct a medical history, including relevant comorbidities and circumstances. Patients are physically examined and data is assembled into coherent narratives. Diagnosis, prognosis, and therapy derive from those stories in which authenticity and accuracy are assumed.

Modern electronic systems impose new communication challenges. Email and texting are immediate and convenient, but lack the human factors of facial cues, thoughtfulness, and social grace. Electronic medical records (EMRs) constrain work flows to templates and replace human narratives with check lists, pop-up choices, keyboard entries, and cut-and-paste phrases. The actions of data entry detract from listening, looking, and communicating with patients. Healthcare processes today do not prioritize stories, and it seems to me that appreciation of the art of the story lies at the heart of excellent clinical care. It’s no great leap of faith to claim that the art of authentic storytelling and story construction is the basis of most human relations, from compelling stories around campfires to A3 storytelling in lean process engineering. Truth and authenticity matter. Listening to them and weaving them are art forms.

 

Four.

Physician-author William Carlos Williams appeared on these pages earlier this spring and since then I’ve been thinking of the different contexts in which physicians write, and first and foremost, physicians write the stories of their patients.

Williams, you may recall, was the author of Spring and All of which a recent edition included an introduction by C. D. Wright comparing Williams to an earlier poet from New Jersey, Walt Whitman: “Like Whitman, he [Williams] would gradually come to a great human understanding, an apprehension that eluded most of his peers.” [Spring and All. WC Williams. New Directions Book, 2011.]

We pursue that greater human understanding on a daily basis, working in medicine, through stories learned and experiences gained, patient-by-patient. The dilemmas of patients are understood in terms of their stories, that must be heard, elucidated, and constructed from evidence and reasoning on the part of those who undertake the responsibility for helping. Stories are important to people, and we dignify them with our attention.

Electronic medical records are poor platforms for authentic narratives. The construction of narratives in the minds of physicians and the translation to visible words in some medium is a core element of the profession of medicine, framing the response of the care-giver in terms of advice, reassurance, therapy, and prognosis. This is the central organizing feature of the doctor-patient relationship, comprising the daily shop-talk of medical practice. A story must be accurate, with true facts, but also authentic, in reflecting circumstances and co-morbidities (an economist might call these externalities) framing the “present illness” and creating a context for further conversation and therapy. In my experience, an authentic and empathetic story only fully emerges after the history, physical exam, and further discussion with patient and family.

My own clinic notes were once written or dictated well-after the clinical visit when the story was relatively complete and coherent. The reduction of clinical notes to formulaic elements such as the SOAP format (subjective, objective, assessment, and plan) or the E&M format (Evaluation & Management: chief complaint, history of present illness, review of systems, etc.) fits computer entry systems nicely, but has disrupted the traditional medical work-flow that create stories.

It is challenging to find the words to describe this fundamental type of medical writing whether in narratives or EHR. Quotidian medical communication seems to fit, even though not everyone is familiar with the use of quotidian for daily or routine. Quotidian communication must be accurate, truthful, and authentic to each patient. Most healthcare workers are writers and their products are stories of patients. A brief piece in The Lancet by Roger Kneebone called “The art of conversation” expresses the idea of the clinical conversation that we have clumsily called “taking a history.” Kneebone expressed his thoughts more elegantly than I have, so I’ll just quote two sentences and refer you to the rest. [The Lancet. 391:731, 2018.]
“A conversation is a one-off live performance that can never be repeated. Its essence is its evanescence, and attempts to capture in writing are as thin as reading the script of a play or film.”

 

Five.

Stories suffuse all types of medical writing. Scientific writing for journals, grants, or textbooks is the bedrock of healthcare research and progress. Just as with stories of patients, this writing is predicated on accuracy, and clarity is enhanced when a meaningful story is constructed from the science. Medical journalism, another form of medical writing, communicates to the public about medical science and practice. Medical memoir is another important genre, also written for the public but usually as personal storytelling or essays.

William Carlos Williams and others divert into creative reflections through prose and poetry. These writers mainly tell stories they create, often based on authentic experiences, but with “literary license.” Many of these physician-writers venture into fiction at the other end of the spectrum of medical writing, although this too requires authenticity in that stories revolve around individual experiences, conflicts, tensions, issues, and environments that are genuine to the reader’s senses. The fictions may involve other species or galaxies, as with the work of Michael Crichton, but if the stories are well-crafted they contribute to that greater authentic human understanding. To summarize medical writing variants: a.) the daily writing of clinical practice, b.) scientific writing, c.) medical journalism, d.) medical memoir, e.) creative reflections, and f.) fiction.

We are a species of stories and understand ourselves through stories far better than through data. That greater human understanding is accessed through narrative better than through numbers. The novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, in his 2017 Nobel Prize Lecture, praised the “… quiet private sparks of revelation …” to be found in stories. “Stories can entertain, sometimes teach or argue a point. But for me the essential thing is that they communicate feelings. That they appeal to what we share as human beings across our borders and divides.” [Ishiguro. My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs. AE Knopf. NY 2017.]

 

Six.

A pig story. It doesn’t take much to disturb a comfortable status quo or otherwise disrupt peaceful human relations. An obscure story exemplifying this began on June 15, 1859 on San Juan Island, a place east of Vancouver Island where both the United States and Great Britain claimed sovereignty, after the Oregon Treaty of June 15, 1846, exactly 13 years earlier. [Below: blue Haro Strait boundary favored by US, red Rosario Strait favored by Britain, green compromise proposal. Copyright Derek Hayes, Historical Atlas of the Pacific Northwest. Sasquatch Books, Seattle, 1999.]

Peaceful co-existence remained in play until a British pig, owned by Hudson’s Bay Company employee Charles Griffin, wandered onto an American farm to eat some potatoes. This wasn’t the first transgression and Lyman Cutlar, the American farmer, shot and killed the trespassing pig. Cutler’s offer of $10 compensation was refused and the British threatened to arrest him. Sixty-six American soldiers under the command of Captain George Pickett were dispatched to the island to prevent British forces from landing. The British countered, bringing three warships offshore, soon escalating to five ships, 70 guns, and 2140 men. American forces then swelled to 461 men with 14 cannons, as diplomacy failed and the dispute escalated into The Pig War. The British governor of Vancouver Island ordered Rear Admiral Robert Baynes to land his marines on San Juan Island, but Baynes wisely refused to further escalate the “squabble over a pig” and the war remained bloodless, aside from the porcine tragedy.

In October, President Buchanan sent General Winfield Scott to resolve the crisis and negotiations resulted in an agreement that the British could occupy the north half and the Americans the south with each side allowed up to 100 troops pending further formal agreement. No wall was built, and in 1872, a full 13 years after the ill-fated pig, an international commission led by Kaiser Wilhelm I, decided that the entire island should fall under American control and so it remains.

 

Seven.

Henry Martyn Robert was one of the 66 American soldiers stationed on San Juan Island under Pickett’s leadership. It’s hard to know how he felt about his mortal jeopardy over the cause of a pig, but it’s a good thing the conflict remained bloodless and Robert went on to bigger things. Born in Robertville, South Carolina, he grew up in Ohio where his family moved due to their opposition to slavery. Robert’s father, Reverend Joseph Thomas Robert, would later become the first president of Morehouse College (1871-1884). Henry went to West Point and graduated fourth in his class in 1857, becoming a military engineer and building the fortifications on San Juan Island in 1859. He remained with the North during the Civil War, attending to defenses around Washington, Philadelphia, and New England Harbors. After the war, he served the Army Division of the Pacific from 1867-1871, then developed ports in Wisconsin and Michigan, later improved harbors in New York and Philadelphia, constructed locks and dams in Tennessee, and performed more civil engineering pertaining to the Mississippi River and Hurricane Isaac in Galveston. He died in 1923 and is buried at Arlington. [Below: Brigadier General Henry Martyn Robert, Wikipedia.]

Although Robert’s military service was significant, we remember him today for his civil engineering of practical rules for human interaction. These came about in 1876 after losing control of a church meeting he was leading in New Bedford, Massachusetts when it erupted over abolitionist views. Robert blamed his ineptitude for the fiasco and decided to teach himself how to run a meeting. His study of the procedures of the House of Representatives led to his Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies. He wrote:
“One can scarcely have had much experience in deliberative meetings of Christians without realizing that the best of men, having wills of their own, are liable to attempt to carry out their own views without paying sufficient respect to the rights of their opponents.”

Robert’s world was framed by his gender and faith, but his rules have endured because they are independent of his particularities. Robert’s Rules of Order apply to almost any human gathering and, like the rules of baseball, Robert’s Rules level the playing field and allow the game to go forward. [“Historical Vignette 038 – An Army Engineer Brought Order to Church Meetings.” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Office of History. November 2001. Retrieved 2015-12-02.] His rules offer protocols for civilized and democratic behavior.

 

Eight.

Michigan hosted its first Teeter Symposium last month, focusing on bladder cancer in honor of our Ann Arbor friend Bob Teeter, who died a decade ago from bladder cancer in spite of radical cystectomy. [Above, Bob and Betsy Teeter; below, Teeter Laboratory Plaque.]

Since then, knowledge and therapy of bladder cancer have increased by a quantum leap, although more leaps are necessary to obliterate the pain, suffering, and mortality of that disease. The day-long event, organized by Alon Weizer, featured 2 guest speakers and held an attentive audience that topped 50, with excellent talks and superb discussions. The event fulfills one of the items on my bucket list as department chair and honored not just Bob and his surgeon Jim Montie, but also some generous gifts for laboratory investigation that we gained after Bob passed away.

The first guest lecturer, Thomas Bender, MD, PhD (above) from Dow Chemical, spoke about the Health Hazard Evaluation Program for former employees of a chemical plant that had been closed in 2002, but Dow later acquired its parent company, Morton, in 2009. As I sat in the audience, wondering how to link this month’s Matula Thoughts to the Teeter Symposium, Dr. Bender said a magic word: Paterson. That’s where the chemical plant had been since 1929. Paterson, New Jersey, was the home of William Carlos Williams.

The next invited speaker, Elizabeth Plimack MD, MS, Chief of Genitourinary Medical Oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center, grew up in Ann Arbor. Her parents and mentor Richard Swartz were on hand to hear her excellent talk Immunotherapy and Beyond. In attendance was Monica Liebert (Nesbit 1984 below), now retired, but still working in our laboratories. Monica developed many bladder cancer cell lines in her heyday and these are still utilized in our research efforts.

Our own Khaled Hafez (below, Nesbit 2004) closed the event with a superb talk on Clinical Management of Patients with Locally Advanced Bladder Cancer, a topic close to his heart and emblematic of his skill set, as he is surely one of the best in the world at this craft.

 

Nine.

The AUA annual meeting last month in San Francisco featured the usual strong Michigan presence. San Francisco was also the site in 2010 where the picture of our inaugural chair, Jim Montie (Faculty Nesbit 1995), was taken. In addition to turning over a very strong group of faculty and department, in 2007 when the current departmental administration began, Jim turned over a positive team culture, rather than a “me-me-me” culture. Jim not only remained relevant to the department, but remains a keen participant and a role model of leadership.

 

Looking through those 2010 Nesbit reception pictures, I found a picture of the late and truly great Cornell Urology Chair, Darracott Vaughan, flanked by Jennifer Anger of UCLA and Hunter Wessells, chair at the University of Washington in Seattle (below).

But now back to 2018.

Above: Emilie Johnson, Nesbit 2011, with her iconic mentor from Boston, Alan Retik. Below: Julian Wan, Nesbit 1990, at one of his podium appearances, knocking it out of the park.

[Below: Music reception with Khurshid Ghani, Faculty Nesbit 2013, & David Miller, Nesbit 2005.]

The Nesbit reception this year at the Hotel Vitale on Mission Street hosted around 100 alumni, friends, and current team of the Urology Department. Below, a partial view of the crowd.

 

[Above: Damon Davis, Nesbit 2007. Brian Sack will start with us in pediatric urology this summer. Kristin Chrouser joined us this winter from Minneapolis and is centered at the VA. Below: Irene Crescenze current fellow FPMRS, Cheryl Lee, Nesbit 1997, now chair at Ohio State, Bert Chen, Nesbit 2006.]

[Above: Stu Wolf, Faculty Nesbit 1996, now in Austin, Udit Singhal PGY 2, Alon Weizer Faculty Nesbit 2005, Bunmi Olapade-Olaopa Nesbit, 2000. Below; Betty Newsom, Nesbit 1990, Bart and Amy Grossman, Nesbit 1977.

[Above: Lynda Ng, Nesbit 2005 and Jerilyn Latini, Faculty Nesbit 2003. Below: Steve & Faith Brown, friends of Michigan.]

[Above: Tom Stringer, Dept Urology Florida, Barry Kogan, Nesbit 1981 and Chair Albany. Below: Hugh Flood, Nesbit 1991, of Clonlara, County Clare, Ireland. Below: Simpa Salami, Nesbit 2017 & guest Mohamed Jalloh of Dakar, Senegal.]

 

Ten.

Boundary matters. A few months past the JAMA column, A Piece of My Mind, came from Jeffrey Milstein at Penn Medicine [Milstein. The envelope. JAMA. 319:23, 2018] and detailed his office visit with a 70-year-old patient who carried a large white envelope, assumed to be “outside records.” Most of us get these, not infrequently, indicating that a second or third opinion is expected. On the occasion of this particular visit, the details were those of a 32-year old son who had recently passed away due to cancer. The envelope contained a stack of records with an obituary on top. The patient first wanted to talk about his son and then the course of his disease, tests, hospitalizations, treatments, and emotional toll. Then, after “a long moment of silence” the patient explained that he himself had not been to a physician in years, but needed to tell his son’s story before committing to his own care. The clock had run down by then and “the time for the visit” was over leaving nothing that could be documented in the EHR about the patient himself. The author noted “so another visit must be scheduled.”

So, it seems medical care today has tight boundaries of time and information. Boundaries for nations, sports, politics, education, business, are important, but some are more important than others. The Pig War, a foolish dispute, easily could have escalated to bloodshed, leaving us no Robert’s Rules. Rules and boundaries in sports allow games to proceed fairly and end peacefully. Some boundaries in health care are tight and timeless, as evidenced in the Hippocratic Oath or as shamefully dishonored by occasional bad actors. The constraints of the EHR are self-inflicted wounds of the business of medicine, and should be viewed with minor contempt and never honored at the expense of a patient.

Baseball, timeless as it is, nonetheless must be somewhat mindful of the clock. Some fans may have babysitters, while transportation drivers and other workers are paid by the hour. The number of pitches thrown is a clock of a sort. Still, the essence of the game is indifferent to time. The same is true for conversations with patients. Life and schedules are much easier when each patient’s visit goes according to clockwork precision, but the essential transaction of the crucial conversations not infrequently runs afoul of anticipated timed encounters. These conversations are unique in the human repertoire and can have the most profound implications. Skilled clinicians know when and how to diplomatically crowd the later patients, run through lunch, or regroup with an expansive patient later in the day or soon thereafter. Such is the art of medicine.

 

Thanks for reading Matula Thoughts this June, 2018.
David A. Bloom
University of Michigan, Department of Urology, Ann Arbor

Mays and blues

DAB Matula Thoughts May 4, 2018

Mays, blues, & other thoughts
3855 words

 

One.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Four.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

[Below: Jean and Mary DeKernion.]

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

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

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

 

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

[Above: Grady Festschrift group photograph.]

 

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

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

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

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

 

Eight.

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

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

 

Nine.

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

[Above: The Rock.]

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading Matula Thoughts.

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