Sunrises, sunsets, & summer imaginations

Matula Thoughts Aug 3, 2018

Sunrises, sunsets, summer imaginations & facts

3951 words

One.

Michigan sunrises and sunsets are hard to beat this time of the year. [Above: Michigan sunrise: Campbell Cottage, Platte Lake, 6 AM July 9, 2018.] Regional newcomers find our summer nights come late, due to the fact that Michigan is about as far west and north as you can go in the U.S. eastern time zone. The western claim seems to be a true fact, at a tiny corner of Ontonagon County in the Porcupine Mountains, west of Silver City, Michigan (89.887453 west and 46.766675 north). The nearest named place on the map is Lafayette Landing, northeast along the Lake Superior shoreline (longitude 89.8407 west, latitude 46.7991 north) where August sunsets will be late and no doubt amazing.

Michigan still stretches further west to Gogebic County, but all four Michigan counties bordering Wisconsin are in the Central Time Zone (Gogebic, Iron, Dickinson, Menominee). If you extended the entire Eastern Time zone to a line drawn south from Lafayette Landing, the zone would incorporate Madison, Chicago, Memphis, Jackson, and Bogalusa, Louisiana (89.83881 west, 30.780556). Michigan comes close regarding the northern claim, but the most northern U.S. mainland place in the eastern time zone is actually Estcourt Station in Aroostook County, Maine, at a latitude of 47.4582 north with a population of 4, barely displacing Eagle Harbor in Keweenaw County, Michigan, at 47.45 north, 88.156 west (population 76).

However, if you are willing to navigate to Isle Royale National Park, you can expand the northerly  claim. Even better, Isle Royale has 450 minor islands and Gull Island may be the most north (48.2622 north, 88.26472 west). Rock of Ages Lighthouse is further west in Lake Superior, (89.3133 west, 47.86667 north), but not as west as Lafayette Landing. Possibly some real navigators could improve on these claims of fact, all derived from maps and Internet.

New house officers are a big academic feature of summer at the University of Michigan. We select them carefully and anticipate their arrival eagerly. This is sunrise for their most critical phase of medical training, graduate medical education (GME), where they learn the art, science, and skills of their careers as doctors, a phase more intense than medical school and may take more than twice as long. New trainees and new faculty (see item eight) regenerate our department and our field. Joining us as residents (postgraduate level 1 or PGY 1) last month: Kyle Johnson from University of South Carolina, Katie Marchetti from UM, Roberto Navarrete from Wake Forest, and Javier Santiago from Baylor. Joining us as fellows are: Giulia Lane from the University of Minnesota and Jeff Tosoian from Johns Hopkins. Their starting month was intense, after undergoing extensive onboarding processes, but their time off in Ann Arbor and environs should be pleasant with long sunny days to enjoy the Summer Festival, Art Fair, Farmers Market, Purple Rose Theater, Metro Parks, Detroit Tigers, restaurants, Manchester United vs. Liverpool at Michigan Stadium, and regional explorations, among countless other opportunities. All too soon daylight will shorten, work will intensify, as the full academic season unfolds next month and 2019 lines up in the batter’s box.

[Above: Lake Michigan sunset, Esch Road Beach near Empire, August 18, 8:43 PM 2011. Below: Sunset & rainbow, Grand Haven, July 22, 9:15 PM, photo credit, Carol Spahlinger.]

 

Two.

The term Michiganders surprised me the first few times I heard it after arriving in Ann Arbor in 1984 but now, accustomed to it, I occasionally use it myself. Michigander is a demonym, although a favorite author, John McPhee, didn’t include it among citations of other examples, such as Mancunians, Minneapolitans, Providentians, Haligonians, and Liverpudlians [McPhee. Draft No. 4. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017. p. 173.] Sense of place matters deeply to most people, defining personal identity in large part. As much as Vonnegut deflated the notion of self-identification with organizations or geography, as for example being a Hoosier, pride of place memes are important. [Cat’s Cradle, 1963.]

In addition to its soccer team, Liverpool brings up memories of the Beatles, however pediatric urologists and pediatric surgeons of my vintage also think of Mr. Herbert Johnston (above, c. 1986), who practiced at the famed Alder Hey Children’s Hospital where innovations of safe prolonged general anesthesia advanced the range of pediatric surgery and urology. From its first public demonstration in 1846 until the mid 20th century, general anesthesia carried significant morbidity and mortality risks that increased with the duration of anesthetic time, so procedures had to be brief. With safe induction, tracheal intubation, controlled gas flow, and vital sign monitoring, surgical procedures grew in length and complexity. Blood gas, end-tidal CO2, and peripheral oxygen saturation measurement further enhanced safety and permitted extraordinary interventions including cardiac operations, organ transplantation, extensive cancer extirpations, and major bodily reconstructions. With operating rooms less tense and frantic, background music became commonplace and, given the popularity and sheer quantity of Beatles tunes, it is likely to hear them during surgery in operating rooms around the world today.

Soccer, or European football dominated many conversations in our department last month and in spite of the loss of his beloved British team the day before, Khurshid Ghani sportingly hosted a backyard viewing of the World Cup final between France and Croatia (below). Last weekend at Michigan Stadium, Liverpool defeated Manchester United 4:1 during their U.S. tour, jumping the Liverpudlian factor in operating rooms around the world from two-pronged to three-pronged when conversations turn to soccer, before or after, but never during “time-outs” of course.

 

Three.

The Chang Lecture last month connected me to Joel Babb, an artist living in Maine. Having spent many childhood summers in Maine I jump at the chance to reconnect there, obvious demonym notwithstanding. Joel’s depiction of the first successful renal transplantation, on display at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, was featured in our Chang Lecture, and Joel was very generous with permissions and digital files. He created the painting with the help of its principle innovator, the late Joe Murray, a close friend of my former professor at UCLA, Will Goodwin [Above: Joel Babb, self-portrait with dog, Ruskin. Below: Joe Murray visiting UM and a younger DABc. 1990.]

The First Renal Transplantation shows a large team of two operating teams and consultants necessary for that landmark event in 1954. [Below: study for First Renal Transplantation, Joel Babb.]

Joel sent us other examples of his work including the first face transplant in the Western Hemisphere, and a book by Carl Little, Nature & Culture, The Art of Joel Babb. [University Press of New England, 2012]

Medical care, initially a simple one-to-one expression of human empathy, has expanded to team-based efforts that blend science and the art of humanism. The balance is asymmetric according to teams, individuals, and locations. Organizational culture largely determines the blend, varying from day to day and hour to hour, as is true for most human efforts. Intrinsic to the humanism of medical care are principles of equity and kindness, although these are susceptible to submersion by political and economic milieus, whether based on consumerism, capitalism, socialism, or any other “ism” other than humanism. Some new meme of universal humanism is an existential necessity for our species, but it is expressed far too weakly and drowned out by larger themes of place and personal identity. That new meme must somehow embrace deep respect for all places and identities, but it seems sadly faint just now.

 

Four.

Place, whether urban space or landscape, has been a dominant part of Babb’s work and his surgical paintings seemed, at first glance, a departure. Sense of physical place gives familiarity and security, whether pastoral landscape, city, neighborhood, occupational, or particular health care location – operating room, ICU, emergency room. The human need for relevance makes us seek that sense of place in teams, although exaggerated sense of place, is destructive, leading to smugness, self-importance, or xenophobia. In the sense of teams, then, as place, Babb’s surgical paintings are really no departure from theme.

When sense of place is disrupted, particularly for reasons beyond an individual’s control, the disturbance must be unimaginable for those of us naïve to such grim experience. An astonishing statistic appeared in a recent book review in The Lancet by Jennifer Leaning: “One out of every 113 people in the world is either an asylum seeker, a refugee, or internally displaced, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).” [The Lancet. 390:2136, 2017.] The book at issue, Refugee by Alexander Betts and Paul Collier, brings a new category of refugee into play in increasing numbers, the climate refugee. It seems that we owe it to ourselves, as a species, to secure safety of place – the idea of home – through our governments, and to mitigate it as best we can when we encounter its disruption. This should be a cardinal responsibility of the civilization we maintain for ourselves and build for our successors.

Disturbance of personal homeostasis threatens the most immediate sense of place, namely bodily place. Loss of limb, organ, or essential function carves away a person’s ultimate and closest geographic identity, the individual physical and mental place of self. The immediate human corporal reality, physical integrity, is our most fundamental place and we locate ourselves, we see ourselves most literally, in the image of our own faces. The face is the most essential part of identity, evidenced by facial recognition by self-learning algorithms. Loss of face, once an exaggerated figure of speech, is the penultimate reduction of “being.”

Joel Babb’s painting of the full face transplantation (above) demonstrates an extraordinary realization of human imagination and civilization, the capability to replace a human face. That painting carries his work across the spectrum of the human experience of place, from landscapes, to cityscapes, and then to the core visible essence of ourselves and its new mutability with full facial transplantation. For the story behind the face transplant, Joel referred me to an article by Raffi Khatchadourian. The patient, Dallas Wiens, was electrocuted in a boom lift when he contacted a high voltage line while painting a church roof in Fort Worth. [Transfiguration. The New Yorker. February, 2012.]

 

Five.

Imagination and reality go back and forth, and it is sometimes difficult to know the priority of chicken or egg. Human imagination has been wildly in play since our earliest days, as with the Lowenmensch chimera (above), a figurine from the Upper Paleolithic period (40,000 years ago) of a lion head on a man’s body, found in a German cave in 1939. One wonders what that artist was thinking while fashioning the figure, what god or superhero was imagined in the work. The Sphinx at Gaza, a more recent reverse example, with a woman’s head on a lion’s body.

The imagined miracle of transplantation is a related theme, wherein body parts could be exchanged. Saints Cosmas and Damian, twin Arabic physicians and Christian martyrs, practiced in the third century Roman province of Syria, now the town of Yumurtalik in Turkey. The story of their transplantation of an Ethiopian’s leg to a white man was their big miracle (Above: 16th century, Entstanden in Württembergisches Landesmuseum, Stuttgart, Wikipedia.). Details are sketchy, histocompatibility uncertain, but positive outcome must be inferred, otherwise how else could the miracle be explained?

The enduring meme of chimerism, returned with the zitiron, a mythical “merman” illustrated in Meydenbach’s natural history encyclopedia of 1491 (above: Wikipedia). The figure of a man-fish is suited up with armaments for battle. A more appealing chimera is The Little Mermaid story of Hans Christian Anderson in 1837 that reverberates in The Little Mermaid Statue, on Langelinie Promenade in Copenhagen, having survived vandalism, decapitations, and a 6-month sojourn in Shanghai. The story echoes again in Ron Howard’s 1984 film, Splash, with Daryl Hannah. [Below: Edvard Eriksen statue in Copenhagen, 1913]

As imagination informs reality, laboratory chimeras and body-part transplantations are now commonplace facts of life. I recently ran into colleague John McGee in a hospital corridor and noticed his chimeric lapel pin, the logo of his transplantation society. [Below: Dr. John Magee with pin.]

 

Six.

Challenged by modern medical practice, in technology-intensive specialties such as urology, residents and fellows may wish they could splice several contradictory heads on themselves to balance empathy and science, kindness and detachment, to better serve their patients. Our trainees can become adept at transplantation and making laboratory chimeras, but fundamental traits of humanity are more difficult to acquire and perfect.

Just after sending the May edition of this column, I came across a Piece of my Mind in JAMA by the well-known medical oncologist Marc Garnick, an oncologist who became a patient, reeling from bladder cancer and then confronting non-Hodgkin lymphoma the following year. His concluding paragraph captured my aspiration for our profession.

“The patient-physician relationship is unique among any other human experience, something to be understood and appreciated. By filling in the gaps and tending to the patient’s broader needs – not just those pertaining to diagnosis and therapy, but the fuller context in which treatment occurs, all of us – patients, physicians, nurses, hospital administrators, staff, and humanity – stand to benefit.” [Garnick. JAMA. 319:2079, 2018.]

This relationship is embodied in conversation that may merely begin and end with an initial “History and physical exam” moment, but might further develop over days, weeks, or years of a relationship. Whether limited to a single encounter or developed over time, that conversation has the potential to yield practical therapeutic value and even spiritual meaning to both patient and physician. I don’t mean to overstate or understate the idea of the conversation. It can be a mundane exchange of facts and desires from a patient, eliciting understanding and perhaps therapy from the provider. Yet, even at the simplest level, it is built on integrity and trust. If more ensues, so much the better.

 

Seven.

Chang Lecture notes. We began this series of talks in 2008 to honor Dr. Cheng-Yang Chang, who initiated a pediatric urology focus here in Ann Arbor. His father, Ku-nien Chang was a famous artist of the landscape literati style in China and Taiwan, and over 80 of his works are rotated through exhibits at our UM Art Museum, in the Shirley Chang Gallery. The lecture series was a particular enthusiasm of my term as chair and, expecting a successor, it seems suitable to conclude this series of talks, with great appreciation to all those who supported it with their interest and presence. In its way, the Chang Lecture series has fulfilled some part of our obligation as a university in offering things to public audiences – public goods.

Some shout outs are in order. Emily Soto has catered this event from the start. In the audience with many friends, colleagues, and members of our department were 2 former Medical School Deans, Allen Lichter and Jim Woolliscroft. Bob and Janet Bahnson came from Columbus with George and Tina Skestos. [Above: Emily, David, and daughter-in-law Aimee Soto with DAB. Below: Bob, George, Janet, Tina.]

George, three-time UM degree recipient, has the only Maize and Blue box at The Ohio State Horseshoe Stadium. Bob is former chair of urology at Ohio State, and Cheryl Lee, Nesbit alum 1997 is current urology chair. Hamilton and Lilly Chang joined us from Chicago, and Ted Chang and Mary Gallant drove from Albany. Our most distant attendee was Otto Lin from Hong Kong, industrial and systems engineer, although I suspect his main purpose in Ann Arbor was to visit his daughter, Associate Professor Ann Lin of the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy (below).

 

Eight.

Art Fair. With a new season of GME beginning in July we initiate our first major academic events during the Art Fair, starting with the Chang lecture on Art and Medicine late Thursday afternoon and then Duckett and Lapides lectures and teaching sessions on Friday morning, while the administrative staff simultaneously holds professional development training. Then, for most people, the afternoon is free as a sort of yearly “birthday present.” In this way, we drastically close down all but the most urgent clinical operations in the interest of education and recreation.

 

The John W. Duckett Visiting Professor began in 1997 in honor of a foundational figure in pediatric urology and friend and mentor to me as well of Michigan Urology. John had passed away unexpectedly and we began this series in his honor. Doug Canning of CHOP was our first Duckett lecturer and this year Rosalia Misseri, of Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, spoke about “Closing the loop: lessons learning by the pediatric urologist caring for the adult spina bifida patient.” The Lapides Lecture began in 2006 and this year it was given by Hadley Wood of the Cleveland Clinic, who has defined the field of urologic congenitalism. Her talk was “Applications and pitfalls in the use of video urodynamics in adult congenital neuropathic bladder.” Robust discussion with residents and faculty in attendance was robust and enhanced by the fact that Drs. Misseri and Wood had met the residents and fellows over the dinner the previous evening, while the Chang Lecture group had a simultaneous event at another site. [Above: Friday afternoon at the Art Fair. [Below: Hadley Wood with Rosalia Misseri and husband MortGreen, pediatric anesthesiologist at Riley.] Appended to this posting is a list of Chang speakers.

Peggy Duckett and George Drach, of Philadelphia have been with us from the start of this academic/Art Fair convergence. George and Peggy announced their engagement here in Ann Arbor to us on Jim Montie’s deck during the third Duckett Lecture season. George gives socioeconomic, philosophical, or practical talks during our Friday sessions, and this year spoke about the Urological Knife. If any readers want to know what that’s all about, he is available to give the lecture again.

[Above: Martha Bloom, George and Peggy.]

 

Nine.

Bomalaski Scholars. In 2014 Dave Bomalaski (Nesbit pediatric urology fellow 1996) and his wife Sue (above) generously endowed a recurring scholarship for a resident to explore a career in pediatric urology.

Julian Wan presented the award this year to Lauren Corona, PGY 3 (above & below). Previous Bomalaski scholars were Duncan Morhardt (Nesbit 2017), who is starting fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital, Courtney Streur (Nesbit 2018), and Ted Lee (Nesbit 2019), who will follow Duncan to Boston in 2 years.

Two new faculty join us this year, both in the pediatric division – Courtney Streur and Bryan Sack (below). After training in Birmingham, Alabama, Courtney joined us for a 3-year fellowship with a masters degree in health services research. Bryan trained at Medical College of Wisconsin and then fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital. [Devin & Courtney, Bryan & Melissa.]

Michigan Urology now has 7 pediatric urology faculty, 6 in endo-stone, 6 in neuropelvic reconstructive urology, 3 in sexual reproductive, 4 in general urology, 5 in community urology in Muskegon at West Shore Urology, and 13 in uro-oncology, and 4 faculty in our fulltime research cadre. Six faculty cover VA positions and we have multiple joint faculty with other departments, as well as a number of adjunct faculty.

 

Ten.

Diversity enriches nightscapes of Michigan, Maine, and all other places in innumerable ways. Tree frogs and lightening bugs are distinctive sounds and sights of Ann Arbor summer nights, starting up in June and disappearing around September. In the dark winter months, I’ll be longing see and hear them again. Diversity makes the natural world work, a fundamental fact obvious to any scientist or any other rational thinker. The most prominent living spokesperson for biodiversity, E.O. Wilson, visited Michigan as convocation speaker for our Life Sciences Institute (2004) and to receive an honorary degree (2009) as noted in our previous essays . I recently spotted this new portrait of him at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. [Above: by Jennie Summerall, 2006]

I hear frogs most summer nights when walking my dog, Molly. The chorus frogs, genus Pseudacris, comprise a genus in the Hylidae family named according to their sounds (“false locusts”) and the Northern spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) may be the noisy males I hear, advertising their social interests by means of their ancient social media. The Linnaean system of classification divides life into kingdoms, phyla, classes, orders, families, geni, and species. Scientific nomenclature dictates that  names of taxa above the genus level (families, orders, etc.) should be in roman type, but those at genus level or below are italicized. Wikipedia explains that the order of frogs and toads, the Anura, is divided into three suborders: the Archaeobatrachia, Mesobatrachia, and Neobatrachia. That last suborder (neo=new, batrachian = frogs) accounts for most anurans and consists of over 5,000 species, some of which live in trees, the so called arboreal frogs. Many frogs around here belong to the Hylidae family. Twelve frog species are listed among the amphibians of Michigan, including the Cope’s gray tree frog (Hyla chrysoscelis) and the Gray tree frog (Hyla versicolor). The American green tree frog (Hyla cinerea), extensive throughout the southeast, may be emigrating north as climate changes. These are popular pets, although they don’t do well with frequent handling.

Fireflies, the winged beetles I see most nights, are scientifically classified in the Lampyridae family of insects among the beetle order, Coleoptera. Over 2000 species of fireflies exist worldwide and the light they produce is a cold light, nearly 100% efficient in that it produces no heat. The light flashes are its social medium for courtship, warning, or predation. The predominant firefly in the eastern U.S. is the Photinus genus and its flashes bring males and females together for mating at night. The female lays eggs on or in the ground a few days after mating, and hatching occurs 3-4 weeks later. The larvae feed in the summer and hibernate over the winter, underground or in bark or other sites of refuge. Another use of the visual language of fireflies is to warn predators that they taste badly and may be poisonous, due to the lucibufagins, defensive steroids similar to the cardiotonic bufadienolides in some poisonous toads. Some fireflies, notably females of the Photuris genus, mimic mating flashes of other species in order to attract and then devour the unlucky males that fly to them in expectation of a different outcome.

Beetles and fireflies may be prominent contributors to Michigan nights, but they are only a tiny part of the rich web of life seen, heard, or unnoticed as we pass through these summer months. Tunes from open windows of cars and houses, patios, or block parties, drown out the tree frogs, just as outdoor lights or July fireworks obscure the fireflies. Seeing the cold light flashes from my porch and hearing music in the air from a neighbor begged the question whether that beloved musical group had a spelling problem. In 1957 John Lennon’s first group, the Blackjacks, became the Quarrymen, so named after their high school, Quarry Bank. Paul McCartney, age 15, joined Lennon in July and in the following March brought along George Harrison. By January of 1959 the other original Quarrymen had left the group and the three remaining guitarists, then attending Liverpool College of Art, briefly took up the name Johnny and the Moondogs for gigs. Art school friend Stuart Sutcliff joined as a fourth guitarist in January, 1960, bringing a new name for the band, the Beatals, after Buddy Holly and the Crickets. They became the Silver Beatles in May and by August, they were simply the Beatles. Sutcliff left the band in 1961 after its second Hamburg period and Ringo Starr joined in 1962.

While the name of the Liverpudlian musical group may have had a link to insect nomenclature, the spelling variations remain unexplained, perhaps the educational fault of Liverpool’s Quarry Bank High School (now Calderstones School), pharmaceutical influence, or simply poetic license in Liverpool’s hot summer nights.

 

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

Appendix
Chang Lecturers
2008 James Steward, DPhil, UM.
2008 Mysoon Rizk, PhD, University of Toledo.
2009 Joel Howell, MD, PhD, UM.
2010 Shinming Shyu, MS, EMU.
2011 Thomas Cole, MD, MPH, UNC, Contributing Editor, JAMA.
2012 Charles Yeo, MD, Thomas Jefferson University.
2013 Richard Prager, MD, UM.
2014 James Ravin, MD, University of Toledo.
2015 Pierre Mouriquand, MD., Claude Bernard University, Lyon.
2016 Don Nakayama, MD, MBA, Florida International University.
2017 David Watts, MD. University of California, San Francisco.
2018 David Bloom, MD, UM.

February, Sunday feelings, and Monday facts

DAB What’s New February 3, 2017

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

 

icicle

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

korlebu

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

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

casey-perc

[Casey at bat.]

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

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

table-epipen

 

search
Two.

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

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

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

 

Three.

iran-blizzard

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

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

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

karen_blixen_and_thomas_dinesen_1920s

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Five.

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

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

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

chromosomes

[Chromosome 15]

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

400px-charles_darwin_photograph_by_herbert_rose_barraud_1881

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

lincoln-warren-1865-03-06-jpeg

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

 

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

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

luca

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

currier-ives

wilkes_booths_deringer

rimfire-cartridge

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

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

600px-booth_escape_route-svg

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

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

earth-earth-at-night-night-lights-41949

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

Matula Thoughts. September 2, 2016.

DAB What’s New Sept 2, 2016

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

3821 words

 

Sept 2016

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

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

Menon

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

Dan

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

McLorie Symposium

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

EO & JD

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

Blake - innocence

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

 

 

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

Consult DB

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

Grand Round

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

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

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

 

 

Three.

Radio tuner 1920s

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

1939_RCA_Television_Advertisement-1

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

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

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

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

 

 

Four.

Alex Zazlovsky

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

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

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

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

MT readership 2016

 

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

Pistachio

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

Thoreau

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

 

 

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

Newsboys Pose c 1890 copy

[Ann Arbor newsboys c. 1890]

 

 

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

Piddling

Hinman-office copy

 

 

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

Daguerr Statue

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

Skoal

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

 

 

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

AtomicEffects-p7a

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

AtomicEffects-p7b

 

 

Ten.

Cassandra

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

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

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

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

 

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

David A. Bloom

University of Michigan, Department of Urology, Ann Arbor

Matula Thoughts August 5, 2016

Matula_Logo1

Matula Thoughts – August 5, 2016

 

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

 

Art Fair

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

 

 

The_Doctor_Luke_Fildes copy

One.

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

Nakayama & Chang

[Dr. Chang & Don Nakayama]

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

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

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

 

 

Twitter invasion

Two.

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

Dee at White Coat

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

Cloaking

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

New student

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

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

First folio

 

 

Three.

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

Chang Lecture

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

Nelsons

Grossmans

Drach

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

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

Lapides Lecture

[Above: Lapides Lecture, Danto Auditorium]

 

 

 

Tortise on post

Four.

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

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

Coffey

feynman1

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

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

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

EO Wilson_face0

[EO Wilson at UM LSI Convocation 2004]

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

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

 

 

superheroes

Five.

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

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

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

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

Artemisia

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

Tu_Youyou_and_Lou_Zhicen_in_1951.TIF

 

 

Six.

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

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

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

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

 

 

Moon June 17, 2016

Seven.

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

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

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

PGR2

[PG Ransley c. 2005]

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

 

 

Eight.

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

BluefishBiomass_Sept2015

[From Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission]

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

Bluefish

[Bove: ruthless foragers]

Teeth

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

Pirhana

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

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

Johnhersey

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

 

 

Nine.

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

 

 

Ten.

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

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

Girl with pearl

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

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

Tulp

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

 

Thank you for reading our Matula Thoughts.

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

Matula Thoughts August 7, 2015

Fair weather, formicidae, fables, and funambulism

3415 words

 

 1.   Brehm

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

Kayaks

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

Golf

[Michigan Stadium from Ann Arbor Golf Outing]

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

220px-The_Grasshopper_and_the_Ants

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

 

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

[EOW by DAB 2002]  

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

Tai Che 2

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

 

3.  Diego Rivera

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 7.40.50 AM

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

Pierre & Jessica

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

 

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

Orch

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Pettit

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

Cichon 2015

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

David A. Bloom, MD

Department of Urology, University of Michigan Medical School

Ann Arbor