Matula Thoughts June 3, 2016

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


 3659 words

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


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

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

JM Award

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

Montie, Straffon

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



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


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

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


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


Jens, Dana

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

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



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

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

Barry & Parry

[Two notable urologists: Parry & Barry]

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





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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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




Poppy field

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


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

Poppies 2010

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

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

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

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



Eight.        Memorial Day & sad transitions.

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

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

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


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


Tom & Sharon 2013 copy





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

Gary F

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

Lee, Cheryl

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


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


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

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



Ten.       Graduation, JOW, & predictions.


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

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

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

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[Taken from my TV October 22, 2012]

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

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

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

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











Shortliffe poppies

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


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

David A. Bloom

University of Michigan, Department of Urology, Ann Arbor

Matula Thoughts May 6, 2016

DAB What’s New May 6, 2016

Matula Thoughts Logo2

(3948 words)



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



One.           May, at last.

May 2015

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



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



Three.           UMMS graduation.

Cropsey copy

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

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


[UM Health System 2016]



Four.           Role models.


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


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

Family Doc

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

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

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

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



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

Stutzman, DAB, McLeod

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



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



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



Eight.           Harvey & hearts.

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

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



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

Baylor fac & DAB

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

Res Conf

Boone & Bloom

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

Roth & Miles


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

Residents dinner

[Below: Michael DeBakey, museum photo]


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



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

Bradford, Carol

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

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

April First, 2016

DAB What’s New April 1, 2016

Hearts & hoaxes, questions & bells


(4073 words)


One.  Noteworthy births.


The first of April  has a small share of notable birthdays for physicians, scientists, and others who impacted the human condition. A name that rings a bell is William Harvey (1578) shown above. This English physician produced the first accurate description of the function of the heart and  circulation of the blood in his book, Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus [Painting attributed to Daniel Mytens, 1627. National Portrait Gallery London] Predecessors back to the time of Galen had gotten the physiology wrong, but Harvey was forgiving in his discovery, telling students: “Not to praise or dispraise other anatomists, for all did well, and there was some excuse even for those who are in error.” French mathematician Marie-Sophie Germain (April 1, 1776) produced pioneering work in elasticity theory and Fermat’s Last Theorem. Bismarck (1815) and Rachmaninoff (1873) came along as April firsters in the 19th century. Joseph Murray (April 1, 1919 – November 26, 2012) was a plastic surgeon and close friend of my old professor at UCLA, Willard Goodwin. When I was a resident I naively thought Joe was somewhat out of his league in his yearly travel group of old friends that included Goodwin and Robert McNamara, until Joe got the Nobel Prize for his work with renal transplantation.

DAB Murray copy

[Above: Joe Murray visiting UM & young faculty member out of his league. Below: 2 legendary Michigan coaches – Steve Fisher & Bo Schembechler]

Bo & Fish copy

Bo Schembechler (April 1, 1929 – November 17, 2006) is, of course, legendary for us at the University of Michigan. More controversial is Abdul Qadeer Khan (April 1, 1936), a Pakistani physicist who disseminated nuclear weaponry to rogue nations of the world.

Unlisted so far in the Wikipedia tallies for April first birthdays is Paul Kalanithi (April 1, 1977 – March 9, 2015), author of a current best-seller When Breath Becomes Air. Finishing residency in neurosurgery at Stanford the author discovered he had metastatic lung cancer. The book has a simple structure: a prologue, Part One In perfect health I began, Part II Cease not till death, and then an epilogue by his wife Lucy.

We each quietly contemplate deeply personal questions related to what might be described as the meaning of life, but circumstances gave Kalanithi urgency to come to some resolution. He exposes his thoughts with literacy and without self-pity. The meaning of life he discovered for himself lay in what he called human relationality. The context of one’s life is what matters, he believed, and it is from relationships with others that we derive meaning. Physicians and other health care providers should have a head start in the personal search for meaning, if you accept Kalanithi’s view, although many don’t understand that advantage. A spiritual person at the end of life may derive comfort from a religious faith or from a faith in the order of the universe and, perhaps, a reassuring sense of the circle of life as the Lion King said. On the other hand a cynical person might claim that faith is only a hoax we play upon ourselves and that each of us should grab whatever we can before our individual turns at life are over. No one can genuinely tell anyone else what the truth actually might be, we each must figure it out for ourselves. That individual worldview is what makes each of us what we are, each of our presidential candidates what he or she is, what the pope is, what El Chapo is, and it made Paul Kalanithi what he was.


Two.              Happy New Year.

For reasons lost in the deep recesses of history, the first of April has become a day for harmless pranks and hoaxes. April was the first full month of the new calendar year until only a few centuries ago. In Europe and during the Middle Ages March 25 was considered New Year’s Day. Possibly the natural human bent for trickery consolidated around that yearly transition. Japan begins its new year on the first of April and for this reason Dr. Takahiro Osawa and his family now return to Sapporo after 2 productive years with us in Michigan. We will miss him.

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Taka tells me that April pranks are also a tradition in his country. April foolery has endured around the world since first alleged references in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in 1392.

Exactly 40 years ago (1 April 1976) during a BBC broadcast English Astronomer Patrick Moore predicted that a “Jovian-Plutonian gravitational effect” would cause a noticeable short-term reduction on Earth’s gravity. At 9:47 AM on that day (GMT), he announced, a momentary alignment of Pluto and Jupiter would decrease Earth’s gravity such that those who jumped into the air at that moment would experience a floating sensation. Soon thereafter, BBC received hundreds of calls from people who claimed to have had felt the effect. The story was revealed to be a hoax, but Moore was a believable prankster and 4 years later he co-authored a totally factual book on Pluto with Clyde Tombaugh, who had discovered the dwarf planet in 1930.


[Pluto, NASA image. North polar region at top. Notice the large bright Tombaugh Regio, nicknamed The Heart, lower right of center.]

The idea of fluctuating gravitational fields was prominent in Kurt Vonnegut’s book Slapstick (published in 1976, the same year as Moore’s hoax) and if you notice cyclic patterns in human behavior you might find some validity in Vonnegut’s satirical hypothesis. A prediction 100 years ago along a similar line was made by Albert Einstein. Stemming from his theory of general relativity he predicted the idea of gravitational waves that could transport energy in the form of gravitational radiation. Hypothesis rather than hoax, it took a full century to prove this idea. On February 11, 2016 the LIGO and VIRGO Collaboratives announced discovery of a gravitational wave from a pair of black holes that spun into each other 1.3 billion light years away. The wave passed by the Earth this past September 14 when it was noticed initially by Marco Drago, a 33-year old Italian Physicist in his office at the Max Planck Institute in Hanover, Germany. [A. Cho. Science. 351:797, 2016] Teams and collaborations of thousands of people spent over 100 years seeking a gravitational wave, although Drago was the first to notice the anomalous signal, and even then his first thought was that it was a glitch or a trick.

Our ability to sort out truth from myth, stories, hypotheses, hoaxes, science fiction, propaganda, and blatant deceit is constantly being tested. April Fools’ Day offers a playful “reset button.”


Three.           The heavy human footprint.


[USGS Water Science School]

Winter is officially over and while we did have some cold days, it wasn’t quite as cold or snowy as my memory tells me it used to be. Of course all things change and many of them cycle, whether sunspots, seasons, or climate. It is no hoax, though, that the Earth is in a warming spell and that anthropomorphic effects on the planet are driving that and other detrimental changes. Curiously, large swaths of the population, including many elected leaders in our nation, deny the fact of significant environmental change due to human influence.

Earth, with a volume of 2.6 x 1011 cubic miles and a mass of 1.3 x 1025 pounds, is the densest planet in the Solar System with a mean density of 0.2 pounds/cubic inch (5.5 grams per cubic centimeter). While the origin of planetary water is still unknown and it seems so vast, its 3.3 x 109 cubic miles represents only 0.0013% of the earth’s volume, merely a thin wet veneer over part of Earth’s surface. (1 cubic mile = 1.1 trillion gallons)


The image above comes from the USGS website (Water Science School). The big blue sphere represents all of earth’s water, the smaller sphere over Kentucky represents total fresh water, and the tiny bubble over Atlanta estimates the fresh surface water in lakes and rivers – this being what most of us 7 billion earthlings have available for drinking or washing. [Credit: Howard Perlman, USGS; globe illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution © Adam Nieman.] Ice caps, glaciers, and permanent snow account for 5,773,000 cubic miles or a little less than 5.8 x 107 m3, or 17.6% of the earth’s total water.

During the last ice age, when Michigan was a mile deep below the Laurentide Ice Sheet, sea level was about 400 feet lower than it is today. At the other extreme, if all land and sea ice melted the ocean level would rise 70 meters or 230 feet. However you choose to describe it, the environment is changing rapidly and dangerously due to the heavy human footprint. This is no hoax or conspiracy.

A fragment of a speech from John F. Kennedy has resonated with me throughout my adult life: “For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.” I recently asked my colleague and Kennedy scholar Kevin Loughlin for the origin of the quote and he immediately referenced Kennedy’s American University speech (titled A Strategy of Peace) on June 10, 1963. The president at the time had only a little more than 5 months to live. Flawed no more or less than most presidents or the rest of us, JFK did have inspiring intellect, clarity, and a way with words.


Four.             Ann Arbor notes.

In April 1985 my family and I had been in Ann Arbor for less than a year. Having accepted the job here as an associate professor (without tenure) I was still getting over the sting of finding myself demoted to assistant professor by the Medical School Executive Committee after arrival, but that’s another story. The Section of Urology was a terrific environment, Ed McGuire was a great boss, pediatric urology at Michigan was going well, and I loved my colleagues here in the medical school. The community was an excellent fit for Martha and our children, and we quickly found great friends. I distinctly remember the hoopla about a local restaurant, the Pretzel Bell, closing that April. This picture below from the old Ann Arbor News (used recently in Michigan Today) shows people lined up for an auction of Pretzel Bell memorabilia, necessitated by the IRS because of fraud related to employee withholding taxes. The article in Michigan Today by James Tobin explains that the original proprietors, John and Ralph Neelands, hung an old bell, said to have dated back to Civil War times, in the tavern. The story went that Fielding Yost had come to own the bell and gave it to the Neelands, after ringing it at Ferry Field. Ann Arbor has a rich German history and German university beer gardens traditionally featured two signs of hospitality – a bell to call in neighbors and a basket of pretzels.

pretzel bell Apr 1985

New ownership and management is resurrecting the Pretzel Bell and it should reopen soon to delight a new era of aficionados as well as old timers, for whom the name will ring a bell.

The University of Michigan has two bell towers (the original and the one on North Campus). The Bell Tower Hotel, across from the original, was the first place I stayed in Ann Arbor, when Ed McGuire invited me in 1983 to look at a pediatric urology job. A key predecessor of mine in the job had been Ed Tank, and his next-door neighbor back then, Dennis Dahlmann, now owns the hotel and has turned it into quite a gem. Ed Tank has retired in Portland, Oregon after a great career in our field. His excellent surgical results, the trainees he inspired, his academic productivity, and his organizational leadership constituted an extraordinary and admirable career. Ed’s successor in Portland, Steve Skoog, had been my resident at Walter Reed and is now a close friend and colleague. The coincidences in life are often beautiful.


[Above: Bloom & Tank. Below: Skoog and Dennis Peppas, former student of mine at USUHS, now pediatric urologist University of Texas, San Antonio]

Skoog copy 2


[Below: Dennis Dahlmann & Bill Martin 2015]

Martin & Dahlmann


Five.              Metrics & mission.

A flawed general assumption in the business world is that an organization can be run, optimally, by cost-based accounting. If, in fact, all decisions could be based on numbers (metrics, as it is often said) then a good computer could replace all managers. Businesses, however, run based on people, relationships, and their stories at least as much as any numbers. Alon Weizer referred with irony to his excellent efforts at managing the Cancer Center ambulatory care unit (the largest in the UM Health System.): “it is easier to manage by metrics, rather than digging down into the stories behind them.” Of course we cannot ignore numbers and have to pay attention to them, they are a key part of our information intake, but they are hardly the only form of our intelligence. The idea of running a business from the central organizing principle of managerial cost-based accounting, rather than managing it according to mission, customer-based deliverables, and lean-centric employee engagement has been a damaging conceit of 20th century industry. Yet, paradoxically, just as managerial accounting is phasing out of forward-thinking businesses as the central operational paradigm, it has been colonizing the brains of health care system managers.

At our Urology Department Retreat 2 days ago, we grappled a bit with the importance of financial margin and the need to defend and expand our markets on one hand, but with the central values of mission and essential deliverable (kind and excellent patient-centered care) on the other hand.

David Spahlinger got us started at noon with an overview of our health system reorganization and urgent strategies. Marschall Runge closed the program around 6:30 with a lively Q & A session. Our health system and medical school are fortunate to have great top leadership at this point in time.

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[Retreat at Michigan Union]


Six.                 Bellmen.

We need leadership but too often find odd characters coming forward offering their services to take charge of our governments and more immediate organizations. Having studied and experienced great and poor leadership I’ve become somewhat cynical of those who have a pressing need to lead me. The cautionary tale of the Bellman is fitting. He was the captain of a ship’s crew in Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. His map of ocean (a blank paper) and contradictory navigational orders did not inspire his crew, but his rule of three (“What I tell you three times is true.”) helped lead them into strange territory. Sometimes it feels like this for those of us taking care of patients in large health care systems.


[Cover of first edition Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll 1876. Hendry Holiday, the illustrator born in 1839, died 15 April 1927]

Lewis Carroll, a mathematician, delighted in nonsense and intellectual pranks and he no doubt relished that irony. The beauty of math and science is their pursuit of verifiable truth. Bellmanism may work well in primitive societies, but it fails in free, just, and scientifically-educated societies. A modern bellman can say whatever he or she wants, as many times as they want, but for the rest of us to accept a claim, verification or proof is necessary. Trust but verify, is the adage we often hear. Scientists are rigorous about this way of thinking.

Thinking about statements and proofs, a long time ago Pythagoras proved that a2 + b2 = c2 for any right-angled triangle and most of us not only remember this is true, but we can actually prove it by a few examples or tests. A French lawyer and mathematician, Pierre de Fermat (1601-1655), asked himself: if a2 + b2 = c2 then can this be true for higher integers; in other words does a3 + b3 = c3  and is this equation generalizable for all powers? Fermat thought not and his conjecture was written in the margin note of a book in 1637, but his proof was apparently not recorded although he must have convinced himself that Pythagoras’s hypothesis only holds for special cases (like the number 2). For more than 350 years other mathematicians, including Marie-Sophie Germain, tried to figure it out, but failed until Andrew Wiles successfully proved Fermat’s conjecture in 1994.

Medical practice aspires to evidence and logic over Bellmanism. Nevertheless, much of what we do has to find a balance within a Pythagorean triangle of decision choices. On one side we rely upon our personal training and individual experiences. Another side (with far fewer options) offers evidence-proven therapeutic choices. The third side entices us with cutting-edge innovations. In the fast action of clinical practice we will usually default to the hypotenuse of our training and experience. The reality of clinical practice today falls short of the math; that is present-day clinical evidence plus cutting edge innovative technology does not equate to individual training, experience, and reason. Yet while this larger side may be our first resort, we need to condition ourselves and our students to remain self-critical and vigilant for old faulty dogma and new ideas that are better.


[a= cutting edge innovation, b= verifiable high level evidence, c= training & experience]


Seven.          Health care questions.

What are the big questions in health care? As health care in this country undergoes significant changes, dictated by a variety of forces, it may be useful for us to consider health care not in the context of metrics (e.g. RVUs, length of stay, and cost per case), but rather in terms of our basic expectations and values. If most citizens and practitioners can understand and agree upon the larger questions of health care, the answers and the structures to provide them may come to us more readily.

I don’t think it should be up to any one subset of “the experts” to tell us the questions, for after all, that’s a sort of Bellmanism. The key questions should be derived more broadly, they do not belong solely to universities, medical schools, or schools of public health. They do not belong to state or governmental legislative or regulatory agencies. They do not belong to the AMA, the ACS, the AUA. They belong to the public – to citizens, patients, health care providers. My first loyalty lies within the last broad categories as a citizen, patient, and physician – memberships that convey measures of authority in offering, just now, a set of basic questions for our collective consideration. Whether these are the right questions is a matter for you to consider. What among them is right, what is wrong, and what is missing?

  • What is health care?
  • How should it be provided?
  • How is it improved and how does innovation occur?
  • How is it taught?
  • How is it funded and how are escalating costs managed?


Eight.            Choices.

While there may be no simple solutions for these questions, and whereas the “devil is in the details” clarity can be found in their deliberate articulation and informed public discussion. The first question is deceptively simple, but what of “health care” is a public good and in the public interest? Certainly vaccination for dangerous diseases, TB surveillance and therapy, mosquito control, and Ebola management should be public goods. When is health care screening – screening for TB, hypertension, or malignancies (which malignancies) – in the public interest? What basic commodities of health care must be assured to the public (to assure the public health) and what are the discretionary choices that should be paid for by the responsible recipients of those services? And what about recipients who are incapable of such responsibility? Is not antenatal, obstetric, and well-child care in the public interest? Who should make these decisions?

The time-worn bogeyman of “socialized medicine” has seen its day; socialized medical care has a heavy footprint in today’s USA and its called Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, and the Veterans Administration. Pressing questions are related to funding, equity, and scope of each of these systems. The present binary argument between a single payer system or an insurance-based model, in my opinion, is wrong.

A single payer system, while convenient from the point of funding and health policy, is fraught with many problems, among them being loss of personal choice, dependence on politically-set budgets, restriction of innovation, and lack of competition. On the other hand, the idea of building an entire national health-care system on an insurance-based paradigm is faulty since basic health care (this first question, after all) is a complex life-long responsibility extending from antenatal months to the last days of life. Insurance for rare and unexpected catastrophes like liver transplantation, motor vehicle accidents, ALS, renal failure, and serious malignancy makes sense, but not “insurance” for expected life events such as childbirth, vaccinations, dental care, routine checkups, and screening for certain diseases. The bipolar choice could be compared to asking us to choose between the Post Office or Federal Express as the single national mail delivery service. Neither one alone would be a good provider. The competition between them and other delivery services makes each one leaner, more innovative, and more customer-centric. Health care of our population needs many avenues to be universal, fair, excellent, efficient, and innovative.


Nine.            An epilogue.

The epilogue to Kalanithi’s book, written by his wife Lucy, included one phrase that struck me: “Although Paul accepted his limited life expectancy, neurologic decline was a new devastation, the prospect of losing meaning and agency devastating.” [p.203] Ultimately, for most of us, those two things are what life boils down to – the meaning we find in life and our agency to do things that are meaningful to us and to others. Meaning is our ability to make sense of things. Sense-making may be a matter of simple practicality, knowing for example that 1+1=2, or it may be the more existential making-sense of our lives. Kalanithi made fine sense of his shortened existence. Lucy Kalanithi ends her epilogue in the book powerfully enough to make your eyes well up: “Paul’s decision to look death in the eye was a testament not just to who he was but who he had always been. For much of his life, Paul wondered about death – and whether he could face it with integrity. In the end, the answer was yes. I was his wife and a witness.” [p.225]

The content, style, and literacy of Kalanithi’s book makes it compelling and readable. Coincidentally, the book is visually accessible because of its typeface, which is called Bell, after John Bell (1745-1831) who produced the original design, described as: “a delicate and refined rendering of Scotch Roman” at the book’s conclusion (above quotation is bold Bell MT font on my computer, although via email or the WordPress blog site, deformation is expected).


Ten.              Tolling bells.

Cancer, sectarian violence, motor vehicle trauma, and heart disease remain high on the list of the Grim Reaper’s tools. Nearly 400 years ago last month (March 31, 1631) the cleric and poet John Donne died, from stomach cancer it is believed. Born in 1572, 6 years before Harvey, Donne grew up and lived his 59 years through difficult times amidst terrible sectarian conflict that makes our recent western paradigm of separation of church and state so praiseworthy. During the reign of Elizabeth I (1558 -1603) the Recusancy Acts, beginning in 1593, imposed punishment on those who didn’t participate in Anglican religious activity, extending to imprisonment and capital punishment. (These laws were ultimately repealed in 1650, although restrictions against Roman Catholics lasted in England and Wales until full Catholic Emancipation in 1829.) Donne’s parents were Roman Catholics, but the father died when he was four and John’s mother married a wealthy widower, Dr. John Syminges. Donne studied in Oxford and Cambridge but never graduated with a degree as he was unwilling to take the Anglican Oath of Supremacy. He then studied law in London. Donne’s brother Henry, a university student, was arrested in 1593 for harboring Catholic priest William Harrington. Under torture Henry betrayed Harrington who was tortured, hanged, and disemboweled in 1594. Henry Donne died in Newgate Prison of bubonic plague.


[Lots on his mind. John Donne c. 1595. National Portrait Gallery, London]

John Donne became an Anglican minister, Dean of St. Paul’s, and a poet. (His interesting later years were chronicled by Izaak Walton, author of the first book on fly fishing.) What’s relevant from Donne is Meditation XVII in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions that included this familiar phrase that is linked to Kalanithi’s idea of human relationality: No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”


Thank you for reading What’s New and Matula Thoughts for this April 1, 2016


Matula Thoughts March 4, 2016

DAB What’s New March 4, 2016


The March of time, money, & art

3923 words


Mozart watch 2.05.26 PM

One.         Time flies, but sometimes we have to slow it down.  Today would have been March 5, but for a corrective leap year adjustment. This necessity is proof of the slightly imperfect alignment of humans to nature – we meter out our seasons and years with great reliance on lunar and solar cycles, yet our calendars and clocks can’t quite match heavenly reality. Nevertheless, since Robert Hooke’s anchor escape device, human ingenuity has been measuring time with increasing precision. Pocket watches, developed in the 16th century, were the most common personal timekeepers until military trench watches (pocket watches with lugs for a strap) became popular around WWI, proving more practical than a watch in a soldier’s pocket. The wristwatch quickly came into fashion. Today cellphones threaten wristwatches for top position in personal timekeeping, although wrists are contesting the matter with physical activity trackers that also monitor time, pulse, and even messaging alerts. Whether by wrist, phone, or clock most people are compelled to track time at home and at work. In the health care environment time measurement has come to sharply impact patient care and residency education due to intense attention on clinical throughput and duty hour regulations. [The pocket watch shown above is a rare Donald Mozart three-wheel mechanism watch made over 150 years ago.]


Two.          Time is money, it is often said. If I need furnace repairs this winter, a repairman will reacquaint me with that fact. This is also true for legal services, cabs, baby sitters, or employees in your business. Ultimately, because most of us are employees for someone or some organization, we each have a personal stake in the belief that time equates to money. Healthcare used to be somewhat different, being a professional service in which the service was valued as a parcel of work rather than a unit of time. A doctor’s visit, for example, was charged as the actual “visit” with the time factor accounted for indirectly. New knowledge and technology added complex services to the toolkit of health care and the relative value unit (RVU) joined the language of medicine. Urethral catheterization, for example, takes less time and expertise than radical cystectomy, a fact now accounted for in the charges or RVUs. The physician work RVU for catheterization (CPT 51702) is 0.5 (although after facility expenses and malpractice expenses are factored in the total RVU grows to 0.87 to 2.0 depending upon whether the work is done in a hospital or an office). For open radical cystectomy with urinary diversion (CPT 51590) the physician’s work RVU will be 36.33 and the total RVU including facility and malpractice expenses will be 55.66.  The assignment of an RVU number to robotic cystectomy is under discussion. Radical cystectomy is one of the most technically difficult and risky operative procedures, with significant mortality, morbidity, complex postoperative care, and the highest postoperative readmission rates. In terms of work (preoperative, operative, postoperative, and global exposure) and liability it is easily more than the “equivalent” of 36.33 urethral catheterizations, in my opinion as someone who has performed both procedures. If it is your urethra getting catheterized, of course you want skill, kindness, and attention to the process. Yet, to equate the effort of 36 catheterizations to a single radical cystectomy is like comparing 36 bicycle rides to flying a Boeing 787 or Airbus A380 full of passengers across the Pacific Ocean. Both take skill and both carry some risk, but the differences are enormous. [Data thanks to Malissa Eversole & Irene Gundle]

Just as all procedures are not equal, neither are all clinic visits the same, although less disparity pertains. One new patient visit may be fairly straightforward with discovery of a simple problem defined as ICD-10 code X and perhaps a distinct solution proposed in the form of CPT code Y. If such simplicity had pertained for all my patients and clinics over the years, life would have been easier although less interesting. Some clinic visits are especially challenging, taking deep concentration and probing examinations and conversations that are not always easy. Occasional clinic encounters are excruciating, with unwilling kids, angry parents, painful social circumstances, and no clear solutions. Yet even these complex occasions are gifts of a sort in that they test our mettle and make the other encounters, by contrast, satisfying and sweet.

Most of us understand the need to steward resources, standardize work as much as possible, and create efficiencies to meet payrolls and manage our mission at large. However, a sharp focus on clinical throughput, with standardized 15-minute encounters and checklists that must be obeyed, runs counter to our values, counter to patient satisfaction, and counter to the excellence we espouse. Still, our eyes stray to clocks on the walls, (although it is a mystery why they are so often wrong) or watches on our wrists, the latter being easier to consult unobtrusively than cell phones and are more accurate than those wall clocks.



$100   Ben Franklin wrote “time is money” in Advice to a Young Tradesman, written by an old one although the idea has a far older provenance. It is fitting that Ben is featured on our largest circulating currency denomination (since 1969 when larger bills were retired). The Franklin has become the international monetary standard and is worth more than its weight in gold if you figure that the bill weighs around a half a gram and with the price of gold at $1200 per ounce that comes to about $40 per gram or $20 for a Ben Franklin. The US Bureau of Engraving and Printing says that the average C-note remains in circulation about 7.5 years before replacement due to wear and tear. The new bill, with its anti-counterfeiting technology, costs about 12.5 cents to produce, compared to 7.8 cents for the older version (shown above) before 2013. Curiously, and I think dangerously, some people are calling for eliminating this “high” currency note, as humanity seems to be placing its faith in electronic monetary transactions. [Getting rid of big currency notes. NYT Editorial Feb. 22, 2016]

In health care, the concept that time is money applies across all nations and health care systems. In corporate U.S. health care, clinic visits are set in many places at 15 minutes of “face time” with physician, nurse practitioner, or PA. In the NHS of the United Kingdom 10 minutes is a common standard. In third world countries, any such face time might be a rare occasion unless you have cash in hand. Facilities and staff cost money and health care expenses need to be covered by some source, so it seems rational to measure and ration time as well as physical commodities. Facing off against such reality, however, is the nearly universal belief that health care is a natural human right and that its best delivered at the individual level by professions (and, now, teams of professionals).

Time value of money is a financial calculation that dates back to the early days of the School of Salamanca formed by Spanish and Portuguese theologians in northwestern Spain around the first half of the 16th century. (The old city of Salamanca in Castile and León is  a UNESCO World Heritage Site.)


Martín de Azpilcueta (1491-1586), pictured above, was an early member of this important school of thought. This Basque canonist and theologian was an innovator of monetarist theory and it was he who allegedly conceptualized the time value of money in the sense that the present value (PV) of a sum of money equals its future value (FV) given a specified rate of return (r) divided by 1 plus r. That is if the Department of Urology gives the University of Michigan Clinical Enterprise $1,000,000 for new capital projects and assumes a rate of return of 7% (the typical interest rate for a savings account in days not so long past) then the FV at 10 years will be $1,700,000, assuming the original sum and the yearly interest returns remain intact. In other words, a million dollars today if invested in those circumstances could be worth 1.7 million dollars in 10 years. Of course, this is not quite as good as that historic savings account at 7% where the interest was compounded annually, in which case the future value at 10 years would be a little over $1,967,000. That is the difference between an annuity and a savings account. Darwinian forces have propelled financial markets to increasingly creative and complex devices, such as credit default swaps that gained recent attention in the film The Big Short, or the more recent contingent convertible bond (CoCo) that exchanges risk for the ability to suspend payment, convert the bond into equity, or write it off totally.

In 1748 Franklin wrote: “Remember that Time is Money. He that can earn Ten Shillings a Day by his Labour, and goes abroad or sits idle one half of that Day, tho’ he spends but Sixpence during his Diversion or Idleness, ought not to reckon That the only Expence; he has really spent, or rather, thrown away Five Shillings besides.” [Courtesy Kate Woodford at Yale University, Papers of Benjamin Franklin Project]

This is the innate paradox of academic medicine: since clinical revenue sustains the enterprise, every part of the day diverted to education, research, and administration is costly, lacking proportionate revenue. Nevertheless, education, research, and their administration are essential to our mission. For a healthy academic clinical department these other parts of the mission consume a minimum of 20% of a clinician’s effort and the ability to support those efforts comes from endowment, institutional support, and the overachievement of clinical faculty in terms of clinical productivity.


Four.         As scarce as face-time may be for patients and the professionals who provide it, that time and attention within those moments are polluted by the mandatory processes of electronic health record systems, third party payer requirements, and demands of “meaningful use” documentation. I call your attention once again to the crayon drawing of a doctor’s visit by an 8-year old girl featured on a JAMA cover article in 2012 by Elizabeth Toll and contrast that to any of the many other artistic renderings of this ancient professional service from Renaissance painting to Normal Rockwell. Something seems to have changed. (Interestingly, Rockwell’s family doctor doesn’t seem to be wearing a watch.)

Family Doc

[Above: detail from The Family Doctor by Norman Rockwell 1947; Below: The cost of technology. JAMA 307: 2497, 2012. Elizabeth Toll. © Thomas C. Murphy, MD]

Cost of Tech copy


Five.          Time piece manufacturing came to Ann Arbor 150 years ago when Donald J. Mozart moved here just after the stockholders of the MoZart Watch Company in Providence, Rhode Island fired him as superintendent. Mozart’s three-wheel watch had proven unsuccessful and the new superintendent replaced Mozart’s design with a conventional movement and renamed the firm the New York Watch Company. Mozart improved his 3-wheel design in Ann Arbor, but was able to produce only about 30 movements before closing up operations four years later in 1870.

He sold the manufacturing equipment to the Rock Island Watch Company for $40,000 cash plus $25,000 in stock and gave away the existing watches to stockholders and friends. One of these was recently sold at auction in NY [Introductory illustration & below: Bonhams Auction 21971 12 June 2014 Lot #1128 A very rare gold filled open face ‘chronometer-lever escapement’ watch Signed Don J. Mozart Patent Dec. 24, 1868. US$ 20,000-25,000].


Mozart was still living in Ann Arbor as of May 14, 1873 when he filed a patent from here, but died four years later in 1877 and was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery (as was Rensis Likert, discussed last month on these pages).


Six.           A noteworthy and thoughtful artist, Evelyn Brodzinski, when asked her definition of what constitutes the stuff we call “art” replied, “Art is anything that is choice.” This idea stuck with me and I often quote her at our speaker introductions during the annual Chang Lecture on Art and Medicine each July during the Art Fair. This phrase came to me again when I read Hugh Solomon’s retirement letter this past December. With his retirement, urological manpower loses one of its most excellent physicians and surgeons. Retirement was a difficult decision, Hugh noted, but his timing seemed right: “I have been lucky to have interfaced with so many wonderful people who have taught me the value and sanctity of life. Everyone has a story to tell if you are prepared to listen.”

Stories, however, are getting bypassed in modern healthcare. With the systematic tendency to measure service in terms of time and time in terms of money, today’s electronic health care record systems force stories into checklists. Listening to stories is harder than filling out checklists. While these tendencies chip away at our ancient profession we can fight the trend. When we make a choice to listen, as Hugh advocates, clinical medicine becomes an art.


Seven.                Art & medicine. In 1936 Sir Henry Wellcome’s will established the Wellcome Trust in London to advance medical research and the understanding of its history. If you visit that city the Wellcome Trust is a wonderful place to spend a morning or afternoon perusing its collections and exhibits. An article last year in JAMA by Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, discussed the role of this organization in the world today. [Farrar. Science, medicine, and society. A view from the Wellcome Trust. JAMA. 313:2315, 2015] The trust expends more than $1 billion dollars yearly in biomedical sciences and biotechnology “interrogating the fundamental processes of life in health and in sickness and using that knowledge to develop ways to promote well-being and to diagnose, treat, or prevent disease.”

Farrar makes the point that while science is essential and wonderful, its implementation in medicine and society is not guaranteed. He references Semmelweis and Snow, who in the mid-nineteenth century provided theory and supporting evidence that certain diseases were transmitted by dirty hands, yet conventional wisdom of the time rejected the idea. Farrar writes: “…their stories reveal that scientific evidence is not enough to improve medicine: social and cultural factors are vital as well… Because the Trust appreciates the importance of the history and social contexts of medicine, it also supports research across the medical humanities, social sciences, and bioethics, as well as funding for artists and educators to engage the public with research.”

We health care professionals revel in science. Scientific ways of thinking have brought us a verifiable understanding of life, health, and illness as well as new technologies to enhance health and mitigate disease. Yet as Farrar tells it, science is not enough. History, social contexts, and values must always frame the science, as well as inspire and deploy it. In the consilience of human knowledge, as EO Wilson explains, science is but one facet of the art of Homo sapiens.


Eight.        Chang Lecture on Art & Medicine. In 2007 our Department of Urology began an annual lecture in honor of the family of Dr. Cheng-Yang Chang, an esteemed Nesbit Alumnus who joined our faculty when Urology was a small section of the Surgery Department. Dr. Chang was our first faculty member to focus on pediatric urology. Coincidentally, his father was a highly acclaimed artist in China during its turbulent mid-Twentieth Century years. A number of his paintings are housed in the University of Michigan Art Museum where you can also visit the Shirley Chang Wing, named in honor of Dr. Chang’s late wife. The couple had two sons. Ted Chang, a University of Michigan and Nesbit alumnus like his dad, practices urology in Albany New York. Ted is a first class urologist and educator. Hamilton Chang, a fellow UM man, is an investment banker in Chicago, a leader in Michigan’s alumni organizations and a cornerstone of our urology fundraising efforts.

This year’s Chang Lecture will be given by Don Nakayama, a pediatric surgeon and expert on the Diego Rivera Murals you can find at the Detroit Institute of Art. The Surgery Panel on the upper left hand corner of the south wall has been described by art historians as “brain surgery,” but after personal investigation Don discovered that the art historians were not quite right, anatomically. The actual panel, in fact, depicts an orchiectomy, an operative procedure far more in tune with Rivera’s theme, as a committed socialist, of the emasculated worker. Don discussed this in a paper in The Pharos, [Summer 2014, p. 8].

South Wall

[Above: south wall. Below: surgery panel]

Surgery panel

If you plan to visit the Ann Arbor Art Fairs this July, consider setting aside an hour to join us at the Chang Lecture on Tuesday, July 21 at 5 PM in the UM Hospital Ford Auditorium. You can hear Dr. Nakayama, meet him at a reception after the talk, collect some CME credits if you are a physician, and have your parking ticket stamped. Not a bad deal, I submit.


Nine.     The art of humanity extends from the earliest moments of assisting childbirth, caring for lacerations, splinting fractures, counseling sufferers, and painting on cave walls, to today’s robotic surgery and technological entertainments such as the new Star Wars, if you accept the proposition that art is any deliberative human action or construct. This new iteration of Star Wars successfully expands the story of a distant galaxy and the force that binds it. A business school professor at Washington University St. Louis explored the narrative and proposed that an economic force binds the distant galaxy as well, thus brightening the dismal science. []

The dark side of the dismal science was evident in another current film – The Big Short. I’d read the book by Michael Lewis, who showed in lucid detail how the housing and credit bubble collapse in 2008, known also as the subprime mortgage crisis, was predicted. This catastrophe quickly expanded into a major stall of the world economy, that is still under repair. The astonishing thing is that the prediction was not made by economists, the big banks, the big accounting firms, universities, Nobel Laureates, bond rating companies, regulatory agencies, or “the market” itself. The prediction was made by an oddball physician who analyzed publicly available data and discovered the “obvious” flaw in complex mortgage securities. Astonishingly, none of the experts was so smart and the sad, sad reality is that none of them was doing their job competently. This story begs the question: how can so many smart people be so dumb? It’s an astonishing story and a very cautionary tale of reliance on experts. If course we have to trust experts, but we also have to verify that trust constantly in real time, by listening to diverse and even oddball opinions and insisting upon honest broker regulation and competition.

The physician who figured this out was Michael Burry, a UCLA economics graduate, Vanderbilt MD, and Stanford neurology resident.  His main interest, however, was investing and even as a resident had acquired a reputation for success in value investing. He left residency to invest full-time and in November 2000 he started Scion Capital. As Lewis told the story, in the first full year of Scion when the S&P 500 fell 11. 88%, Scion’s fund was up 55%. This was no Bernie Madoff effect, the Scion success was real, verifiable, and durable. Value investing is based on the idea of buying an asset that appears underpriced according to an analysis of some sort. The analysis may recognize some fundamental flaw in the current price of the asset based on historical factors, operational data related to the company, information about its market and competitors, or expectations concerning the future. In some ways this is a complex extension of the thinking of Martín de Azpilcueta. Burry extended the idea by betting against the future value of money through an insurance mechanism called the credit default swap.

Burry was not looking for “a short” rather was actually seeking good long term bets. In 2005, however, his analysis of national lending practices in 2003 and 2004 indicated to him that a subprime mortgage bubble would collapse in 2007. He persuaded Goldman Sachs to sell him credit default swaps against certain subprime deals. The rest is history, as well as excellent cinematography.


[Illustration: Lamro, on Wikipedia, Credit Default Swap. Burry is the blue box, Goldman Sachs is the black box. The par value of the asset was its high value at the time of the credit default deal.]


Ten.       March, now that we are a few days into it, has its own stories. March 1 is the meteorological beginning of spring, although that may not be so apparent here in Ann Arbor. March 20/21 is the astronomical beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere or autumn in the Southern. The month is named for the Roman God of War, Mars, who was also the guardian of agriculture. This was an odd conjunction since it is not immediately apparent that the pursuits of war and of agriculture are similar. On the other hand, if you believe that the best defense is a strong offense, the idea makes some sense and in Roman times the month Martius marked a new season of farming and military campaigns. In addition to competence on the land and in battle, legend also ascribed to Mars some competence in the urological sense, as his relationship with the Vestal Virgin, Rhea Silvia, produced twin boys, Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of the city of Rome. Even beyond the reproductive outcome, Mars was generally viewed as a paragon of virility, with no issues of low testosterone. Martius was the start of the Roman yearly calendar until as late as 153 BC. Russia held on to this start date to the end of the 15th century, and Great Britain and its colonies (even us in America) used March 25 as the beginning of the calendar year until 1752 when the Gregorian calendar was adopted. March is American Red Cross Month.

March 13 marks the shift to Daylight Savings Time. Ben Franklin has been claimed as originator of daylight savings time, but in fact the solid proposal came from George Vernon Hudson who died 70 years ago (5 April 1946). Born in London he moved to New Zealand with his father and became a respected amateur entomologist and astronomer. His daytime job in Wellington as post office clerk gave him time after work to study and collect insects. It was said that this was the impetus for his idea to maximize daylight in winter times. In 1895 he gave a paper at the Wellington Philosophical Society proposing a 2-hour daylight savings time shift. Hudson was a member of the 1907 Sub-Antarctic Islands Scientific Expedition. The daylight savings idea was slow to catch on and New Zealand’s Summertime Act wasn’t passed until 1927.

Hudson-RSNZ Willett

[Left: Hudson in 1907 on expedition. National Library of New Zealand. Right: Willett in 1909, J. Benjamin Stone Collection, Birmingham Central Library.]

Daylight savings occurred later to another Briton, home builder William Willett (1856-1915). Riding his horse one summer morning he observed many household’s blinds still drawn, indicating the inhabitants were still asleep and missing much of the day. He began to advocate for an official way to extend daylight and the British Summer Time became law in 1916, although Willett died just before it went into effect. (Trivia: Willett’s great-great-grandson is Chris Martin of the band Coldplay.) Today, daylight savings time methods are utilized throughout much of the world.


[Wikipedia. Blue – DST used, Orange – formerly used, Red – never used]

If March came in like a lion we hope it exits sheepishly after a bit of collegiate athletic madness. We also will be having a departmental retreat at the end of the month. Before closing out this message, let me return briefly to Ben Franklin, printer, inventor, author, postmaster, diplomat, and urethral catheter expert. In 1752 he designed a flexible silver catheter for his brother John who was suffering from bladder calculi and it is likely that, living to age 84, Ben used it himself.


Thanks for reading What’s New and Matula Thoughts.

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

Matula Thoughts December 4, 2015

DAB What’s New/Matula Thoughts

December 4, 2015

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

3140 words



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

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

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

 Feed the world 



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

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



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


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



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

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

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



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

Wheat & Wang

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

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

 Carol Greider

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



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

World Nov 24

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

Histo Nov 24

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


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


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

JOW Bill Kelly

Clin chairs JOW

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



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

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


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



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



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

Syrian toddler

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


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

David A. Bloom

Matula Thoughts November 6, 2015

DAB Matula Thoughts November 6, 2015

Seasons, Movember, Nesbit reunion, the dimensions of academic medicine, politics, feline lives, & other disparate thoughts

3452 words


Nov leaves

[Self portrait with dog. Nov 8, 2013]

 1.    Shadows are longer in November, days are colder, and it gets dark noticeably sooner as 2015 winds down. Autumn foliage, so spectacular this season, is detaching from the trees and recycling on the ground. Most of us are getting ready to hunker down and bundle up for the business of winter ahead as we begin to contemplate 2016. We meter out our lives in seasons and cycles, so with November we enter a sort of fin de l’année, playing off on the French term for the end of a century. Fin de siècle most notably applies to the end of the 19th century, an era around the 1880s and 1890s that was only well understood decades later when historical perspective could account for its significance. The photo below shows Michigan medical students and the hospital in 1880 on a cloudy late autumn day much like today. Their big news would have been the election of James Garfield as president.

Old Hosp - fall  

[UM Bentley Library. Med students in front of hospital c. 1880]

This was the UM Medical School’s 31st season. The 1880 class, recently graduated, was already practicing medicine throughout the state and beyond. The medical school curriculum had transitioned from a 2-year set of lectures to a 3 and then 4-year program of graduated instruction with laboratory and patient care experience. Today when you walk from our “new” main hospital (it was new in 1986) to the Cancer Center you will pass the class of 1880 picture showing 60 students including 24 women, by my count. Only 4 of the men have moustaches or beards that became so fashionable a decade later (when you continue to view the pictures) and will be more common this month in November due to the world-wide Movember Movement.

UMMS 1880

A decade later in the 19th century fin de siècle on a similar autumn day these Ann Arbor newsboys are getting ready to hawk the morning papers. That year was midway between presidential elections of Grover Cleveland (first term) and Benjamin Harrison. Newsboys are gone, their jobs made obsolete by technology and nowadays people get their news via NPR, television, or smartphones. Urologists, however, have had Darwinian persistence in the human workforce and technology has actually expanded their reach and role.

Newsboys Pose c 1890

[AA newsboys 1890. I can’t give credit to the photographer who obtained this image without a lot more investigation, but after 135 years I figure this must be “fair use.”]

The medical school and hospital have changed much since then and now in our 167th season the signature educational product of our academic medical center has expanded from medical students alone to include residents and PhDs who collectively outnumber the students two to one. Our mission of education, clinical care, and health care discovery remains unchanged since that fin de siècle, but to fit that mission to today’s world we are re-organizing our medical school and hospital under the single aegis of an Executive President for Medical Affairs and Dean, Marschall Runge. The success of this structural change in terms of the optimization of our mission will depend upon three major variables: the operational details currently under construction, the people selected to execute those details, and the productivity (clinical, educational, and scholarly) of our health care enterprise as a whole.

Political rhetoric continues to heat up this month even though major voting is a year away. The U.S. elections are held on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November and the president is elected in even-numbered years at 4-year intervals, so November 8, 2016 will be a big decision point. The contest today looks stranger than ever with providential outsiders competing against highly seasoned and lightly seasoned professional politicians. The consequences of our elections will roll out to residency training programs, medical record systems, and payment methodologies of the not-so-distant future. More importantly, the consequences will be reflected in geopolitical stability and the international economy.



 2.     The initial urology experiences for most medical students come during third year rotations and fourth year electives when students take clerkships or subinternships at their home schools and visit other places that attract them. At Michigan we had over 350 actual applications for our 4 residency positions. The applicants are clearly the best of the best, although excellent medical school performance and test scores do not automatically equate to great residents, teammates, superb urologists, and Nesbit alumni. It is our job to transform our selected applicants through 5-6 years of residency and subsequent fellowships into extraordinary urologists, educators, and innovators.

The personal statements of our candidates are articulate, show amazing personal accomplishments, and often reflect on the attractions of urology, especially the ability to fix distinct problems with technical wizardry. Yet, I worry how this generation will do with the distractions of the mounting numbers of comorbidities of patients that complicate their “urology issues.” Will urologic detachment blind our next generation of urologists to the inevitable co-morbidities of their patients?  Conversely, will patient comorbidities distract young physicians from urologic-decision making or immobilize them to necessary action? How do we teach our successors to understand and even seek out comorbidities so as to attend to their solutions whilst doing the “urology”? Will the growing administrative burdens, including the mandates of the electronic record and duty hour restrictions, further exacerbate their detachment?

As I was reading transcripts, writing letters of recommendation, and thinking about this new season of applicants, I began to reconsider the characteristics we expect of ourselves as people, physicians, urologists, and educators. Seven key attributes seem to apply equally to residents as well as our best selves. To my list of the seven essential attributes for an excellent urology resident I added a bibliography:

A. Kindness. (P. Ferrucci: The Power of Kindness)

B. Authenticity. You are whom you seem to be. (HG Frankfurt. Two books: On Truth, On Bullshit)

C. Cosmopolitanism (KA Appiah: Cosmopolitanism)

D. Curiosity (EO Wilson: Consilience)

E. Literacy. (S Fish: How to write a sentence)

F. Teamwork & leadership. (DJ Brown: The Boys in the Boat) 

My little list may or may not prove useful for a “book club.” Although we don’t have time for this in the 80-hour weeks “allowed” for resident education, perhaps our best trainees will pursue this list or one like it, surreptitiously off the grid, for “extra credit.”



Nesbit 2015

3.    Nesbit meeting background. Reed Miller Nesbit was the first official head of urology at Michigan. His teacher, Hugh Cabot, had arrived here in late 1919 to lead the Surgery Department and in short order also became medical school dean. Cabot, a genitourinary surgeon of international stature at this time, was such a catch for the university that the regents gave him the president’s house to live in until he got settled. Nesbit and Charles Huggins were Michigan’s first 2 urology trainees, and Cabot seemed to have trained them well. Cabot’s innovative ideas and outspoken nature offended many and he was fired by the regents in 1930.

Nesbit was then named official head of urology within the Surgery Department and he soon became a pivotal figure in American surgery. Huggins focused on prostate cancer research, developed his career largely at the University of Chicago, and earned a Nobel Prize in 1966. Our Nesbit Society was created in 1972. Faculty, UM urology trainees and UMMS students who got their urology start here, but trained elsewhere, are members of the Nesbit Society.

Residency training is an intense period of work, study, and friendships that reverberate for a lifetime. It is a fact lost on lay people and many in the academe that residency training is the career-defining stage of medical education and the signature product of an academic medical center. It is where the professional knowledge base, values, and skills of the next generation of physicians are forged. Whereas UM has close to 700 medical students and 200 Ph.D.s in health sciences at any time, we have 1200 residents and fellows. [Picture above – day one of Nesbit Meeting 2015 in Sheldon Auditorium; below – day two at North Campus Research Complex]

Nesbit - NCRC

Nesbit 2015. Our Nesbit academic Thursday & Friday were among the best continuing medical education events I’ve experienced and far too much went on to be summarized here. Attendance topped 100 including Tom Koyanagi from Japan, Dave Bomalaski from Alaska, and Jens Sønksen from Copenhagen, along with many other Nesbit alums and MUSIC colleagues from around Michigan. Faculty, resident, and fellows gave superb presentations. Appropos of November, Daniela Wittmann’s talk included details of the worldwide and Ann Arbor impact of the Movember Movement, including significant scientific funding and collaborations for us in AA. Since 2003, Daniela noted, 5 million Movember participants worldwide have raised over $650 million for men’s health, targeted heavily to prostate cancer. Jerry Andriole, our visiting professor from Washington University in St. Louis, gave superb talks on prostate cancer and PSA.


Harden et al

Greg Harden, our featured speaker, was extraordinary. [Above from left: Gary Faerber, Mike Kozminski, Dave Burks, Greg Harden, DAB] Long-time psychologist to our Athletic Department Greg spoke about need to fine-tune our personal “critical self-assessments” and extended the idea of fitness holistically to the three domains of physical, mental, and spiritual fitness – noting  the factor of recovery time: the better fit we are, the quicker our recovery from exercise or exhaustion. During the business meeting Gary Faerber, Associate Chair for Education, announced plans for a new resident’s room. While the hospital is footing the half million dollar overall cost, Gary believed that the dinky regulation lockers and minimal amenities should be upgraded so he announced a campaign for Nesbit alums to fund lockers or computer workstations, etc. Many stepped up to the challenge and Jens Sønksen (picture below; Nesbit 1996 and close colleague of Dana Ohl) put us over the top with an amazing gift.


Julian Wan will be turning over the Nesbit presidency to Mike Kozminski next May at our Nesbit AUA Reception and John Wei will become Secretary-Treasurer. In the Big House Michigan led Michigan State until only the final few seconds when a terrible anti-climactic error cost us the game. No doubt the football team will be doing a thorough post-mortem analysis of that game to look for missed opportunities and analyze mistakes. Just like the rest of the university, the Athletic Department is ultimately an educational unit.

UM vs. MSU  

[Opening of UM vs. MSU game 2015. Lloyd Carr is honored]




4.     We too analyze our mistakes and untoward events. The Morbidity and Mortality Conference is a key ritual of academic medicine. Once a month we have a 7 AM Grand Rounds-type meeting where our residents stand up and present serious complications and deaths that occurred in our urology department. Faculty and residents discuss what might have been done differently and what factors contributed to each complication or death. Lay readers should not be surprised – every week deaths are likely to occur in UM hospitals at large and among our outpatient population; several million people a year pass through the doors of our health system, tens of thousands of operative procedures occur, and hundreds of thousands of people with serious illnesses are hospitalized. Our daily work is serious, not just the actual care of patients, but also the education of our successors with the expectation that they will be better tomorrow than we are today in this serious business of healthcare. Just as important as patient care and physician education, no less essential is the need to expand the knowledge base of urologic health and disease, in addition to improving therapies and delivery systems. These are the three dimensions of academic medicine. As specialists we hone in with great intensity on the urology issues presented to us, but must also probe efficiently for the context of the urology problem – the comorbidities of health and life.



 5.     The lives of patients are far more complex than the urologic problems that bring them to our clinics. With specialization comes our conceit of detachment. Living in an era of specialty knowledge and skills, we specialists concentrate on our specific fields and as urologists these are urologic matters. It is easiest to do this in isolation from all the other stuff around a patient’s life, but of course we also need to listen to them and recognize, for example, such things as sadness about recent loss of a parent, delaying traffic jams on the way to appointments, awful parking situations, or perhaps unusual heartburn experienced after a rushed breakfast to get to the appointment on time. These issues are not necessarily irrelevant to, for example, the small renal mass that brings a patient in to see us, although we still need to focus on that immediate issue – and the clock is running while other patients are checking in and you may shortly be called to the OR. On the other side of the coin we have all referred patients with unexplained problems to other services only to be told dismissively by a colleague: “it is not cardiac” or “it is not GI” or “it is not surgical.” We get exasperated when other doctors fail to “consider the whole patient.”



6.     Few urological problems, few medical problems of any sort, are isolated conditions. Everyone has lives and comorbidities that complicate the medical conditions under inspection in our clinic. These may be dire social situations, family matters, or other specific medical comorbidities.  A recent Perspective in The Lancet by Todd Meyers of the Department of Anthropology at Wayne State University offers a compelling view of this additional dimension of our health care paradigm.

 “Comorbidity is a clinical and conceptual problem. It is simultaneously a problem of how to describe multiple morbidities – clinically or epidemiologically – and a problem of how individuals themselves conceptualise and wrestle with their polypathia … Through the play of disorder and circumstance (and presentation and expectation), to treat is to capture, to arrest symptoms in a particular moment, but rarely is there enough time or resource to discover where these symptoms fit within the complex lattice that makes up the individual experience of comorbidity.” [Permission of Todd Meyers. The art of medicine. How is comorbidity lived? T. Meyers. The Lancet. 386:1128-1129, 2015]

You and I will never find the perfect balance between truly understanding a patient in terms of comorbidities of life and body and the immediacy of the person’s urologic condition. The art, however, is in our effort to try as we practice medicine patiently, one patient at a time.



 7.     Comorbidity, as a term and idea, is attributed to internist and epidemiologist Alvan Feinstein who spent his career at Yale School of Medicine. His reputation has been challenged due to some statements during a period of his career when he minimized the negative effects of smoking, even though he had been sponsored by the industry. [Feinstein, Alvan R. (1970). “The pre-therapeutic classification of co-morbidity in chronic disease”. Journal of Chronic Diseases 23 (7): 455–68] It is easy to pile on indignantly to this criticism now, in 2015, but the overwhelming evidence today of the destructive effects of tobacco smoke was not so apparent back then. Later in his career, particularly as editor of the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, he became more critical of tobacco. Smoking looked cool in the mid-nineteenth century, and the makers of cigarettes naturally tweaked the composition of their product to enhance the addictive features. Ironically, smoking has turned out to be a major contributor to today’s medical comorbidities.

Feinstein, born in Philadelphia December 4, 1925, died just about 15 years ago (October 25, 2001). He obtained bachelor’s, master’s, and medical degrees at the University of Chicago, where he probably interacted with former UM trainee Professor Charles Huggins. In spite of that likely intersection, Feinstein chose internal medicine for a career and trained at the Rockefeller Institute, becoming board certified in 1955.  [Picture from Yale Bulletin & Calendar Nov. 2, 2001] After a few years at what would later become the NYU Langone Medical he moved to Yale in 1962 and became founding director of its Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program in 1974.





8.     November brings Thanksgiving to mind. The Norman Rockwell painting Freedom from Want (discussed on these pages last March) had its debut on March 6, 1943 as a Saturday Evening Post cover. This was number three in his Four Freedoms series of oil paintings inspired by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union Address. Rockwell started this particular painting the previous Thanksgiving in 1942, depicting actual friends and family at the table. We are too comfortable today to feel as viscerally about the four freedoms as Roosevelt, Rockwell, and most Americans did during the darkest days of WWII or as the world’s 60 million refugees must feel today, but we should beware that our comfort rests on only a thin veneer of civilization. As specialists we are also sometimes too comfortable in our professions. We enjoy not only the four freedoms of Roosevelt (freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear), but also freedom to choose one’s work, in our case the specialty of urology. Board certifications and hospital credentialing processes define our scopes of practice, while varying degrees of personal detachment allow us to focus specifically on urologic disorders and their treatment.



9.     On this particular day in history two now-obscure events left countless social and physical comorbidities reverberating still today. In 1965 Cuba and the United States agreed to an airlift for Cubans who wanted to come to the United States. When the Cuban revolution began in 1959 the U.S. government initially reacted favorably to it, but after hundreds of executions and Fidel Castro’s embrace of communism relations soured and by 1965 the Communist Party was governing Cuba. Amazingly, Castro is still around, having survived as Cuba’s leader parallel to 11 American presidents for 16 terms of office. By 1971, 250,000 Cubans had made use of this program. Only now, 50 years later, do we find signs of improvement in relations with that nation of 11 million people only 90 miles away from Key West, Florida. A second historic coincidence occurred exactly 40 years ago on the other side of the Atlantic. The Green March was a strategic mass demonstration in November 1975, coordinated by the Moroccan government, to force Spain and General Franco (ailing despite recent recovery from a serious bout of phlebitis) to hand over its colony, the disputed, autonomous Spanish Province of Sahara. Some 350,000 Moroccans advanced several miles into the Spanish Sahara territory, escorted by nearly 20,000 Moroccan troops and met very little initial response from either Spanish forces or the Sahrawi Polisario Front, an independence movement backed by Algeria, Libya, and Cuba which was fortified by Soviet arms. The Spanish Armed Forces were asked to hold their fire so as to avoid bloodshed and they removed mines from some previously armed fields. Nevertheless, the events quickly escalated into a fully waged war between Morocco, Mauritania, and the Polisario, once Spain left the territory. The Western Sahara War, as it came to be known, lasted for 16 years. The color green was incorporated to invoke Islam. A cease-fire agreement reached in 1991 remains monitored by the UN Mission for the referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). What these two events have in common is the disruption of people’s lives when colonialism, regionalism, and independence movements collide and become playing grounds for larger international proxy conflicts. Sound familiar?



 10.    November refers to the number nine in Latin, a quantity recalling the alleged lives of a cat. Reflecting back over the shoulder of human time, you can’t help but think that our species has been testing the limits of our existence with far more numerous close calls than a cat’s. The Cuban missile crisis was just one close call, among other instabilities around the planet from Africa, to the mid-East, and in far too many other places. The feline proverb  dates back at least to Ben Johnson’s play written in 1598, Every Man in his Humor. William Shakespeare performed in that play and then used a similar phrase a year later in his own play Much Ado About Nothing: “What, courage man! What though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care.” The actual intent of the word care, was worry or sorrow, but somehow over the intervening centuries curiosity became the perpetrator of the cat’s demise. Possibly the belief in 9-lives is related to the ability of cats to land on their feet. In fact their spine is more flexible than that of humans; while like most mammals cats have 7 cervical vertebrae, they have 13 thoracic, 7 lumbar, and 3 sacral vertebrae. We humans have 3-5 caudal vertebrae fused into an internal coccyx, but cats have a variable number of caudal vertebrae in their tail.


[English tabby cat. 1890. Popular Science Monthly Vol. 37] 

 It is also curious, if we may re-employ the term without penalty, that while cats may have 9 lives and often have amazing moustaches (that remind us of Movember throughout the year), dogs unequivocally remain mankind’s best friends.


Thanks for considering our Matula Thoughts once again.

Best wishes for Movember, 2015.

David A. Bloom



Matula Thoughts June 5, 2015

 Matula Thoughts June 5, 2015

(2686 words)

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


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


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


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


Audubon’s wolverine

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


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

Wolverine brown

[Wikipedia Commons, author Zefram, 2006]

 Wolverine ranges

[Wolverine ranges – Wikipedia]


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


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


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


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

 Skip - Mayo Lecture

[Skip Campbell]


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

Sarns  Rich Prager

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


[Standing ovation for Rich Prager]


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


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


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

 Danes Jens & daughter

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

 Barry & Bart Marty & Cheryl

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

 Osawa NPR ladies

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

 Alon, PAs, Jacuqi

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


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


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

May flowers [Lilacs in front of old Mott]

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


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

David A. Bloom




Matula Thoughts May 1, 2015


Matula Thoughts May 1, 2015

2992 words


Some recent readers of these essays, Matula Thoughts, have asked what it’s all about. For a little more than 15 years I’ve been putting out a mixed bag of observations as a monthly e-mail communication, initially to the entire medical school faculty when I worked in the dean’s office of Allen Lichter. We called the communication What’s New, and I kept it going (expanded to a weekly email) after my fulltime return to the Urology Department. Currently, on most weeks What’s New is written by members of our department under Associate Chair John Wei as the primary author/editor, leaving me only with the monthly “first Friday” issue covering topics as diverse as Hippocrates, astronomy, healthcare, urology, etc. A little over two years ago, we spliced the first Friday issue to a parallel version on a blog called, explaining the title in an introductory piece on March 26, 2013. If you missed the explanation you can find it added to this communication as a post-script.


 MH 26392)


1.           MonetMay’s long stretches of daily sunlight, entices us that summer is just around the corner. Claude Monet’s painting Woman in a Garden of 1867  (at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg) shows one of those days that we’ve longed for throughout this long winter. A brush of snow last week challenged us briefly, but today the buds are on the trees, songbirds are in the air, and the hosta poked out of the ground for a few days until our local deer chomped them down. In May we drive home from work when it is still light outside. Whereas the USA celebrates Labor Day in the autumn, for most other nations May 1 is International Workers’ Day, an event that began around this time of year to honor workers according to an archaic view of the working class.  

Int Workers Day  [Source: Wikipedia.  Dark blue = Labor Day on May 1, Light blue = another public holiday on May 1, Pink = Labor Day on another date, Red = No Labor Day]

Yet, well before those early public celebrations of the working class, Adam Smith and other thinkers were keenly aware of the division of labor, on which society depends so totally, into many specific jobs, trades, crafts, and formalized professions. Professions maintain standards of practice and systems of education, and the medical profession is one of the oldest. May happens to be a traditional time for medical school graduation, a lovely ceremony marking the emergence of a new cohort of MDs. When the first class of medical students graduated in Ann Arbor in the mid-19th century they were deemed ready to enter the workplace as new doctors after 2 years of lectures that comprised their professional education. Since then medical school has grown to 4 years of study that also includes laboratory investigation, self-study, and clinical experience. Graduation, an esoteric labor day of a sort, now marks a transition to the career-defining stage of medical education, namely residency training, a phase lasting an additional 4-10 years. Many medical schools, including ours at the University of Michigan, include recitation of the Hippocratic Oath at graduation to connect the graduates, as well as the established physicians present, to the ancient and durable principles of their profession.

Hippocrates  Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 3.59.14 PM

[Left: Hippocrates’ statue at UM. Right: UMMS graduates in 2013 who entered urology programs. Now, nearly PGY3s, they are halfway through residency. Sarah Hecht now at Portland, Nirmish Singla in Dallas, Adam Gadzinski in San Francisco, and John Delancey in Chicago at Northwestern]


2.          This May is also noteworthy for the AUA Annual meeting when our faculty and residents present their work in the intellectual marketplace of international urology. Michigan urology usually has well over 100 podium presentations, posters, and other prime time appearances. The national meeting is the place to hear new ideas, discover new technologies, extend our reputation, spot new talent for recruiting, as well as reconnect with our own alumni and friends. Sunday’s Reed Nesbit Reception hosts well over 100 of our alumni and friends annually, and we will report on this next month. What does the Hippocratic oath have in common with the AUA? Both are manifestations of professionalism, the medical arts at large and urology in particular. Professions have a long record throughout human history, the medical ones going back to healer-priests, the Hippocratic School, and the Company of Barber-Surgeons as examples. In professions societies recognize the specialized knowledge of groups of individuals and accords them rights to practice, educate themselves, set standards, and innovate. These rights are conveyed in the interest of the public. It’s hard to imagine how government or the business world could perform these functions as well and as efficiently as do the professions in this day and age with 150 areas of medical and surgical areas of expertise, to say nothing of dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, podiatry, much less all the many other professions in the complex tree of knowledge. There is no free lunch, however, and the cost for these freedoms is a social contract in which the professions must look out for the public interest if they are to maintain the public’s trust.


3.          The invisible hand that seems to maintain the efficient function of society is a useful metaphor that traces back to Adam Smith, if not before him. Some of that mysterious force is Darwinian and this is discussed nicely by David Sloan Wilson in a new book, Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others. He wrote: Group-level functional organization evolves primarily by natural selection between groups. This would explain evolution of the functional behavior of termite civilizations, bee colonies, and human society. The principle guiding hand in human society is hardly invisible and that is the hand of the ruling priest, king, or governing agency that sets laws and regulations to determine how people behave and how business enterprises work. A second factor, in addition to the regulatory laws, is at play in the commercial world and this is Adam Smith’s invisible guiding hand. Somehow the commercial world markets, largely and efficiently, regulate themselves. A third guiding hand comes from the professions, work groups that transcend mere jobs, to create cultures that set standards for their work, educate their successors, and fulfill expectations of the public. The profession of medicine has served human society from its earliest days and the Hippocratic Oath, dating back nearly 2500 years, is evidence of how a self-ordained profession can define its scope of work, declare its values, and pledge a set of behaviors in service to the public. Other professions have followed this model of an oath, although the Hippocratic remains the most durable and popular prototype.  


4.          Kipling a  Rudyard Kipling is well known for stories and poetry, but I was surprised to learn he authored the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer and that it was first recited as an oath at the University of Toronto 90 years ago today. The idea came from professor H.E.T. Haultain of that university, who believed graduating engineers should have an ethical framework. The Quebec Bridge disasters were a motivating factor and Haultain, on behalf of the Engineering Institute of Canada, persuaded Kipling to write the words. Other professions also grapple with ethical responsibilities. The American Institute of Architects recently considered a petition to consider whether its members should be censured for designing solitary-confinement cells or death chambers. An article by Michael Kimmelman considered the ethical issue of humane prison design: “What are the ethical boundaries for architecture? Architecture is one of the learned professions, like medicine or law. It requires a license, giving architects a monopoly over their practices, in return to a minimal promise that buildings won’t fall down.”  [NYT. Critic’s Notebook. Feb 17, 2015. C1] The Institute rejected the petition, but the implication was clear that many members of the profession believe that the public deserves more than that minimalist promise of product stability. Codes of ethics and rituals bind people of like skills and interests together. Most professions derive their main value and meaning in relation to public service. It seems to be noble and virtuous for a profession to articulate and perpetuate its values and standards of service to the public. Ultimately, the professions exist at the pleasure of the public. When the public loses faith in the public service of a profession, that profession becomes just another business and a commodity. [Rudyard Kipling by Philip Burne-Jones. 1899. The Granger Collection NY. Public domain]


5.          Scale.  Our Department of Urology has reached a considerable size. When I joined the Section of Urology of the Department of Surgery, as it then was in 1984, I was the 6th faculty member and the only pediatric urologist. Now we have 5 pediatric urologists and a total of 37 regular faculty and 15 joint faculty shared with other departments. People ask: isn’t that too large a department? Or, how big should we be? The matter of size is important mainly from the point of understanding our mission and being able to execute it excellently. Our mission has three parts: education, research, and clinical care. However, from the mission derives our essential deliverable: kind and excellent patient-centered care, thoroughly integrated with education and innovation at all levels. This essential deliverable is both the milieu for deployment of our mission and our moral epicenter.


6.          From the educational perspective, an excellent urology department needs to deliver great urologic care in all facets of urology. To teach urology a team of faculty needs to be engaged in urologic practice. This requires a certain depth of faculty, that is a redundancy of personnel to manage complex and routine urologic conditions around the clock. For some subspecialties in urology, such as andrology, two faculty members may permit ample coverage, whereas in other areas a larger number is necessary. For example, we hope to establish a program to provide 24/7 urinary tract stone coverage, whereby a patient can receive state of the art management of a stone by a full-time stone expert. This will require a team of at least 5 endo-stone urologists plus their support team. If it takes around 7000 RVUs to support one urologist, the clinical activity to support such a team can be calculated fairly quickly.


7.          Another way to look at departmental size from the educational perspective is to consider the number of surgical cases necessary for a resident or fellow to become proficient at an operative procedure. The numbers vary among the facets of urology, whether pediatric urology, uro-oncology, pelvic-reconstructive urology, andrology or stone management. In the last example, we know that a minimum number of cases for a resident’s experience is 60 ureteroscopy cases, according to our certifying organization. The University of Michigan program of 4 residents a year for a 5-year training program, is organized such that those 60 cases are performed in the first two years of training, therefore we could calculate a need for a minimum of 120 ureteroscopy cases yearly. However, not all these cases are suitable for a novice, some cases will need to be performed mainly by faculty, and in many other instances a resident may not be available. Therefore it is no exaggeration to expect that a robust stone team should be performing at least 200-300 ureteroscopies per year. If it takes, let’s say, 5 clinic visits to generate one ureteroscopy, then a stone team might be expected to see at least 1000 – 1500 patients with stone disease a year. This type of back-of the envelope calculation could be extended to percutaneous nephrostomy cases, ESWL cases, or bladder stone patients.


8.          Yet another level of consideration of scale involves how many annual surgical cases are necessary to maintain proficiency. The average urologist in the United States performs less than 5 radical prostatectomies and less than 2 cystectomies annually. Because recent data (and common sense) correlates quality with volume, and it seems reasonable that a urologist who performs 30 cystectomies a year would be your preferred surgeon to someone who performs one a year, or one every other year. Thus a robust institution should deploy surgeons with robust volumes in their areas of expertise. The critical mass ensuing from a team of such surgeons, naturally would favor learning, teaching, and investigation worthy of a strong university. Decisions regarding size of an academic department are therefore most efficiently made within academia at the local level, recognizing that the history, geography, demography, economics, and politics of each institution, best determine its scale and destiny.


9.          Lapides & Lyon  Last month we mentioned Jack Lapides, Section Head of Urology here in Ann Arbor from 1968 – 83. Jack’s friend and contemporary Dick Lyon (seen second on your right and self-described as “old man.”) thereupon sent me this picture of Jack from 1975. In their era of practice a urologist was a generic general urologist. Few graduates of residency took fellowships, and most went out into practices that covered all aspects of urology. The world of urology has changed greatly since the days Lapides and Lyon, and considerable impact can be credited to their careers. Subspecialties have blossomed and Dick was one of the very first to identify with pediatric urology. Today it is most unusual in North America or Europe for a significant pediatric urology condition to be managed by anyone but a pediatric urologist, and this effect is diffusing throughout the rest of the world. A similar trend is forming for urologic oncology and neuropelvic reconstructive urology. The same subspecialization of labor is reflected throughout health care, other professions, and the workforce at large. This is an inevitable trend as knowledge accrues and technology expands.


10.       While May Day historically celebrates the generic laborer, we recognized this is quaint terminology. Modern cosmopolitan life includes all sorts of workers of all sorts of skill levels. A myriad number of occupations not only contribute to modern civilization, they are the basis of it. Each skill and each job has dignity and should offer further opportunity. The great challenge for government, public policy scholars, and economists is to expand employment and mitigate poverty. All people deserve a chance for meaningful occupation and fair compensation. The most problematic divide in the world today is not between working class and an upper class, or between blue collar and white collar workers. The greatest divide is between the impoverished and the rest of mankind. Lacking viable jobs with sustainable wages that include health care and other benefits of a civilized society, an impoverished sector tends to perpetuate a cycle of poverty with all its attendant maladies. Its members are less likely to contribute to society, more likely to require substantial assistance, and their neighborhoods are more likely to explode, as evidenced this week in Baltimore. As we celebrate all workers in all the many specialized jobs of today, we should recognize the obligation to extend decent employment as widely as possible while maintaining a fair safety net for those left behind. This should be the promise of civilization. 


Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 4.26.20 PM [Medieval Uroscopist]


 Garment workers [Garment Factory Workers 1936. Photo Russell Lee, public domain. The Living New Deal Website]


Airplane workers  [WWII: FACTORY, 1942. Women installing an aircraft engine at the Douglas Aircraft plant in Long Beach, California. Photograph by Alfred T. Palmer, June 1942. Granger Academic]


Post script  (introduction from 2013)

Clues to predict the future have been highly prized throughout the millennia of human history, especially so when the future is related to prognosis of disease and disability. External cues from the heavens, in the weather, via tea leaves, or with playing cards have played major parts in the prediction of health. The logic of using more immediate evidence from physical signs or bodily fluids was evident to early practitioners of medical arts. Humans share the trait with other mammals of daily personal interest in their urine, for example, and its scrutiny during illness was obvious. Hippocratic writings documented uroscopy, as it came to be called, 2500 years ago and over the ensuing centuries the practice elicited imaginative prognostications as healers identified as uroscopists examined the gross characteristics of urine in flasks called matulas and speculated on the course of illness. The visual image of a “piss prophet” gazing at a matula served as the main symbol of physicians in art until only about 200 years ago when the stethoscope replaced the flask as medicine’s badge of office. We begin this electronic journal with a respectful tip of the matula to that original essayist Michel Eyquem de Montaigne who began his eclectic personal observations around 1572 when he was around 39 years of age. It is likely that Montaigne was well acquainted with physicians and matulas, as his father purportedly died of urinary stone disease and Montaigne himself began to suffer from them in 1578. What impulses compel us humans to share our observations and thoughts may someday be revealed through the matula’s diagnostic successors such as the MRI and other marvels of imagination, but there is no arguing that those impulses are strong and prevalent in our species. This blog (finally, I have used the awkward term) is a new forum for the monthly email broadcast I called “What’s New” that I started in 2007 in our Department of Urology at the University of Michigan and with the help of friends have continued regularly since then. These little spaces and sentences will be filled by things that a.) catch my attention and b.) I hope will interest some readers. For the most part this will be an alternative space and presentation of “What’s New.”



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

David A. Bloom

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University of Michigan




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Matula Thoughts April 3, 2015

Michigan Urology Family

Toolkits & tornados (3916 words)


1.   170px-Clovis_Point With April we emerge from wintry mindsets ready for the challenges of spring and summer ahead. Once upon a time these challenges were mainly matters of hunting, gathering, and the immediate issues of survival. Today we take our food, shelter, and security largely for granted; although this holds true for most readers of this electronic column it does not pertain for all of our neighbors. This April finds us with substantial national concerns related to poverty, economy, academic health care, and more fearful existential geopolitical and climactic anxiety for civilization’s survival. These fears are offset to some extent by the excellent human toolkit we have assembled. We have a strong track record as an inventive species building this toolkit, extending back to the Clovis blade seen above (radiocarbon dated 13,200 to 12,900 calendar years ago), a big step in its time for hunting, butchering, murdering, or trimming long beards. At risk of being excessively self-congratulatory as a species, no one can deny that the human ability to formulate ideas and innovate technology is astonishing. The best purpose of such progress, its meaning whether you view our history through a theological lens or a cosmopolitan perspective, is to improve the human condition. Facial appearances, visible testimony to the human condition, have improved along the way since the rough work of early stone blades. On this particular day of the year (3 April) in 1973, Francis W. Dorian, Jr. patented a “dual razor assembly.” Shaving is a pretty widespread human activity, and with nearly 4 billion people on earth in Dorian’s time, you might wonder how it was that he was the one to seize the day with that clever innovation. Nevertheless, he did it and his ingenuity was rewarded. The idea of a patent is to provide an inventor some protection to the sole use of his or her invention before it becomes freely available to the public. Government thus protects innovators for a limited period of time and thereby enhances conditions favorable to further innovation. The first English patent, coincidently, dates back to this same day (3 April) in 1449 in England when John of Utynam was given exclusive privilege by King Henry VI to a specific method of making colored glass. Patent protection was a valuable addition to the human toolkit. [Picture: Clovis fluted blade. 11,000 years old, Copyrighted image – Government of the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Historic Resources]


2.   Pasteur in lab Pasteur used to say, (and Jack Lapides head of Michigan Urology from 1968 – 1983 repeated this phrase often) “chance favors the prepared mind.” Pasteur probably said something like this many times to people in his labs or to his students, but the historically documented quote came from a lecture at the University of Lille on December 7, 1854: “Dans les champs de l’observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits prepares.” Many of Pasteur’s ideas, on topics as wide ranging as the germ theory of disease and religion were viewed as heretical by some, but his native country respected free speech, liberal inquiry, and peer review thus allowing the best of his ideas to grow and yield even further innovations. Thankfully, no self-righteous hardliners killed him in his lab or on the street and he lived a full life of amazing contribution to humanity. Pasteur criticized the fashion of compartmentalizing types of “science” thus anticipating the beautiful concept of consilience, the unity of knowledge, that E.O. Wilson espoused well over a century later. In 1871 Pasteur wrote (in translation): “There does not exist a category of science to which one can give the name applied science. There are sciences and the applications of science, bound together as the fruit of the tree which bears it.” In this light, the stern separation of basic sciences from clinical sciences in medical school curricula must be viewed skeptically.


Jack Lapides, seen above, was of a similar mind as Pasteur to challenge conventional wisdom and investigate portions of the world that interested him. Many ideas of Lapides have stood the test of time and his concept of clean intermittent self-catheterization (CIC), that went abruptly against the grain of conventional wisdom in his day, proved to be a revolutionary breakthrough that changed the lives of countless people (you could easily estimate the number in the millions) and opened the door to complex urinary tract reconstruction. Our friend and colleague Bernie Churchill at UCLA has often said that if there were a Nobel Prize in Urology, it would certainly have gone to Lapides for CIC. We have had a paper in progress for nearly a decade on Lapides and hope to complete it soon and then find a place for publication, although that latter issue may prove the greater challenge. [Illustrations: Pasteur in his lab and Lapides in the lecture hall]


3.   Knowledge, the substrate of human progress, leads to technology, a signature feature of the human condition. Over time rock-scraping tools became knives that in turn became spears and bow-propelled arrows. Within a countable number of intervening centuries the Swiss Army inspired a universally handy knife and Steve Jobs came along with the iPhone – both of these innovations are in my pockets everyday. Rather than stained glass technology or better razor blades the intellectual products of academic medical centers align to clinical practice, education, and discovery. Our Department of Urology well understands that the generation of knowledge and technology are at the core of our mission. The fusion gene in prostate cancer discovered by Arul Chinnaiyan and his team, and the histotripsy concept and technology (first clinical trials now successfully completed) of Will Roberts and his team are stellar examples of success at Michigan. Physicians are naturally curious about normal biologic function and investigation of normal biologic function and want to investigate pathology of disease. We satisfy that curiosity and investigate infirmities in clinics, at bedsides, in operating rooms, in laboratories, in datasets, in conferences, and in thought experiments. As Pasteur anticipated in his comments on categorization in science we should use the term clinical research more thoughtfully. Clinical has come to imply immediate practical utility for patient care. Research is an approach to discovery using observation, hypotheses, reproducible methods, analysis, and experimentation in many instances. We call this way of thinking science, and validate the discoveries that come from research by peer review and further testing. Some narrowly claim that any worthy research is hypothesis-driven research or randomized clinical trails (RCTs). Such investigations are important to be sure, but not at the expense of raw curiosity, observation, trial and error experimentation, and other methodological study. RCTs work better for drugs in rats than the ever-changing milieu of clinical medicine, and newer approaches such as adaptive design trials are necessarily coming into play. Major breakthroughs ahead of us in knowledge and technology are likely to come from unexpected and unorthodox sources and methods. We should be seeking them and incubating them.


4.   What specifically do we want from clinical research? We want better understanding of biology and pathology so as to treat human disease and disability. We want better operative procedures and other therapeutic regimens, including clinical pathways and systems to manage episodes of disease. We want better healthcare delivery platforms and systems. We want better access to care for all people. We want better understanding of the health care workforce and better ways to match it to the needs of people. We want better pedagogical systems for all aspects of the workforce. We want better public health. We want better safety – in healthcare settings, in homes, in the workplace, in transportation, and in food. We want better disaster preparedness and management. All of these things relate to clinical research, including our world of urological clinical research.


5.   Twisted lip My comments last month about panhandlers, homelessness, and hunger generated interesting feedback (forgive the double entendre), especially from a few sources of wisdom including Martha Bloom & Julian Wan. The local impact of these problems is visible almost every day on some streets in Ann Arbor, and even more so in larger cities. Mental illness, a huge problem in society, crosses all socioeconomic levels, yet at the lower end of the spectrum mental illness and substance abuse are major factors in the dysfunction of homelessness. Julian reinforced the idea that “not all panhandlers are homeless” pointing out that this is not a new idea. In 1891 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published the Sherlock Holmes story of The Man with the Twisted Lip built around the idea that a country gentleman, Neville St. Clair, supported his lifestyle by posing as a destitute beggar in London. [Sidney Paget illustration in “The man with the twisted lip.” The Strand. December, 1891. Original caption: “He is a professional beggar”] Also, referring to last month’s Four Freedoms, Julian noted the importance of freedom from social restrictions that has attracted scientists and engineers from other countries to the U.S.A. “not just because of the earning opportunities” but also because they are less constrained by professional and social strictures than in their native countries. This last point is worth considering further. Social and professional strictures are intellectual tools necessary for 7 billion people to get along efficiently and fairly. At issue is the degree of constraint and acceptance of them by those so constricted. For us in western medicine, the Hippocratic Oath is widely accepted, comfortably self-imposed, and meaningful. On the other hand we find regulations that at one extreme may demand certain doctor-patient discussions (e.g. conversations regarding screening tests or surgical procedures) be held and documented in the medical record, while at the other extreme specific discussions such as abortion may be unacceptable or even illegal in some jurisdictions. Few would argue, however, that clinical suspicion of child abuse demands mandatory reporting.


6.   Steven Brill’s new book, America’s Bitter Pill, was discussed last month in these columns where I opined that the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) main effects are here to stay for a while, but may not be sustainable in the long run. The market, the academic community, and the government will inevitably offer up new ideas and experiments. Some may even be good. I read the book word-by-word, but you could save time by going to Brill’s final chapter, Stuck in the Jalopy, his metaphor for America’s healthcare system. He lauds the main intent of the ACA – extending the reach of healthcare to the people in the United States of America. Brill thinks we are destined to spend 16-20%, of the national gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare. He believes the ACA will further increase the percentage “as employers continue to increase deductibles and blame it on Obamacare.” The government’s share of costs for protecting those without employer-based coverage will also keep rising. He writes: “Expanded Medicaid coverage and expensive premium subsidies will be only partially offset by the taxes, fees, and Medicare savings extracted in those deals with industry.” Yes, millions of Americans now have healthcare coverage with the ACA, but millions of others still do not. Furthermore, many millions, particularly those in the middle class, will continue to struggle to retain healthcare and strain to manage their premiums, co-pays, and other shifted costs. Healthcare, in the ACA paradigm, may be terribly unaffordable for many in the middle class – the part of America that is the engine of its economy. I can’t be very positive regarding Brill’s actual writing. His simplistic solution to our looming national problem consists of 7 “proposed” federal regulations to “free up” the private systems. His questions to President Obama in the appendix struck me as an embarrassment. Nonetheless, Brill provides a thorough narrative of a complex and important topic with careful references and supporting footnotes.


7.   Last month in our Departmental What’s New communication, organized by John Wei, we heard about the yearly Urology Joint Advocacy Conference (JAC), a yearly visit to talk to congressmen and staffers. This year Jim Dupree, Gary Faerber, Kate Kraft, Julian Wan, and Start Wolf joined the conference and gave us their observations in What’s New. High on the agenda for nearly 20 of the 30 years of the conference has been the topic of a “fix” to the sustainable growth rate (SGR) issue I mentioned here last month. This is just one of a host of broken parts in Brill’s “Jalopy of Healthcare.” Maybe a bi-partisan fix is finally at hand.  Next year’s JAC will be February 28-March 1, so consider joining in. Talk to our participants from this year. It is inescapable to me that we will be able to manage healthcare in the intermediate or long-term future without a more robust public system, in competition with the private sector just as we have an effective public postal system (yes, Post Office spends more money than it makes, just like the Department of Defense, the Public Health Service, Housing & Urban Development, and the State Department, that all serve the public interest).  The mail analogy is useful. Our Post Office works better because of UPS and Federal Express. And vice versa. The public has options to mail a letter or package practically anywhere in the world. The competition benefits the consumer and keeps each organization relatively lean and honest. If the Post Office were our only option, or alternatively if Federal Express or UPS were the sole supplier of mail services, the public would not be served as well as it is now because of competition. Similarly, national healthcare needs a variety of tools for a variety of conditions – economic conditions, disease conditions, social conditions, and public health. Our VA works pretty well, the Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) model works pretty well, and a few public hospitals still function. Public options (a loaded phrase, I know) will ultimately have to expand in number and variety to provide full and fair national coverage as well as to manage costs. In fact, if these are not grown thoughtfully and robustly, the entire private system and our economy remain at risk for a wholesale collapse and unfortunate replacement by a single payer national system. The real competition we need in national health care is not, as many like Brill suggest a matter of Aetna, Vs. United Health, vs. Cleveland Clinic etc. The needed competition is that of those versions of the private sector (“nonprofit” & “for profit”) against other very different models including systems in the public sector.  Government, the private sector, and the world of non-governmental organizations (NGO) in concert and under sensible ground-rules can supply all healthcare needs excellently, equitably, innovatively, economically, and safely. Our problem is how to put this altogether to create a giant Swiss Army Knife for the healthcare of a nation.


8.   220px-Wester_&_Co_2 The Swiss Army Knife actually began as a folding pocket knife with a screwdriver for disassembling the Swiss service rifle and a tool to open canned food. Karl Elsener began to make this new type of pocket knife in his cutlery workshop in 1884 in Ibach-Schwyz, but his tinkering lasted 6 years before he came up Modell 1890, shown above. The army liked it. No Swiss company had production capacity at the time and the initial 15,000 knives were delivered by Wester & Co. in Solingen, Germany, in October, 1891, although in time Elsener was able to manufacture the knives in Switzerland. Competition ensued in 1893 when the Swiss cutlery company Paul Boéchat & Cie, (which later became Wenger) also received a contract to produce the knives. Elsener used the cross and shield to identify his product and in 1896 Elsener figured out how to attach tools to both sides of the handle via an innovative spring mechanism. In 1897 an Elsener knife included a second cutting blade and corkscrew that was patented as The Officer’s and Sport Knife, separate from the military contract. After Elsener’s mother Victoria died in 1909 he renamed the company Victoria. In 1921 his company began to use stainless steel (known by the French term acier inoxydable, or inox for short) in the knives and the company was renamed Victorinox. Victorinox and Wenger continued to split the military contract and by agreement the Victorinox product was called the Original Swiss Army Knife and the Wenger was the Genuine Swiss Army Knife. Ten years ago, in April 2005, Victorinox acquired Wenger and again became the sole supplier to the Swiss Army. The two separate knife brands, however, were not merged into a single brand until 2013. The Swiss Armed Forces still issues uniform Soldatenmessers (soldier knives) to all its members. A model incorporating corkscrew and scissors was also produced for officers, but because these additional items were not deemed necessary for survival, an officer was left to purchase the upgrade individually. Recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s most multifunctional penknife, The Giant, includes every tool ever used in Swiss Army Knives with 87 devices that fulfill 141 different functions. The price is around $1000. Although I am a devotee of Swiss Army Knives (in spite of TSA’s determination to relieve me of them) I don’t have a Giant, and actually prefer the more compact Executive.


[Soldatenmesser 08, the knife issued to the Swiss Armed Forces since 2008]


9.   Spring with its longer hours of sunlight and daylight savings time brings seasonal downsides that include tornado season in the Midwest. Of course, every season and geographic location has its particular geologic and climactic vulnerabilities, but in Ann Arbor we live at the mercy of the tornado belt, although luckily just at its edges.

1974 super outbreak

[1974 Super Outbreak]

In 1974 North America’s biggest tornado outbreak in recorded history occurred on this day [pictured above]. That Super Outbreak lasted 18 hours with 148 confirmed tornados and a death toll of 315, with nearly 5,500 injured. This was surpassed in 2011 April 25-28 with an outbreak over 3 days and 7 hours, 355 confirmed tornados, and 324 dead. Whether or not anthropogenic climate change is causing more extreme meteorological events will take some time to know, but there is no doubt that extreme weather conditions will continue to wreck havoc.


[Kansas City weather report April 27, 2011]

The human tool kit fortunately includes predictive models for weather. Wind, rain, snow, and ice can be treacherous so some warning is helpful. Extreme cold and heat annoy us and push up energy bills, but temperature can be lethal for the more vulnerable people out on the streets. Last month we mentioned that the biennial count of Washtenaw County’s homeless population (performed by outreach workers and community volunteers this past January 28) found 80 unsheltered people sleeping outdoors on the day of the count. While a sad fact, this was less than half the number counted 2 years earlier in 2013 (133), perhaps indicating a positive trend according to the Washtenaw Housing Alliance. The accuracy of climate prediction is steadily improving due to refinement of climate models. [Illustrations: Wikipedia. I did my $100 donation this year and hope a few of you readers also help keep it afloat.]


10.  Ideological tornados – tiny and huge. The human toolkit is heavily leveraged to technology, but civilization and our humanity are no less enhanced by the study of what we are, the human condition if you permit the phrase again, through the study of history, literature, and the arts. Some ideas in the human toolkit, while disruptive, have been revolutionary in a positive way leading to a better world as most people would view it. Inevitably, retrograde ideas and schools of thought perpetually challenge our better nature.

•   I’ve recently come to loggerheads with our own journal, the Journal of Urology, established in 1917 and still owned and managed by our profession, the American Urological Association. The journal rejected a paper I wrote and researched with Clair Cox (UMMS 1958, former Chair of Urology University of Tennessee), along with a journalist we encountered in our investigations. The paper was not even sent out for review but was summarily dismissed on the grounds that it was “history.” Our paper explored the reasons for the creation of the first formal national office of the AUA and the interwoven story of the urologic roots of Graceland when it was sold to Elvis. The story is interesting, was largely untold, and required research to discover it. Please don’t view my take on this rejection as a whiny complaint – my emotional balance and career don’t hinge on this publication. I understand that “history papers” in scientific literature may not budge impact factors or subscription rates. Furthermore, I recognize that much previous work in this area has been viewed as “lacking rigor” or has been “celebratory history” (on the assumption that celebration has little merit). On the other hand, few can claim that all “original research” has been worthy. We have seen plagiarism, manipulated data, erroneous conclusions, and undisclosed conflicts of interest, too often. It seems self-evident that all submissions of urological inquiry deserve a chance for peer review by our own journal and by our professional community. Our past is important, our story of urology is important. I suspect this present phase of turning a blind eye to history will fall away to larger and more liberal views within our microcosm of urology (until now our journal over its past 100 years has had a small but rich sprinkling of papers relevant to urology’s history).

•  It’s one thing to disrespect the past, but quite another to purposefully try to obliterate it. Without intending to draw too fine a point of comparison, one finds this trend echoed throughout the world today (and maybe throughout the history of mankind) from small examples such as my complaint to far more sinister levels. The emerging caliphate in the disintegrating nations of Syria and Iraq offers a salient and horrific example, the purposeful destruction of cultural remnants of the past deemed irrelevant or at odds to its fixed apocalyptic vision. Having brought this separate issue up I can’t quite let it go, for it is a geopolitical tornado of the moment. If you want to understand this particular disfigurement of the human condition you might look at Graeme Wood’s article last month in The Atlantic:

Wood contends that the so-called Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths, it is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs among which are ‘amr – the legitimacy of having territory – and its key agency in “the coming apocalypse”. These beliefs are fixed on an ancient utopian theology intolerant of the progress of ideas that ensued over 1000 years since its 7th century origins. In contrast to Wood, an opposing point of view by Mehdi Hasan “How Islamic is the Islamic State?” in The New Statesman [10 March 2015] argues that it is wrong to view this self-declared state as Islamic. However one views this belligerent group, it does have a central theological claim and an ambitious geopolitical agenda that threatens not only its immediate region, but also the rest of the world. History and current events demonstrate that theologically-based intolerance is hardly a novelty of the Islamic State. Those of us who view the best expression of the human condition in terms of democracy, personal liberty, equality, free speech, education, opportunity, innovation, cosmopolitanism (multicultural society), founded on a basic respect for human rights, and dignity seem to be on the defensive today. Yet as these big ideas have been percolating throughout civilization since that first Clovis Blade, challenges and atavistic regressions have always been at play, testing man’s better nature. These regressions, in a Darwinian way, have ultimately put finer points and better details on Mankind’s best beliefs, and history should reassure us that this trend will continue.

[Ideological tornado. Map courtesy of Institute for Study of War showing territory under caliphate control and areas it has attacked as of March 4, 2015.]

ISIS_Sanctuary_Map_with captions_approved_lo


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

David A. Bloom



Matula Thoughts March 6, 2015

Matula Thoughts, 6 March 2015 

Seeing ourselves, health care, & other thoughts. 

3486 words


Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 11.06.59 AM

1.    By March, winter has pretty much worn out its welcome in Ann Arbor. Strictly speaking it’s officially spring in 15 days, although it hasn’t been feeling that close. Nevertheless, we muster on contending with polar vortices by means of central heating, L.L. Bean fleece, March Madness and comfort food. On this particular day, March 6 in 1943, the Saturday Evening Post published Norman Rockwell’s illustration Freedom from Want. Although the illustration might have seemed more suitable for a Thanksgiving issue, the work was number three in his Four Freedoms series. Rockwell’s oil paintings were inspired by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 Four Freedoms State of the Union Address. Rockwell actually started this particular painting in November 1942 depicting his friends and family at their Thanksgiving. The other end of the spectrum from Rockwell’s idyllic scene is the image evoked in a report I saw recently from the Bangweulu Wetlands in Zambia on the unintended use of mosquito nets for fishing where:  Out here on the endless swamps, a harsh truth has been passed down from generation to generation: There is no fear but the fear of hunger.  [Gettleman NYT Jan 25, 2015 p.1]  


2.    Freedom from want is a timely theme. During these cold wintry days, it is discomforting to cross paths with panhandlers on our streets. How do we each respond, knowing that many panhandlers have terrible life stories and are at their wits’ end without resources for the next meal or warm bed? (Yes, many of them are clever enough to make a living on the street and a few actually retreat to their own abodes to sleep at night). It is important to realize that most homeless people are not panhandlers and that not all panhandlers are homeless. Furthermore, mental illness is a pervasive condition among panhandlers and the homeless. Most experts on homelessness agree that handouts to panhandlers are not a good solution for homelessness, hunger, and mental illness; a set of community solutions is vastly preferable. University towns like Ann Arbor provide good environments for panhandlers who can turn streets full of students into their workplaces. Still, many of these people are truly homeless and hungry – so how do you and I face those who confront us directly with their need? It is a personal dilemma. I often point them to the Delonis Center, only a few blocks away as a resource that offers decent food, shelter, and a pathway out of homelessness. Many of us in the community support Delonis, but its capacity is stretched and some who need shelter and services are adverse to it for varied reasons. The failure of our society in the industrialized world of 2015 to provide food, security and decent shelter to all its citizens is troubling. Health care is as basic “a need” as food and shelter and most of those folks on the street are incapable of attending to their basic health needs. One measure of our humanity is the sense of empathy that allows us to see ourselves in the faces of the needy who confront us. The great religions value empathy, our most respected leaders throughout time displayed empathy, and mankind’s greatest thinkers argued for it, notably in my mind Adam Smith in his opening sentence of the Theory of Moral Sentiments. Yet, we must be constantly aware for ourselves as we gain privilege and power, that power diminishes empathy. When we lose the recognition that the homeless and the panhandlers are in a real sense our doppelgängers we lose much of our humanity.

3.    Homelessness and hunger are invisible to us most of the time in our busy lives in clinics and operating rooms, contending with hospital capacity issues, residency education, MiChart, RVUs, regulatory mandatories, grant deadlines, and the rest of the broth of clinical and academic medicine. A recent Lancet editorial [The Lancet 384:478, 2014] and series [Faizel, Geddes, Kushel The Lancet 384:1529, 2014 and Hwang & Burns  384:1541, 2014] dealt with homelessness, noting that on any night in the USA and Europe around 1 million people are homeless (median age is 50 years). And what about the Middle East, South America, Africa, and Asia? In our own Washtenaw County, the federally-mandated count on a cold day this January found 307 sheltered and 80 unsheltered homeless people. Of the 387 that day: 52 were children, 94 had severe mental illness, 44 had chronic substance abuse, and 34 were victims of domestic violence. Chronic homelessness accounted for 71 of the total and 29 of the 387 were military veterans. Homeless people, just like us luckier ones, may suffer from multiple morbidities, infectious and noninfectious, including all of the genitourinary disorders that we urologists manage. Yet, most of the homeless are well outside networks that feed into our health care system. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) made inroads into this underserved (or unserved) population, but better models and systems of health care are needed if we hope to truly mitigate freedom from want and provide basic humanitarian services fairly. At the personal level, it’s unrealistic to expect most of us in academic medicine to volunteer in soup kitchens or hand out blankets and socks on the streets. Clinical work is demanding and our environment heaps on additional burdens such that few of us work less than 80 hours a week. However, our community offers a variety of philanthropic opportunities that can use our dollars and leadership just as handily as direct labor. So if you feel some moral traction when you pass by a panhandler, rather than handing over cash (that may or may not be used well), look further (and point them to) resources in our community that help the homeless, hungry, and uncared for – the Delonis Center, the Packard Clinic, and others. If these resources are inadequate, help make them better.

4.    Steven Brill’s book called America’s Bitter Pill was a follow-up to the focused issue of Time magazine he wrote, and I discussed, 2 years ago in these columns. I read the book word-by-word, including the appendix and footnotes. Brill frames the story well and reasonably fairly. Replete with detail as to the historical background of healthcare economics in the USA, Brill takes the reader from March 2007 when the ACA started to take shape as an idea to a year ago in April 2014 when its implementation was in full swing. Much of American health care is the envy of the world, in terms of medical education, residency training, research, and innovation. Yet we are also rightly and severely faulted (often by ourselves) for failure to provide equitable care, for our costs, and for our results. Brill is a journalist and between his Time issue and his new book he experienced a catastrophic illness that gave greater nuance to his reporting. On April 4, 2014 he underwent repair of an expanding symptomatic aortic aneurysm at Cornell. He praised the doctors and the staff, but disparaged the administration of the hospital. His repair and 8 days in the hospital cost $197,000 – and he says it was worth every penny of it, to him. The politics and sausage-making deals with the hospital industry, insurance industry, pharmaceutical industry, and device industry are not pretty. The sausage, by the way, was pure pork. Effectually absent from the bargaining table (and thus on the menu) were the consumers, health care workers, health care scientists, and the educational community of healthcare. Representing the consumers (that is, the public who otherwise were never at the bargaining tables) was the basic structure of the ACA which was totally modeled on Romney Care and its triple intent. These three legs have been variously stated, but they boil down to these:

a.) expanding healthcare coverage throughout the nation;

b.) continuation of an “insurance-based” system that remains employer-funded, private pay funded, & government-funded; 

c.) abandoning the constraints of pre-existing exclusions & life-long limits of coverage.

Kicked down the road was the matter of cost, which inevitably will rise with expanded coverage, enormous subsidies, and corporate protections (future “give-backs” from industry notwithstanding). It was pure speculation to assume that costs will drop after ACA implementation due to less waste, electronic record implementation, bundling of services, improved safety, better “quality” and the “give-backs” of industry. Just about a year ago the federal exchange,, was resurrected (in large part with help from Google experts) after its disastrous initial launch. Given that healthcare has become such a massive part of our economy, no single fix, even as complex as the ACA is likely to solve the main problems. Furthermore in the unlikely event of totally disabling the ACA, the negative impact on health care and the larger economy would be unimaginable at this point. Inexplicably, Congress’s flawed 1997 Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) law that linked Medicare’s relative value units (RVUs are measures of clinical work) to changes in national gross domestic product (GDP) was not addressed in the ACA. This law has now been “put off” by last-minute Congressional “fixes” 17 times. As for my position on these matters, I am a believer in social objectives of the triple intent that underlies RomneyCare, ObamaCare, the ACA, or whatever label you want to throw at it. Few reasonable people doubt that the pre-existing state of health care was unsustainable. Nevertheless, Brill’s book with its collection of leadership lapses, bungled technology deployment, management failures, turf battles, political grandstanding, closed-door deals, corporate greed, personal tragedies, and more, is not inspiring. The ACA may be ultimately so complex, so flawed, and as yet so indeterminate that it will prove to rival the injustice, personal pain, and unsustainable costs of the pre-existing state of heath care. Time will tell. I’ll give what I think is the bottom line on Brill’s book next month. Meanwhile, I believe the ACA’s main effects are here to stay for a while (we will learn what the Supreme Court thinks about the “four word mistake” in the law), but are not sustainable in the long run. The market, the academic community, and the government will inevitably float new ideas and experiments. Some may even be good.

5.    Ultimately, the idea of funding a nation’s health care mainly on an insurance model is not sensible. Basic health care is a human right; people need health care from before birth until death. Furthermore, universal health care is in the public interest – you don’t want people standing next to you on the street with active TB, influenza, measles, or smallpox. Nor do you want a suicidal driver to crash head-on into your car. We don’t need Emergency Departments overwhelmed by health care crises that could have been pre-empted by good preventative medicine and timely care of routine illnesses. We also need the next generation to be healthy in mind and body so as to improve our world and civilization (and fund social security!). Insurance, however, is a sensible way to fund big ticket and catastrophic expenses – such as ruptured aortic aneurysms, renal failure, liver transplantation, major trauma, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis care to name a few terrible problems.  One experiment in health care delivery already underway is the Federally Qualified Health Center or FQHC.  We have discussed this in these columns and after a few years of preparation finally implemented involvement of our Department of Urology at the Hamilton FQHC in Flint.

6.    FQHC. In January John Wei held the first urology clinic at the Hamilton FQHC in Flint, in February John Stoffel held the second, and we intend to continue a monthly presence there. Hamilton’s facilities include a new user-friendly multi-specialty building just north of the city. Last year’s Hamilton budget was around $22 million, including its basic federal grant of $3.5 million, and it is very well run under the leadership of Michael Giacalone and Clarence Pierce. The following details may seem arcane, but are worth knowing. FQHC’s operate under the auspices of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). These grant-funded (330B) Health Centers satisfy the following requirements: they are in high need communities, are governed by community boards, offer comprehensive primary care with supporting services, provide services to everyone (with adjusted fees according to need), and meet government accountability requirements. Nationally in 2013 FQHCs served 21.7 million patients and provided 86 million visits. In addition, HRSA supervises two other types of Health Center programs. One is the non-grant supported “FQHC Look-Alike” that operates under Section 330 of the PHS Act. Washtenaw County was just approved for its first “look-alike” at the Packard Clinic. Look-alikes nationally served 1 million patients in 2013 with 4 million visits. The other alternative outpatient program functions under the Indian Self-Determination Act. Although insurance paradigms currently work well with FQHCs, it is the grant funding that provides the backbone.


 425px-Save_Freedom_of_Speech  save_freedom_worship  Freedom From Fear

7.    The other freedoms that FDR’s State of the Union addressed were: speech, worship, and fear. In that order those Rockwell illustrations were published in 1943 on February 20 and 27, and March 13 each accompanied by a matching essay. The FDR freedoms contrast and compare with the equalities articulated by Danielle Allen in her book Our Declaration, mentioned here last month. Allen makes the point that a just society cannot have freedom without a framework of equality. FDR’s freedoms are in themselves manifestations of equality throughout a society including basic human needs of food, shelter, health, and safety with the political freedoms of worship and speech. It is compelling that the final figure, Freedom from Fear, shows 2 parents concerned about their children’s future. [All paintings are at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.] The future of our children is not only a fundamental human concern, but it is evident throughout much of the animal kingdom. I recall TV docu-drama years ago dealing with the Cuban missile crisis during the Kennedy presidential administration in which JFK summed up our ultimate mutual long-term interests with the Soviets in a phrase something like this: We all inhabit the same Earth, we breathe the same air, and cherish our children’s future. These sentiments derive from thinking of the Enlightenment, tenets of social justice expressed (although imperfectly) in some modern governments, and emerging belief in the necessity for planetary stewardship. Kennedy’s point: if two conflicting sides recognize the similarity of their human condition and ultimate aspirations, conflict can be mediated. This is the empathy of the doppelgänger. I’ve been unsuccessful so far in learning if this was an actual quote from Kennedy or part of the television script, but the words are good. Of course, as we are learning in the Mideast, barbarity and conflict endure when similarity of the human condition is not mutually recognized such as when one side claims divine advantage.

8.    The future of our children and the future of our planet have been best represented by universities for the past 600 years. Universities have been the only enduring heavy-hitters in the matters of educating our successors and expanding the knowledge base of humanity. To a great extent this mission developed accidentally and is fulfilled inadequately. Far from recognizing this essential role, most modern universities fret about rankings, reputations, endowment races, NIH market shares, applicant/acceptance ratios, athletic programs, profitable products, and so forth. We see few grand educational visions. We see little focus on creating a better planet tomorrow – better citizens, better workforce, better governments,  and better energy sources to allow 8 billion or more people to inhabit the same Earth, breath the same air, and give all children a decent chance for self-determined lives. 

9.   Senses. The idea that we, among many other biologic constructs, have 5 senses goes back to the time of Aristotle if not well before then. Hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell comprise the classic senses, but the reality is more complex for most creatures with additional senses as proprioception, thirst, hunger, and magneto reception. Humans also have a unique sense of time. The human intellect can integrate and creatively imagine senses, such as when you read, dream, or think. Importantly for our species although perhaps not unique to us, is the sense of compassion as so well articulated by Adam Smith that I want to again bring forward. His book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, in 1759  begins: How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. This sense of philanthropy (love of humanity) is a fundamental part of the human condition that has allowed us to build teams, societies, and civilizations in which we take care of ourselves, including the needy and the vulnerable, as well as to try to create a better tomorrow for our children and their successors. FDR’s Four Freedoms (etched into stone at the FDR monument in Washington, DC) extend Adam Smith’s optimism in mankind’s better nature.




10.   Faces – a big step in the world of surgery. Excluding the rare true doppelgängers, it is our faces that mainly set us apart. [Illustration: Dante Gabriel Rossetti – How They Met Themselves. Watercolor 1864. Fitzwilliam Museum] For higher orders of mammals facial recognition is the key identifying feature. The nuances of human expression are essential to conscious and subconscious communication. Darwin wrote a book on this topic in 1872 called The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Among all the equalities that modern civilization is built upon, the equality of human recognition is no less essential than any other. Seeing the faces of our fellow members of society is a requisite part of the equality of reciprocity in civilization. Facial expression is essential to full interactive participation in society, to understand intent, acceptance, irony, honesty, displeasure, and all the other nuances necessary to the normal daily give and take of citizens, neighbors, customers, and all stakeholders in modern life. To “lose face” is a basic human shame in the figurative sense, but a horrendous circumstance in the physical sense. Ten years ago the first face transplant was accomplished and a recent Lancet article reviewed the first 28 facial transplants done to date in this new surgical frontier.[Khalifian, Brazio, Mohan, et al. The Lancet 384:2153, 2014]

 The authors wrote:

Facial transplantation is a single operation that can restore aesthetic and functional characteristics of the native face by giving ultimate expression to Sir Harold Gillies’ principle of ‘replacing like with like’ … Unlike solid organ transplantation, which is potentially life-saving, facial transplantation is life-changing. The possible consequences of life-long immunosuppression in otherwise healthy individuals  – including cancer, metabolic disorders, opportunistic infections and death – must be carefully balanced to minimize risk and maximize benefit. Yet surgical innovation has outpaced the scientific community’s ability to fully address certain immunological and clinical challenges. Here, we review the immunological, neurological, and anatomical principles gleaned from the 9 years since the first facial transplantation with a discussion of ethical considerations, highlighting lessons learned from clinical experience.    

A few comments on this quotation. You see once again how surgical innovation outpaced knowledge in the so-called scientific community. Yet isn’t it a strange belief that the surgical community is “not scientific” – for what is science after all but matters of imagination, methodological experimentation, analysis, and new hypothesis? Gillies, by the way, was one of the great early pioneers of modern plastic surgery. The last phrase lessons learned from clinical experience is the essence of the rational practice of medicine and this applies equally in the unnecessarily separated domains of medicine and surgery. A cynic might argue that the 28 salvaged lives cannot justify the costs and risks involved. Wiser voices would counter while the dozens of steps on the moon hardly justified the costs and risks of the lunar program, the collective spinoffs to knowledge and technology were of immeasurably greater value. In a parallel way face transplants similarly extended the reach of medicine and philosophic understanding of the meaning of a face. What have been the big steps in genitourinary surgery? Cystoscopy, cystolithalopaxy, orchidopexy, hypospadias repair, closure of exstrophy, prostatectomy for benign disease, perineal prostatectomy for cancer, the use of bowel in urinary tract reconstruction, cystectomy and bladder substitution, TURP, renal transplantation, ESWL, the Mitrofanoff principle, minimally invasive urologic surgery, and nerve sparing retropubic prostatectomy come to mind. Certainly there are others and more importantly, there will be more. Some will come from here in Ann Arbor.


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A final comment. We will miss Michael Johns, who has been with us for much of the past year providing wisdom and effective leadership for our medical school and health system as Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs. We welcome his successor Marschall Runge.

[ President Mark Schlissel, Special Counsel to President Liz Barry , & Michael Johns]


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

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 David A. Bloom