Matula Thoughts August 2, 2019. Impressions

Matula Thoughts

August 2, 2019

Impressions & metaphors:

Thoughts from a UMMS faculty member
2224 words/20 minutes

 

One.

As a medical student, my first impressions of children’s surgery imprinted on my brain much like a duckling gets imprinted when it initially sees its mother, or whatever creature first walks by. I went to UCLA for surgery residency in 1971 and then to London for a year in 1976 to learn from David Innes Williams, a founder of pediatric urology (above, Shaftesbury Hospital, 1976). The experience was rich. At first I was as an observer and later served as a registrar, the UK version of my status in the U.S. Mr. Williams was the consummate professional and his attitude was reciprocated by patients, trainees, and staff. My first impression of “DI,” as we called him, was one of the perfect English gentlemen, with unparalleled expertise and skill in one’s field. I noticed that even the poorest families coming to see him dressed for the occasion, the men often wearing a coat and tie, and the children well-scrubbed up and disciplined. Formality was echoed by kind and polite staff (Sister Fay and Sister Val) and by Mr. Williams himself who invariably offered a proper English greeting.

Mr. Williams was always addressed as “MR. WILLIAMS”– the appropriate title for a surgeon in the British world of medicine since the days of King Henry VIII who chartered the Barber Surgeons Guild in 1544. The physicians (internists) had been chartered in 1522 and were addressed as “Doctor” and the surgeons, a very distinct class of practitioners were “Mr” back then and remain Mr. to this day. Additional medical customs and traditions persisted in the National Health System and when I was a clueless young American, a colleague then ahead of me in training, Mr. Robert Morgan, took me under his wing and kept me out of trouble. Just as British ways sometimes confused foreigners like me and American ways tended to befuddle the British who, for example, couldn’t understand why Henry Kissinger came to be addressed as Doctor.

I returned to London in 1986, as a young UM faculty member on leave under Ed McGuire, to serve as a locum tenens for several months. Sir David Innes Williams (above, recently knighted) had retired from a large administrative post in the National Health System (NHS) and his successor Phillip Ransley was the sole pediatric urologist in London. American colleagues were taking sequential turns filling the spot that soon became formalized with a second NHS pediatric urologist, who turned out to be Patrick Duffy, the registrar working with me those months in 1986. I was self-conscious to be sitting in the same chair and at the same desk Mr. Williams had used to see patients, but I seemed to be tolerated by staff and patients.

In the decade between my times working for the NHS, the dress code and sense of formality of the clinic visits had relaxed. Families were more causal in dress, perhaps reflecting acceleration in the pace of life, only occasionally putting on their Sunday best for clinic visits, more likely quickly assembled from work and school to rush to Great Ormond Street Hospital by tube, bus, or cab (rarely by car, because where could they park?). Nevertheless, greetings were not rushed, but rather were moments of catching one’s breath on both sides of the table, with casual inspection, mutual taking measure, and kind acknowledgements. Those first impressions the parents and children have of the physician/health care provider are lasting.

 

Two.

Life is a social business and medical practice and education are especially social. That’s why we have frequent visiting professorships, like the Duckett Lecture last month, with Chester Koh from Baylor. Chester spoke on medical devices and discussed cases with residents, who also observed his professionalism and communication skills.

[Above: Pediatric uroradiology conference with Chester; Below: Kate Kraft, Chester, John Park.]

The first words patient hear often set the stage for their entire relationship with a health care provider. It is no surprise that one of the more offensive introductory phrases patients report is: “Why are you here?” Clinicians never intend any offense, and I myself may have cluelessly used those words in past days, trying to figure out the needs of a patient. Health care providers have many pressures for excellence, self-education, relevance, academic productivity, and equanimity. Furthermore, they are belabored by systemic pressures that are, perhaps, the greatest drivers of professional burnout: organizational metrics, throughput demands, rigid schedules, mandatory web-learning programs (fire safety, compliance, “high reliability training,” new chaperone rules, opioid regulations, and other modules every year). Electronic health record systems set the stage – demanding entry of a chief complaint at the outset of each “encounter.”

To many patients, however, that first question, Why are you here, is a slap in the face, interpreted by some as an accusation (“why are you wasting my time?”) or is evidence of an unread letter of referral or poor preparation. Patients may be anxious, looking for reassurance, expertise, and kindness. Parents with sick children will be especially distressed and for them, “Why are you here?” is a poor choice of the starting position for the physician or provider. If you put yourself in the place of the mother in Gari Melchers’ painting after the hassle and expense of getting to the clinic with your baby, you might not respond favorably to that question. If the provider was, perhaps, “burned-out” from a busy clinic schedule, the electronic health record, systemic mandatory demands, and short ancillary staffing, it is very likely that the mother with the sick baby was equally stressed, if not more so.

[Mother and Child. Gari Melchers. C, 1906. Institute of Art. Chicago.]

 

Three.

White Coat Ceremony. The stethoscope, invented in 1816 by René Laënnec in Paris, is not just an effective tool for auscultation, it is an equally effective metaphor for listening, which is itself a metaphor for seeing, hearing, or otherwise sensing the needs of a patient and family. [Below: Laënnec, National Library of Medicine. Below: Laennec’s 1819 monograph.]

Laënnec died of cavitating tuberculosis at age 45 on August 13, 1826 in Kerlouanec, leaving a wife but no children. [Ariel Roguin. René Theophile Hyacinthe Laënnec (1781-1826): the man behind the stethoscope. Clin Med Res. 4(3):230-235, 2006.]

The meme of the physician as a listener and observer is worth preserving, especially in this day of corporate medicine and formulaic encounters based on electronic medical record work flow. To institutionalize this idea of listening, our medical school began giving all entering medical students top-of-the-line stethoscopes on their first day of school at the White Coat Ceremony on 2004. The instruments were gifts from the clinical departments and some friends of the medical school interested in the actual and metaphoric listening skills of our “next generation” of physicians. Some of the best listeners in health care are themselves hearing-impaired and have trained themselves to go beyond casual vocal encounter with patients to discriminating perception of their patients with all senses.

[Above & below: UM White Coat Ceremony July 27, 2019.]

White Coat Ceremonies date back only to 1989 when, at the University of Chicago, a professor complained that first-year students “were showing up in shorts and baseball caps … where the patients are pouring their hearts out.” Dean of Students Norma Wagoner responded by starting a ceremony where students were supplied with white coats and instructed: “for any session where we have patients present, we expect you to look like professionals, wear the white coat, and behave appropriately.” [Peter M. Warren. “For new medical students, white coats are a warmup. Los Angeles Times. October 18, 1999.]

In 1993 Dean Linda Lewis at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, joined with the Arnold P. Gold Foundation to sponsor a white coat ceremony that is mirrored in medical, dental, and osteopathic schools today, among many other health professional schools. (Today, many of these medical schools bear the new names of their modern benefactors.) The white coat as a uniform of a health care provider is importantly a symbol of personal hygiene and responsibility. [Below: White Coat Syndrome, 2008, by Pat Curry, RN.]

The matula was the most prominent symbol of the medical profession for 650 years, as evidenced in art of the times, until Laënnec’s stethoscope in 1816 and the white coat even more recently. What the prominent symbols of the healing professions will be a century from now remains to be seen, but with luck regarding human destiny they won’t revert to the Aesculapian staff and matula.

 

Four.

The moral universe. The compelling imagery of a moral universe is a comforting metaphor. In 1958 Dr. Martin Luther King wrote “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” in The Gospel Messenger, noting it to be a known aphorism. He used it again in 1964 for commencement exercises at Wesleyan University. The phrase has a deep history, traceable to 1853 and “A Collection of Ten Sermons of Religion” by Theodore Parker, Unitarian minister, American transcendalist, and abolitionist. A book in 1918, “Readings from Great Authors,” quoted Parker. A columnist in the Cleveland Plain Dealer reiterated the phrase, but omitted the word “moral” in 1932. The phrase has been since repeated on many occasions such as in a 1940 New Year version by Rabbi Jacob Kohn in Los Angeles: “Our faith is kept alive by the knowledge, founded on long experience, that the arc of history is long and bends toward justice.” President Obama used the phrase and credited Dr. King in 2009. [Above: Chagall Windows. Art Institute of Chicago.] Whereas some things in life are described as “soul-crushing,” this phrase is soul-compelling.

The physical universe and the universe created by the collective brains of Homo sapiens overlap and the human one increasingly changes the other, at least for the present in the Anthropocene moment. The change is simultaneously creative and destruction – think Mona Lisa or the miracles of contemporary health care versus genocide and environmental deterioration. But if we accept the fact that the human universe is ours to create, then we must recognize that it is (it should be or it can be) a moral universe, thus validating the aspiration of King and those who came before and after him with this belief.

The idea of a universe is a human construction and belief in a moral universe is a particularly human invention. Not eager to invite liturgical criticism, few can deny that Homo sapiens has built extensively around concepts of spiritual faith. But such is the nature of our species to imagine, discover, plan, and pass the information we find and create along to successive generations. In that sense, it is up to us to build that moral universe within the gargantuan amoral physical universe around us.

 

Five.

Ann Arbor August. In much of the northern hemisphere, August is a time for vacation, although the modern workplace of 52 weeks and 365 days per year, and 24 hours per day, requires some people at work every minute such that August is no longer a month of universal leisure time. I recall that when the yearly calendar was unveiled to my surgical internship group at UCLA in July, 1971, the first vacation assignment (namely July), went to the most hyperactive of our class, who was expecting to dive immediately into the world of operating rooms, intensive care units, conferences, and clinics.

That intern was very displeased at being told to “stand down” for his first month. The rest of us, I suspect, would have been more accommodating. In the end, he accommodated just fine, and over the course of a distinguished career, Ron Busuttil ended up as chair of the surgical department at UCLA himself. Summer or winter today, the life of a resident provides more downtime and one expects that our new PGY1s will have time for the pleasures of Michigan this month and next.

The Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market (above), operating since 1919, is a lovely feature of our community – a perfect example of Adam Smith’s second-best quotation (a favorite of John Wei):

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.”

[Below: top, local farm sales; local idiosyncrasy – Wolf Man; bottom, Sweet Dirt – Melissa Richard’s Ann Arbor ice cream]

 

Michigan Urology has its own centennial this year. We begin this celebration next month, 100 years after Hugh Cabot came to Ann Arbor, recruited by Dean Victor Vaughan, and will conclude it in the autumn of 2020, to coincide with Cabot’s first academic year at the University of Michigan. Cabot brought modern urology to Michigan in the multiple dimensions of clinical care, education, research, and the international stage.

 

Postscript

Gari Melchers (1860-1932), whose Mother and Child was shown earlier, originally from Detroit, was awarded an LL.D. from UM in 1913. His impression of Victor Vaughan was presented to the university in 1916.

Melchers’s Theodore Roosevelt, originally in the Detroit Freer Collection, is now at the Smithsonian Freer-Sackler Galleries. [Donaldson BM. An Appreciation of Gari Melchers (1860-1932). Michigan Alumnus, Quarterly Review. 1934. P. 506-511.]

As you enjoy August we prepare for the Michigan Urology Centennial, marking the start of modern urology in Ann Arbor under Hugh Cabot.

 

• Centennial Celebration launch, Nesbit Society Annual meeting October 3-5, 2019, Ann Arbor.
• AUA Nesbit Society reception May 17, 2020, Washington, DC.
• Centennial Gala Celebration. Nesbit Society Annual Meeting, September 24-26, 2020, Ann Arbor.

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

May 3, 2019. Sensations

Matula Thoughts  May 3, 2019

Sensations

 

2180 words: twenty minutes to read, five to skim, or seconds to delete if TMI.

 

Appreciation. Leonardo da Vinci reverberates strongly, even five hundred years after his death on 2 May 1519. The Lancet commemorated yesterday’s anniversary with a cover picture of that great polymath who encompassed astonishing ideas, insights, and talents, leaving for posterity a multitude of works that amaze and delight. Anatomy, physiology, engineering, and visual art are just a few of the intellectual arenas his senses played with and his hands produced. Walt Whitman later wrote: we “contain multitudes…,” and you can fill in the words of what multitudes in particular might follow, such as atoms, cells, thoughts, physical creations, emotions, or other possibilities. da Vinci exemplified that human potential better than most of us, trying to make sense of the world.

 

One.             

Azalias 2019

Spring hits our senses. We can’t easily describe in words the perfumes of flowers or the pleasant rich scent of mulch, but we surely know them. Odors are important sensory inputs, although we don’t usually notice them much as they are less important for us than to most other creatures.  [Above: azaleas, spring 2019.]

Dogs, for example, discern far more olfactory notes than we do and that is probably a good thing, since dogs sequester significant cerebral space and energy for distinctions of specific urine scents or fecal aromas to understand who is in the neighborhood, skills that have been essential to millennia of canine culture, while humans have found other ways to evaluate their fellows and territories. [Below: Molly’s spring inspection.]

Molly

We surely would be confused by having to track of hundreds of scent variations. In fact, even a small amount of effluent odor from one of our neighbors is generally regarded as too much information. [Below: mulch delivery at Smithsonian Institution, Spring 2019.]

Mulch

Smell used to be important in medical diagnosis. Uroscopy relied on smell, color, sediment, feel, and taste of urine for clues to disease and prognosis. Historically, urine was inspected by all five senses (including the taste of urine and the sound of its stream), but now patients are told to leave a sample in the privacy of a bathroom for a medical assistant to label and send to a laboratory. Doctors rarely come close to the stuff. Even so, for any good diagnostician, a necrotic wound, uremic breath, fecal odor, or hint of tobacco, are valuable bits of information not just for a specific disease, but also relevant to the life and comorbidities of a patient. These and other points of data add to the medical gaze that transcends visual clues and once inspired the meme of clever detectives. That gaze has now been replaced by the digital gaze of checklists, smart phrases, and drop-down menus.

RueMorgueManuscript

Last month we commented on the first of the medical detectives in The Murders in the Rue Morgue, wherein Edgar Allen Poe in 1842 described how diagnostic senses could be marshaled in a process he called ratiocination to figure out crimes. The tale reflected on the odor of urine and double entendre of a name when detective Dupin explained to the narrator (Poe) how he seemed to read his mind, by making deductions from facial expressions:

“Perdidit antiquum litera sonum.

I had told you that this was in reference to Orion, formerly written Urion; and, from certain pungencies connected with this explanation, I was aware that you could not have forgotten it.”

The Latin phrase intended the loss or attrition of an old or previous meaning or sound of the word or its homonym. Orion referred to the celestial constellation (Poe called it a nebular cosmogony) and its similarity to urine became a play on words that Dupin noticed had popped into the narrator’s mind as he looked up at the constellation and smiled when the wordplay and associations came to mind. [Above: 1895 facsimile of Poe’s original manuscript for “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Susan Jaffe Tane collection at Cornell University. Public domain. Wikipedia.]

 

Two.

Five classic senses taught in my childhood – smell, sight, taste, hearing, and touch – have been updated to seven for my grandchildren with the addition of vestibular sense and proprioception. Technology extends the senses further, outsourcing them and merging their inputs to provide unprecedented amounts of information of the world around us and within us. Microscopy and telescopy carry sight far beyond the unaided eye, while modern imaging with CT scans, MRI, and radioisotope labeling visualize our own living interior bodies. Sound, too, allows inspection of our interiors due to the discovery of Pierre Curie and his brother in 1880 of the piezo-electric principle in crystals that underlies ultrasonography. Extending the seven “basic” senses through technology, we see the world in new ways, although at the cost of diminished acuity of our original senses.

Today’s versions of the medical gaze and the detective’s ratiocination, are powerful: the sum-total of sensory inputs (enhanced by technology) and mental heuristics of scientific thinking.  Intellect integrates the physical senses. This larger sense, the sense of making sense of everything, is the wisdom, judgment, and mental capacity that creates meaning from immediate or recalled sensory input. This may be the most important and defining human sense, but even that is challenged by impending extension or replacement with so-called artificial intelligence.

 

Three.

Ghost_In_The_Machine_cover 

Incidental or relevant? Recently, I was asked to comment on a paper regarding incidental findings of renal cysts in children and that got me thinking how far ultrasonography has come in my career. Genitourinary imaging by ultrasonography came of age as a practical urologic tool in the 1980’s. I recall those early days when, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, we experimented with crude B-mode ultrasonography to interrogate testes for tumors or viability. Coincidentally, it was around that time, 1981 to be specific, when Gordon Sumner wrote the lyrics to a song called Too much information (TMI):

“Too much information running through my brain,

Too much information driving me insane…”

The world is even more replete with information since Sting and The Police recorded that song in their album Ghost in the Machine. Yet, one might argue that TMI is a sophomoric complaint, as if the infinite information in the cosmos should be curated for our personal capacity of the moment. The actual problem is not too much information, but too little human capacity for processing and our technologies have made this situation worse.

Kandel

Perhaps this is the essence of abstract art, that Eric Kandel expressed in Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, explaining that functional MRI shows human brains process representational art differently and in different cerebral pathways than processing abstract art (Columbia Press, 2016).  Representational art gives viewers very specific images that relate to things immediately understandable. (Below: American Gothic by Grant Wood (1930), courtesy Art Institute of Chicago.)

 

“Abstract art” seems to contain less information (perhaps less craft – or even no craft, at first glance) than representational works. Kandel finds that abstractions can in fact contain far more, calling on you to search everything you know to understand the piece. Abstract artworks invite you to inspect the world to discover their meaning, although a particular artist may not necessarily know or understand the world any better than you. The artist, however, creates a door for you to imagine the world differently than you did a moment before viewing the work. Abstract images may open up, in an informational sense, far more than a given representational scene or a moment you will readily comprehend. Abstraction is a window into far larger and stranger worlds of information, associations, and imaginations. (Below: Composition No. 10. 1939-1942, (Piet Mondrian. Private Collection. Wikipedia.)

Piet_Mondriaan,_1939-1942_-_Composition_10

edu-meet-me-volunteers

[Above: UM Silver Club members attend Meet Me at UMMA program at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. Image courtesy of UM Silver Club. The untitled painting is by Mark Bradford, 2005.]

 

Four.

The Shannon number, named for UM graduate Claude Shannon (1916-2001), represents a lower bound of the game-tree complexity of chess, 10120.  This is an enormous number, unimaginably large, given that the number of atoms in the observable universe is estimated at 1080. The point here is that human imagination (and in this instance, for only one human game), in a measurable sense, is far larger than the real world. Walt Whitman (1819-1892) may not have known the celestial math, but he wasn’t exaggerating when he wrote Song of Myself.

“Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

[Whitman W. Song of Myself. Section 51, 1892 version.]

Whitman imagined that he and each of us is unimaginably large, in imagination. This is sensory overload at its most. It is ironically, unimaginable, far beyond TMI.

Whether an incidentaloma discovered by ultrasonography, computer-assisted tomography, or magnetic resonance imaging, is important to the well-being of a person or is too much information (TMI) is one of the dilemmas of modern medicine. The quality and precision of ultrasound interrogation, reveal increasingly tiny anatomic details, anomalies, and imperfections that may cause great anxiety for patients, regularly driving parents of children with simple renal cysts to near-insanity with unnecessary worry. While technology seemed to promise humans better control of their lives, it may be just the opposite, whereby technology becomes the ruling agent. [Below: the promise of technology, Life Magazine, September 10, 1965.]

life_c2

 

Five.

An article and a book expand these considerations of gaze, ratiocination, and information. Roger Kneebone, in The Lancet, offered perspectives on “Looking and Seeing,” comparing a physician’s observational skills to those of an experienced entomologist, Erica McAlister at the Natural History Museum in London. The article begins with these resonating sentences, quoted with his permission:

“Medicine depends upon observation. Yet we are changing the way we look and that alters what we see. As a medical student, I was schooled according to a rigid mantra. Inspection, palpation, percussion, auscultation – always in that order … The aim, I think, was to ensure that we directed our attention to the person in front of us, that we didn’t jump to conclusions before assembling all the information we needed. That fell by the wayside as we turned into junior doctors. Nobody seemed interested in what we had seen or how we described it. Instead, it was all about blood tests, x-rays, scans – all about results.” [Kneebone R. “Looking and seeing.” The Lancet. 393:1091, 2019.]

Kneebone says it beautifully. The last word in his phrase could easily be data as well as results. The results becomes a proxy for the patient. The physicians of the next generation have learned excellent key-board skills, data collection, acronyms du jour, and navigation of electronic health records with drop-down menus, check-lists, and cut-and-paste artistry. The artful skills taught to me and Kneebone – inspection, palpation, percussion, and auscultation – seem rendered obsolete by data. One worries if the talents to navigate technology and its data come at the expense of the medical gaze, the medical sniff, and the ratiocination Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle brought forth in their detectives. The model of the astute clinician is giving way to Watson, not Conan Doyle’s Watson, but IBM’s Watson.

Information or data, if you prefer, is a false deity. We may use data but should not worship it. Too many leaders say “show me the data,” believing that data will perfectly direct essential actions. Data should inform key decisions, of course, but data needs human wisdom for good decisions – using, tweaking, discarding, or reformulating data for human needs, not for the self-serving “needs” of algorithms. Self-learning algorithms can accomplish much, but can never replace human wisdom.

The book of relevance is Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again, by Eric Topol, reviewed by Indra Joshi in The Lancet and I look forward to seeing if it convinces me in its promise. [Joshi I. “Waiting for Deep Medicine.” The Lancet. 393:1193-1194, 2019.]  The concern with “artificial intelligence” is its easy confusion with human wisdom, the wisdom of crowds that tends to bend toward truth and overarching human values. Self-learning algorithms that constitute AI are ultimately constructed by individuals with their own values, biases, and agendas. Furthermore, they are susceptible to intrusion and perversion. Finlayson et al warned of this recently: Adversarial attacks on medical machine learning, emerging vulnerabilities demand new conversations. [Finlayson SG, et al. Science. 363:1287–1289, 2019.]

 

Short story.

Truth is often stranger than fiction. Poe’s story in 1841 revealed the perpetrator of The Murders in the Rue Morgue was an orangutan smuggled to Paris by a sailor. The actual murders were unintentional, the escaped animal was frightened and responding as its genes, millions of years of environmental selection, prescribed. Most readers probably found that part of the story a bit outrageous, it didn’t quite make sense that a sailor could or would smuggle such an animal. But truth is often as strange or stranger than fiction: a recent report from the Associated Press of Russian tourist Andrei Zhestkov, discovered on the Indonesian resort island of Bali trying to smuggle a 2-year old drugged orangutan in a rattan basket to Russia on March 22. The smuggler also had seven live lizards in a suitcase. [Mike Ives. New York Times, March 25, 2019.]

Orangutan

 

Thanks for reading Matula Thoughts.

David A. Bloom

University of Michigan, Department of Urology, Ann Arbor