January 5, 2018

DAB What’s New Jan 5, 2018

New year thoughts
3899 words

 

One.
Dripping icicles are picturesque winter images, although this week’s massive winter storm, Grayson, extending from Florida to Maine disrupted any nostalgic thoughts of snow and ice. The icicles photographed from my study window (above) echo the pendant spikes painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in Massacre of the Innocents circa 1565-67.

Bruegel’s icicles (above) look charming enough, until you view the grim larger work (below – original at Queens Gallery, British Royal Collection). One broken icicle is falling in response to men kicking in an adjacent door. The actual painting has a complex history of paint-overs transforming it from grisly slaughter of babies to the plundering of a village.

So, too, the larger work of today’s climate gives the icicle a chilling perspective, as it brings to mind the Greenland Glaciers, among other melting ice forms.

Although water’s origin on earth remains controversial, water is one of the key things astronomers seek when evaluating other planets that could initiate or sustain life. Water, so central to life, is a synonym in medicine for urine, amniotic fluid, ventricular fluid, lymphatic fluid, and other waters of our bodies. Frozen water in the form of sea ice and glaciers, more or less stable for the past 10,000 years, is melting at an extraordinary rate, threatening the delicate balance of planetary life.

A startling image from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) website shows how little the Earth’s water  compares to the volume of the earth itself. Paraphrasing from the USGS website:

The three blue spheres below represent relative volumes of Earth’s water in comparison to the size of the Earth. In comparison to the volume of the globe, the amount of planetary water is small; oceans account for only a thin veneer of water on the surface.

The largest blue sphere represents all of Earth’s water. Its diameter is 860 miles (the distance from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Topeka, Kansas) and has a volume of about 332,500,000 cubic miles (1,386,000,000 cubic kilometers). This includes all of the water in the oceans, ice caps, lakes, rivers, groundwater, atmospheric water, and even the water in living creatures.
The blue sphere over Kentucky represents the world’s liquid fresh water (groundwater, lakes, swamp water, and rivers). The volume comes to about 2,551,100 mi3 (10,633,450 km3), of which 99 percent is groundwater, much of which is not easily accessible. The diameter of this sphere is about 169.5 miles (272.8 kilometers).
The tiny bubble over Atlanta, Georgia represents fresh water in all the lakes and rivers on the planet. Most water that life on earth needs every day comes from these surface-water sources. The volume of this sphere is about 22,339 mi3 (93,113 km3). The diameter of this sphere is about 34.9 miles (56.2 kilometers). By comparison, Lake Michigan looks way bigger than this sphere, but you have to imagine the bubble is almost 35 miles high—whereas the average depth of Lake Michigan is less than 300 feet (91 meters). [With permission, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Credit: Howard Perlman USGS, globe illustration Jack Cook, Copyright Adam Nieman.]

 

Two.

Dividing human moments into calendar years, we “start fresh” each new year with renewed opportunities to explore the world intellectually and geographically. The globe of the Earth is a tool and metaphor for human exploration as well as a visual remonstration to the “Flat Earth Society.” The globes shown above are displayed in a hallway in the Harlan Hatcher Library. If you work here at the University of Michigan or even if you don’t, but happen to be in Ann Arbor and want to explore the campus, “check it out,” when you have time.

Interrogation of the moment has been a uniquely biologic phenomenon. A rock is not aware of its environment even though it is affected by it. The rock cannot consider the things around it nor empathize with whatever it may roll down upon. Our human predecessors well before Aristotle thought about matters like this (they called them metaphysical) and passed these thoughts to their successors. When language and technology permitted, these metaphysical considerations were made somewhat durable in writing.

Biology shows that humans are not unique in this capacity of interrogation, even microorganisms react and respond to their microenvironments and communicate among themselves. All biologic creatures interrogate their moments, but our species has learned to do this very well and pass along observations for future generations to consider. We do this unwittingly by epigenetic management of our DNA and purposefully through our ideas, our culture, our objects, our written language, and our sports, as seen below in interrogation of the moment by Michigan quarterback John O’Korn during Ohio State game. [From Sincock Suite. November 25, 2017. Sony 24-240 FE]

Standing at the threshold of coexistence with systems built around artificial intelligence, we are now affected by their ability to interrogate us and to increasing degrees we are transferring many decision-making powers of our human agency to these systems.

 

Three.
Imagined Expectations. It may seem premature in this calendar year to mention Abraham Lincoln. Most any month but January provides a good excuse to think about Lincoln. His birthday was in February, 1819 and next month it will be the 199th anniversary. He died in April, 1865. His most famous speech, The Gettysburg Address, was in November, 1863. What brings him to my mind just now, however, is the starting sentence of that speech on November 19: “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Lincoln’s remarkable use of the phrase “fourscore and seven” converted a mundane metric of 87 into a poetic measure of time. He was referring to the age of our nation, but that measure of time also equates to one very fortunate human life span, although for Lincoln’s time, in the antebellum South of the U.S., the average life expectation for a white male was 38.3 and 40.5 for a white female. I couldn’t find equivalent data for other men and women of color until 1900 when it was 32.5 for males and 35 for women. All such data is a suspect approximation for reality, and means little to the particular story of any individual man or woman.

My point here, admittedly a bit strained, is that our limited personal solar cycles provide a single human the opportunity to interrogate one’s times and world, so as to navigate it well and possibly to improve it for successors. Borrowing from Lincoln, three score and ten is a more typical fortunate expectation for most of us, given the personal good luck of health, security, and opportunity that communities and governments should provide. Four score and seven is a very optimistic expectation, and for that the luck and security of health is essential.

An individual human’s expiration date hinges on genetics, luck, opportunity, choices, and the general randomness of events. For me, as a youngster growing up in the rhetoric of the Korean War, McCarthyism politics, nuclear war anxiety, air-raid drills at school, and the personal insecurity of one’s own potential and relevance, the mere idea of surviving into the 21st century seemed fanciful. Yet here we are in 2018.

 

Four.

Dee Fenner, the new chair of the OB GYN Department, is a perfect choice for Michigan Medicine (seen above with husband Charlie at autumn DEI reception). Dee is a world-renown gynecologist, a superb educator, and a first-rate administrator who has gained the respect of her colleagues at Michigan in her numerous administrative responsibilities. She also holds a joint appointment with Urology, along with 3 other members of her team. Since the days when Ed McGuire was Section Head of Urology, our departments have had a close relationship. I well remember my earliest days here when Ed and John DeLancey had a combined pelvic floor dysfunction clinic on Saturdays. Dee and I met shortly before she returned to Michigan. We were in Paris at a WHO Consensus Conference in 2001 and by coincidence found ourselves in a pen shop as the only Americans.

Words of praise are due for Tim Johnson, the outgoing chair of OB GYN and a friend of urology for the 24 years of his successive terms. Few figures in his field have generated equal respect for leadership in national and international OB GYN. His work in Ghana is legendary. Tim brought his department at Michigan into the 21st century with superb clinical divisions, excellent faculty, coveted educational programs, and worthy contributions to the knowledge of his field. Tim has been a stalwart force in the domain of women’s rights. His sense of the centrality of the essential deliverable of kind and excellent patient-centered care (if you permit me some repetitiveness) has made him a terrific colleague. His department consistently and superbly delivers its products (forgive the relevant pun).

Sad news on the recent passing of Rudi Ansbacher, emeritus professor of OB GYN and a remarkable colleague.

 

Five.
Matula Thoughts, recap. Throughout the millennia of human history clues to predict the future have been highly prized, especially so when a given future is related to health. Entrepreneurial “healers” utilized external cues from the heavens, weather, tea leaves, or playing cards to prognosticate outcomes, although the logic of using physical evidence from patients or their byproducts was evident to early practitioners. Like most other mammals, humans share the trait of personal interest in their urine, and are particularly attentive when it is abnormal during illness. Hippocratic writings documented uroscopy, as examination of urine came to be called 2500 years ago, and over the ensuing millennia the practice attained imaginative prognostications as healers examined the gross characteristics of urine in flasks called matulas to speculate on the course of an illness. The visual image of a “piss prophet” gazing at a matula served as a main symbol of physicians until only about 200 years ago when the stethoscope replaced the flask as medicine’s badge of office.

We began this electronic journal nearly 18 years ago with a respectful tip of the matula to the essayist Michel Eyquem de Montaigne who began his eclectic personal observations around 1572 at 39 years of age. That was a turbulent time, notable in Europe for the sieges of Sancerre and Haarlem, in South America for the fall of the last independent remnant of the Inca Empire, and in the heavens for the first observation of Supernova SN 1572, that Tycho Brahe gave as evidence that stars are changeable. Montaigne was likely unaware of most big events of that year, but he was certainly acquainted with physicians and matulas, given that his father purportedly died of urinary stone disease and Montaigne himself began to suffer from them in 1578.

What impulses compel us humans to foist our personal observations and thoughts on our fellows 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. This monthly newsletter started in Allen Lichter’s dean’s office in 2000 as a way to interact with those among our faculty willing to consider some thoughts from a colleague. Admittedly, I wrote this column called What’s New as much for myself as any potential readers, but it became a pleasant habit to send out the first Friday of each month. Becoming chair of the University of Michigan Urology Department in 2007 the monthly column transitioned to our faculty, residents, staff, alumni, and friends. What’s New has served us well, connecting us to many of our intended audience and beyond. Some recipients kindly forward What’s New to their friends, although the extent of that particular reach is mostly unknown except for occasional readers who have contacted or commented to me as a result.

 

Six.
We began a parallel version of What’s New in March, 2013, on a website labelled Matula Thoughts. This version allows us to archive the monthly columns, thereby minimizing duplication and providing the unexpected voyeuristic capability of showing the numbers and distribution of web-version readers. Likely only some of them read this carefully, while most probably glance or sprint through it. Nonetheless, the surprising numbers and distribution are evidence of the internet’s ability to connect the world. [Screenshot below – 2017 statistics page of Matula Thoughts.]

Matula Thoughts, had over 2,300 views last year, ranging from single viewers in 24 countries, 2 viewers in 6 countries, and 3 in 11 countries. Forty-one countries had 4-85 views and the US had 2364 views as of mid-December, the map showing stats for the readership in 11.5 months of 2017. It has been enjoyable to hear from, or run into, the occasional reader of the web version.

With a new chair of the Urology Department, presumably this calendar year, What’s New may be continued or another vehicle of departmental communication may be utilized, but in either case Matula Thoughts will remain in its online form (matulathoughts.org) as long as I’m able and a readership exists. These spaces will continue to be filled by matters that catch my attention and may interest some readers.

 

Seven.
Each year has a certain cadence, whether calendar, academic, or fiscal for each of the countless social and business organizations around the globe. The success of a particular person, novice or experienced citizen, in navigating the year is partly contingent on that person’s understanding of the rhythms of work and expectations of their relevant organizations.

In a clinical surgical department, the 24/7 expectations of stakeholders set the central cadence for our essential deliverable – kind and excellent patient care. The stakeholders are patients, families, trainees, staff, faculty, referring health care providers, colleagues in other departments, and the community. Around this we build our educational conferences, work schedules, training cycles, maintenance of professional certification, peer review cycles, promotional steps, reappointment sequences, and social events such as our Holiday Party that last month hosted 400 people and 115 children who had encounters and gifts from Santa. As our department has grown large this event seems to have become increasingly treasured and is the single occasion to aggregate the greater part of our complex team.

The cadence of the new chair search will capture our attention. In the case of Dee Fenner and the OB Gyn Department the process took around 6 months. Dee was the natural choice and had passed up a number of other prestigious offers from other institutions in order to remain at Michigan. At this point she is the only other chair here to have a joint appointment with our department.

 

Eight.
Breakthrough of the year. Science, the AAAS journal, began a feature called Molecule of the Year in 1989, following Time Magazine’s Man of the Year that had started in 1927. Wikipedia relates that Time’s cover was originally a response to its embarrassment earlier that year in failing to put Charles Lindbergh on the cover following his trans-Atlantic flight. As the Man of the Year expanded to including all persons, as well as groups (in 1960 it was U.S. Scientists), ideas, or objects, so too did the Molecule of the Year to become the Breakthrough of the Year.

Science named the observation of cosmic convergence, a violent merger of two neutron stars on 17 August as the scientific breakthrough of 2017. Runners-up included cryo-electron microscopy observations on organic molecular function, thermoluminescence dating of early human roots, pinpoint gene editing techniques, preprint sharing in life sciences, FDA approval for checkpoint inhibitors, discovery of a new living species of Hominidae (the Pongo tapanuliensis orangutan), recovery of 2.7 million-year-old ice cores that contain ancient atmosphere (with CO2 levels under 300 ppm), and successful gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy 1. Once again, biology dominated the main scientific achievements of the year.

 

Nine.

Disclaimer. Because of a few skunks in academic medicine, speakers at nearly every medical presentation around the world declare absence, or occasionally presence, of “conflict of interests.” Mostly these are silly declarations, and effective skunks either lie or mislead audiences with their declarations. It is easy to mislead others, because all social transactions, especially those in health care and in academia, are built on trust.

The necessary velocity and fluidity in science and medicine preclude extensive authentication and verification in real time. For example, when a colleague tells you that a serum creatinine is 0.8, you accept that as fact. Mistakes may happen in our workplaces, but they should sharpen our attention to truth and not let false facts become a way of life. Once, however, deliberate lies or plagiarism are revealed trust should never easily be restored. The cutting and pasting that has become so easy, indeed almost necessary, in the modern electronic medical record allows a very seamless slip from mistake to deceit, once a clinician starts to lose the sense of individuality of patients. When a physician loses that appreciation of the uniqueness of a patient, a history and physical for, let’s say a boy with undescended testicle, can be “generalizable.” Checking off a few boxes, or even cutting and pasting an entire H&P, is certainly more efficient than asking questions, observing the patient and family, and examining the child. This is akin to Paul Simon’s cynical song, The Myth of Fingerprints.

Another associated, yet perhaps minor, gripe I have with the EHR occurs in the operating room, when at the end of a procedure in the well-intended, but tedious “time out” I am asked to describe the blood loss. My claim of “minimal” is always rejected because the computer only allows a number. In many cases a tiny bit of red can be seen, but is it 0.5 ml or 5.0 ml? It is somewhere in that range, but unmeasurable, insignificant, and inconsequential. When I am asked to fabricate a number, my mind rebels and when I do come up with a number it feels more like a lie than a guess.

Anyway, with the start of a new calendar year I thought a disclaimer would be useful. Therefore, let me state that I seem to have no conflict of interest or conflict of commitment that would steer the comments in What’s New/Matula Thoughts to any drug, product, political party, or ideology outside of belief in liberal democracy (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness under representational government), public education, planetary conservation, social justice, and The University of Michigan. The thoughts herein, unless authorship is otherwise specified, represent mine alone. I don’t necessarily speak for our Department of Urology, Michigan Medicine, The University of Michigan, the State of Michigan, the United States, or the United Nations.

Hoping you are comfortable with these statements, I invite you to peruse, delete, comment upon, or forward What’s New (the email version) or Matula Thoughts (the web-site version) this new year of 2018. What’s New is a hint that we offer some news from our academic department and health center. Matula Thoughts is a term that hinges on an ancient symbol of the medical profession that was a transparent flask used to examine urine, one of the few clues to disease that ancient caregivers had available. The matula was replaced by Laennec’s invention of the stethoscope in 1816 in Paris, but both tools reinforce the threatened idea that physicians should look at and listen to their patients.

 

Ten.

 

The new year, 2018, began with Michigan’s appearance at the Outback Bowl in Florida four days ago and many red moustaches and haircuts in support of the Chad Tough Campaign for brain tumor research.

Alon Weizer is Acting Chair of our department for the next three months. This cycling of our associate chairs has been healthy for the department and for me. During this time I’ll be working on the UMMG Bylaws, helping re-activate our Michigan PAC, laying out plans for our centennial, and continuing some development efforts, and remaining active with the Hamilton Community Health Center and its board.

Some people have queried the administrative structure of our department. Our basic backbone is the Senior Clinical Management team, composed of our division heads, our residency program director, and our peer-review quality officer. The associate chairs have responsibilities that transcend divisions, for example the research portfolio, faculty affairs, operating room distribution, in-patient clinical operations, and ambulatory care management. Our ultimate responsibility, day-in and day-out, is the essential deliverable of kind and excellent patient care. Michigan Medicine, our other departments, the community, referring physicians, and the University of Michigan depend on our ability to do this very well. This essential deliverable is also our primary financial engine, as we defend and expand our markets. It should go without saying that these markets are clinical, educational, and academic markets.

We have been fortunate over the past 2 decades of Jim Montie’s and my terms in delivering our particular essential deliverable and in defending and expanding our markets. Few could find major deficits in those regards, as our external review by Mark Litwin, Ed Sabanegh, and Bradley Leibovich pointed out recently. However, the waters ahead will be turbulent and we will need a steady and resourceful hand who enjoys the support of our faculty.

This winter, a search committee convened by our deans is in the process of finding candidates for leadership for our department. Having experienced one disastrous change of leadership for Urology after Ed McGuire left us for Texas in 1992, we are aware of the risks of change, but our deans and the search committee at hand give us confidence in a good outcome. With superb division heads and associate chairs in place we have a very strong and deep bench. If there is a better external candidate on the planet, good for us, but it would be hard to beat our bench.

I don’t think I’ve left too many administrative problems for Alon, after all we have finished our main work of the cycles of reconciliation of FY 17 and planning for FY 19, on-boarding of new faculty, academic promotions, and residency recruitment. Alon will oversee the daily operations and occasional crises inherent to any business with several hundred employees, clinics at 16 sites, surgical teams at 9 locations, training of 28 residents and fellows, six separate investigative teams, etc.

Our new relationship with West Shore Urology in Muskegon has energized us and created a new reach to the west side of the state. The growing relationship with Mid-Michigan and with Metro Hospital also offer great opportunities. Our efforts with the Hamilton Community Health Network in Flint continue as well, and I’m especially grateful to members of our urology department and a few other UM departments who have participated in this important connection.

A busy year and a half lies ahead. In February we should hear the names of the new resident trainees to join our department. Our Departmental Retreat, April 14, will take stock of where we stand and where we are headed. The Teeter Symposium, May 4, will survey our work with bladder cancer. The Nesbit Alumni Reception at the AUA will be held on Sunday May 20 in San Francisco. During the Art Fair Season the Chang Lecture on Art and Medicine July 19 will inaugurate a new residency training season. The next day Hadley Wood of the Cleveland Clinic and Rosalia Misseri of Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis will be the Duckett and Lapides Lecturers. The biennial Dow Health Services Research Symposium will take place September 13 and 14. Our own alumnus, Toby Chai of Yale University, will be Nesbit Alumni Visiting Professor September 20-22. The Montie Uro-Oncology Lecture is planned for early 2019, and later that year we will begin our Urology Centennial Celebrations to transition into the second century of urology at the University of Michigan, under improved new management, by then.

 

Thank you and Happy New Year from the Department of Urology of the University of Michigan.

 

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

Matula Thoughts December 2, 2016

Politics, nutcrackers, and earthly delights
3799 words

One.

election-2016-copy

This has been a year of political surprises with Brexit, the Columbian failure to reconcile with FARC, and the American presidential election. The weekend after our election I happened to be at the Fourth Quinquennial John W. Duckett Festschrift at the Union League of Philadelphia. This venerable institution was founded in 1862 as a patriotic society to support the policies of Abraham Lincoln, whose ideas seem so obvious and mainstream today, but they split the United States nearly permanently at that time. In a Union League reading room you see our friend and colleague George Drach contemplating the meaning of the election for healthcare. Just this past summer George spoke at our Duckett/Lapides Symposium on the implications of the MACRA law, passed earlier this spring with strong bipartisan support. Whether or not the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and MACRA disappear, healthcare policy, regulation, and economics are going to get evermore contentious and confusing. Politics may be easy to distain, but they surround us and shape our lives. This milestone day, December 2, is worth recalling for two examples of politics and ideologies that led nations and people sadly astray.

First example: red scares. The Cold War, following WWII, instilled legitimate anxiety over the spread of communism in the West where scoundrels capitalized on that fear and created the Second Red Scare (1947-57). A First Red Scare (1919) followed WWI and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Both phenomena occurred during times of patriotic intensity and exploited fears of communism. The second scare lasted far longer than the first and came to be known as McCarthyism after its central figure Joseph McCarthy, US Senator from Wisconsin.

herblock1950

[Above: Herblock cartoon March 29, 1950 Washington Post, introducing the term McCarthyism.] Paranoia crossed the United States from Washington to Hollywood and left its effects in Ann Arbor, where 3 faculty members were dismissed by the University for refusing to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Mark Nickerson (UMMS Pharmacology), H. Chandler Davis (UM Mathematics), and Clement Markert (UM Biology), suspected of membership in the Communist Party, were called to Lansing on May 10, 1954 to testify before an HUAC sub-committee. The professors refused to answer certain questions, claiming Fifth Amendment privilege, and UM President Harlan Hatcher promptly suspended them pending a faculty inquiry related to “intellectual integrity.” Nickerson was fired out of concern that he was damaging the reputation of the Medical School and University. He went on to a distinguished career in Canada. Davis was also fired and later served jail time for contempt of Congress. Markert was retained but left UM soon thereafter. While this breech of their civil rights passed public muster in the Red Scare fervor, the breech of their tenure rights (Regents bylaw 509) tripped up the university and caused an academic firestorm. The American Association of University Professors would later ask the UM to make “a significant gesture of reconciliation” and that became the annual Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom. [James Tobin. Seeing Red. Medicine at Michigan Spring, 2009; 11:14-15] That second Red Scare began to wind down later in 1954 on this day, December 2, when the United States Senate voted 65 to 22 to censure McCarthy for “conduct that tends to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.”

castro

Second example: smoke and mirrors. On this day in 1961 Fidel Castro, in a nationally broadcast speech, announced that Cuba would adopt Communism, surprising us in the north and setting off a chain of events with the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year that nearly brought the world to nuclear confrontation. A recent book by former Secretary of Defense William Perry (My Journey at the Nuclear Brink – mentioned here a few months back) offers a frightening account of that time and a more frightening preview of the world ahead of us now. While Castro’s iron grip endured for a half century his ideological experiment failed and he died just 7 days ago. Venezuela under Hugo Chavez tried to reprise the Cuban experiment, but that too didn’t turn out well for its people. Chavez died in 2013 after treatment in Cuba for unspecified malignancy. Both dictators rode waves of populism in their countries, where celebrity ideology support them even to this day, in spite of the economic and social disintegration they left behind, showing once again that populism usually turns out poorly for the populace at the end of the day. [Picture above: Wikipedia]

 

 

Two.

colors

Autumn colors peaked late this year, reaching well into November in Ann Arbor even past election day. After a nontraditional election season the people spoke and the transition of power is following its honorable historical precedents. What this will mean in terms of health care remains to be seen. The ACA will be problematic to unravel and, with it or without it, deployment of fair and excellent health care, the mission of academic medical centers, and the stability of the health care industry are at risk regardless of whatever party dominates the day. Healthcare has been a hard nut to crack in America and a viable menu of choices for its deployment remains elusive.
The University of Michigan urology microcosm, however, seems reasonably in balance. Last month we completed residency application interviews for more than 60 prospective trainees. The four to match here will begin their 5 years of residency in July of 2017 and graduate in 2022. [Above Medical School foliage. Below view from Bank of Ann Arbor headquarters]

baa

Last month was also notable for its super supermoon (below). The moon’s orbit came so close to the earth that it was larger and brighter than any time since January 26, 1948. Having missed it back then, I took the picture below on November 12. To a lesser degree supermoons occur every 14 months when a full moon occurs at its perigee (closest encounter). More periodically the moon’s oval orbit elongates to create the super supermoon effect.

supermoon

Michigan Football’s last home game was an exciting victory over Indiana, bringing the first seasonal snowstorm in the fourth quarter when we also saw snow angels on the field during time outs.

first-quarter

[Above: first quarter. Below: fourth quarter from Sincock suite]

snowy-4th

um-20-iu-10

The season ended a week later with an unprecedented double overtime loss in Columbus.

 

 

Three.
We shouldn’t leave 2016 without mentioning once again, Jheronimus van Aken, the Flemish painter known as Hieronymus Bosch who died 500 years ago. His Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych in The Prado, depicts strangely imagined hedonistic days of mankind between the Garden of Eden on the viewer’s left and the Last Judgment on the right. Bosch painted the work around 1497, which for historical perspective was five years after Columbus landed on a Bahamian island and claimed the adjacent continent of diverse people, flora, and fauna for the King and Queen of a nation thousands of miles away.

el_jardin_de_las_delicias_de_el_bosco-1

Bosch also painted a strange work called The Wayfarer, mentioned here last month for its stranguria depiction. The world of Hieronymus Bosch around 1500 was probably a pretty grim place, although not devoid of earthly delights, as he imagined in his triptych. A later triptych, The Last Judgement (c. 1527) by another Dutch artist Lucas van Leyden, depicts the actual day of judgment in the middle panel flanked by heaven on the left on hell on the right.

van-leyden

The times of Bosch and van Leyden were framed by fierce religiosity that juxtaposed nations and perpetrated conflicts negating the very values of the religions. Earthly delights, in the minds of those artists and most of their contemporaries, were only a brief interlude before the Heaven and Hell that defined mankind. Native Americans, suffering the European invasion, had no pretension to those ecclesiastical visions of heaven and hell, but rather sought to make the most of their experiential present, albeit with respect to their forefathers and the spirits of their present-day world. It was quite a contrast of civilizations and the Europeans surely brought dimensions of ecclesiastical and actual hell to North America.
Ecclesiastical visions have rightly become personal matters in most of western society. The separation of church and state, as espoused in The Constitution, was a forward step in the self-determination of mankind, although it remains under constant challenge at home and abroad. If The Garden of Earthly Delights is all we can expect in life (before Heaven or Hell) then it should be fair and just, and health care is central to the mix of basic expectations.

 

 

Four.

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-10-36-49-pm

After viewing van Leyden’s triptych at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam early this autumn, while en route to a pediatric urology meeting, I was stopped in my tracks by street musicians playing an enchanting soft tuba staccato note that morphed into the familiar beginning of Vivaldi’s Concerto No. 4, “The Winter.” It hardly felt like winter at the moment, but it was a beautiful interlude. Known as The Red Priest (Il Prete Rosso) Antonio Vivaldi wrote The Four Seasons around 1723 and published it in 1725, coincidentally in Amsterdam. Vivaldi clearly was familiar with the nastiness of freezing rain and treachery of icy paths as seen in the narrative that accompanied his piece (below).

Allegro non molto
To tremble from cold in the icy snow,
In the harsh breath of a horrid wind;
To run, stamping one’s feet every moment,
Our teeth chattering in the extreme cold
Largo
Before the fire to pass peaceful,
Contented days while the rain outside pours down.
Allegro
We tread the icy path slowly and cautiously,
for fear of tripping and falling.
Then turn abruptly, slip, crash on the ground and,
rising, hasten on across the ice lest it cracks up.
We feel the chill north winds course through the home
despite the locked and bolted doors…
this is winter, which nonetheless
brings its own delights.

Winter Solstice will be here soon (December 21) and after that interlude of shortest daylight, each passing day will be a step closer to spring, in spite of “the harsh breath of a horrid wind.”

 

 

Five.
Mirror neurons again. Since I read John Berger’s A Fortunate Man last summer, Dr. John Sassall and his deep empathy for his patients in an impoverished English hamlet have haunted me. The lives of those people in the mid 1960s were perhaps not so far removed those Bosch depicted across the North Sea before the Industrial Revolution. While Sassall may seem hypersensitive, he was not so different from the rest of us but for our lesser imaginations. The journalist’s impressions of Sassall’s thoughts are worth repeating.

“Do his patients deserve the lives they lead, or do they deserve better? Are they what they could be or are they suffering continual diminution? Do they ever have the opportunity to develop the potentialities which he has observed in them at certain moments? Are there not some who secretly wish to live in a sense that is impossible given the conditions of their actual lives? And facing this impossibility do they not then secretly wish to die?” [Berger. A Fortunate Man. p. 133]

lange

[Classic photo of Dorothea Lange. Destitute pea pickers in California – mother of 7. 1936. Library of Congress.]
My daughter Emily, a young English professor at Columbia, teaches Aristotle’s three methods of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos. Visual art, Dorothea Lange’s photography for example, captures the suffering that troubled Sassall so greatly and should trouble us too. We are insulated from pathos by the professional boundaries of ethos and the logos of our science, metrics, and computers. The grim thoughts of Sassall stretch the role of a physician. Yet, who in society has a greater mandate to defend mankind’s well-being specifically and generally? Clergymen, teachers, and rare politicians share this charge, but day-in and day-out, healthcare providers are most consistently on the front lines with some of the best tools to ameliorate the daily pains and continual diminutions of individuals around us. Urologists and other specialists may claim turf protection, but can’t forget that they are physicians first and foremost. Berger’s last sentence was most likely targeted to the difficult days at end-of-life, the time when the garden of earthly delights has run out – familiar terrain for most urologists.
The toll of pathos was considered by Jennifer Best, from the University of Washington in Seattle in A Piece of My Mind column in JAMA called The Things We Have Lost [JAMA 316:1871, 2016].

“When most people consider the grief endured by physicians in training, they look first to the devastating narratives of patient care – sudden illness, agonizing decline, putrid decay, untimely death, haunting errors, and crushing uncertainty. Even more than a decade from residency, I am pierced by these tragic moments and faces – each still heart-shatteringly vivid.”

Best goes on from this opening statement to suggest not only confronting these griefs in “curricular endeavors” such rounds or narrative sessions with trainees, but also considering personal losses as we play out our roles in what she calls physicianship. Her claim is that when we accept the role of healthcare provider, we step into a new identity and lose some of our freer, ad lib, selves. Growing our sense of empathy, yet maintaining resilience is the challenge. Best rejects counter arguments that her considerations are “first-world problems” or that because “it could be so much worse” we need not be overly concerned with professional fragility. Her column offers a good footnote to A Fortunate Man.

 

 

Six.
Department of complaints. We spoke last autumn at some length on medical error and argued that our profession can never be free from it. Error is a fundamental property of life and intrinsic to all its processes. We study error in healthcare to minimize it and fortunately most error is nonlethal, although even when trivial it can hurt. The University of Michigan Health System, like any large scale enterprise, has many processes susceptible to error. With 2 million ambulatory care visits and 50,000 major surgical procedures yearly countless opportunities arise for untoward events ranging from missed blood draws to serious complications in ICUs. Every complaint is a gift, of a sort, providing opportunity for improvements in individual actions, processes, and structures. I recently heard complaints that targeted team leadership factors and the “hotel” functions of hospitalization.
Complaint A. Who is my doctor? Patients generally are thankful about their care from the doctors, nurses, and other members of the team, however fumbled handoffs or inability to identify the responsible member of a healthcare team on any given day are vexing. You can find analogies for this in baseball or air travel industries where the buck stops with the general manager of the team or the pilot. Both endeavors, like health care, require complicated teams, but each fan or traveler can usually identify who is in charge. Health care teams and systems need to make their ladders of responsibility more visible.
Complaint B. Must I share a room? Double room occupancy at UM Main Hospital is a vestige of an older era of health care, but is no longer acceptable for a variety of reasons including privacy, infection control, safety, comfort, and patient satisfaction. Our failure to convert the remaining double rooms over the past 20 years is an embarrassment today and correction is in the works, but  it’s nearly a billion-dollar fix including a new patient tower estimated to open in 2021.

 

 

Seven.
MACRAnyms. Acronyms abound in most occupations and populate the shop talk that distinguishes workers from the public at large. The big acronym for health care in 2017 is MACRA – the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. Sponsored by Congressional Representative Michael Burgess (R-TX-26) this act removes the sustainable growth rate methodology for the determination of physician payments and extends aspects of Medicare and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). I can’t pretend to understand this large and complex set of regulations outside of a few salient details, but fortunately we have experts among us at Michigan such as Tim Peterson (below – Medical Director Population Health Office UMMG). Like many well-intended public policies, unintended consequences are inevitable in MACRA, so the better we educate ourselves the more capable we will be to help patients lost in the regulatory shuffle and the greater likelihood we will have to protect the mission and values of healthcare education, clinical delivery, and research.

peterson-tim

 

MACRA attempts to displace the dominant model of physician payment from fee for service (FFS) to payment for value. While it is fashionable to vilify the motivational factors of FFS as a driver of health care expenses (and presumably unnecessary services) there is risk in terms of motivating the restraint of healthcare services. I also recognize a healthcare safety net is direct of a civilized society; universal access to health care is in the national interest. I equally recognize the downside of a system that does not reward work in terms of time and quality.
The intent of MACRA in shifting payment from FFS to payment for quality and value, set by complex government formulas, is an unproven experiment. Market forces should largely determine value and quality, while professional organizations should set basic standards for services. National healthcare cannot be left exclusively to the invisible hand of the market or the heavy hand of government. Healthcare affects everyone, employs one in six people in this country, and is a huge piece of our economy. The present systems of healthcare (there is no single “system”) need huge improvement, but changing it on a massive scale can be dangerously disruptive.
We need various systems of healthcare in simultaneous play, from the private and the public sectors to provide equity, excellence, innovation, and value. The private sector can best supply competition, value, innovation, and stakeholder responsiveness. The public system can best supply the safety net, equity, rules, education, and research. No single system, set of laws, organization, or paradigm can do it alone and we must be suspicious of any grand “answer,” for healthcare is a very hard nut to crack.

 

 

Eight.

nutcrackercollection
The nutcracker comes to mind at this time of year – not for the compression of urologic structures by the superior mesenteric artery and aorta, but for the ballet based on ETA Hoffmann’s story in 1816, Nutcracker and Mouse King. [Above: Nutcracker collection. Wikimedia Commons] The original story featured a nutcracker whose jaw was broken by an unusually hard nut, triggering political intrigue, revenge, hate, battle, and murder. Alexandre Dumas in 1844 lightened and popularized the story as The Tale of the Nutcracker, that became the basis for Tchaikovsky’s ballet in 1892. It is a rare American community in December where you can’t find an amateur or professional version to attend. You can read a synopsis of the morbid original story in Wikipedia (and perhaps give a modest annual contribution to keep that great public good afloat).
Our own great cardiologist, Kim Eagle, years back as editor of the NEJM section Images in Clinical Medicine, published a classic image of a 52 year-old woman with mild episodic gross hematuria from renal vein compression by the superior mesenteric artery. [Kimura & Araki. NEJM. 335:171, 1996] Improved CT technology offers a better image (below) in a more recent paper from the Mayo Clinic Proceedings. [Kurklinsky & Rooke. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 85:552, 2010]

nutcracker

[Computed tomographic venogram: nutcracker phenomenon.
Distended left renal vein (black arrow) compressed between
aorta and superior mesenteric artery.]

 

 

Nine.
Nutcracker politics continue to play out in life and art. The innovative House of Cards on Netflix is a very dark modern political nutcracker story. People need politics, crave leadership, and tolerate a fair amount of nut cracking.

house-of-cards

Ideology and celebrity can hijack brains like zombie viruses resulting in political choices and actions that prove contradictory to an individual’s ultimate interests. Politics, a term derived from the Greek “of citizens”, is the process of decision-making and governance of stakeholders. Political systems are frameworks that define acceptable political methods in a given society. Confucius, Plato, Aristotle and countless other thinkers have advanced political thought throughout the history of mankind. Formal politics prescribe public elections, national healthcare policy, and self-government as in our UM Health System. Informal politics are at play in all human activities, real and fictional, even as portrayed in The Nutcracker or House of Cards, where acceptable political methods get conveniently perverted to attain political power.

Politics, whether played fairly or unfairly, are essential to operationalize democracy, which is more of a biologic phenomenon, perhaps akin to quorum sensing, than an ideology or mere political system. This amazing universe of possibilities has arisen from 23 pairs of human chromosomes, their 3 billion base pairs, and 21,000 genes. Civilization is a house of chromosomes.

 

 

Ten.
Political parties developed to create candidates for public elections since the days of our first and last politically independent president, George Washington. Our present bivalent political system dates from 1854 when the USA has had two main parties, the then-dominant Democratic Party and an upstart party of anti-slavery activists, modernizers, ex-Whigs, and ex-Free Soldiers. The upstarts coalesced into a Republican Party that held its first official convention in Jackson, Michigan July 6, 1854. Within 4 years Republicans dominated all northern states and in 1860 they won control of both houses and their candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected president. He had a tough presidency and many expected little of him, but Lincoln rose to the occasion of the office and the issues of the day. Two years into his single term, the Union League of Philadelphia was founded. One room (below) features portraits of every Republican president of the United States.

repub-pres

Democratic and Republican parties dominated the American political landscape since Lincoln’s time, while other parties have failed to gain leverage. The Constitution, Green, Libertarian, and other small parties continue to field candidates but attract only small numbers of followers. Candidates for office independent of political party are not uncommon in local elections, but rare in higher office. Washington was the last independent president. Bernie Sanders is the longest serving independent in the history of the US Congress, although he aligns with Democrats. The Socialist Party of America, founded in 1901, never produced much of a winning ticket and dissolved in 1972. The Communist Party USA founded in 1919 was closely tied to the US labor movement, but never gained enough foothold to even have warranted the Red Scares; examples of its failed experiments near to us and in distant nations have dispelled serious interest in modern literate nations.
The 2016 election is over. Democrats will need to reconcile with Republicans and vice versa. The voting closely split the country and each party needs to learn from the other. More importantly both parties need to govern effectively, wisely, cooperatively, and justly. Health care policy is a muddle in the middle of things. Ultimately, though, what really matters above all is financial world-market stability and geopolitical stability. Without these, little else remains, so as with every president – we hope for the best.

political-promises-copy

[A cautionary slogan for politicians: Glen Arbor Fourth of July Parade, 2012 – Decker’s septic pumping truck with slogan: “another truckload of political promises.”]

 

Thanks for reading Matula Thoughts this first Friday in December, 2016 – and best holiday wishes.

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

Castling

DAB Matula Thoughts Nov 4, 2016

 

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3975 words

Preface. This monthly communication from the University of Michigan Department of Urology & David A. Bloom is usually sent by email or posted on line at matulathoughts.org on the first Friday of each month.

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One.  

Autumn has been spectacular at Michigan Urology academically and around Ann Arbor visually. Seasonal changes on the Huron River were up to high expectations as leaves colored out and birds headed south. You don’t have to travel far outside of town to see crop harvesting has wound down, while distracting political signs along the roads are highlighting our national political schizophrenia. [Above: Huron River near Wagner Road. Below: Waterloo Road east of Chelsea, Michigan]

silo

 

Nestled in the Midwest, we were spared Hurricane Matthew that hit Haiti, Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas in October. The biggest regional surprise was the overtime World Series victory of the Chicago Cubs over the Cleveland Indians, both teams having contested well. Births and other happy events also perked up this season, but we suffered losses. Madeline Horton, secretary of Jack Lapides and mother of Suzanne Van Appledorn (wife of Carl Van Appledorn, Nesbit 1972) passed away last month a few weeks short of her 100th birthday. Madeline was our urology librarian, a job largely obviated by the internet. I fondly remember her gracious welcome when I joined the University of Michigan Section of Urology in the early years of Ed McGuire’s leadership.

Final rules for the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) went into effect last month, instituting the Quality Payment Program (QPP) that begins its first performance period 58 days from now, by my count. This will significantly change the basis of physician payment and the rules are entrenched so deeply in federal regulation as to be practically bullet-proof from the impending presidential election or other short-term political processes. By November, it is pretty clear that another calendar year is coming to an end and it’s time to start serious planning for next year. Of course as a department of urology specifically, and as a large academic health center more generally, our planning has been on going in earnest for considerably longer than the past few days. Emerging out of many years of restricted capital investment in facilities and regional relationships we are in an unprecedented growth mode to more optimally fulfill our mission. This has been the first year of our new organizational paradigm for the University of Michigan Health System in which Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs of the University, Marschall Runge, added the Medical School deanship to his portfolio. A Health System Board along with Health System President, David Spahlinger, will manage the growing enterprise of hospital groups, medical practice, ambulatory clinics, regional affiliations, and other entities that have evolved to carry out our mission. These are good structural changes and superb individuals for the challenges ahead.

Our mission derives from our foundation as a public medical school in 1850 and is similar to the mission of all other medical schools, although the University of Michigan has long described itself as one of the “leaders and best”, a phrase that history shows we can rightly claim, for the most part. The mission is framed around three components – education, patient care, and research – deployed in that order as our medical school grew, adding its own contained hospital in 1869 and soon thereafter some of the world’s definitive basic science departments and research laboratories.

 

 

Two.  

Silos of expertise necessarily accrued as the medical school and health care center in Ann Arbor grew more complex with the result that the overall management became increasingly disconnected from the loci of expertise at its many workplaces. The gemba, a Japanese term related to the Lean Process Methodology of the Toyota Corporation, describes where work is performed – the workplace. As Toyota, and later Detroit automotive manufacturing came to understand, microeconomic gembas understand their products, customers, and processes better than higher-level managers or accountants. Process improvement, value creation, efficiency, customer satisfaction, and employee satisfaction are best arbitrated “where the work is done” (i.e. the gemba) rather than in distant offices by managerial accounting.

Oddly, just as forward-thinking western businesses are embracing lean process thinking, large health care systems and governmental organizations are more rigidly holding on to managerial accountancy with its concomitant archipelago of cost centers. Of course any organization needs to understand and mitigate its costs, but lean process experience has shown that efficiency and value are a natural result of letting the gemba work as an organic community, rather than forcing its functions by the levers of managerial accounting. [Below: going home from work, a Diego Rivera mural detail – Detroit Institute of Arts]

dsc03595

Anyway, back to the triple mission: the University of Michigan Health System exists to educate the next generation of physicians and scientists, to expand the knowledge and technology base of health care, and to do these things in a milieu of cutting edge clinical care. The central organizing principle at play, that is the essential deliverable (and moral center) is kind and excellent patient-centered care, as we describe it in our department.

The future in healthcare will depend on our ability to weave silos together and innovate, creating new ideas, devices, and methods. In a larger sense innovation is the ability to find better solutions for the needs of a changing environment.

 

 

Three.          

Leadership.  A recurring aspiration of the University of Michigan is that it produces the “leaders and the best.” That phrase is functionally adjectival as with the leaders and the best engineers, teachers, athletes, lawyers, nurses, chemists, or physicians, for example. The leaders and best is less meaningful as a noun, for what does it really mean to be “the best” if not the best of some particular thing. The same holds true for leadership, in my opinion. The aspiration to be “a leader” as a generality carries a bit of a selfish sense with it, whereas the aspiration to lead one’s team to do its job well or otherwise fulfill its mission is more socially virtuous. The difference is perhaps one between the captain of a football team versus travelling CEO’s who jump among companies to exercise their managerial or accounting gifts. Without deep knowledge and investment in a particular organization, an itinerant leader is unlikely to inspire most organizations and its people to achieve their best social destiny. Another way to look at this is whether the leader’s primary goal is to be “the boss” by leading, managing, and controlling employees to achieve organizational targets, in contrast to a goal of helping the organization achieve an optimal state for its stakeholders.

What does a urology department need in a leader? I submit that first and foremost it needs someone who loves and practices urology robustly; former dean Allen Lichter once said  – “for such a person patient care is a moral imperative, not something that is important enough unless it interferes with research.” Second, a clinical department needs an individual who understands the organizational mission and its history – these two things are inseparable, requiring more than just lip service to be truly known. Third, we require someone whom the faculty, residents, staff, and other stakeholders trust. Fourth, the department needs a person who can read the changing environment and find opportunities within it. Other attributes may be valued according to the specifics of each department, institution and moment in time, however “celebrity leadership” by itself should not be high on the list of qualities sought.

 

 

Four.                 

bruxelles_manneken_pis        

Until it fails, people don’t appreciate the beauty of a competent urinary system. Urologists are the essential attendants at that particular service station of life, but the necessity of professional detachment renders us susceptible to underestimating the angst and vulnerability of urologic patients. Finding the right balance between empathy and detachment is a personal matter, arbitrated by daily experience to the extent that we are influenced by our medical practices, role models (real and fictional), and general observations in life. To the extent that we pay attention to the real world around us and to the creative arts, we improve our practice of medicine.

Creative arts matter to medicine. The portrait of Dr. John Sassall by Berger & Mohr in A Fortunate Man, was an artful mix of empathy and detachment. The doctor had sufficient detachment to do what he needed medically for his patients, but retained unusual empathy for their social and economic comorbidities, even to his personal detriment.

In the visual arts for hundreds of years urinalysis, depicted by uroscopy flask (the matula), was the main symbol of medicine indicating the central importance of urine examination to understand disease. After 1816, when Laennec invented the stethoscope, the matula lost its place as the popular symbol of the medical profession. The stethoscope is certainly a less indelicate and a sturdier symbol than a glass urine flask. Imagine Gray’s Anatomy with the matula.

In literature Shakespeare was precocious in recognizing the fallacy of mistaking a clinical test for the actual patient when in this scene from Henry IV Falstaff asks a messenger what the physician thought of his uroscopy specimen:

“Sirrah, What says the doctor to my water?

He said, sir, the water itself was a good healthy water;

But for the party that owned it, he might have more diseases than he knew for.”

Visual art has only rarely portrayed urinary function. One example, the statue Manneken Pis (Little Man Pee, in Dutch. Above: Wikipedia illustration) designed by Hieronymus Duquesnoy the Elder around 1618-1619 has been stolen numerous times and the current version, dating from 1965, stands in Brussels. It is dressed in costumes according to a published schedule managed by “Friends of Manneken-Pis,” but I don’t know if University of Michigan colors have adorned it yet. Other versions of the statue exist regionally and in more distant sites in the world. Notice the arching back of the confident lad making his momentary mark on the world in front of him.

Depiction of urinary tract dysfunction in art is even less common than that of normal function. As common as dysuria and stranguria are for us humans, it’s rare to find them represented in the creative world. The Wayfarer, by Bosch, shows a man with the hunched-over posture typical of urinary distress, relegated to the central background of this curious painting. The painter, who died 500 years ago, lived in the historic low countries now called the Netherlands where he no doubt observed that characteristic posture often, as we do today in restrooms around the world.

the-wayfarer-large

[Hieronymus Bosch. Above: The Wayfarer. Below: voiding detail.]

bosch-detail

The impact of nocturnal enuresis showed up in All’s Quiet on the Western Front, where a young soldier suffered with that burden.

My point is that creative arts sharpen our perception and groom our mirror neurons to make us better attendants at life’s service stations.

 

Five.              

Castling. A few months ago this column referred to Richard Feynman’s metaphor related to mankind’s persistent search for central organizing principles, namely our curiosity to discover rules that govern the universe. He noted that, as we observe the “chess game of the world” and try to figure out how it works, every now and then “something like castling” occurs and blows our minds. That particular chess move is so far out of the box with respect to the other orderly rules and procedures of the game that it is, indeed, something of a miracle in that environment. (For chess aficionados the term rook may be preferable to castle, although castling sounds more appealing than rooking.)

castmove

It is human nature to seek rules. Prehistoric tribal priests, Ionian philosophers such as Aristotle, and recent scientists such as Feynman sought central organizing principles and rules. Unlike the explanations of the village priests, today’s principles of math, physics, chemistry, and biology are testable and verifiable or refutable. We have some ideas of why and how inorganic material things need to flow or seek equilibrium – principles of physics and chemistry govern their existence and fate. It is more of a mystery why biological things need to grow and humans, in particular, need to know things. No one has figured out, without invoking magical or religious paradigms, why our particulate niche in the universe is such as exception to what we perceive as the second law of thermodynamics. Perhaps our material, biological, and intellectual exception to the expanding and entropy-seeking universe is that strange miracle of “castling.” Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band expressed it more poetically in the 1980 song Against the Wind.

alaska

[Cosmic castling. Copper River. Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Summer 2015]

 

 

Six.

It may seem an overstatement of human optimism to believe in the principle that the world you imagine is the world you are most likely to create, but a single person can have remarkable impact; Joan of Arc, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, and Mahatma Gandhi are just a few examples. The impact of a single person, just as likely, can be darkly retrograde and numerous examples quickly come to mind.

Scientific thinking and modern technology have given mankind unprecedented tools to change the world with Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs as two of a myriad of other players. If you imagine a kind and just world, you will likely try to live by and spread those attributes. If you imagine a dog-eat-dog world and display that vision to those around you, that may likely become the reality you experience and leave behind. The possibility that a given leader can be good or bad for humanity might appear statistically random, that is stochastic, in terms of probability. On the other hand, if we carry the theme of castling to the idiosyncratic human experiment, it may not be so far-fetched to suggest that our genetic and epigenetic construction has built in a predilection to favor good over evil, making an individual more inclined to do the “right” rather than “wrong” thing at a given moment. That is, the elements leading up to a given personal decision are built upon individual upbringing, world-view, personal needs, perceived needs of our clan, and hope for the future. Adding all these elements, our prevailing human nature favors doing good, in the stoichiometric sense, most of the time.

 

 

Seven.

Where American health care will go next is unclear, no matter how the presidential election turns out next week. Problems abound in health care. The interface between patient and provider filling up with busy work and costs that distract from quality, safety, value, or satisfaction. Third party payers, regulators, public policy (even if well-intentioned) add an immense amount of “stuff” to be done before, during, and after the so-called patient encounter. While we prize innovation and the rewards of a free society, egregious exploitation of American healthcare consumers by industry seems to be getting worse and fuels demands for significant change. The EpiPen disgrace from the Pennsylvania company Mylan is only one of the many recent examples of human elements gone bad [JAMA 316:1439, 2016]. Why call out that one bad example among so many? My reason is simply that Mylan has made themselves such an easy target because they have been so sociopathically greedy.

Our urology silo has been a good one locally and internationally, by and large. This is evident now in the midst of the residency selection process wherein we advocate for our particular training program in Ann Arbor, our specialty having attracted many of the best and brightest of this year’s senior medical students. My colleague and friend Mike Mitchell once called urology (pediatric urology, in particular) “a lovely specialty.” We practice at the cutting edge of technology, we improve patient lives, we fix things that are broken, we have the gift of long relationships with patients, and we generally get along well within our professional arena. As a medical student and resident myself, years ago, the attributes and role models of urology attracted me into the field – and these features of our profession continue to attract the superb students and residents to follow us.

Healthcare is changing and the urology of tomorrow will differ from what I experienced in my career. We have already transitioned from roles as independent urologists such as that of our predecessors Hugh Cabot, Reed Nesbit, and Jack Lapides. Our work to educate, treat patients, and expand the knowledge base of urology requires subspecialization and teams, large teams that transcend clinics, offices, department, and operating rooms. The complexity of science, technology, and healthcare delivery made this change inevitable, with marketplace pressures and regulatory actions accelerating change. The fee-for-service that largely defined health care over the past century is being rapidly displaced by alternate payment methodology, with a sharp focus on value and performance in play today. These were vague terms in health care until recently. Value and performance metrics in other endeavors have achieved growing visibility, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find them crossing over into health care. Michael Lewis’s Moneyball brought these terms to popular attention for baseball in 2014, with the movie in 2011, and healthcare was bound to follow. No doubt some sense of player value governed Theo Epstein in breaking the curses of the Red Sock and Chicago Cubs with their World Series droughts of 86 and 108 years, although it’s unlikely he discovered a novel set of useful metrics.

 

 

Eight.

Value & performance. A paper in JAMA last month demands attention. Vivian Lee et al from the University of Utah offered an original investigation with the lengthy title “Implementation of a value-driven outcomes program to identify high variability in clinical costs and outcomes and association with reduced cost and improved quality.” [JAMA 2016; 316(10): 1061-1072] A matching opinion piece in the same issue by Michael Porter and Thomas Lee offered glowing support: “From volume to value in health care”. [JAMA 2016; 316 (10): 1047-1048] While it is clear that value and performance measures will be tools to replace the American fee-for-service paradigm, the details in the Utah study are important, in particular the idea of an “opportunity index” that allows healthcare teams to understand their costs and develop lean processes that improve not just costs, but also quality, safety, and that once-vague attribute value. If leading health care centers believe in a world of value-based healthcare, such a world surely can be created. That world, however, will largely be built on the special skills of specialties and the complex teams of future medicine, wherein urologists with their singular skill sets that will likely always be prized.

 

 

Nine.

Stainless steel, eggs, & sperm. Innovation is a fundamental characteristic of biology, and randomness is always in play. At the cellular level we see innovation from the random errors of genetic transcription and the utilitarian retention of the changes in these DNA sequences when they provide a particular advantage, so one could argue that random chance lies behind all things that happen. Choice, however, somehow slips into play with life. Even low levels of cellular organization make choices and, by extension purposefully innovate in their lives. Nematodes (round worms) and flatworms, such as C. elegans and planaria, seek comfort and food as they move above their microcosms to discover opportunities or deterrents. Their actions are purposeful with deliberate directional choices as opposed to random Brownian motion. Each move is original in its own way, exploring new territory or retreating from threats. In the larger animal kingdom we see choice in behaviors of vertebrates, and hominids have taken choice and innovation to entirely new levels.

One hundred years ago Harry Brearley figured out a way to improve the quality and value of gun barrels. Gun performance deteriorated quickly after use because of barrel corrosion from moisture and gases after combustion, so Brearley considered variety of additives to create steel alloys with better resistance and found chromium most effective. This was already being used in the manufacture of steel for airplane engines, but one particular variant alloy had been difficult to examine microscopically because the etching processes used to prepare the samples for examination were far less effective than usual. The corrosion resistance problem for engine manufacturing proved to be a solution for gunsmiths.

Human innovation continues to advance even more remarkably. At our recent Nesbit meeting, Sherman Silber (Nesbit 1973) presented innovative work in reproductive medicine showing how pluripotent stem cells derived from skin cells can create eggs and sperm with full reproductive potential in normal mice.

 

 

Ten.              

jiffy-silos

Silos. Silos are disparaged glibly in modern organizational discourse, but we owe them better appreciation. Some silos are storage vaults for coal, cement, or salt while others are biologic factories. Grain elevators, for example, store and ferment grain to produce silage for animal feed. Early farmers figured this out, probably noticing it by accident. After harvesting, clover, alfalfa, oats, rye, maize, or ordinary grasses are compressed in a closed space and after a brief aerobic phase, when trapped oxygen is consumed, anaerobic fermentation by desirable lactic acid bacteria begins to convert sugars to acids. Volatile fatty acids (acetic, lactic, butyric) are natural preservatives, lowering pH and creating a hostile environment for competing bacteria. Some microorganisms in the process produce vitamins such as folic acid or B12. Ever since the early days of farming indigenous microorganisms conducted successful fermentation, although modern farms utilize select strains of lactic acid bacteria or other microorganisms more efficiently. Because fermentation produces products that bacteria consume silage has less caloric content than the original forage, but the tradeoff is worthwhile due to the preservation and improved digestibility.

Thinking about silos, it seemed natural to take a trip to Chelsea, Michigan where the family-operated Chelsea Milling Company has been making baking mixes since 1930. Mabel White Holmes created the first prepared baking mix in the United States and her grandson, Howdy Holmes, presently runs this company of 300 employees producing 1.6 million boxes of products daily. Mabel White Holmes originally marketed her biscuit mix as “so easy even a man could do it” and Jiffy Mix with its memorable blue logo became one of America’s classic brands. Chelsea Milling makes and markets 19 mixes distributed to all 50 states and 32 countries. The Jiffy Mix corporate philosophy is employee-centric, much like Zingerman’s Community of Businesses and (we believe) the Department of Urology at the University of Michigan in the recognition of how silos build a community. The Jiffy Mix silos provide dry storage for wheat, while the people that work at the company provide the fermentation that makes and innovates superior products within a lean culture of thoughtful communication and collaborative decision-making. This is biologic castling.

wh-balcony

[Next occupant?]

Whether for storage of salt or biofactories for silage, silos are ultimately useful only when working together as parts of farms and communities. This an analogy holds true in the political arena, where consensus is as important as victory. Our national and international communities suffer from self-righteous siloism. Current political rhetoric lacks dignity and respect to the point of ugliness, although the most corrosive disrespect is the a priori claim that the American political system is rigged, whether by one party, the media, or another nation. It is nonsense to be outraged that other countries are into our emails and elections – that’s exactly what we do as a nation and indeed it is the business of large nations to gather intelligence on competitors and get a thumb on the scales when possible. If our candidates say foolish things and our firewalls are weak then we should own the blame. With 4 days to our next national elections, this incivility of discourse is a short slippery slope to civil instability, which will not be good for anyone. The effect on healthcare will consequential and international scientific media as influential as The Lancet have taken the unprecedented step of hosting a US Election 2016 website: www.thelancet.com/USElection2016.  Aside from parochial concerns such as healthcare, ultimately what will matter most for all of us on the planet after November 8 will be financial market and geopolitical stability – all other concerns pale in comparison.

leaves

[October driveway]

 

David A. Bloom

University of Michigan, Department of Urology, Ann Arbor

Matula Thoughts August 5, 2016

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Matula Thoughts – August 5, 2016

 

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

 

Art Fair

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

 

 

The_Doctor_Luke_Fildes copy

One.

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

Nakayama & Chang

[Dr. Chang & Don Nakayama]

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

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

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

 

 

Twitter invasion

Two.

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

Dee at White Coat

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

Cloaking

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

New student

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

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

First folio

 

 

Three.

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

Chang Lecture

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

Nelsons

Grossmans

Drach

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

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

Lapides Lecture

[Above: Lapides Lecture, Danto Auditorium]

 

 

 

Tortise on post

Four.

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

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

Coffey

feynman1

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

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

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

EO Wilson_face0

[EO Wilson at UM LSI Convocation 2004]

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

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

 

 

superheroes

Five.

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

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

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

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

Artemisia

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

Tu_Youyou_and_Lou_Zhicen_in_1951.TIF

 

 

Six.

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

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

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

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

 

 

Moon June 17, 2016

Seven.

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

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

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

PGR2

[PG Ransley c. 2005]

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

 

 

Eight.

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

BluefishBiomass_Sept2015

[From Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission]

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

Bluefish

[Bove: ruthless foragers]

Teeth

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

Pirhana

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

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

Johnhersey

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

 

 

Nine.

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

 

 

Ten.

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

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

Girl with pearl

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

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

Tulp

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

 

Thank you for reading our Matula Thoughts.

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

Commencement 2016

DAB What’s New –July 1, 2016

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3805 words

 Birthing Couple_16681983_5x5-150dpi

One.  

Like the matula, this African birthing figure is a rich symbol for the healing arts, or “medicine”, if you apply that term as a generality. We hominids, unlike most other creatures, need some help with delivery of babies. Usually, birthing assistants offer emotional support and necessary physical aid while nature takes its course, but sometimes the midwife or physician will be life-saving. Birth assistance, as depicted above, has been going on since the dawn of mankind; each generation teaches its successors how best to do the job, based on experience, knowledge, and the technology available. [Figure: JAMA cover and St. Louis Art Museum. Birthing Couple. C. 1200. Niger Delta]

            Another cycle of teaching the next generation begins today in Ann Arbor as medical students transition into house officers, new fellows morph into subspecialists, and new faculty begin careers as urologists, educators, and leaders. Incoming residents feel a sense of life’s infinite potential, yet their careers will pass by in the blink of time’s eye. These thoughts came to mind as I reflected on the recent loss of Carl Van Appledorn and paused by his residency class picture of 1972.

Van Appeldorn 1972

[Front: 2nd from left Ananias Diokno, Ed Tank 3rd from left, John Konnak 4th, Jack Lapides 5th; top row – Bill Hyndman 4th from L, Carl 7th, Dan Karsch 8th, Lee Underwood 9th, Sherman Silber far right]

My residency training began in 1971 at UCLA and the surgery department picture hangs on my office wall [below]. One of my former senior residents, Jim Skow, still practices thoracic surgery in California, but I think most others senior to me then have hung up their stethoscopes. One chief resident, Mike McArthur, retired to run The Caldwell Family Zoo in Tyler, Texas. A number of my fellow interns are still working: Erick Albert (urologist in Lodi, California), Arnie Brody (hand surgeon in Pittsburgh), Ron Busuttil (Chair of Surgery at UCLA), David Confer (urologist in Tulsa, OK), John Cook (general and vascular surgeon in Billings, Montana), Jon Kaswick (urologist at Kaiser in LA), Doug McConnell (recently retired from cardiothoracic surgery in Long Beach and Redding, CA), Edward Lewis Clark Pritchett III (cardiologist at Duke), and Eric Zimmerman (neurosurgeon in Traverse City). I have lost track of most of the others (we started with 18 surgery interns and ended with 5 chiefs).

DAB 1971

A few faculty who taught me at UCLA are still working. I saw Bob Smith at the AUA last month, Rick Ehrlich maintains simultaneous extraordinary careers in urology as well as photography, and Shlomo Raz is quite busy at UCLA.

DAB, RBS  

[Above: DAB & Bob Smith; below Rick at AAP 2010]

RME

            When I finished training, board certification lasted a lifetime, hospital credentialing was rudimentary, and one’s frame of reference as a physician was largely centered on individual performance, skills, and drive. Relationships to larger systems, while important and necessary, were secondary concerns. Since then the dynamic has reversed and large systems such as the electronic medical record, peer review, MOC, RVUs, and checklists dominate individuals. Credentialing, provider enrollment, and billing have become complex and require substantial infrastructures. Proposed MACRA regulations, replacing the Sustainable Growth Rate method of physician reimbursement and published last April, prescribe financial penalties for single and small (2-9 practitioner) medical practices. The end is probably in sight for the traditional duality of health care with one patient and one provider at a time. For better and for worse, teams and systems are replacing individuals.

 

 

Two.

Five UM chief residents and four fellows graduated from our training program last month and we celebrated over dinner at the Art Museum to honor them and their families. Rebekah Beach, Miriam Hadj-Moussa, Michael Kozminski, Amy Li, and Galaxy Shah, plus Abdul Al Ruwaily, Sapan Ambani, Chad Ellimoottil, and Yahir Santiago-Lastra completed residency and fellowships. Their next career steps disperse them to Seattle, Phoenix, Grand Rapids, Duluth, Saudi Arabia, San Diego, and Ann Arbor. Below, 4 chiefs honor our reconstructive urology faculty member Bahaa Malaeb with the Silver Cystoscope Award.

Chiefs 2016

As these trainees leave, a new cycle of health care education begins in Ann Arbor and the UM Health System enters its first fiscal year under a new organizational model. To understand this change, a little history is helpful.      The University of Michigan began in 1817 in Detroit and moved to Ann Arbor in 1837, but didn’t establish a medical school until 1850. Back then, doctors were educated by two years of lectures and anatomy dissection. They studied ancient and fairly static topics, but change was in the air as the modern conceptual basis of medicine was on the verge of consolidation. Germ theory, pathology, biochemistry, physiology, and anesthesiology were joining the conversation of health care. Medical schools became places not just for lectures and anatomy dissection, but places with laboratories for the study of human biology and disease, as well as surgery.

Med School Bldg

[Above: Medical School; below: faculty house/first hospital]

Ist hosp

In 1867, a UM faculty house was converted into a dormitory for patients undergoing surgery in the medical school, making the University of Michigan the first university to own and operate a hospital. The medical school curriculum grew in complexity and length to 4 years, adding “basic science” laboratories and the “clinical laboratories” of bedside instruction. The hospital necessarily enlarged in scale, functions, personnel, and equipment.  By the late 19th century, some medical student graduates began to spend a year or more in the hospital and medical school learning new skills and fields of practice.

 

 

Three.          

            The UM AMC. By 1910, when the Flexner report reformed medical education, budgets of UM hospital ($70,000/year) and medical school ($83,000/year) were comparable. Management of the two organizations diverged increasingly in the 20th century, requiring different sets of expertise. Hospital management followed the business model of American industry, centered on the principles of managerial accounting with cost centers, unit margins, accrual accounting, capital allocation, etc. Medical school management more closely followed academic principles of not-for-profit organizations with budgets decentralized to academic units that had their own goals and measures of success.

Cabot copy

Hugh Cabot, world renowned urologist, arrived from Boston in late 1919, attracted by the full-time salary model and opportunity to build a multi-specialty surgery department in Ann Arbor. He became medical school dean in 1921 and by 1926 opened a modern hospital of 1000 beds with specialties that defined the states-of-the art in medicine and surgery. That year Cabot’s first trainees, Charles Huggins and Reed Nesbit, began postgraduate medical education. Cabot’s confrontational personality produced significant backlash as he built his medical mecca, an integrated group practice. He was abrasive and blind to the value of diversity, either in opinions that differed from his own or in people themselves. Regional physicians disliked him and ultimately the regents fired him, “in the interests of greater harmony”, on February 11, 1930.

Hosp 26

Without a dean, the Medical School was run by its Executive Committee for 3 years, and a third financial enterprise became important in addition to hospital and medical school systems. This was the business of professional services. Senior professors then could independently bill for their professional services through their own offices and other employees were paid by those professors or the hospital. The lines between medical school, hospital, and professional offices regarding “who paid for what” were contested.

            It was natural for the hospital to provide outpatient services and in 1953 it opened a new building for the 24 departmentally-based ambulatory clinics (this is now the Med Inn Building) that quickly saw 20,000 patients monthly. While hospitals share many similarities with ambulatory care facilities, the work flows and challenges are actually quite different. Dissatisfaction grew over the next 50 years as physicians found themselves marginalized in the systemic clinical decision-making as medical care became increasingly complex, specialized, and expensive. Accounting methodologies for hospital and medical school differed. Matt Comstock, our Senior Finance Executive, explains it well:The entire university follows GASB (government accounting standards) when filing financial reports.  But the units within the University have had differences in how accounting standards were (and still are) applied internally to “run the business.”  The hospital followed more traditional accrual accounting standards that line up with GASB for external reporting. The UMMS used a  “sources/uses” view (think cash) for many years.” As hospital directors managed the space, capital allocations, and personnel for the departmentally-based outpatient clinics, tensions grew between hospital managerial accountancy and departmental/faculty academic missions.

Another factor arose in the latter half of the 20th century when academic medical centers made NIH funding a priority in the academic mission and failed to recognize that their essential deliverable needed to be patient care. This is the moral epicenter of academic medicine. When done right, it drives the rest of the mission and creates a healthy financial margin. Our motto in the Urology Department has become kind and excellent patient-centered care, thoroughly integrated with education and innovation at all levels. This cannot be accomplished by the providers alone, it requires an integrated systemic effort in this era of complex, team-based health care. An archipelago of cost centers cannot accomplish this task. As Toyota’s Lean Process Systems have taught western business – productivity, efficiency, and workplace satisfaction are maximized when key stakeholders participate in decisions about their work. In other words, process improvement is best accomplished by the people executing the processes.

 

 

Four.

            Archipelagos of costs centers. This metaphor comes from my friend Doug McConnell who stopped in AA with his wife Bonny on their retirement tour. We recounted similar experiences in health systems, such as seeing patients on hold in operating rooms after surgery was completed, because the recovery room was full due to nursing staff shortages in an ICU. The costs of an idle staffed OR far outweigh any saved ICU nursing position. Delay or cancellation of subsequent patients adds to cost and frustration. Downstream effects from one “efficient” cost center can sabotage an entire hospital.

Although ambulatory care activities led the way for UMHS restructuring, we still have much to gain in terms of better management of our entire enterprise in a patient-centric fashion. Just as Ford, Chrysler, and GM learned, managerial control by accounting (the archipelago of cost centers managed by regulation of supply and demand) is a failed experiment of western business, and lean process systems as developed by Toyota produces better products, with greater efficiency, and greater satisfaction for all customers.

            In 2007, UM hospital transferred ambulatory care operations to the clinical faculty, organized in the form of a Faculty Group Practice (FGP). Led by dean Jim Woolliscroft and associate dean for clinical affairs David Spahlinger, it consisted of the clinical chairs and elected positions from 5 clinical cohorts. With a book of business of 0.8 billion dollars, it was a risky venture, as the FGP assumed all of the downside risk, half the upside risk (the other half to split with the hospital), and no capital dollars. Ambulatory activities were split into 90 ambulatory care units (ACUs) functioning under the principle of keeping local decisions as close to “where the work is done” as possible.

Before merger of Medical School and Hospital Finance Offices in 2009, the two offices were not only competitive, but in the 1990s were so suspicious of each other that their staffs were prohibited from sharing information. This situation was reflective of systemic dysfunction related to structure, governance, and personality conditions that incented competitive silos. The merger brought Medical School financial reporting to the more traditional accrual view of the world, but also brought clinical and academic values to the processes, personnel, and capital of health care business.

Further changes this year aim to create a more integrated organization with a balanced mission of education, clinical practice, and research, but centered on an essential deliverable of kind and excellent patient care. Entering FY 2017, we have 150 ACUs and are applying our operational ACU principles throughout the larger UM Health System.

 

 

Five.

UM AHC reorganization. On January 1, 2016 our EVPMA, Marschall Runge, incorporated the title and functions of Medical School Dean in his office. The new organizational chart under him features 3 senior associate deans: 1.) clinical senior associate dean & president of the UMHS, David Spahlinger; 2.) academic senior associate dean, Carol Bradford, effective July 1; and 3.) scientific senior associate dean, TBD.

            The UMHS under David Spahlinger as its president features 3 operational units: a.) the UM Medical Group (UMMG, formerly the FGP); b.) Hospital Group I (UM Main Hospital and the CVC); and Hospital Group II (Mott & Women’s Hospital). Each hospital group will be managed under a leadership triad consisting of physician, nursing, and administrative leaders with a committee representing key stakeholders, namely “the people who do the work.”  The pieces of this new matrix are still coming into position – it is a work in progress, but the immediate challenges are:

a.)           Maximizing the patient experience and minimizing waste in clinical operations while enhancing the trifold academic mission.

b.)           Consolidation of large health systems around UMHS. Our educational programs (800 medical students & Ph.D. candidates, 1100 residents & fellows in 100 different areas of focused clinical practice, plus many other health education learning groups) require 400,000 covered lives locally and at least 3.5 million lives regionally.

c.)           Changing health care laws and regulations that force reimbursement away from individual professional payments to alternative methods such as bundled payments, episode of care payments, payments (or penalties) based on notions of value and quality (still incompletely defined or understood).

Accordingly, we need urgent investment to increase the scale and work-flow of our clinical operations.

 

 

Six.

            A new season begins. Today, July 1, our new residents and fellows enter into this mix of change. The new residents (“interns”) are called PGY 1s (postgraduate year ones) as they enter the career-defining stage of medical education, a time that exceeds the years spent in medical school. New house officers & fellows are in search of competency. Our job as faculty, along with senior residents and fellows, is to help them acquire the skills, professionalism, and hunger for excellence that will distinguish them as our colleagues and successors. It is a tall order and while they seek professional competency during residency, attainment of mastery will be a lifelong pursuit.

            Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, claims that humans need autonomy, mastery, and purpose if they are to achieve success and fulfillment in life. Purpose is readily found in most health care careers. Autonomy, while necessarily threatened by the larger systems and regulations, is still found in medicine. Mastery of a skill, or task, it is said, requires around 10,000 hours of practice. Urology, however, is more than a single skill, and judging empirically from the length of residency and fellowship training, it is easy to extrapolate that the hours necessary for mastery of urology exceeds 30,000. 

            Our profession, however, is the practice of medicine – a continuous process – so self-education is never done. Hunger for excellence drives  good doctors who continue to learn, on a daily basis from patients, from colleagues, and from experiences that fuel curiosity. Drive for excellence is a part of the professionalism that society expects from its physicians and other health care workers.

 

 

Seven.          

Summer art fair.  I had lived in Ann Arbor for 10 years before attending an Art Fair and thus deliberately began our Duckett Lecture in Pediatric Urology as the first educational event of each new fiscal/academic year on Friday of the Art Fair. We hold simultaneous staff training for the non-physicians of our department and then give the afternoon free to everyone (except for a skeleton crew to staff the phones, consults, urgencies) as a time to visit the Art Fairs or stay home and “reboot” for the new academic year. It is costly to drop a business day from our books, but we justified this as both an education/training morning and a yearly “afternoon off” birthday gift for our employees. This year (Friday July 22) the Duckett lecturer will be Caleb Nelson (Nesbit 2004), faculty member at Harvard and the Boston Children’s Hospital.

Caleb

[Above: Caleb Nelson. Below: Bart Grossman]

Bart 2016

In 2006 we added the Lapides Lecture to broaden the scope of the morning, and this year it will be Bart Grossman (Nesbit 1997), our former Urology Section Chief (2003-2004), currently professor at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston.

Building on the art fair theme, we added the Chang Lecture on Art & Medicine in 2007 to kick off the academic events. This year, Don Nakayama, a distinguished pediatric surgeon, will be speaking about his novel discovery in the Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts. This will be on Thursday at 5 PM July 21 in Ford Amphitheater University Hospital.

Nakayama

Don Nakayama

 

 

Eight.            

Professions & commodities. Society recognizes a difference between a profession such as medical practice, and a commodity such as pork bellies. The principle value of a commodity is the commodity itself, assumed (although not always accurately) to be of a standard quality. The value of a professional service, while assumed by its status as professional to be of an acceptable standard, is more nuanced. While an acceptable standard is expected, society anticipates a higher level of duty and service than from a commodity and accordingly society allows professions to set their standards and train their successors. Professions are constantly evolving as science, practice, and technology provide new tools and new challenges. Society also shapes new expectations and demands. A pork belly, for the most part, will always be a pork belly whether you hold one in your hands today or imagine one in 50 years. Care of today’s patient with bladder cancer will be very different from that of a patient in another half century. The stories of today’s pork bellies will not be closely intertwined with the commodity 50 years hence. The same is not so true as with treatment of bladder cancer, which will be built upon many stories of discovery, trial, failure, and tragedy going forward.

 

 

Nine.

Lasker. One way to understand the practice and science of medicine today, and to anticipate the opportunities and needs of tomorrow, is through stories of discovery. These are represented (although incompletely) in major recognitions such as the Nobel Prize or Lasker Awards and deserve more attention in our cultural literacy, so I like to highlight them from time to time. The Lasker program turned 70 years old last year and its Basic Medical Research Award went to Evelyn Witkin, for work demonstrating responses of bacteria to DNA damage and to Stephen Elledge for showing the molecular mechanisms by which eukaryotic cells recognize and respond to DNA damage. The Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award went to James Allison for enabling T-cells to attack cancer cells by removing “checkpoints” on these “bad guys” that normally inhibit the T-cells. Notice DeBakey’s name enjoined to the Lasker clinical award (DeBakey was mentioned in May’s What’s New/Matula Thoughts). The work celebrated in last year’s Laskers will no doubt influence urology, among other fields, in years to come. Allison’s immunotherapy work has already profoundly changed the face of melanoma management. [Pomeroy. The Lasker Awards at 70. JAMA. 314: 1117, 2015]

            If you go to the Lasker Foundation web page you can find the Essay Contest with three superb essays in 2016 by a Ph.D. student (David Ottenheimer at Johns Hopkins on modern neuroscience tools for psychiatric illness), a second year medical student (Therese Korndorf at U. Illinois Peoria on the bacterial social network and quorum sensing), and a pediatrics resident at LA Children’s (Unikora Yang on DNA editing with CRISPR). This is open to medical students, residents, graduate students, and postdocs. First prize yields $10,000. Maybe one of our learners will get inspired to write a 2017 essay.

 

 

Ten.

            Commencement. The first day of medical school is offset for a month after the interns and older residents began their cycle. The White Coat Ceremony marks the start of our next 4-year medical school curriculum when students and families assemble at Hill Auditorium Saturday 10 AM July 30. New students will walk across the stage, announce their names and schools of origin, and receive white coats from the Medical School, pins from the Alumni Society, and stethoscopes provided by clinical faculty and several donors. The short white coats, symbols of medical student education, will be traded for the longer white coats of residents and faculty 4 years from now. The White Coat Ceremony, open to the public, is a lovely occasion to reconnect with our purpose of medical education. It would be a shame for a Michigan faculty member to miss the chance to do this at least once in a career.

The stethoscope inclusion began 15 years ago under Allen Lichter’s deanship, believing that the white coat and pin needed more symbolic weight to match the moment. The stethoscope is today’s “badge of office” for physicians and it’s certainly a substantial gift – the high quality ones we give out cost over $225 each. Stethoscopes connect us to patients and are a fitting metaphor for listening to the patient, in a larger sense than hearing heartbeats. Before the stethoscope was invented (by Laennec in Paris in 1816) the symbol for medical practice was the matula – the glass flask used by doctors to examine urine. This device, evident in paintings and sculptures, was a perfect metaphor for observation: the clinician’s “gaze”. More practically, the matula was the tool of uroscopy.

            The African nativity scene, the uroscopy matula, and now the stethoscope are symbols of the practice of medicine, each reflecting progressive implementation of technology and each reflecting the human skills of comforting, observing, and reflective listening. Economic, social, and regulatory pressures on healthcare professions, medicine in particular, seem to be increasing and are  “commoditizing” services that human culture has, until now, largely left to the realm of the professions. Admittedly, many medical services can be readily commoditized, such as immunizations, screening physical exams, dental hygiene, and podiatry. These are important tasks that all people need and require training and skill, but can be delivered as standard practices. Expertise deploys along a bell-shaped curve of quality, but these can be efficiently standardized by algorithms and check-lists.

            Other medical services such as managing patients with UTIs, hypospadias, neurogenic bladder, stress incontinence, medullary sponge kidney, or prostate cancer involve more than simple checklists or single skill-sets. Even “episode-of-care” approaches will fail to capture the holistic approach that patients need for specific complaints, in the complex context of their comorbidities, families, and lifelong needs and aspirations.

            The Luke Fildes painting of 1891 represents the professional side of medicine better than most images. The artist’s first son, Philip, died of TB in 1877 and the doctor at the bedside inspired this great painting. A later son, Paul, would become an eminent physician with a complex career that encompassed roles both in the discovery of sulphonamide action and the alleged use of Botulin toxin to assassinate top Nazi Reinhard Heydrich in 1942. The toxin story, probably fanciful, doesn’t diminish the richness of the father’s metaphor for the profession of medicine. In fact, the tale expands any related dialogue to an unexpected dimension. Consider dropping in at Hill Auditorium in 4 weeks for our Medical School Commencement (Saturday, this year at 10 AM) and starting conversations with your professional successors as they initiate their journeys.

The_Doctor_Luke_Fildes copy

  

Thanks for reading What’s New and Matula Thoughts.

 

David A. Bloom

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.

WoodrowWilson

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.

Band-Aid

[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.”

220px-George_Eliot_BNF_Gallica

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 October 2, 2015

DAB What’s New October 2, 2015

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Change, colors, chloroplasts, mitochondria, & detachment

3048 words

 

Mich green

1. Michigan’s green landscape is changing now that October is here with the deciduous ritual of autumn colors creeping south at the rate of about 200 miles per week. Autumn colors in Ann Arbor, however, are not just botanic. October brings us deep into the heart of football season when maize and blue attract intense scrutiny. Legend has it that a group of Michigan students decided that the school colors should be azure blue and maize, but school officials didn’t make it official until 1912. Curiously the actual shades of maize and blue differ between the University at large and the Athletic Department.

Sincock Seats

[Above: Fall colors in Ann Arbor. Big House night game from Craig & Sue Sincock’s box. October 11, 2014.  Below: UM seal with distinctive azure blue, courtesy Brad Densen]

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2. Physicians once paid great attention to the green world, as plants were a prime source of medicines. This changed in the later 19th century, when modern medicine evolved with its verifiable conceptual basis of biochemistry, pathology, physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, etc. Before then medications fell into the area of study known as materia medica and botanic knowledge was a necessity for doctors. Leaves are green, by the way, because the dominance of chlorophyll masks out other pigments. As leaves age, green chlorophyll degrades into colorless tetrapyrroles, so that yellow xanthophyll and orange beta-carotene pigments take over visually, although they had been present throughout the leaf life cycle. Red pigments, the anthocyanins, are synthesized de novo as chlorophyll becomes degraded. After the non-green colors show up detachment and recycling of this year’s leaves soon follows.

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[Biochemistry refresher: Pyrrole, the five-membered ring shown above (C4H4NH), a colorless volatile liquid, was first detected by F.F. Runge in 1834 as a coal tar derivative. Pyrrole is a component of chlorophyll, other botanic pigments, as well as the red cell porpyrin heme, a co-factor of haemoglobin. Four pyrroles assemble to make up a porphyrin, and these molecules allow  numerous color options.]

I happened to see my first leaves of the season fall in early September when I was in Nijmegen, Netherlands at the semi-centennial celebration of the splendid urology unit of Radboud University.

Leaves

[Above: detachment in Nijmegen 2 weeks ago.

Below: What we look forward to this month: Ann Arbor foliage October 2014.]

Barton tree

 

3.  Change is an apt theme right now as it surely is in the air for health care. Coalescing organizations, new regulations, untried payment systems, intensifying competition, narrow networks, tiered access, new technologies, fantastic and fantastically expensive new drugs, are among the factors behind the unprecedented change. These changes are more than seasonal or market changes and they are putting things that we cherish at risk, namely the three dimensions of academic health care – education, research, and quality clinical care. Clinical care is the primary resource engine for academic health care centers (AMCs). This aspect of our mission is the mitochondria of AMCs, providing not just the context for education and research, but also the bulk of its sustaining funding. Furthermore, clinical care is the moral epi-center and the essential deliverable of AMCs.  While American health care is not perfect, it isn’t better in most other places on the globe. Consider the options – in a perfect world how would you manage and fund a piece of society and the economy as necessary, complex, and large as health care? A purely market driven system would leave out a huge chunk of the populace and would not service the interests of the public health at large. Purely governmental systems are perpetually under-resourced, funded at the whim of rotating politicians, bureaucrats, and accountants. Canada, at this moment in time, seems to be the remarkable sole exception to this seemingly natural law. I’ve worked in England’s National Health System (NHS) twice in my life, and am somewhat familiar with its ups and downs, but that natural tendency of impoverished dependence on central governmental funding and accountancy management is inescapable. The NHS was intended to be the exclusive source of health care for the British public, but a growing private sector of health care in the U.K. provides some balance and competition.

 

4.   My friend Karin Muraszko, chair of our Neurosurgery Department, recently gave me a book called Do No Harm by Henry Marsh, a neurosurgeon in London. I read it cover-to-cover and thought it remarkable. The value of appropriate and necessary detachment for a surgeon is one of three things that jumped out at me from the book. The second is that natural law I mentioned whereby a national health system budgeted by politicians and managed by accountants does not serve patients, families, health care workers, or other essential stakeholders well, or kindly. The third point is that duty hour restrictions enforced by national agencies (governments, regulatory organizations, professional groups, or payers) are not conducive to professional education, competence, or expertise, much less excellence. The 48-hour work-week for neurosurgical trainees in Europe might be compatible only with a 15-20 year period of training, but not much less. While a few older surgeons like Henry Marsh are still around, and perhaps an occasional excellent new neurosurgeon might emerge miraculously from the sad current European training paradigm, I fear for the next generation of patients with neurosurgical problems on the other side of the Atlantic. Even more frightening is the thought of the subsequent generations of neurosurgeon-educators that will emerge. For them duty hours, accountancy management, and patient “hand-offs” may trump the sense of professionalism and duty they might vaguely recall having seen in the vanishing breed of Henry Marsh.

 

5.   One of the most important rituals of academic medicine is the selection and education of our successors and just now we are in the midst of this with a new cycle of applicant interviews for our residency. Residency training is the career-defining stage of medical education and one could claim it is the signature educational product of an academic health center, usually exceeding (sometimes by more than twice) the time spent in medical school. I don’t think laymen or our central campus friends fully understand this reality.  During our residency training at Michigan young physicians learn the state-of the-art clinical skills of urology, its conceptual basis, professionalism, teamwork, and leadership. They develop the habits of lifelong learning and teaching. When I finished training in general surgery at UCLA, I became a member of the Longmire Society, just as our residents in urology at Michigan become members of the Nesbit Society. The Longmire Society certificate includes a motto that features the words: detachment, method, thoroughness, and humility.

Longmire

These were presumably the ideal characteristics of a Longmire-type surgeon, and indeed suited “the boss” well. Yet the inclusion of detachment as an ideal characteristic puzzled me at first and didn’t seem quite right as it seemed to imply a lack of compassion and empathy, although I’ve since come to understand the importance of detachment with more subtlety. As I write these thoughts the irony of the term “duty hours” strikes me: duty vs. duty hours. Of course, no one can be “on duty” all the time, but people like Henry Marsh, in addition to their sense of necessary detachment, carry their professional duty with them as best they can throughout their careers day-by-day and night-by-night. The on-and-off duty switch is not flicked frequently. Professionalism, nevertheless, carries with it some danger: we become self-righteous in our jobs and professions. We tend to define the limits of our duty more according to the convenience of our job descriptions than by the needs of the public. This does allow us some detachment, but sometimes more for our own sakes than the sake of those among the public who might want our help or kindness.

 

6.   Change is in the air locally at our own academic health care center in Ann Arbor. We are modestly reorganizing our structure and governance, and a new strategic planning process is in play. As Dwight Eisenhower said: “… plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” (Remarks at the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference. 11/14/1957) We urgently need to figure out how to balance our growing patient population with our mission, with our facilities, and with the changing landscape of health care. At the September 17 Regents Meeting changes were made to our organizational structure that should help us build and execute a strategy that fits us well and secures our success in the brave new world of academic health care. Effective January 1, 2016 Marschall Runge, will add the role of medical dean to his position as Executive Vice President of Medical Affairs. David Spahlinger will become president of the clinical enterprise (a new name for this entity is pending; we have been using the term UM Health System) and Executive Vice Dean of the UMMS for Clinical Affairs. New positions will be recruited for a chief academic officer, a chief scientific officer, and a chief information officer for the academic medical center. A chief value improvement officer has been hired by Dr. Runge. Tony Denton will be the Senior Vice President and COO of the clinical enterprise. [Below: Tony & Marschall] Doug Strong, our former CEO of the hospital and most recently VP for Finance & Business of the University will be retiring after a long run of distinguished service.

Marschall & Tony

 

7.   300px-Julius_Sachs  Born on this day in 1832 was Julius von Sachs, in Breslau, Kingdom of Prussia. We might not be inclined to celebrate his name now 183 years later, but we really should. A curious youngster, probably just like you once were, he had an early interest in natural history, which in 19th century Europe and North America was the term used for what today we call science. With a Ph.D. from Charles University in Prague in 1856 he embarked on a career in botany. His academic career took him from Dresden to Bonn to Freiburg and then to the University of Würzburg as chair of botany in 1868 where he spent the rest of his career, contributing greatly to the study of plant physiology. He is credited with the discovery of the chloroplast, a subcellular unit in which the chlorophyll pigment packs energy from sunlight into molecules ATP and NADPH while freeing oxygen and producing carbon dioxide. Like mitochondria, chloroplasts have their own DNA and are believed to have been inherited from an ancient ancestor, a photosynthetic cyanobacterium eaten up by ancient eukaryotic cell that happened to be hungry at a certain lucky moment far back in time. A similar moment of ingestion happened somewhere around then when another hungry cell devoured an organism that turned out to be the ancestor of mitochondria, the internal engine for animal cells. Chloroplasts and mitochondria are the resource engines for all life forms beyond the most primitive ones.

 

8.   I have a friend who sometimes says: “Change is inevitable, but progress is optional.” [On Wikipedia the quote is attributed to Tony Robbins, motivational speaker.] Health systems nationally as well as here locally in Michigan are in the midst of change, but we are hopeful that our local changes, here at least, represent progress. The demand for our clinical services in Ann Arbor is growing. I remember not many years ago our health system clinic visits were well under a million a year and we thought we were busy. Our most recent fiscal year (FY 15) produced 2,123,746 visits – representing a 6.1% increase just over the previous year, of which return visits constituted 4.7% and new patients were up 15.3%. The pressure on our exam rooms, faculty, staff, operating rooms, and hospital beds has been painful. We need to manage our health care enterprise better to fulfill the expectations of patients and our community, as well as to enhance our educational and research missions. This cannot be viewed from an accounting mentality as a zero sum game with one mission at the expense of another, but rather as a synergistic triad, with the clinical mission as the moral center, the context for education and research, as well as the prime economic engine.

 

9.   My first box of crayons when I was a toddler offered a half dozen colors and I didn’t notice or imagine at the time that many more colors could exist. If you glance quickly at a rainbow or the light from a prism that’s not such a naïve belief.

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[Reflection from a glass door on the floor of my in-law’s house in Waterloo, Iowa. Summer 2015]

However, over time in childhood my crayon boxes got larger with many more colors than I could have imagined. A 64 pack of crayons was astonishing discovery for me.

Standard_Crayon_Ad

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Nowadays, kids on their iPads can sort through literally thousands of colors. This in turn should be no surprise because on inspection the spectrum of light is not an array of discrete quanta of color variations (at least, not that we know!) – it is in reality a spectrum. This increasing complexity derived from our attention is matched throughout the world today in the increasing number of cable TV channels, the proliferation of presidential candidates, the growing number of health care specialties and focused areas of medical practice, the 10-fold increase medical diagnostic codes effective this year (ICD-10), expanding sectarian conflicts, and gargantuan expansion of worldwide refugees.

 

10.   The 50th anniversary of Nijmegen Urology was a wonderful celebration they shared with international guests from Japan to Italy to Ann Arbor. It gave me some ideas about the upcoming anniversary of Michigan Academic Urology in 2019. My inclusion in Nijmegen was due to the luck of having Wouter Feitz, their chief pediatric urologist, spend three months with us in Ann Arbor many years ago. Nijmegen, the oldest city in the Netherlands, is situated on the nation’s eastern edge, next to the German border. Radboud Medical University contains a superb urologic unit that happens to be an epicenter of European Urology politically as well as geographically. There, under Frans Debruyne, the European Association of Urology got its start and now, headed by Peter Mulders, the urology unit continues to excel.

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[Past & present chairs of Nijmegen Urology. Above: Frans Debruyne. Below: Peter & Cindy Mulders]

Peter & Cindy Mulders

The innovative academic celebration was focused around specific patients in the various domains of urology and yet it explored the cutting edges of discovery and therapy. Our pediatric session featured the faculty at Radboud, Wouter Feitz, Barbara Kortmann,  Robert De Gier, and Ivo De Blaauw, with Raimund Stein of Mainz and Mannheim along with myself as guests.

Raimund, Maie-Jose, Wout

[Above: Raimund, Marie Jose & Wout Feitz. Below: Barbara & Robert]

Barbara & Robt

 

Since our session was on the opening day of the meeting, Wout and I skipped the second day to visit the Mauritius Museum in The Hague, on the western edge of the “Low Country.” The newly restored museum, a lovely historic house in the midst of the complex of government buildings known as the Binnenhof, houses Rembrandt’s great Anatomy Lesson of Nicholas Tulp [below], Vermeer’s Girl with Pearl Earring, and The Goldfinch by Fabritius. These great works and others compel thoughtful attention.

Tulp

Every year on the third Tuesday of September, which occurred the following week in the nearby Ridderzaal (Great Hall), the King delivers The Speech from the Throne. Wout and I happened to walk by after the room was set up for the event and on public display.

Ridderzaal

[Ridderzaal]

This Dutch tradition is mirrored in the State of the Union address in the United States, and in the annual State of the Medical School speech at our local level in Ann Arbor. Jim Woolliscroft (seen below), our medical school dean performed this task admirably for nearly a decade, just as Allen Lichter had done as our previous dean. Both were great leaders, colleagues, physicians, and educators. They have my greatest admiration for their work in guiding the UMMS through challenging times. Marschall Runge is amply up to the task for our next big steps as an academic health care enterprise in the new combined role.

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The trees in the Netherlands during my recent visit had just a few patches of autumn colors, although some leaves had already changed enough to detach and fall.

Hague tree

[Above: tree with patch of yellow. Below: early leaves on the ground near Binnenhof]

Hague leaves

From the air as I left the Netherlands the long-lasting and combined effects of those primeval cellular meals of chloroplasts and mitochondria were in full display on the ground below. The green landscape is an obvious credit to the chloroplasts, however the fact that a large percentage of the land, although actually below sea level, is now dry land must be attributed to mitochondrial life forms, especially ours. Thanks to human ingenuity and industry 17% of the Netherlands surface area has been reclaimed from the sea and only 50% of the country’s land is over a meter above sea level. Out of my view from the air and during my brief visit to Holland was the immediate staggering refugee crisis, in Europe below and the world at large. A recent JAMA viewpoint from the UN High Commissioner’s Office on the state of the world’s refugees is worth reading [Spiegel. JAMA 314:445] The UN Refugee Agency counts 60 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at this date and half of them are children. This situation must be charged to the mitochondrial side of the Earth’s ledger and those sorry stories of our failures as a species continue to reshape the planet.

Syrian toddler

[Syrian toddler – heartbreaking picture from last month’s news compelling our attention or detachment]

 

Postscript. It’s been a busy month academically and just last week I had the honor of being the Lloyd Visiting Professor in Portland, Oregon as a guest of Steve Skoog, John Barry, and Chris Amling. It is a great, storied department and excellent residents presented complex cases. I was mercifully given most of Friday morning off, allowing me to watch the televised visit of Pope Francis to the September 11 Memorial in NYC. The interfaith prayer service was remarkable with its rich array of colors and beliefs, connected by a shared overarching faith in mankind. The Pope’s presence and his comments offer inspiring counterbalance to the sobering image above and destruction memorialized at the Twin Towers sites. The multicultural colors assembled at that prayer service, symbolizing the rich potential of mitochondrial life and humankind, are the most impressive colors of this autumn.

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Thanks for reading What’s New, a posting from the University of Michigan Department of Urology, and Matula Thoughts, its blog version (matulathoughts.org). More on the department can also be found at: medicine.umich.edu/dept/urology.

David A. Bloom

Matula Thoughts September 4, 2015

DAB What’s New/Matula Thoughts September 4, 2015

 

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Labor & laborers: “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a society work, a civilization work.” Vince Lombardi

[This monthly email to faculty, residents, staff, alumni, and friends of the University of Michigan Medical School Department of Urology is alternatively published as an email called What’s New]

3914 words

 1.    September returns a serious tone to the calendar and recent world market volatility adds to the sobriety. With vacations over we buckle down to the work of a new academic year in our evolving academic medical center. The fiscal year has already been in play for 2 months and the numbers look good so far.

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Our Faculty Group Practice, now known as the UMMG (UM Medical Group), is figuring out how to deliver the best care we can in nearly 150 Ambulatory Care Units attuned  to our other missions (education and research), to our inpatient functions, and to the needs of our environment. The UMMG Board meets monthly and delegates operational details to 4 key committees (Executive Committee, Budget & Finance Committee, Clinical Practice Committee, and the Bylaws Committee). [Picture above: David Spahlinger our Executive Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs and Director of the UMMG with Philippe Sammour, Senior Project Manager UMMG. Picture below: UMMG Board of Directors – August 2015]

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The UMMG is a multispecialty group practice of more than 2000 faculty with many other providers and staff in well over a hundred specialties and areas of precisely detailed expertise. The coordination of all these practices among our clinical departments and within our health system at Michigan is a work in progress – and the progress is good. As large as we are, however, we are too small to fulfill the expectations of the patient population we serve today and too small for our research and educational aspirations for tomorrow. Given a steady increase in clinical volume of 6% a year for many years, without infrastructure growth to match, we find ourselves deficient today in terms of clinic facilities, hospital beds, operating rooms (12 short by recent analysis of our daily needs), faculty (at least 250 FTEs short for today’s clinical volume), faculty offices (550 too few today), etc. We also fear that we may be too small to matter in the grand scheme of health care as it is evolving nationally in the face of the Affordable Care Act and the consolidation of networks. In spite of all these problems we are still pretty good compared to our peer institutions as things stand, although modest impending changes in our health system structure and governance will likely bring us much closer to realizing our potential as an unsurpassed integrated health care system and academic medical center – an effective team, a leader, and one of the few truly best. At the University of Michigan we often refer back to our great coach, Bo Schembechler, for his inspiring phrases, notably: “The team, the team, the team.” A fellow great coach, Vince Lombardi who died 45 years ago as of yesterday, echoed some of the ideas of Adam Smith the lead quote this month.

2.     September began last Tuesday and meteorological autumn in the Northern Hemisphere starts this month. Farmers traditionally begin the harvest, schools come into session, and the workday, as we noted, becomes a little more serious. Labor Day anticipates the seasonal transition and brings to mind Adam Smith who famously observed (with the examples of the butcher, the brewer, and the baker) that civilization requires specialization of work, although two millennia earlier Hippocrates made a similar recognition that medical practice requires specialization. In the Hippocratic world that first particular brand of work happened to be urology, manifested back then as lithotomy – the cutting for (bladder) stone. Were Hippocrates to visit us today at UMMG in a time machine, the only specialty he would recognize out of the hundred plus areas of practice would be urology – the single specialty he deferred to “specialists of that art.” The knowhow involved with cystolithotomy was rightly described as an art, just as the practice of medicine today is often still called an art. Artists go even further back in time: cave-dwelling paintings, long before Hippocrates, prove visual artists were among the earliest branches of the human labor force.

 

3.    Sept Heures

We previously have commented on the beautiful monthly panels illustrated by the Limbourg brothers in a book of prayers called The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Brothers Herman, Paul, and Johan were Dutch miniature painters from the city of Nijmegen active in early 15th century in Europe. Like Diego Rivera, closer to our time, the brothers travelled to the best sponsors who could commission their art. In 1416 the artists and the Duke of Berry died abruptly (likely from a plague pandemic) and their ambitious Très Riches Heures was completed by others. The September panel, shown above, features a harvest with 5 people picking grapes, while a man and pregnant woman seem to be supervising (the managers?). The grapes are placed in baskets, transferred to mules, then moved to oxen carts. Presumably the actual wine-making processes took place within the castle walls along with other trades and crafts. A fair degree of work specialization was evident at the Castle of Saumur there in the France’s Anjou wine region. Worker productivity was of immediate concern to the Duke or whoever was in charge of the castle, with carrot and stick as the time-honored means of motivation.

 Feb 1848

[February Revolution in Paris at l’Hôtel de Ville. HFE Philippoteaux at Carnavalet Museum]

It was over 500 years later in France before the rights of workers achieved their due attention. The head rolling of the French Revolution was evidence of the disequilibrium between workers and those in charge of them, but it was not until 1864 that French workers obtained a legislated right to strike and in 1866 the right to organize. Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of his namesake, was the force behind these workers’ rights. His big moment had come in 1848 when the February French Revolution (an aftershock of the big one in 1789) allowed him to change places in exile in England with the deposed King Louis Philippe who had lost the trust of the citizens. Louis-Napoleon then became France’s first president by popular vote in February, 1848. When his term of office ended in 1852 and he found a second term blocked by the Constitution and Parliament, Louis-Napoleon conveniently organized a coup d’etait, re-naming himself Napoleon III and reigning as Emperor until 1870 (coincidentally wrapping up that term on this calendar day – September 4).

Napoleon III

[Napoleon III by A. Cabanet. At Musée du Second Empire. Compiègne]

 

 4.     In the heyday of industrialization some types of work were especially dangerous and abusive, although workers had little recourse to ask for safe conditions or fairness. Labor unions arose to occupy the need to balance the worker and employer disequilibrium. Labor Day, to be celebrated next Monday, is a marker for this necessary balance. Forward-looking businesses today embrace the belief that workers themselves are the best source of workplace knowledge and have the best motivation to make better products, with greater efficiency and greater satisfaction for critical stakeholders. This idea is intrinsic to lean process systems that represent the newest evolutionary step in the human labor force. Enlightened leaders have come to realize that the health and happiness of workers are linked to productivity, but more importantly are human rights as well.

Unionization of dangerous occupations makes more sense than unionization of less risky trades – think mine workers versus postal workers – yet, work is work and few can argue that any worker can be abused by any manager or any system. The recent exposé of alleged management abuse of workers at Amazon illustrates this point. Nonetheless, unionization of white collar cognitive professions takes some explanation for, by their very nature, professions have their own intrinsic protections. When professions are commoditized, however, and their members believe themselves treated poorly, unionization becomes a rational step. Unionization of professions might not be necessary in a perfect world, but this world is far from perfect. The Eastern Michigan University faculty are unionized, for example, while the University of Michigan faculty are not. While I am no authority on the EMU story, that particular unionization was likely a direct result of faculty grievances against past administrations. At the University of Michigan, though, the nurses, houses officers, many hospital employees, graduate students, and lecturers are represented by unions. The bottom line is the old story that power has a corruptive tendency and a just equilibrium must exist between labor and management.

EMU AAUP

[Ann Arbor News, August 12, 2015. The 690 EMU AAUP Professors reach a tentative agreement for annual 2.5% raises, changes in health care payments, administrative support, and research incentives]

Administrators and leaders can become self-important and smug (urology chairs are not immune). In the words of the respected Stanford business professor, Robert I. Sutton, some managers are worse than jerks, if you accept the use of his term in his book title.

Sutton RI

[Sutton RI, The No Asshole Rule. 2007 ]

 

5.     All people, governed or managed, need to believe that they are being treated fairly and that their voices are taken seriously by leadership. No employee can expect to agree with all organizational decisions, but an overall sense of fairness and responsiveness to individual opinion must pertain. Fairness is a fundamental human belief, evident too in many of our fellow primates plus some other mammals, but unique for humans among the eusocial species (bees, ants, etc.), as mentioned here last month in regard to E.O. Wilson’s work. Beliefs and language govern us with greater sophistication than the governance by pheromones and patterned behaviors of the other eusocials. We shouldn’t disparage pheromones, however, as they provide colonies the ability to react to observations of its individual members monitoring the challenges and opportunities of the environment. In this way the colony becomes a superorganism. We humans have infinitely greater communication tools to govern and regulate ourselves using facial expressions, noise, language, audible conversations, writing, music, visual art, customs, manners, beliefs, laws, and other ways of conveying information. When the public shares a general perception of fairness, civil harmony is likely to pertain, if not hell can break out. Just as corrosive to society as abusive work, perhaps even worse, is the inability to find work. A few weeks ago I heard the author Walter Mosley being interviewed on NPR by Renee Montagne about his experiences as a 12-year old boy in Watts during the riots of 1965, just 50 years ago. Mosley said, simply: “You could feel the rage”  – a statement capturing the raw emotion that exploded on the streets after a young man was arrested for drunk driving. [NPR. Morning Edition. Renee Montagne: Walter Mosley remembers the Watts Riots. August 13, 2015] Ten years after the riots I rotated from UCLA to Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital in Watts and the effects of the riots were still present physically on the streets and emotionally among the people. My time at MLK was personally and educationally a good experience, I liked the hospital and its gritty esprit d’corps. It was quite a contrast to UCLA’s upscale Westwood campus. The full time staff at MLK felt a part of the community, where the daily struggles were still too often very raw. I didn’t fully understand the rawness then. A new book, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates however, brings one closer.

 

6.     The first French Revolution of 1789-99 was not the only time in history when it people’s opinions mattered and we see evidence of the power of public opinion again and again. Wise political leaders, administrators, and managers understand that protests, strikes, riots, civil disobedience, or revolutions are unfortunate recourses when public opinion and leadership clash. Political lobbying, referendums, and orderly change of representational governance are more civilized, kinder, and less wasteful. Opinion surveys are another tool to understand stakeholders, with the first documented opinion poll occurring in 1824 when a Pennsylvania “straw poll” found Andrew Jackson leading John Quincy Adams 335 to 169 in the presidential race. Jacksonian democrats thought they had the election in the bag.

John Quincy Adams

[JQ Adams’ daguerreotype c. 1840s; Smithsonian Archives. Although Jackson had more popular votes and expected to win, Adams, a great statesman and politician, gained the support of Henry Clay to win the presidency, serving from 1825 to 1829, when Jackson finally gained the position]

A straw poll is a figure of speech referring to a thin plant stalk held up to the wind of public opinion to see which way it is blowing. George Gallup in Iowa in 1936 added science and statistics to the methodology of opinion sampling. Elmo Roper and Louis Harris entered the field of predictive polling around that time. Perhaps the darkest day for that business was the mistaken prediction of Thomas Dewey’s “defeat” of Harry S Truman in the 1948 presidential election by 5-15 percentage points. Although Gallup explained his error by noting that he concluded polling three weeks before election day, his humiliation endured, demonstrating to us once again that numbers are mere human inventions that may (or may not) approximate reality. All data must be viewed with suspicion, no numbers or numeric manipulations are sacrosanct.

 Deweytruman12

Some thoughts on surveys, but first, a disclaimer: I don’t like spending time on surveys and am quick to delete requests for them in my email. Personal bandwidth in this “age of information” is crowded and in clinical medicine the crowding is especially intense. Last winter I decided to try to list email requests for surveys consecutively over the prospective calendar year, but my effort lasted less than 3 weeks. I gave up after more than 2 dozen such well-intended requests whether from the medical school, the health system, the university, colleagues from other institutions, my professional organizations, etc. The proliferation of surveys, however, is not a bad thing, but rather a reflection of democratic society; others care what we think. Many stakeholders in our work and community want to assess their services to us and hope to discover our opinions of their contributions. The fundamental problem is not their curiosity, but rather our limited bandwidth. No one can satisfy all the requests: you must pick and choose.

 

 7.     Just about 50 years ago at this time of year, the Rolling Stones released their hit song “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards the lyrics referred to sexual frustration and commercialization.

220px-Satisfaction-us

Who would have believed that 50 years later the matter of satisfaction in health care (on the part of patients, providers, and employees) would be major matters of national attention? When I was an associate dean, Gil Omenn and Doug Strong asked me to create a faculty satisfaction survey. After a few reminders, I did this with Skip Campbell, aiming for a very brief set of less than 10 questions to assess satisfaction of the faculty regarding their work and environment. To convince faculty to fill this out we sent out a cogent personal initial request with a few reminders and provided a generous window of time. The response rate turned out quite good. Widespread dissatisfaction was discovered concerning the faculty’s ability to deliver the clinical care they deemed appropriate. This data was an important factor in shaping the transfer of ambulatory care management from the hospital administration to a “faculty group practice.” The information obtained also gave the dean an ability to assess the general “faculty temperature” and understand relative degrees of satisfaction in each department. Since then, the faculty satisfaction survey has been shaped to ascertain more granular information at specific worksites and it has grown in size and complexity. Currently at Michigan we have a number of additional  “satisfaction” surveys, but the following ones affect us most directly.

a.)     Faculty satisfaction survey. Take this one seriously – it is important to us. Variances from our past numbers or from other departmental data are  analyzed carefully by the dean, leadership, and our fellow departments.

b.)     Employee satisfaction survey. This gauges how the tens of thousands of employees in the medical school and health system view their work lives and work places. We examine the details at many levels in our administrative hierarchy. The dean also discusses this data with chairs in the yearly evaluation process.

c.)     SACUA administrators survey. This comes from the University of Michigan Faculty Senate and queries faculty about their immediate administrators (in our case, this is me) and all the others in the long line to and including the president. Medical School participation in this has generally been weak, perhaps indicating faculty sense of remoteness from the central campus.

d.)     Patient satisfaction surveys are increasingly tied to clinical re-imbursement. Initially the UM Health System used Press Ganey surveys of patient encounters. This company has a 30-year history of healthcare experience and the consistency of data was useful for year-to-year comparisons, but we are now constrained to switch to the HCAHPS (Hospital Consumers Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) survey, provided by vendors on behalf of CMS. The change disconnected us from our historic data. HCAHPS queries a random sample of patients 48 hours – 6 weeks after discharge and asks 27 questions related to their hospital experiences.

e.)     Those pesky reputation and quality surveys.  The US News and World Reports surveys not only rescued a dying newsmagazine, but also galvanized attention and resources of every major health care system and medical school in the country. How do we stand in 2015 national rankings?  Our Department of Urology is number 10 nationally.

Retreat

[Above: Urology Department Spring Retreat, realigning ourselves and listening to each other]

Our Medical School stacks up as #5 for primary care and #10 for research.  Our Hospital ranked number 10 in pediatric specialties and number 11 in adult specialties (in spite of our stubborn determination over the past 16 years to avoid joining the “nurse magnet hospital” list).

Recent “quality” ratings such as ProPublica are attracting attention. These low hanging fruits of public data commercialization to date offer incomplete information and lack meaningful context. While these products may have commercial and titillational value, on the scale of meaningful data so far they set the bar at the left end (near zero) of the Likert Scale. By the way, the originator of the Likert Scale, Rensis Likert, was a UM alumnus who died 34 years ago as of yesterday (September 3, 1981) at age 78 of bladder cancer here in Ann Arbor. He is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery, just a short walk from our offices. More on him in a future What’s New/Matula Thoughts.

 

8.     It is wonderful to see a resurgence of high quality labor in Detroit and Shinola is a premier example. Shinola shoe polish originated as a brand in 1907, was trademarked in 1929, and became popular during WWII.  Anyone who was in the military then and for a generation thereafter usually had a can of shoe polish at hand because shoes were expected to have a high shine, outside of combat conditions. A spit shine was literally obtained by spit. (When I was in the Army, however, newer permanently glossy black shoes became available and all you had to do was wipe them clean.) During WWII a colorful phrase developed around Shinola, although its author will probably remain forever unknown. The phrase compared Shinola to a bodily output usually more formed than spit, although much less acceptable in public, even at baseball games or on sidewalks. The phrase established a basic measure of intelligence as the ability to discern that aforesaid product of elimination from Shinola shoe polish. The concept was captured beautifully in a scene in the classic film, The Jerk, with Steve Martin. [The Jerk, 1979, Directed by Carl Reiner] Anyway, in 2001 a venture capital firm in Dallas, Bedrock Marketing, acquired the name Shinola and began manufacturing watches, bicycles, the shoe polish, and leather products – all made in America and usually in Detroit. The company also produces a high-quality note pad that, unlike that of most competitors, has paper that doesn’t “bleed” with fountain pen ink. The pads are made here in Ann Arbor by Edwards Brothers-Malloy. Shinola headquarters in Detroit is in an Alfred A. Taubman Building. Of course that building’s name is well represented on our University of Michigan campus and especially in the medical school. Alfred passed away last year after an extraordinary life that continues to impact us so positively on our campus.

 

9.    Shinola

In this era of expensive but disposable athletic shoes, the well-shined shoe is less common than in the first Shinola era. My old chief of surgery at UCLA, Bill Longmire, would express visible distaste for sloppiness among his house officers, and sloppy shoes were quick to catch his eyes. Army experience made me an average shoe shiner and I still keep polish and a brush in the office. When I am on the road as a “travelling salesman” on behalf of our department I generally give myself time at the airport to see Rick Jackson, a shoe professional I’ve known for 30 years. Rick is at his job daily opposite gate 47 in Detrot’s McNamara Terminal and one of his chairs is my preferred place to sit and converse while at the airport. Rick also keeps track of fellow traveller urologists, such as Mani Menon. Stop by sometime and let Rick make you look more presentable. [Below: our own Gary Faerber and Dan Hayes of Hematology Oncology with Rick]

 Rick

 

10.    Historically in the University of Michigan Health System, as well as at most other large health care systems, health care workers labored in disequilibrium with administration. All well-intended specialists in the health care labor force (physicians, nurses, managers, residents, hospital employees, researchers, administrators, unionists, etc.) pushed their agendas, but too often the ultimate agendas of patient care, education, new knowledge, and worker satisfaction were side-tracked. Full and effective faculty participation in the daily management of clinical work as well as strategic planning and deployment was an idea advanced here in the 1990s by Mark Orringer, but soundly rebuffed by the dean and hospital administration back then. The concept had legs, as it might be said, for it is a sensible Darwinian evolution and certainly in tune with the modern industrial ideas of lean process systems. The Faculty Group Practice (FGP) emerged around a decade later and has proven successful in its limited application to our ambulatory (outpatient) activities. In practice, however, the division of clinical work into ambulatory and in-patient spheres is artificial and ultimately counter-productive to our real goals of clinical excellence, safety, efficiency, ideal patient experience, education, new knowledge, and ultimate job satisfaction for all employees. With our current EVPMA, Marschall Runge, we sense new alignment of our health system structure and governance. (Marschall, by the way, is the grandson of a 1918 UMMS alumnus.) The FGP, now the University of Michigan Medical Group (UMMG), hopes to be a cornerstone in the alignment of all essential facets of our academic medical center to fulfill those elusive goals of clinical excellence and mission optimization as mentioned above. We should be able to accomplish this here at Michigan as well or better than any other place on the planet. Our history has set that precedence, our people are as good as they come, and we have, I hope, the collective will and drive to come together and get it done now that September is here.  

 Runge, Johnson

[Two UM health care laborers, a cardiologist and a gynecologist/obstetrician: Marschall Runge & Tim Johnson]

 

Best wishes, thanks for reading What’s New/Matula Thoughts and happy Labor Day.

David A. Bloom

 

Matula Thoughts August 7, 2015

Fair weather, formicidae, fables, and funambulism

3415 words

 

 1.   Brehm

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

Kayaks

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

Golf

[Michigan Stadium from Ann Arbor Golf Outing]

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

220px-The_Grasshopper_and_the_Ants

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

 

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

[EOW by DAB 2002]  

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

Tai Che 2

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

 

3.  Diego Rivera

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 7.40.50 AM

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

Pierre & Jessica

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

 

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

Orch

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Pettit

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

Cichon 2015

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

David A. Bloom, MD

Department of Urology, University of Michigan Medical School

Ann Arbor

 

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.

 Audubon

[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. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Wolverine

[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.

Linnaeus

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]

 Prager:Sarns

[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]

 Bonmie

[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