December

Matula Thoughts

December 4, 2020

Change and hope

2810 words

One.

Hope. Change and uncertainty are inevitable, but hope is the part of the human tool kit that helps people navigate life’s turbulence. Change may bring hope or horror, as imagined in the fictitious scenario (shown above) of audience response to the novelty of moving pictures in 1895 when the magic of film was an expectation beyond reasonable hope. [Above: “Panic in the Audience when Lumiere Shows his first Film.” Figure from Suddenly this Overview. Peter Fischli and Davis Weiss, Exhibit, Guggenheim Museum, April 2016.]

It is rational to hope that things will return to a semblance of normal after this “final wave” of Covid-19 disrupts workplaces and education, prolongs social isolation, and disturbs belief in science and reason. Humans rebound after bad times and new forms of creativity emerge from calamities, as seen with RNA vaccines. Still, we would do better to remember those bad times and plan for their inevitable return. [Below: Michigan Theater – mostly closed in Covid times and its big screen moving pictures sorely missed.]

Last year just around this time, our department hosted its annual Holiday Party, an event inaugurated by Jim Montie after the Urology Department emerged from a Department of Surgery division 20 years ago. As the department expanded, the get-togethers outgrew Ann Arbor venues and moved to Fox Hills Golf & Banquet Center with the help and generosity of Kathy and Mike Aznavorian. Further growth and blurred administrative boundaries over the years stretched even Fox Hills’s capacity for the UM Urology family, their children, and guests to mingle, see Santa, dine, and dance. A few of our staff put their hearts and souls into planning and deploying the event, with food, avionics for Santa, and gifts for children. When the financial uncertainty of 2008 struck, we hesitated but continued the party.  Little did we anticipate an emergent virus from the other side of the planet would break our annual run of holiday parties. Covid not only brings the monetary concern, but also precludes the social interaction and reminds us how much we miss gathering. 

[Above: Santa, Holiday Party 2013. Below: Keller and Osawa families, Holiday Party 2015.]

UM Urology has gotten so large and far-flung that hardly any of us knows everyone else – a far cry from my first days here in Ed McGuire’s Section of Urology.  With clinical and research activities of our department in at least 15 geographic locations, the challenges of communication and cultural identity are great. Families, organizations, and nations tend to grow far from their roots, straining integrity of the whole. Periodic gatherings can be forms of thanksgivings to recall roots and purpose, restore connectivity, and celebrate diversity. We hope and expect to gather again. 

 

Two.

Origins. With December here, a new year just around the corner, and the second century of urology at UM ahead, thoughts turn to the origin stories that ground our views of the world. Personal origin stories as well as organizational ones are idiosyncratic and complex – and all are rich in certainty, invention, and selective memories. The UM urology narrative, is assembling on our website. [Above: Cropsey painting of early UMMS.]

https://medicine.umich.edu/dept/urology/about-us/our-history/origin-story

Origins are never perfectly clear. The past can never be fully ascertained or known as completely as it actually happened. It can, however, be illuminated and investigated not merely out of curiosity but also to understand options for today, reinforce essential values, and prepare for the future. Our origin stories are lean in the details of the original peoples of the Americas who were displaced by explorers and colonists. Examination of origins forces us to see what’s missing, what’s right, and what’s wrong, thus giving opportunity to improve what’s lacking and what’s incorrect with ourselves and our organizations.  

Historians elicit facts, create narratives of the past, and measure it all according to values then and now so as to understand the meanings of those stories. This expansive evaluation is, at first glance, contrary to that of scientists who generally take reductionist approaches that render observations to the simplest explanations. Through methodological analysis   scientists may hope to find grander truths in general rules, laws, and theories. Health care providers, ideally, combine the story of a patient (the larger narrative of their past and present) with the facts of observation and clinical investigation.

 

Three.

Urology is a small detail in history’s medical narrative and its roots at the University of Michigan are uncertain. [Above: medieval uroscopy – man with a matula.] We have no practice logs from UM’s first genitourinary surgeons, Cyrenus Darling and Ira Loree, nor reminiscences to know what they thought of the 1902 “urology” neologism, although they chose not to adopt it. Their recollections of WWI and the Influenza Pandemic can be assumed unpleasant, but how those large events affected their daily lives, families and friends, and political responses can only be vaguely imagined. Who in their time would have thought that the “war-to-end-all-wars” would be followed so quickly by another one and who knew that the 1917 pandemic would end after a third wave in 1920? Who could have doubted that other pandemics wouldn’t follow? Most astonishingly who would dispute, today a century later, that face masks, social distancing, and rudimentary hygiene limit the spread of respiratory infections? 

The thoughts of Darling and Loree concerning their replacement in 1919 by  “Modern Urologist” Hugh Cabot were not positive and those impressions were exacerbated by his brusque manner, causing their swift departure to the welcoming St. Joseph Mercy Hospital a block away. From this disruptive transition, the UM Section of Urology was born.

No less disruptively ten years later Hugh Cabot, Medical School dean by then, was fired by the regents after losing confidence of the faculty. Reed Nesbit, Cabot’s second trainee, built the Section of Urology from 1930 through 1967, when he retired to Sacramento. Then, after an uncertain six months, Nesbit’s trainee Jack Lapides, was named successor and continued the clinical, educational, and research missions of the Section of Urology from 1968 to 1983. Like Nesbit, Lapides trained a great cohort of urologists of all types, including a great string of pediatric urologists: Norm Hodgson (Nesbit 1958), Tomohiko Koyanagi (N’70 – see Postscript), Ed Tank (N’71), Steve Koff (N’75), Evan Kass (N’76), and Barry Kogan (N’81). Still under the administrative management of the Surgery Department, UM Urology gained Ed McGuire (trained at Yale by Bernie Lytton) as Section Head.  This transition, too, caused disruption, with the loss of Ananias Diokno to the Beaumont system. 

The five-person Section of Urology under Ed McGuire (above) welcomed me and my family to Ann Arbor in the summer of 1984. The small section of five is now the large Department of Urology of 50 full-time faculty led by Ganesh Palapattu. Our academic space, initially on the fifth floor bridge between the old Mott and old Main University Hospital, moved to the second floor Taubman Building when it opened in 1986, and then the third floor of Taubman in Jim Montie’s early years as Urology Chief. That space underwent a well-needed facelift this autumn. Although this is the administrative hub of the department, our faculty have offices in the Cancer Center, North Ingalls Building (the old St. Joes Hospital), North Campus Research Complex (our Dow Division of Health Services Research in the old Pfizer Research campus), Muskegon’s West Shore Urology, and clinical and surgical activities at more than a dozen other sites.

 

[Above: Taubman Administrative Urology. Sept. 15, 2020. Below: September 30, 2020.]

The challenges of this Covid year are not over, as we yearn for a return to social proximity and in-person conferences. The postponement of the yearly Nesbit Alumni Meeting, along with other regular medical and scientific sessions was disappointing, but not unprecedented. The AUA, for example, also cancelled this year as well as in 1918, 1919, 1943, and 1945.

Academic routines are changing into new normals, such as our zoom visiting professor lecture in mid-November from Jim Hu at Cornell, shown below in one of his slides. Still, we miss our conference rooms.

 

Four.  

Narratives. The writing process for the UM urology story has strengthened my admiration of others far better at that art. My career, not primarily one of writing, was directed to what Hippocrates narrowly considered “the art of lithotomy,” but grew into its surgical cousins of orchidopexy, hypospadias repair, pyeloplasty, bladder reconstruction, and other needs of modern urology.  Turning facts into authentic narratives is a different occupation and certain writers stand out: John McPhee and E.O. Wilson for nonfiction, or Kazuo Ishiguro and David Mitchell for fictional story-telling. McPhee at age 89 continues to weave artful narratives of fact and people, while Wilson at 91 explains science with clarity and grace. Mitchell at 51 creates tapestries of fact and imagination, crossing fictional genres. Nobelist Ishiguro, at 65, writes novels that explore the uncertainty of memory and its deceptions. The authenticity of great fiction is a mirror to reality; as the Good Lord Bird miniseries proclaims: “All of this is true, most of it happened.” 

Our parochial story, The First Century of Urology at UM, is an accounting of real people and events that built a small specialty in a great public university amidst the contexts of its times, providing and creating state-of-the-art clinical care (such as it was), generating new ideas, educating successors, and leading colleagues.

We were fairly certain of the sequence of Nesbit’s early trainees and associates in our Origin Story of Urology at UM, but new information kept popping up. For example, Susan Dorr Goold, daughter of our recently deceased colleague Dick Dorr (Nesbit 1968), gave me pictures from her dad’s office but the identity of one drew a blank. Skip Campbell and Mac Whitehouse identified the photo as Rigdon “Rod” Ratliff, (Transylvania College A.B. 1924, UMMS 1929) who practiced urology at St. Joe’s. In medical school Ratliff became interested in surgery and urology under Cabot and Coller, and was likely influenced by Huggins and Nesbit – trainees and later junior staff under Cabot. With his MD in hand, Ratliff went across the street for internship at St. Joe’s and fell under the influence of Ira D. Loree, the UM genitourinary surgeon displaced nearly a decade earlier by Cabot. The cataclysmic stock market crash a few months into internship undoubtedly shaped Ratliff’s career plans and he remained at St. Joe’s in practice with Loree, the early years serving as a de facto residency in urology.  

By 1935 Ratliff was considered a legitimate urologist and Nesbit appointed him “Instructor in Urology” without salary. Loree died on August 11, 1936 and Ratliff took over his practice, revising his UM title in 1938 to “Part-time Instructor,” allowing more time for St. Joe’s practice. Ratliff maintained this title until 1946. Curiously, Ratliff didn’t join the AUA until 1946, his application endorsed by Nesbit and Robert Breakey, a Lansing urologist.  Ratliff continued to teach students and interns, and one of them, Tom Newman (Nesbit alumnus 1974 – now retired in Tucson), recalls Ratliff teaching him the “Water sink window test.”

Ratliff (above) collected urine samples in clear specimen bottles (modern matulas) before cystoscopy, holding them up to the window by the sink in the cystoscopy suite and if clear to daylight he poured the urine into the sink and completed the cystoscopy. Only if turbid, would he send the specimen for urinalysis, culture, and sensitivity.  At University Hospital, however, Newman discovered a very different approach; Lapides insisted on routinely spinning the urine and staining it with methylene blue before examination under the microscope and then dipstick urinalysis, with culture and sensitivity, if necessary. One approach was practical and cost effective, the other was richly academic. Newman fondly recalls Rigdon as a quiet gentleman. Clearly, Dick Dorr shared that admiration. Ratliff retired in December, 1973, according to the AUA files (found for us by Tupper Stevens) transitioning his AUA status from active member at $75 per year to senior member at $15. At home on 231 Corrie Road in Barton Hills, Ratliff died of a heart attack January 29, 1977. He was the last link between Hugh Cabot’s era and ours. 

 

Five.

The uncertainty of history. This turbulent political season, a friend referred me to the recent book, American Dialogue, by American historian, Joseph Ellis, who explained a central irony in his field.

“There is an inconvenient truth that most historians acknowledge under their breath, admitting that objectivity, in the sense that mathematicians or physicists, use the term, is not a realistic goal for historians. The best they can strive for is some measure of detachment, which serves the useful purpose of stigmatizing the most flagrant forms of ideological prejudice (i.e. cherry-picking the evidence to claim that Thomas Jefferson was an ideological Christian or Andrew Jackson was a New Deal Democrat). But as you believe that the study of history is an ongoing conversation between past and present, detachment itself is delusional. In his Style in History (1974) Peter Gay put the point succinctly: ‘History is always unfinished in the sense that the future always uses the past in new ways.’ In fact, the past is not history, but a much vaster region of the dead, gone, unknowable or forgotten. History is what we choose to remember, and we have no alternative but to do our choosing now.”  [Ellis, American Dialogue, 1918. p. 7.] 

Certitude, whether moral, intellectual, or political, is a tricky matter as reflected in this column last month when we tried to make a case for an enlightened Certainty 2.0 that allows one to retain some degree of uncertainty to allow for “I’m not so sure” and keep asking questions. Perhaps H.L. Mencken overstated the matter when he claimed that moral certainty should occupy a low rung in the ladder of human intellect, but he had a fair point.  

The moral certitude of John Brown, in song, epic poem, or current Showtime series, The Good Lord Bird, epitomizes the smugness of Certainty 1.0.  Timothy McVeigh’s ideological certainty terrorized Oklahoma City in 1995, striking against the Federal government by bombing a federal building, killing 168 people and injuring more than 680 others. Similarly, Ted Kaczynski (UM Mathematics Ph.D. 1967), certain that industrial-technological society was subjugating mankind and destroying the planet, responded by sending bombs to university faculty and airlines in 1978, to “get back at the system.” He wreaked havoc on the lives of random people who represented modern society or happened to be in the way of the bomb.  This campaign precipitated a long FBI investigation that ended with arrest in 1996 (see Wikipedia). Religious certitude (perhaps a form of ideological certainty) fueled the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. 

Self-serving certitude, another broad form of certainty, is that of psychopaths who justify their actions by personal convenience, often framed by occupation or paycheck, as mentioned here last month, with attribution to H.L. Mencken, Lewis Sinclair, C.E. M. Joad, and others: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Closely related is political certitude, as in recent seasons has tested the flexibility of the American Experiment.

Immaculate Misconceptions, the title of a section of the Law chapter in Ellis’s book  includes two extraordinary quotes relevant to certitude and to stimulate your uncertainty as a reader we defer their sources to the postscript.

Source A. “When a case comes to me, I don’t do whatever I feel like doing, I have a standard. That standard is what would the people at the time the Constitution was enacted have said.”   

Source B. “Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them, like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. … We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”  

These ideas relate to the question of the role of originalism or textualism in law. Adjudication of today’s uncertainties according to the exact words of a set of historic bylaws might be considered a cop-out, relieving decision-makers of consideration of contemporary complexities and values. One expects that was not Scalia’s intent in his heart of hearts, but rather his starting point to consideration of legal questions. We surely hope our judges and wise leaders struggle intellectually with uncertainty to arrive at a Certainty 2.0 in their consequential decisions.  

 

Postscript.

Sources. A. Antonin Scalia, speech at the University of Fribourg, March 8, 2008.  B. Thomas Jefferson to Simon Kercheval, July 12, 1816.  [J. Ellis, American Dialogue, The Founders and Us. Vintage Press, NY, 2018. p. 151.]

The Good Lord Bird, is a 2014 book by James McBride on John Brown and its Showtime dramatic series offers an ironic introductory quote, “All of this is true, most of it happened.” This complements Don Coffey’s enduring admonition to his research students to try to understand the difference between facts and true facts, reminding how certainty is tenuous but some things are deeply true to us.

Congratulations. The Japanese Government recently awarded Tomohiko Koyanagi The Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon in recognition of outstanding contributions to medical education and research. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_the_Sacred_Treasure

[Above: Tom Koyanagi. Below: Order of Sacred Treasure.]

Thanks for reading Matula Thoughts this December, 2020.

David A. Bloom, University of Michigan Department of Urology

 

Autumn leaves and certitude

Matula Thoughts 6 November 2020
4129 words



One.

Autumn leaves and Nobel Prizes normally highlight this season, although Covid, climate, and a consequential national election dominated our attention this year. The award in Medicine or Physiology last month, however, went for discoveries relating to the hepatitis C virus.

That curious terminology of medicine or physiology is a historic reminder how science was disrupting health care when the Nobel awards began in 1901. A new certainty of physiology and other scientific disciplines, explaining the basis of normal biological function and disease back then, is now widely accepted in the 21st century, although we realize that the optimal practice of medicine in addition to its scientific basis also requires art and humanism. [Above: autumn leaves, Ann Arbor westside, 2020. Below: Nobel Prize medal.]

Politics are also in the air this month, even more unpleasantly than usual, and the Nobel awards are no less political than other human enterprises. Conflicts over these prizes have involved nearly all fields including that of Medicine or Physiology. The 1923 prize to Frederick Banting and John Macleod for the discovery of insulin outrageously excluded Charles Best and James Collip. Honorably, the two named prizewinners independently split their monetary shares with Best and Collip. No award was presented in 1925; the two main contenders, Johannes Fibiger and Katsusaburo Yamagiwa, had been proposed separately as the first to induce cancer in laboratory animals, but both were branded “undeserving” with great certainty by a key member of the award committee. Fibiger had used a roundworm he called Spiroptera carcinoma (Gongylonema neoplasticum) to cause stomach cancer in rats and Yamagiwa used coal tar to create cancer on rabbit ears. After further deliberation the following year, the prize went to Fibiger, although in durable fact Yamagiwa’s work was by far the better proof of principle of chemical carcinogenesis. Nonetheless, Fibiger was the first to get this Nobel Prize for work related to cancer. The second time this happened was in 1966 when Reed Nesbit’s first urology trainee, Charles Huggins, shared the award with Peyton Rous.

The Nobel Foundation offended Adolf Hitler when it awarded the Peace Prize in 1935 to Carl von Ossietzky, the journalist who exposed the clandestine German rearmament, illegal according to the Treaty of Versailles. von Ossietzky, a Roman Catholic, had been detained and beaten in German prisons and concentration camps since February, 1933, and was hospitalized with tuberculosis when the award was announced. Hermann Göring ordered von Ossietzky to refuse the award and the Nazi regime prevented travel to Stockholm but, in an act of civil disobedience, von Ossietzky issued a note accepting the Peace Prize. The ugly politics caused two committee members to resign and Norwegian King Haakon VII dodged the ceremony, even though the recipient could not attend. von Ossietzky died in 1938 while hospitalized under Gestapo surveillance.

In February 1953 Watson and Crick assembled an accurate model of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Rosalind Franklin’s x-ray diffraction images, shown to Watson by Wilkins, provided the “eureka moment” in which the double helix configuration was realized. Watson and Crick were recognized for this with a Nobel Prize in 1962, that they shared with Wilkins. Franklin, however, having died of ovarian cancer in 1958, never learned of her role in the breakthrough and, by virtue of the rules of the Nobel Prize, was ineligible because she was no longer living.


Two.

[Above: Newton, by William Blake, 1805. Tate Museum.]

Certainty 1.0. Craving certainty, we derived it for most of human history from personal observations, beliefs, and the authorities of the times. A Matula Thoughts correspondent from Georgia raised the matter of moral certainty last month, quoting H.L. Mencken on the issue:

“Moral certainty is always a matter of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on ‘I am not too sure.’” [Minority Report: H.L. Mencken’s Notebooks (1956).]

Morality and certainty, historically, were inseparable for most of humanity, hardwired in cultures and written into laws of churches, states, and organizations. Morality, as a topic, is far beyond scholarly consideration of this set of essays, but certainty is a matter of keen concern in health care. Philosophers, religious leaders, royalty, politicians, have offered their versions of certainty over millennia, but certitude challenges easy universal agreement, as one’s certainty on an issue is based on one’s origin, belief system, willingness to reason, and livelihood. Mencken, Lewis Sinclair, C.E.M. Joad, and others have variably said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

From a practical perspective as a physician, certainty means belief without rational grounds for distrust. Medical practice demands that conclusions must be drawn with certainty, for example, from urine specimens whether in matulas, under microscopes, via chemical strips, or on culture plates. Urologists, as all practitioners, depend upon certainty in diagnosis and therapy, yet we cannot be absolutely certain about everything that passes under our visage. Relative certainty is a practical and essential qualification. [Below: Constantine examines urine in matulas. 11th c. Wikipedia.]

Mencken (1880-1956), influential journalist and social critic known as the Sage of Baltimore, could turn a phrase well, but he represented a peculiar elitism and exceptionalism of the first half of the American 20th century. Self-assured in his certainty, he often was acerbic and dismissive to those he perceived as lesser intellect or “lower caste,” although he didn’t use that terminology. Mencken was contemptuous of Franklin Roosevelt, argued against the New Deal, objected to U.S. participation in WWII, and harbored admiration for the Nazi regime. Ayn Rand was one of his great admirers, but other influential voices were critical. Christopher Hitchens later offered a scathing opinion of Mencken in a book review.

“How did one of America’s seemingly great rationalists and modernists come to regard Roosevelt as more worthy of condemnation than Hitler? The answer, on the evidence of this and other studies, is that Mencken was a German nationalist, an insecure small-town petit-bourgeois, a childless hypochondriac with what seems on the evidence of these pages to have been a room temperature libido, an anti humanist as much as an atheist, a man prone to hyperbole and sensationalism he distrusted in others and not as easy with the modern world and its many temptations and diversions as he liked it to be supposed.”

Hitchens also turned his phrases well, but when he hit, he struck hard and unsparingly. [Hitchens, “A Smart Set of One,” The New York Times (17 November 2002), book review of The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken (2002) by Terry Teachout.]

Certainty, although personally comforting, closes the mind to new ideas and leads to smugness. It is irrational to expect 7 billion people to share the same certainties about all matters, short of a limited number of generally-accepted facts, such as that days follow nights, the moon has phases, eclipses occur occasionally, kindness and civility are nice, and some things such as infanticide and cannibalism are grotesque. The first rule of certainty, however, is that change is inevitable and accordingly, uncertainty rules above all.


Three.

Uncertainty. Werner Heisenberg made uncertainty respectable when his concept of indeterminacy (on a very small scale) in 1927 garnered him the 1932 Nobel Prize. Erwin Schrödinger carried the idea to the visible world in 1935 with his famous thought-experiment and paradoxical cat. [Above: Heisenberg c. 1901; Below: Schrödinger c. 1933. Wikipedia.]




[Above: Movable silhouette of Schrödinger’s fictional cat in the garden at Huttenstrasse 9, in Zurich where he once lived; visitors outside the walls cannot know the cat’s position or its direction, at any moment. Wikipedia.]

Uncertainty entered the moral dimension and popular culture, it could be argued, with Bryan Cranston’s fictional character Walter White in the Vince Gilligan television series of 2008. White, a modern-day high school chemistry teacher, is followed over five television seasons “breaking bad” into a dark world of the manufacture and distribution of 96% “pure” methamphetamine. White’s nickname Heisenberg initially conveyed his good state as a brilliant chemistry teacher, but the full irony came out when Walter turned to his dark side as a meth kingpin. [Below: Breaking Bad publicity still, Walter White.]

Mencken’s caution of self-certainty and promotion of “I’m not too sure” belied a number of other outrageous statements, defaulting to intemperate self-certainty, and forgetting his own restraint of “I’m not too sure.” Some Menckenisms reflected primal certainty that trumped morality and civility, such as “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” [Mencken, The New Poetry Movement, Chapter 6.] [Below: Jolly Roger Flag.]

Momentary reversion to the primitive pirate in everyman – casting off the morality and mores of humanity, whether in thought-experiment or actuality – can’t be blamed on Mencken. He articulated the idea well, but it hardly originated or ended with him, and homicide remains widely evident in fact and fiction; even if we do not choose to be murderous outlaws, we relish them in our entertainment.

It comes as a surprise, now, 20 years into the 21st century, to find widespread craving for authoritarian rule. Possibly, this is propelled by a growing sense of nihilism where too many people prefer the certainty of “I don’t really care except for what’s good for me” over the uncertainty of “I’m not too sure.”


Four.

Independent thought. Modern society seemed to be gravitating toward the intellectual relativism of “I’m not too sure,” although maybe that was my wishful thinking.

It is reasonable to believe that throughout human history most people prayed for relief from authoritarian subjugation by clan leaders, priests, pharaohs, princes, kings, queens, and dictators. Those few leaders dictated their personal certainties to everyone else, claiming authority derived from physical strength, bullying, divine authorization, bloodline, caste, national exceptionalism, political sectarianism, or other “isms.” Physical intimidation in authoritarian societies suppresses expression of uncertainty and even more effectively, the memes of sectarian “isms” act as ideological viruses replicating the certainty of patterned thoughts in individual minds and crowds, precluding reasoning and doubt.

People, perhaps most, chafe under authoritarian rule, although they may do so silently. The contrary meme of the pirate, openly rebuking authority of the establishment, always finds sympathy in regulated societies, even those not authoritarian and repressive. An interesting example is the island of Corsica, variably contested by many authoritarian nations over the centuries and now French, proudly displays its counter-cultural pirate symbol on flag and coat of arms. [Below: Corsican symbols of independence.]


Mental acrobatics that lead to certainty are sometimes called heuristics and, aside from crude mapping by functional MRI, the neural gymnastics at play defy our best imagination and science. It is more convenient to be told what things are certain than to be figuring them out in every step of life’s way. Our historic predecessors – early humans lacking today’s sharpened tools of logic, science, and debate – must have found comfort to be given explanations for solar eclipses, earthquakes, or monsoons by tribal leaders or village priests, rather than tremble at the uncertainty of it all.

The problem with human thinking nowadays seems to be the matter of how people deal with their sense of “I’m not too sure.” Methodological thinking, analysis of information, and fair discussion can help people understand what to be sure of, what to question, and how to decide. However, these instruments of education, science and free speech are only effective when we step outside the comfort of our particular certainties and open our minds to other opinions, information, rational debate, and experiments of thought and science. Too often, we revert to the easier dogma of our sects and certainty our leaders.

The Good Doctor, a new book by our Georgian colleague, examines the importance of uncertainty in medical practice; no good physician can be a know-it-all. On the other hand, nobody wants an ambivalent doctor who offers a list of ten possible diagnoses and ten potential remedies and tells us to choose what we prefer. [K. Brigham, M.M.E. Johns, The Good Doctor, Why Medical Uncertainty Matters. Seven Stories Press, NY, 2020.]

A relevant thought comes from professor Sarah Buss here in the UM Philosophy Department who explains to her students that they can’t gain a deeper understanding of issues they consider in class without becoming less certain where they stand on those issues: “I aim to help them gain clarity, knowing that the result will often be a loss of certainty.” Professor Buss, in turn, quotes colleague Kieran Setiya:

“The patience to ask and to keep asking questions, without the assurance of agreement or the availability of methods apt to elicit it, is the philosopher’s gift. It is an expression of intellectual hope, and the repudiation of philosophy is a counsel of despair.”

[K. Setiya. Monk Justice. London Review of Books. 42 (16), 30 Aug. 2018.]

For everyday events on the human scale, in space and time, things are usually one way or another. We are used to uncertainty in life, but we prefer predictability, whether in elections, horseracing, or surgical outcomes. In fact, we depend on some degree of certainty, even if it is the probability of knowing the odds of a specific throw of dice or hand of cards, assuming fairness of the event. Statistics for a condition or certain state within a group, however, doesn’t translate well to a particular person for whom having the condition or state is a personal possibility of “yes” or “no,” that is a 50% probably in their mental calculus.

Adjectives and numbers help arbitrate uncertainty. Even simple adjectives, as in the world of genetic diseases, may offer precision. For example, “rare” conditions are said to affect less than 62/100,000 people while “ultrarare” has come to mean fewer than 2/100,000. [J.M. Friedman et al, “Exome sequencing and clinical diagnosis,” JAMA, 324:627, 2020.] By this terminology hypospadias is not so rare (2 in 500 male births), while cloacal exstrophy is ultrarare (1 in 250,000 births). A recent zoom visiting professorship to our pediatric urology division from Katherine Hubert Chan of Riley Children’s Hospital, offered a lesson on graphics in surgical decision-making, utilizing icon arrays to demonstrate frequency of a given condition. Pictographs nicely convey a sense of likelihood or unlikelihood without the abstruse jargon of high-voltage statistical tools. [Below: an icon array.]

Five.

Certainty 2.0. At some point we humans admitted a new form of certainty into our minds, basing belief on rational argument, verifiable evidence, and experiment, rather than anecdote and authority. Paradoxically, this new certainty is based on acceptance of some uncertainty that facts and models change as we interrogate them. Nonetheless this should not allow a lazy retreat to anarchy and nihilism where nothing is held true.

Certainty is desirable in surgical practice; when treating stones, congenital malformations, or malignancies, specific identification of a problem is closely linked to beneficial solution. Yet knowledge and technologies change and yesterday’s certainty becomes today’s uncertainty, thereby reintroducing the questions, how do we know what is correct and how should we act today?

Hugh Cabot, founder of urology at Michigan and man of great certainty, took wide interest in medicine, often crossing epistemological boundaries to study and collaborate outside of his field. Working with pathologists on a paper on gastric cancer in the era of the Nobel controversy, Cabot and fellow faculty member George Adie had published their thoughts on its etiology in 1925, quoting views of their colleague, Aldred Warthin. [H. Cabot and G. C. Adie, “Etiology of Cancer of the Stomach,” Annals of Surgery 82 (1925): 86–108.] William Mayo, another physician with an Ann Arbor connection (UMMS, 1883), was also interested in the topic, writing a lead article in Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics in 1912 that discussed treatment from his point of view: “Cancer of the stomach: its surgical cure.” [SG&O, 14 (2): 115-119.] Mayo criticized lengthy diagnostic interludes that allow the disease to progress from “week to week” until by the time a practitioner has absolute certainty of the diagnosis before referring to patient to Rochester, “This is not a case for the surgeon, but for the undertaker.” Mayo concluded: “Cancer of the stomach is the most frequent and most hopeless form of cancer in the human body. Early operation affords the victim the only chance of a cure.” Time and discovery have altered the certainty of those conclusions. Ironically, gastric cancer took Mayo’s life at age 78.

The rapidly changing conditions, information, and misinformation surrounding Covid-19 have challenged medical certainty and public certainty. Political iniquity and social media mischief accelerate the uncertainty and miscertainty. Rather than dwell on this here, we offer two essential articles from NEJM, both accessible at no charge on the internet.
One editorial says it all. “Dying in a leadership vacuum,” [NEJM, 2020; 383:1479-1480.] A perspective by J.N. Rosenquist, “The stress of Bayesian medicine – uncomfortable uncertainty in the face of Covid-19.” [https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMp2018857?articleTools=true]

Postscript.

Frank Legacki, legendary Michigan Swim Team Captain of the Class of 1961, successful businessman, and friend of the University of Michigan Musical Society and Department of Urology, passed away last month on 10/16/2020, leaving his wife, Alicia Torres. [Above: Frank at Steve’s Deli, September 23, 2020.]

Born 9/28/1939, Frank grew up in a tough Philadelphia neighborhood, the oldest of eight children – six boys and two girls. His parents, of modest means, believed in education and raised the children firmly and proud of their background and opportunities. Dad, a Polish immigrant, was a carpenter. Mom, daughter of Irish immigrants, deftly managed the large family. Frank attended Father Judge High School, where by luck and hard work, joined the rudimentary swimming team his freshman year. Lacking a pool at the school, Frank and teammates trained at pools as much as 1.5 hours away. Swimming was the glue that kept him focused in high school and he became a National Catholic High School Champion and a Scholastic All-American, earning athletic scholarships at several universities. Narrowing his choices to the University of Michigan and Ohio State University, both with top Collegiate Swimming programs, Frank asked his high school coach which school to attend. The coach answered, “Probably Ohio State, Michigan is far more difficult academically and you may have problems getting through at Michigan.” Frank decided on the spot to go to Michigan. 

Education and swimming at UM shaped his life. Eligible for the team in his sophomore year, 1959, Frank became NCAA Champion in the 100-yard freestyle and anchored the winning 400-yard freestyle relay. Two weeks later at the US Open Championship (later called the National AAU Championships) he set the American record in the butterfly. Michigan’s score of 95.5 at that competition was a new record and solidified the UM 1959 Swim Team as the greatest in NCAA history. Frank and his team continued to win and set records, and he was elected captain in his senior year, receiving other honors and leadership positions outside of athletics. Frank married after graduation in 1961 and stayed in Ann Arbor for an additional year to get an M.B.A. The couple would have four daughters, divorcing after 23 years.

A business career took Frank to New York City at Ogilvy & Mather Advertising. He went on to executive positions as: Managing Director of the Strategic Consulting Group of Marketing Corporation of America; VP of Marketing for Converse Athletic Footwear; Founder and President of the Andover Consulting Group; and President of Kaepa Athletic Footwear. Frank led a buy-out of this last company and eventually sold Kaepa to Umbro Sports Apparel. During these years he returned to UM for an M.B.A., graduating in the top quarter of the class.

In the business world Frank met Alicia Torres in San Antonio in the autumn of 1993 and they became business friends and then partners. Organizing a leveraged buyout of software products, and they formed Rosebud Solutions, generating outside investments, building a skilled team, and growing the business. Their partnership became personal and they grew close, marrying in Philadelphia on August 8, 1998, and then relocating in Ann Arbor. Rosebud was acquired by McKesson, Inc. (NYSE: MCK) in 2008. Frank went on to work part-time with Fletcher Spaght, Inc., a Boston venture capital firm, eventually retiring fully.

Frank, always loyal and grateful to UM, often said: “I was born at the University of Michigan; it was here I learned how to think.” In Ann Arbor, Frank and Alicia immersed themselves deeply in university matters and the community, enlarging their network of friends and interests. Frank was recognized for his achievements by induction into the University of Michigan Hall of Honor and The Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. He stayed active with the University as President of the Grey Whales (Swim Boosters); Board of M Club Letter winners; UM Alumni Association Board; UM Urology Department Board; and Chair of the Marketing Committee of the University Musical Society. Frank was also President of the Barton Hills Maintenance Corporation. Frank and Alicia regularly attended over 20 UMS performances annually as well as School of Music Theater and Dance events. They generously supported Michigan Theater and were regular presences at UM athletic events, with season tickets for Football, Basketball, Hockey, Wrestling, Softball, and Swimming meets. Active fishermen, they cast lines in Florida and exotic locations around the world. Frank loved his time with grandchildren, Sam, Sophia, and Noah, taking them fishing, to UM events, and cooking together. The kids loved “GP Frank.”

Frank shared his rich and full years generously with friends, family, neighbors, and the University of Michigan. Alicia recounts:

“Frank had an amazing life. He gave much more than was given to him, and celebrated life like very few. He loved keeping in touch with elementary, high school, and college friends and those he met during his career and travels. Frank asked strangers about their life, where they were from and then, they too became Frank’s friends. Through his travels, Frank always carried an extra U of M cap, which he would give to people who captured his heart. When Frank entered a room, he owned it, you knew he was there, in a good way.”

Paul Legacki from Sacramento, Frank’s last living brother, was a frequent visitor to Ann Arbor in Frank’s final year. Frank anticipated his final days gracefully and with good humor, requesting his epitaph be borrowed from the last lines in Edmond Rostand’s great play, Cyrano de Bergerac. In the final scene Cyrano lies in Roxanne’s arms, mortally wounded and weakening, as he looks at Roxanne and says his final words; “They have taken my life, but they have not taken my panache.” Frank lived an active and interesting life, with extraordinary panache.

In one of the sweet coincidences of life, the lovely home of Frank and Alicia is situated exactly between those of Ananias Diokno (Nesbit 1970) and Kate Kraft (Nesbit faculty 2011), and across the street from the former home of Ed McGuire who succeeded Nesbit’s direct successor as Urology Section Chief in 1983, Jack Lapides (Nesbit 1950). Ananias and Kate’s family looked over Frank in his last days. Many of us lost an extraordinary friend when Frank died. His passing, at a young and robust 81 years of age of metastatic prostate cancer, reminds us painfully that we still have a long way to go in our work in urology.


Additional Postscripts.

The Lasker Awards were held back this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. These are awarded annually since 1945 to living persons who have made major contributions to medical science or performed public service on behalf of medicine. This year the Foundation instead highlighted the 29 awards given in the past that recognized advances in infectious diseases, the first of those going to John F. Mahoney in 1946 for treatment of syphilis with penicillin and the most recent to Douglas Lowy and John Schiller for vaccination to prevent HPV in 2017. [J.L. Goldstein, JAMA September 25, 2020.]. My bet for a 2021 Lasker Award will be on Anthony Fauci for his tireless and courageous representation of scientific truth in the public interest in turbulent times.

Apocryphal Keynes quotations: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?” or “When someone persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?” Variants of these have been attributed to redoubtable British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883 -1946), but no direct sourcing has been found. Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson and others alluded to versions of the remark, long after Keynes died. Whatever actual the source, it is an enlightened human idea.

True fact. Face masks diminish respiratory germ transmission by respiratory droplets. This is certain and has been clear to every surgeon, nurse, and OR worker on the planet for well over a century. Argument on this point is futile and malintented.

[Above: Justin Dimick and Hari Nathan, UM Surgery Department. Below: Aditya Pandey & Paul Park UM Neurosurgery Department.]

Thanks for looking at Matula Thoughts this November, 2020.
David A. Bloom
Department of Urology, University of Michigan

Back on the road to contagious hospitals

Matula Thoughts 1 May 2020
2430 words


Back on the road to contagious hospitals

“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”
Mason Cooley, American aphorist, 1927-2002.


[UH & UMMS Early spring 2020 on the road from old AA train station to main campus of Michigan Medicine.]

One.

Back on the road. May is usually a sweet spot in the calendar, but not so sweet around the world this year. Some random mistakes in the RNA sequences of a single common virus created a new version that has wrecked worldwide havoc on health, hospitals, and economies. Normally in May, memories and anticipations run strong, for it is a particularly sensual time of the year when colors, smells, tastes, sounds, seem to have especially bright notes after winter dormancy has lifted in the northern hemisphere. That sense of memory and anticipation is reflected in William Carlos Williams’s curious piece, Spring and All [By the road to the contagious hospital], written by the New Jersey physician and published in 1923. The title has long intrigued me and the content continues to puzzle me. Williams was a doctor in New Jersey, who wrote in his spare time. He was an excellent physician, my friend Joan Chiaviello Flanigan recalls from his care for her family when she was a child.

The odd free verse poem of Williams is deliberately mal-organized into 27 sections (identified by Roman enumeration I through XXVII, minus the missing number VII), with random prose interludes of commentary, “chapters,” and unidentified “footnotes” interspersed throughout it. An upside-down Chapter XIII follows a normally-oriented Chapter 19 in the unspecified introduction to the poem. Most verbal images precede spring and are neither attractive or cheering. Spring and All, both poem and its world, is very much upside down and disordered, until XXII and the Red Wheel Barrow that helps set things right. [Below: the confusing “Chapter XIII.”]

 

Little did we expect, just a year ago writing here about Williams, that we would actually be back on the road to contagious hospitals this May in 2020. Luckily, the Michigan Medicine field hospital at the athletic complex did not require deployment several weeks ago because social distancing and personal hygiene flattened our covid19 curve enough to preclude the new contagious hospital in Ann Arbor – at least for now. Given the widely disseminated knowledge of historians and scientists, it is incredible that we were surprised (again) by a terrible infectious pandemic.

Two.

Contagious diseases worried the University of Michigan Medical School in 1897 when it converted a small laundry shack behind the Homeopathic Hospital into a Contagious Ward for diphtheria, smallpox, and scarlet fever, diseases barely mentioned in medical schools today. In 1914 the city of Ann Arbor, still recalling a 1908 smallpox epidemic, gave the university $25,000 for a new Contagious Disease Hospital with 24-beds in an isolated area, well to the east of the larger hospital grouping. The civic contribution was as much a matter of self-protection than generous philanthropy, although the two attitudes are not unrelated, for philanthropy after all is a self-protective attribute of humanity at the species level. [Below: Michigan’s Contagious Hospital 100 years ago. Bentley Library.]

Williams wrote Spring and All [By the road to the contagious hospital] at an exuberant time for the University of Michigan and its Medical School. Urologist Hugh Cabot, recently appointed dean (in 1921), was building a great medical faculty and new hospital. Michigan’s  contagious hospital of that time is now long gone and the idea of contagious hospitals had all but disappeared in Ann Arbor and around the world, until this past winter. Some modern hospitals, such as our new Mott Children’s Hospital have been built for contingencies of terrible new epidemic possibilities such as SARS and Ebola, as well as resurgences of ancient ones like measles – perplexing and only understandable because of persistent human folly. Contagious hospitals revived in Wuhan and Manhattan this winter, although they seem to be more contagious dormitories rather than hospitals as we now think of them.

Three.

A May birthday. One birthday to recall this month is that of Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin, born on 12 May 1910 in Cairo, Egypt. I first became interested in Hodgkin when I saw a painting of her at the National Portrait Museum in London, last winter during a visit for the wedding of the daughter of my good friends from our training years in London, Robert and Anita Morgan. The painting was prominently displayed and instantly attractive, but a mistake in the label next to it caught my attention.

Dorothy was the oldest of three daughters of John Winter Crowfoot, a civil servant in the Ministry of Education, and his wife Grace Mary Hood. Living and working in Egypt for many years, the family returned to their native England each summer in the hot months and during one of those summers WWI began. In that August of 1914 the parents left their girls with paternal grandparents near Worthing to return to Egypt, where father could continue work.

After the war, the reunited Crowfoots relocated to Sudan where Mr. Crowfoot was put in charge of national education and archeology, until 1926. The girls attended local schools in Sudan and Dorothy became fascinated by archeology and the mosaic tiles in Byzantine-era churches. She also developed an interest in chemistry and her mother, a botanist, gave her a book on x-ray crystallography for her 16th birthday. Dorothy combined her interests by drawing pictures of mosaic patterns and doing chemical analyses of the tile cubes, called tessera. At age 18 she returned to England to study chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford, and received first-class honors in 1932, proceeding then to Newnham College, Cambridge for Ph.D. studies.

Dorothy worked with John Desmond Bernal on applications of x-ray crystallography to protein analytics and their work on the structure of pepsin turned out to be the first biological crystallographic analysis. Dorothy obtained her Ph.D. in 1937 for work on sterol structure and she held a post as Oxford’s first fellow and tutor in chemistry until 1977. In 1964 Hodgkin won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. [Below: Hodgkin’s model of penicillin. Science Museum London, Science and Society Picture Library.]

Molecular model of Penicillin by Dorothy Hodgkin, c.1945.

One of her students, a young woman named Margaret Roberts at Oxford from 1943 through 1947, wrote a dissertation on the x-ray diffraction of the antibiotic gramicidin that led to a good job in industrial chemistry but Roberts turned to politics around 1950, married Dennis Thatcher in 1951, and qualified as a barrister in 1953. In 1959, then Margaret Thatcher, she was elected member of Parliament, rising to Prime Minister in 1979. In her office at 10 Downing Street Thatcher displayed a portrait of her former teacher. Hodgkin, however, was a life-long supporter of the Labour Party. [Below: Hodgkin legend with corrected name of artist. National Portrait Gallery London, December, 2019.]


The mistake that caught my eye at the National Portrait Gallery was in the adjacent description of painting and artist, Maggi Hambling, where her first name was written “Maggie,” but someone (I’d imagined it might have been the offended artist herself) crossed out the final “e” with what seemed to be a pencil. No matter, the museum is now closed down for a lengthy renovation and time will likely heal this minor error.

Four.

Among the many innovative changes Ganesh Palapattu has brought to the Department of Urology is the broadening of the weekly grand rounds conferences to periodic wider learning experiences that extend beyond world of urology, that he calls “Teach us something.” A session of this nature in late February featured Professor James Kibbie, Chair of the University of Michigan Organ Department who taught us something in the School of Public Health (SPH) where one of the 16 pipe organs of the University of Michigan temporarily resides. In late February Professor Kibbie spoke on “Bach and the Organ,” and treated our faculty and residents to three beautiful pieces (played on the James Walgreen Létourneau Organ on loan to the SPH) from the 270 surviving organ compositions of Bach. [Above: Professor Kibbie at urology grand rounds.]

Kibbie has been collaborating with computational faculty to understand the science behind Bach’s music and a recent grant from Barbara Sloat allowed him to record all of the Bach organ works, all 270 pieces, performing them on instruments of Bach’s era located mainly in Germany. These works are available to the public through the University of Michigan. [From Prof. Kibbie: “If you want to add the URL for the university’s website with the free downloads of my Bach recordings, it’s http://www.blockmrecords.org/bach.”%5D


[Above: Kibbie, Vesna Ivanĉić, Sam Kaffenberger.]
The pipe organ, complex and large, manipulates forced air through many ingenious pipes. Mistakes are inevitable in all spontaneous performances and Professor Kibbie explained how organ recitals are particularly susceptible, having three keyboards, multiple stops, layers of foot pedals, hundreds or more pipes, and up to 100,000 parts. Paired with the human factor, pipe organs offer countless opportunities for performance variations and transcription errors. Of course, Professor Kibbie’s ear can register musical mistakes that fly by most of us with untrained attention.

Everyone makes mistakes from the moment they arise in the morning, whether squeezing out too much or too little toothpaste, rolling through a stop sign on the way to work, or parking too close to an adjacent car – the possibilities are myriad although most are inconsequential. Error is something we understand in clinical work. Medical mistakes may be transcribing errors when writing (now, typing) patient stories, missing veins on blood draws, or making erroneous clinical decisions. To err is human, to err consequentially is unfortunate.

Algorithms promise perfection, if we are naïve enough to forget that they are written by humans. Whereas a piano played spontaneously offers novel idiosyncratic momentary interpretations, innovations, or mistakes that combine to make each performance unique – and mistakes are nearly inevitable –  a programmed piano (player piano) is free of performance interpretation and variation. The standardization (assumed to be error-free, but any algorithm is only as good as its author) brings freedom from the anxiety and art of human performance.



Five.

A scarlet tanager showed up in our old neighborhood last May around this time. My neighbor, Mike Hommel, called to alert me one Friday afternoon when I was indoors on the computer working on the Urology Department history. Mike is a great naturalist who can spot morels on the ground and birds in the trees better than anyone I know and that day, specifically 10 May 2019, he spotted this little fellow, tired and resting after a long flight from somewhere in the south. The splash of color is amazing and has served its evolutionary purposes well. This little guy was not too concerned by our attention as it shifted trees periodically and hopped to the ground to feed from time-to-time.

Had William Carlos Williams spotted a scarlet tanager on his road to the contagious hospital, the poem would probably have been much different. (Such are the contingencies of life.) Piranga olivacea used to be categorized in the bird family Thraupidae within the Passeriformes family (the perching birds with one backward and three forward toes) but DNA studies have reclassified them to the cardinal family (Cardinalidae). When I was younger the Linnaean binomial classification held little interest for me, but my perspective has changed. I looked for the tanager the next day, but he had moved on. A number of deer, however inspected me carefully. They used to drive us crazy, eating everything we planted, and either we would shoo them away or our dog, Molly, would give chase. By May, 2019, Molly’s arthritis had erased her interest defending the property and at that point the property seemed to belong more to the deer than to Molly or us, which was just as well for we had sold the house to downsize in downtown Ann Arbor.

Other hopeful signs of spring popped up last month, oblivious of the prevailing RNA threat to humans. [Above and below: early April 2020, Ann Arbor Water Hill area.]

[Above: pond in West Park. Below: new normal – outdoor picnic tables at Zingerman’s replaced by spaced waiting areas for take-out orders.]

 


Postscript.

Disruption. Is clinical medicine a performance art, as aspired to by professionals since Hippocratic times, or is it becoming an algorithmic practice? Professor Kibbie provoked this question. The doctor-patient relationship has been disrupted by the “encounter” framed by the electronic health record (EHR) format, that is the ubiquitous EHR-directed patient “encounters” have replaced the narratives my generation was taught to elicit. We used to initiate evaluation of patients using the so-called SOAP notes (subjective, objective, assessment, and plan) that align with the medical gaze – Sherlockian/Oslerian scrutiny by a trained observer. 

A “chief complaint” was a story that could be boiled down to a phrase, but narrative demanded more and gave the chief complaint context. Shoulder pain could be a malignant metastasis or a rotator cuff injury and it was important to know if the injury was life-style related, due to occupation, or traumatic; the story behind the pain, its comorbidities and social determinants, are no less relevant than the pain itself. Abstraction of a patient’s story to a drop-down phrase or an ICD-10 numeric diagnostic code is a poor substitute for conversation, medical gaze, and narrative. We should resist this terrible trend as best we can and create EHRs that support narrative inquiry and medical gaze rather than commoditize encounters.

One hundred years ago, Hugh Cabot got off the train from Boston at the old Ann Arbor station (shown at the top) and initiated the first century of Michigan Urology, not knowing that he would have little more than a decade to do it. Medical care had its disrupters back then, new technology, burgeoning subspecialties, and novel models of practice. Some tension existed between the old and the new approach to disease. Classical Oslerian ideas are routed in the bedside medical gaze and dialogue with the patient to understand and explain the problem. The new scientific approach sought to understand disease based on facts derived in research laboratories, other sources of verifiable data, or from the patient as a virtual laboratory. Clever clinicians recognize it is not a matter of one or the other, patients deserve both approaches. Brutal realities of a post-covid19 world will favor the curt, transactional, commodity aspects of health care. Role models in fiction and fact such as Sherlock Holmes and William Osler, and new analyses such as The Good Doctor – Why Medical Uncertainty Matters, a book out soon by Kenneth Brigham and Michael Johns, help navigate this new era of disruption.

[Below: sign of spring, late April, near Barton Pond.]



Thanks for reading Matula Thoughts of May, 2020.
David A. Bloom, University of Michigan Department of Urology

April, perhaps the cruelest month

WN/MT 3 April 2020
2356 words

This April, perhaps the cruelest month



One.

April, was the original title of this painting by American impressionist Frederick Childe Hassam, a century ago, in 1920. It was an optimistic time when the world was rebounding from years when the thin veneer of civilization seemed to be wearing away with war and influenza. The pendulum of events changed for the better and, in Ann Arbor, Hugh Cabot started up a century of modern urology at the University of Michigan.

It is a mystery what drove Hassam, just then, to go back to his very beginnings with this work. Maybe the emergence of the world from the edge of catastrophe just then was a factor. He renamed his painting, Green Gown, the woman in green being Rosa Delia Hawthorne, Hassam’s mother, depicted in an April a half century earlier when three months pregnant with Frederick (born October 17, 1859 in the family home in Dorchester, Massachusetts). [Above: April, Courtesy, Gibbes Art Museum.] The gorgeous composition shows Hassam’s imagination of his mother at 27 years of age, reclining pensively on a settee, as if considering her next 6 months of confinement or the joys and trials of parenthood. A daffodil arrangement in the right foreground reinforces the time of year in the original title. Yet it was an odd concept for a painting, with the artist picturing his mother in the first trimester of pregnancy with him, at his actual beginning. This was a curious contrast to Whistler’s famous consideration of his own much older mother a half century earlier.

Hassam’s painting is a suitable introduction to April, the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere, when showers anticipate May flowers, as the saying goes. Another painting by Hassam, The Avenue in the Rain (in the White House Collection) depicts Fifth Avenue in NY around the time of WWI and perhaps during some April showers. This was one of 30 paintings in Hassam’s Flag Series.



Hassam purchased a home in 1919 in East Hampton where he most likely painted April the following year and would live another 15 years, dying in East Hampton at a respectable 75. The country was in a patriotic mood in April, 1920, with the Great War and recent influenza epidemic no longer existential threats, but the national optimism eclipsed any prudent attention and resources to prepare for the next iterations of existential threats. This April, normally a time for beginnings, existential threats are back at civilization’s door. [Above: The Avenue in the Rain. Hassam, 1917. White House Collection, since the Kennedy Administration. Below: Oval Office 2009, photo by Pete Souza with the president and the picture on the wall.]





Two.

A century is a convenient milestone, although most humans fall short of this in their life spans. The modern average of “three score and ten” or so, however, is ample time to leave something behind, if one is fortunate, in good works, successors, and kindness. Octogenarians, septuagenarians, and centenarians are rarities, the products of good genes and lucky circumstances. The U.S has 80,000 centenarians, the U.N. estimates 343,000 worldwide in 2012 and projects 3.2 million by 2050.

A century is an extreme stretch for a single human, few make it that long, but human collectives – nations, organizations, corporations, and other teams – are not limited biologically and for them a century is a useful ruler to measure accomplishments and create historical narratives. So, consider medical practice and urology in April 1920, in particular, when the grim experiences of war and influenza were fading from memory, although some lessons learned were working their way into civilian health care. The growing scientific knowledge base of medicine and its burgeoning subspecialties by 1920 had rendered medical school alone insufficient training for the new generation of medical practitioners; internships and residency programs were producing a new world of graduate medical education that became the career-defining element of medical training.

This centennial year of urology at the University of Michigan is an opportunity to understand our organizational corporate past and some of the many stories relevant to Michigan Urology. Additionally, the centennial is a chance to personally reconcile with our roots in healthcare and at the University.

With the present world turned upside down by Covid19, the AUA in Washington, DC and Sunday Nesbit reception are cancelled, but we look forward to the autumn and September 24-26 with the Nesbit alumni reunion here in Ann Arbor, featuring guest speaker alumni Carol Bennett, Barry Kogan, Ananias Diokno, Carl Smith, Curtis Nickel, Mitch Albom, and Sherman Silber, among others. The first of our two books on Michigan Urology will soon be available (and also online via Michigan Publishing), this being Urology at Michigan – The Origin Story, tracing the development of genitourinary surgery, the University of Michigan, its Medical School, and the introduction of modern urology to Ann Arbor by Hugh Cabot. Book two will cover the first hundred years of urology at Michigan, year by year, expanding on the Konnak and Pardanani text that Jim Montie commissioned 20 years ago. We hope to finish this in the next year.

This April 2020 it’s natural to pause for a moment and consider what urology practice and education were like 100 years ago. Cystoscopy, a new skill of the late 19th century, required special instruments and novel expertise that defined urology and fueled its early creative burst. A new breed of surgeons picked up cystoscopy, improved the technology, gained insight into genitourinary dysfunction, and created miracles of minimally-invasive therapy. Nonoperative and open solutions to urinary problems expanded urology, after it was so-named in 1902. Urology came together as an open organization in 1910, created rational training programs for young physicians, and formed its own journal in 1917. Little of this progress translated to the battlefields of WWI, but the civilian progress accelerated after its conclusion, although barely in time to be applied in the next war.


Three. 

 

In April, 1920, the Cabots were adjusting to their new lives in Ann Arbor. Hugh was busy as chair of the Surgery Department and the sole urologist at the University of Michigan. Cabot’s two competitors in Ann Arbor, still calling themselves genitourinary surgeons, had left the university to practice a few blocks away at St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital and neither they nor Cabot had any interest in collegial relationship. The University Hospital complex was physically constrained and outdated, pale in comparison to the facilities Cabot left behind in Boston, but a quantum leap from the 2,500-bed hospital he had commanded in France on the Western Front of the Great War.

The Cabot family was living temporarily in the President’s House, having cajoled the Regents into its use pending the anticipated summer arrival of incoming President Burton. Anxiety was growing within the university administration as it tried to coordinate renovations demanded by the Burtons and uncertainty over the Cabot’s plans. At work, Cabot had to manage the teaching and clinical responsibilities of his small Surgery Department, deploying the full-time compensation model. To grow his small and inbred Surgery Department Cabot leveraged his military connections to bring two essential additions to Michigan that year, Frederick Coller and John Alexander.


Four.

Just about halfway between the start of the Michigan Urology centenary and now, I began my era of training. It was 1971 and urology was at a watershed. It sat between an era of board-certified urologists with life-long certification working in individual or small practices and the present era of urologists with contingent re-certification working in large practices or multispecialty health systems. In 1971 fiberoptic cystoscopy had only recently replaced first generation cystoscopes, illuminated by distal mignon lamps of Edisonian technology; transurethral surgery was one of surgery’s rare minimally-invasive operative procedures; major open reconstructive urologic procedures were available at only a few centers; the intravenous pyelogram and retrograde injection studies were the main imaging modalities (ultrasonography was in its primitive stages); and training programs were mostly small and weakly standardized. That year, Jack Lapides Section Head of Michigan Urology from 1968 through 1983, introduced his strongly disparaged idea of clean intermittent catheterization.

Meaningful visual cystoscopic acuity for old-time urologists required much skill, art, and experience. For learners, peeping over the shoulder of  cystoscopists (whenever they decided to let learners have a look), the opportunity was fleeting. This scenario earned Jack Lapides his covert nickname, Black Jack: for he was known to temporarily disconnect the light cord (by stealth of hand) before letting the learner look through the scope and asking what they saw. [Below, Jack Lapides photo by DAB.]



Lapides had been a loyal and productive lieutenant to Reed Nesbit for some 20 years. When Reed was aiming toward retirement in 1967, Jack no doubt felt inclined to take over the leadership of the small section. The two urologists seemed to have gotten along well professionally, although there was no doubt as to who was in charge and it didn’t seem that a strong friendship existed outside the workplace. Lapides had been running his own separate and independent residency program at Wayne County Hospital, graduating a single chief each year whereas at this point the UM program was finishing 2-3 per year.

Karl Montague (UMMS 1968), visited by us last autumn at the Cleveland Clinic, recalled his experience as a junior medical student rotating on urology. Karl had been focused on a career in cardiology, primed in that direction by an NIH fellowship in Basel, Switzerland. Urology at the University of Michigan was then a mandatory clinical rotation and Montague recalls some of Lapides’ pedagogical antics (at the VA):

“Dr. Lapides was demonstrating cystoscopy to a group of us medical students in our third year. Of course, this was before the time of video teaching and the learner had to peer over the shoulder of the teacher who had positioned the scope over a landmark view of anatomy or pathology, while the patient was under anesthesia as happened to be the case that day. So Dr. Lapides had the first student in turn to look in the scope and asked: ‘Do you see the verumontanum?’ The student, after a few awkward moments said ‘Yes’ and Lapides checked the position and asked the next student, who again agreed. When it was my turn, I looked and looked and finally said ‘No.’ It turned out that the Professor was holding the scope in the middle of the full bladder, nowhere near the veru. He seemed to like me after that day and later in the rotation asked my career plans. I told him it was cardiology. He said: ‘Think about urology, and if it interests you, come back and talk to me.'”

Montague did give some thought to urology and that changed his career arc and life. It was a clever and kind approach on the part of Lapides, kinder than the anecdotal “Black Jack” stories. [Below, Montague in his office at Cleveland Clinic, autumn 2019.]




Five.

Kindness & Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (November 22, 1922 – April 11, 2007). The Vonnegut books I read in college, medical school, and during residency offered great escape from study with humor, satire, and surreptitious insight into the thing we call, the human condition. More than appreciated at the time, Vonnegut expanded my sensitivities to the comorbidities of life, environmental deterioration, and the quality of kindness. Cat’s Cradle (1963), iconic book, offered very short chapters that fit my short extracurricular attention span. [Above: “Two Young Women Seated playing cat’s cradle.” Suzuki Harunobu, ca. 1765. Wikipedia.] Slaughterhouse-Five (1969, film 1972) didn’t mean so much to me then, but years later hearing a beautifully performed audiobook, I felt its powerful impact, reflecting Vonnegut’s lived experiences as a prisoner of war in the Allied firebombing of Dresden. Even though I served in a peacetime Army for four years after my residency training, I had gained enough maturity, experience, and knowledge to appreciate that mind-bending book. 

Vonnegut told stories of contrived odd characters and places. While exaggerated and even preposterous, he resonated with the best and worst of human attributes. God Bless You Mr. Rosewater (1965) only came recently to me, as I was tracking a quote that reflects Vonnegut’s dark humor and the hope that underlies his satire. The quote came from an anticipated baptismal greeting:

“Hello babies.

Welcome to Earth.

It’s hot in the summer & cold in the winter.

It’s round & wet & crowded.

On the outside, babies, you’ve got 100 years here.

There’s only one rule that I know of, babies –

God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

T.S. Eliot once called April “the cruelest month” so it seems fitting to conclude now with thoughts of kindness, a trait that seems to come naturally to some people, but most of us have to work at it, balancing it against our selfish particularities. Kindness is a very human trait, the very basis of civilization, although many other creatures evidence kindness in numerous ways. Kindness is, no doubt, tied into mirror neurons, oxytocin, and other incredible biologic inventions that we are dimly aware of at best. Motherhood is the ultimate expression of kindness, perhaps that was on Hassam’s mind to some extent in April, 1920.

 

Postscript.

With few centurions living today, only historians can tell us much about what daily life was like during the big influenza epidemic of 1918-1920 that ended around the time Michigan Urology’s first century began. And, of course, one hundred years from today, will many people fully understand the anxieties, terrors, and tragedies of the present moment in time.

Kindness is always at risk in the busy workplaces of healthcare, and this will be especially tested in this current pandemic threat (Coronavirus 19), that has taken civilization by surprise. We are too often surprised by infectious diseases, whether cyclic or novel and while our immune systems may be surprised, our brains have no excuse. Here is an amateur historian’s list of the last big pandemics:

HIV/AIDS rising from 1976 to 1981 and peaking 2005-2012, killing 36 million

Influenza H3N2 1968 killing 1 million

Influenza H2N2 1956-58 killing 2 million

Influenza H1N1 1918-1920 killing 20-50 million

Sixth cholera pandemic 1910-1911, killing somewhat under 1 million, estimated.

Influenza H3N8 1889 – 1890 killing 1 million

Third cholera pandemic 1852-1860 killing 1 million

Black Death (bubonic) 1346-1353 killing upwards of 200 million

The Plague of Justinian (bubonic) 541-543 killing up to 25 million

[Above: Red Cross volunteers assembling gauze face masks at Camp Devens, MA, 1918.] 

Thanks for reading Matula Thoughts this April, 2020. It will be a rough month.

David A. Bloom
Department of Urology
University of Michigan

March thoughts, idle and otherwise

WN/MT 6 March 2020

March thoughts, idle & otherwise
2102 words

 

One.

Be cautious in mid-March, the spirit of Julius Caesar warns. It’s not idle advice, for Caesar must have had a tin ear to the political dissent building up around him, or else the mantle of authority made him feel unassailable until he was terminally disabused of that conceit on the Ides of March 15 in 44 BCE. A coin issued by Brutus two years after Caesar’s assassination (shown above) celebrated the would-be king’s downfall. Before the Ides of March became notorious, that day in the Roman calendar was reserved for religious observances and settling of debts. It so happens that the big settling of debts in American society two millennia later has been displaced a full month in the calendar to April 15 for taxpayers like me and businesses not clever enough to find the loopholes. [Above: Eid Mar coin reverse, the tail side. Below: Wikipedia, The Tusculum likeness of Julius Caesar, photographer Gautier Poupeau.]

No one wants to be overly superstitious, but it is wise to venture forth with a measure of caution not only on the Ides of March but every day, monitoring your physical and political environments, on the lookout for “hungry looking” Brutuses and watching for reckless scooters, distracted walkers or drivers, rising seas, hurricanes, fires, blizzards, tornados, or merely uncovered sneezes and coughs. (By the way, why is it socially accepted that we expect ourselves or others to cover coughs or sneezes only when “feeling sick” with a fever? Why doesn’t every adult carry a handkerchief or tissue to cover every cough or sneeze – especially in these coronavirus times ?!)

Ancient Roman days were counted differently than they are now, with three named points each month: the Nones in the early month, the Ides in mid-month, and the Kalends on the first of the next month. Assassination perp Brutus issued the coin in the fall of 42 BC, and that Eid Mar denarius shows a “freedom cap” positioned between two daggers.

The denarius was the standard coin in the Roman Empire from 267 BC until replaced by the antoninianus in the mid-3rd century AD, the coin of Galen’s day. The silver in the coin was initially worth about a day’s wages for skilled laborers at that time in Rome, today that equivalent amount of silver is less than $4. Emperor Nero, about 100 years after Caesar’s assassination, began to debase the coin, substituting cheap metal for the silver, until hardly any silver was left by the end of its use. The Eid Mar value, however, has greatly appreciated – a single coin recently fetching 325,000 Swiss francs ($332,583) at auction on Oct. 6, 2016.

[Above: Eid Mar coin obverse – the head side with Brutus. Below: Silver content debasement by year of Roman Empire denarius and its successors, 11 BC to 250 AD. Wikipedia: Data from Walker, D.R. (1976-78), The Metrology of the Roman Silver Coinage. Parts I to III. Nicolas Perrault III.]

 

Two.

Coffee Houses. My youngest daughter and her husband, both academics, do much of their work in coffee houses, as do many of their generation. Before computers and the internet, coffee houses were places to meet and converse. Now, it’s more common to see people with ear buds in place and eyes focused on their work on laptops and (annoyingly) on phones.

The coffee house of Edward Lloyd on Tower Street in London around 1686 was the room where it happened that marine insurance blossomed and grew into an essential component of modern business and life. Insurance was a necessary ingredient in the emergence of the limited liability company, that is, the modern corporation underpinning modern capitalism. Coffee houses have been important social hubs for over 300 years in Western Society and the tea customs in Asia have been around much longer. The Cosy Corner Tea Shop of Mrs. Hugh Cabot opened in Ann Arbor 1923 and became a small part of the Michigan Urology story, with its own backstory of how social changes and the Great War changed expectations for one faculty wife. Coffee and tea houses today serve as primary places to plug into earpieces and computers so as to disconnect from people and immediate scenes around you and leap into distant people, scenes, and your own imagination. Oddly, socialization and social media are not very compatible.

The Coffee House, in the winter of 1905/1906, a painting by Alson Skinner Clark (1876-1949), shows the State Street Bridge amidst smoke, fog, and early “skyscrapers” over an icy river. You can barely identify the actual coffee house. [Above: Institute of Art, Chicago.] The title suggests Clark either painted the scene in real time (en plein air) or recalled it from his time in the neighborhood, although he was also an accomplished photographer and may have used that medium to help fashion the painting. The view is not vastly different a century later, the high rises are higher and more numerous, the horsepower of street transportation has increased (without much increase in the transit time per mile), and the price of a cup of coffee has gone up. That same neighborhood these days contains at least several Starbucks and other coffee houses. [Below: State Street Bridge in early spring 2019 during AUA national meeting.]

 

Three.

Coffee beans. I can’t spend too long in coffee houses without recalling the great Danish story teller Karen Blixen, known more widely by her pen name, Isak Dinesen. Out of Africa in 1937, described her years in British East Africa (modern-day Kenya) between December 1913 and August 1931. She initially tried to raise cattle, but switched to growing coffee beans although that, too, proved difficult. The soil and high elevation were not perfectly conductive, East African conflicts in First World War interfered with supplies and equipment, and ultimately the Great Depression made the business untenable. Having run through her family’s money, Blixen returned to her family home in Denmark to write. Her work there proved far more successful and enduring than the Karen Coffee Company and she became a world celebrity, dying in 1962 at age 77. Orson Wells planned a film anthology of her work, but never completed it, producing only The Immortal Story (1968). Babette’s Feast (1987) became an extraordinary black and white film of a somber isolated Scandinavian village and Out of Africa (1985) was gorgeously filmed in color featuring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. Last autumn, while at the terrific CopMich meeting organized by Dana Ohl and Jens Sønksen, I spent an afternoon at the Blixen family home in Rungstedlund. [Above: Photo by Sophus Juncker-Jensen (1859-1940) taken in 1913 shortly before Blixen’s departure for Africa. Below: Karen Blixen’s home, Rungstedlund, 2019.]

The Isak Dinesen quote that comes to mind after an hour or so in a coffee house is from Seven Gothic Tales:

“What is man, when you come to think upon him, but a minutely set, ingenious machine for turning, with infinite artfulness, the red wine of Shiraz into urine.”

Unpleasantly, the name Karen, like many other terms on social media, has become a derogatory meme. [Below: Wikipedia: Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke at Kastrup Airport CPH, Copenhagen 1957-11-02.]

 

Four.

A book on urine. In 1917, when Karen Blixen was cultivating coffee by day and telling stories to her friends at night and Michigan Urology founder Hugh Cabot was serving on the Western Front for the British Expeditionary Forces during WWI, Arthur Robertson Cushny, former University of Michigan professor from 1893 to 1905, was working at University College London when he published Secretion of the Urine, a book explaining the machinery and infinite artfulness of urine production. [Above: Cushny, Wellcome Museum. Below: title page.]

Cushny took uroscopy to a new level of detail. Uroscopy began in ancient times with basic sensory evaluation of urine (color, odor, taste, etc.). Medieval uromancy offered speculative linkage of urine findings to diagnosis, and microscopic evaluation later opened new levels of visual detail. Chemical and microbial analysis, using 19th century tools and technology, provided meaningful therapeutic opportunities, but Cushny’s book of 1917, Secretion of the Urine, explained how urine was formed in health and disease, by filtration at the glomerulus and reabsorption/secretion along the renal tubules.

Arthur Cushny (1866-1926) had come to the Medical School in Ann Arbor to replace John Jacob Abel, a UM graduate from 1883 who had returned to Ann Arbor in 1891 to teach, pursue research, and create the world’s first department of pharmacology. Abel transformed the formal and ancient lectures on materia medica and toxicology into pharmacology instruction with demonstrations applicable to clinical practice of his time. Johns Hopkins lured him away in 1893, but that opened the door for Cushny to replace him as chair. Dean Victor Vaughan found Cushny in Berne, investigating the problem of death from chloroform anesthesia and developing methods of titrating the delivery. Cushny was an effective teacher and a productive researcher in Ann Arbor, but returned to Europe for an attractive job as chair of pharmacology at University College London in 1905 and in 1918 returned to his native Scotland as chair in Edinburgh, where he died in 1926. Secretion of Urine was a major contribution to physiology and urology. [Cushny AR. The Secretion of the Urine. London, Longmans, Green, 1917.]

 

Five.

You are what you eat, like most aphorisms, contains truth and hyperbole. It extends easily to other bodily inputs such as you are what you drink. [Above: The Cook, Guiseppe Arcimboldo 1570. National Museum, Sweden.] Last month’s suggestion, that you are what you read, regarding on The Crisis periodical, fortifies a parallel claim for mental nutrition, which came to mind again in another magazine that compels interest, The Economist. A recent piece in the recurring essay entitled “Johnson” (after Samuel Johnson, of dictionary fame), combined the recent custom of selecting “words of the year” and the phenomenon of adverse climate change. “Johnson” offered a number of candidates for word of the year, noting that according to the Dutch dictionary Van Dale, Dutch-speaking Belgiums voted for winkelhieren, a term for “buying locally,” as the 2019 word of the year. [Economist Jan 4, 2020, p. 62.]

Ann Arbor offers excellent examples for buying locally including Zingerman’s and Kerrytown markets for food and stuff, Literati for books, or Camera Mall for photographic things. Amazon is convenient, luring, and addictive but it robs from local communities (livelihoods and taxes). Plus, given the packaging and reported 30% return rate, that particular limited liability corporation accelerates planetary degradation. Perhaps a community becomes what it buys. If people buy mainly from Amazon, they will be an Amazon community as local businesses recede like the glaciers – not such an attractive possibility.

 

Postscript x 2: peas and war.

Gastronomic identity. In 1826 Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote, in Physiologie du Gout, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante: “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai que tu es.” [Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are]. In 1940, Victor Lindlahr, nutritionist and enthusiast of the so-called catabolic diet, wrote a book You are what you eat: how to win and keep health with diet. In strict chemical and physiologic terms, it’s hard to deny that fact, although it’s nice to believe the human sum is actually greater than the sum of its nutritional parts, as the Italian painter Guiseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593) hinted in his arresting works, such as Vertumnus. [Above: Emperor Rudolph II as Vertumnus, Roman god of seasons. c. 1590, Guiseppe Arcimboldo. Skokloster Castle, Sweden.]

The Battle of Columbus. Just around this time of year, in 1916 (March 9), Francisco “Pancho” Villa’s División del Norte raided the small border town of Columbus, NM and retreated back to Mexico. United States President Woodrow Wilson, while holding the U.S. back from the Great War in Europe (that Hugh Cabot entered as a volunteer with the British Expeditionary Forces) eagerly sent 4,800 U.S. troops led by General John Pershing over the U.S./Mexican border to capture Villa. [Above: Unmindful of the Ides, U.S. troops crossed into Mexico in March 1916 in pursuit of Pancho Villa. Photo courtesy U.S. Army Military History Institute.] The 9-month punitive incursion south of the border failed to capture Villa, but it did recruit University of Michigan Ph.D. Paul de Kruif, who joined as a private. The campaign ended in January 1917, without achieving its objective. Pershing claimed the effort a success, even though it seemed that the U.S. soldiers were the main parties punished. de Kruif went on to join the WWI effort after the U.S. officially entered the conflict, serving in the Sanitary Corps as a lieutenant and then captain before returning to Michigan for a short time. His next job was at the Rockefeller Institute until he was fired, rendering him the freedom to become a medical journalist and collaborator in 1926 with Sinclair Lewis in Arrowsmith.

 

Thanks for looking at this month’s communication from the University of Michigan Department of Urology. What’s New is the email version and matulathoughts.org is the web-based version.

David A. Bloom

A century and a millennium

DAB Matula Thoughts October 4, 2019

A century and a millennium

Michigan urology begins its centennial celebration
2087 words

One.

But first, consider what happened in 1623. Horace Davenport, the great American physiologist, University of Michigan educator, and de facto historian of the Medical School asked that question when he introduced physiology to a class of medical students. This story has been told here before, but it deserves repetition for each new generation of trainees as well as for the rest of us, who tend to forget Davenport’s lesson. The prize for the correct answer, Davenport said, would be an “A” for the class with no further expectations – no attendance, no labs, no homework, or exams.

The medical students scrambled with answers, all erroneous and some ridiculous, but no one came close to the correct one – the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio in 1623. After the playwright died in 1616, friends collected his works, many printed in smaller books called quartos, and they published the First Folio, actually titled Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. This consisted of 38 plays and over 150 poems, in addition to Shakespeare’s portrait by Martin Droeshout, one of two authentic images of the author. Of the 750 copies printed, 223 survive and 82 are in the Folger Collection in Washington, DC.
Davenport’s point was that the practice of medicine doesn’t play out in isolation, it is part of the context of life, the unique circumstances of humanity with its individual stories, dramas, aspirations, co-morbidities, and accomplishments. William Shakespeare’s work encompassed the range and depth of the human condition more completely than any artist before or since.

Before learning physiology, much less practicing medicine, Davenport claimed, the human condition must be studied to the extent best possible by each of us although the “self-awareness” of humanity as a species can never be complete. Self-awareness requires some sense of time and place, and these senses are enhanced by knowledge of history. The history we each know may be reality or mythical, a distinction that good historians just as good scientists work to discern. The arts help navigate the ambiguities of that distinction.

 

Two.

And what happened in 1919? One hundred years ago, Hugh Cabot, Michigan’s first urologist and new chair of the surgery department arrived in Ann Arbor and performed his first operative procedures at the University of Michigan. Cabot’s first specific urologic cases in Ann Arbor have not yet been identified, but a letter in the papers of UM President HB Hutchins of 1919 explains the successful appendectomy on a patient known to and likely referred by Hutchins “in the Surgical Clinic October 13.” This was Cabot’s second day at work and he helpfully told Hutchins:

“Since the operation patient has progressed very satisfactorily and we see no reason why he should not make an uneventful recovery. Twenty-four hours later this case would have been a complicated one, and the prognosis would not have been as hopeful.”

The letter was typed on stationary that read: University of Michigan, Department of Surgery, University Hospital (nearly identical to what this senior author found on arrival to the Medical School and Hospital 65 years later, although the names were different). The faculty listed in 1919 were C.G. DARLING. M.D. GENERAL SURGERY; I.D. LOREE. M.D. GENITO-URINARY SURGERY, C.L. WASHBURN. M.D. ORTHOPEDIC SURGERY; AND C.J. LYONS. D.D.Sc. CONSULTING DENTIST.

Ira Dean Loree was Michigan’s principal genitourinary surgeon up until that time in the small Surgical Department, although his senior, CG Darling, also did work in that emerging subspecialty as well. If stationary is to reflect mindset, neither Darling nor Loree embraced the new terminology of urology, the neologism of Ramon Guiteras in play since the formation of the American Urological Association in 1902 (of which Cabot had been president in 1911) and embraced by Cabot in his influential textbook Modern Urology in 1918.

 

Three.

A thought experiment. Given that Hugh Cabot came to Ann Arbor and introduced modern urologic practice to the University of Michigan a century ago, we might reflect upon what happened a century before then, in 1819, when the fledgling University of Michigan was only two years old. Not much was actually going on educationally in its initial Detroit site then and no medical school existed in the territory of Michigan, which was not yet a state.

The year 1819 brought the first major peacetime financial crisis in the United States and the Tallmadge Amendment that was passed in the House of Representatives, but got lost the next year in the Missouri Compromise. The amendment would have prohibited slavery in the impending statehood of Missouri, but got traded away for the admission of Maine as a free state.
What about 1719, 300 years ago? The world was being mapped with increasing realism and imagination. Herman Moll’s “codfish map,” A New and Correct Map of the Whole World in London was a step along the way to visualization of the political and geographical reality of the planet. Also that year Robinson Crusoe, was published, arguably the first English novel, a fictional account of an actual event.

Slavery began in the American colonies a century earlier, it was in August 1619 according to the illuminating 1619 Project, a partnership of the Pulitzer Center and the New York Times. The Idea of America, an essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones, is informed and provocative. [NYT Magazine. August 18, 2019. The 1619 Project.]

Five hundred years back in time, on 20 September 1519, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan began his trip that would circumnavigate the planet, thereby quieting down the Flat Earth enthusiasts of the time, although that stubborn phenotype reappears in alternative forms, notably, the climate change deniers of today. Magellan had five ships, two more than Columbus, and carried supplies for 270 men and two years. In spite of mutiny, desertion, catastrophic storms, starvation, and raids from local natives, Magellan made it to the Philippines by March, 1521, where he was killed in battle by natives who resisted his offer of religious conversion. Other officers took charge and a single ship made it back to Spain on 6 September 1522. Leadership lessons still abound.

In 1419, during the Hundred Years War, France surrendered to Henry V and Normandy was re-annexed to England providing the nidus for Shakespeare’s great imaginative play 180 years later. Joan of Arc would have a fiery end in this town in 1431 and Charles VII, King of France, recaptured the city in 1449. A strong earthquake devastated the city of Ani in Armenia in 1319. A century earlier, in 1219, Genghis Khan sought advice on the Philosopher’s Stone from Qui Chuji (Taoist Master Changchun) and St. Francis of Assisi introduced Catholicism to Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. Navigation was improved in 1119 by Chinese author Zhu Yu who described the innovative use of magnetic compass and separate hull compartments in ships. Japanese statesman Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1028) retired from public life in 1019 after installing his son as regent, but remained behind the scenes as Japan’s de facto ruler until his death nine years later. In spite of the coincidence of pronunciation, however, there is no way to connect Michinaga to our State of Michigan today in October, 2019, more specifically than as bookends to a millennium of human stories and progress.

The point to this thought experiment is that matters of immediate moments pale in the grand scheme of human centuries and glacial millennia. Nevertheless, those momentary and seasonal concerns constrain most human attention. Our lives are framed by the past and moments of grand inspiration transcend the mundane times. King Henry V’s exhortation to his troops at Agincourt, as imagined by the Bard of Stratford, is as inspiring as George Gipp’s softer “Win one for the Gipper” speech before Army played Notre Dame in 1928, and portrayed by Ronald Reagan in the classic film Knute Rockne, All American, in 1940.

 

Four.

Autumn in Ann Arbor brings the excitement of new students, football, and the academic season of meetings and visiting professors. Marty Koyle came from Toronto (with provenance from the Brigham, Dallas, UCLA, Denver, and Seattle) last month as our visiting professor in pediatric urology. Marty is a great clinician, surgeon, and educator, and he is one of the few urologists today with an active practice in pediatric renal transplantation (in addition to the astonishing John Barry). Over three days Marty interacted with faculty and residents, leaving an indelible imprint. Courtesy of Julian Wan, we repaid Marty and his wife Ellen in part with the Michigan Football experience, witnessing a close struggle to defeat Army. [Above: Army on the defensive; Below: Marty at the Pediatric Urology Conference.]

The tradition of visiting professors was indoctrinated at Michigan in the time of Cabot, who himself shuttled among peer institutions and brought the best experts to Ann Arbor faculty and students, notably with strong relationships between the Mayo Clinic and St. Bartholomew’s in London. Cabot’s successors, Frederick Coller, Reed Nesbit, Jack Lapides, Ed McGuire, and those who followed, maintained the important tradition to expose our learners to the best surgical educators and ideas. [Below: Puneet Sindhwani, Department of Urology and Transplantation Chair, University of Toledo with Marty Koyle after Grand Rounds.]

[Above: Tailgate at Zingermans.]
Athletic traditions have been closely entwined in the academic mission, offering counterbalance from book-learning and clinical medicine. Performances, great or aspiring to greatness, entertain and serve as rallying points for institutional spirit. Even back in Cabot’s time, important conversations and political alignments took place on the sidelines as the following letter shows – when Cabot followed up to Governor Green (1927-1930, Republican):

“You may remember at the time of the Wisconsin Football Game you were kind enough to suggest that I write you after election concerning certain matters of medical interest which we discussed that day. Now that this turmoil of election is over I am taking the liberty of complying with your suggestion. …”

This was hardly a rare follow-up to social encounters at Michigan games.

 

Five.

A century of urology followed at the University of Michigan after Cabot’s arrival, directly impacting hundreds of thousands of patients, more than ten thousand medical students, and hundreds of residents – who in turn impacted their share of patients and learners. In that century, two world wars and other conflicts were fought, two major economic collapses occurred, and climatic and geologic catastrophes pummeled the planet. In the grand scheme of things, the particular story of urology at Michigan may be small, but it is our history to know and tell. Furthermore, some of the myriad stories within the larger story are instructive, many are inspiring, others are sobering, and all should be examined in context.

Today, October 4, 2019, our current departmental faculty, residents, nurses, clinical teams, research teams, staff, and alumni are gathered for the Nesbit Society events, culminating with the Michigan-Iowa gridiron contest, where, no matter the outcome, important conversations and good fun will be had at the tailgates and on the sidelines.

 

Postscript.

October factoids. On 16 October 1901, shortly after moving into the White House, President Theodore Roosevelt invited his adviser and friend Booker T. Washington (below), to dine with him and his family, provoking an outpouring of condemnation from southern politicians and press. No other African American was invited to dinner at the White House for almost thirty years.

Sinclair Lewis, author of Arrowsmith, a book modeled on the University of Michigan Medical School in the early 1900s, suffered a terrible personal loss this month in 1944, when his first son was killed during efforts to rescue the Lost Battalion.

The 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry (36th Infantry Division, originally Texas National Guard) had been surrounded by German forces in the French Vosges Mountains on October 24, 1944, and attempts by other troops failed to extricate the men. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated unit of Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans), ultimately was successful after 5 days of battle and rescued 211 men by October 30, but suffered more than 800 casualties. For size and length of service the 442nd is the most decorated unit in U.S. military history. Above is Wells Lewis with father and stepmother Dorothy Parker in 1935 on way to accept Nobel Prize. The death of Wells in France took place only nine years later.

131st Field Artillery, 36th Infantry Division (Texas National Guard of the U.S. Army) who were survivors of the sunken USS Houston. They were captured by Japanese forces and taken to Java in March 1942 and then sent to Singapore and Burma where they worked on railway construction crews, as later depicted in the 1957 film The Bridge on the River Kwai. It was not until September of 1944 that it became known they were prisoners of war.

Thus went some highlights from the last century and the last millennium.

Thanks for reading Matula Thoughts.

 

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

Matula Thoughts August 2, 2019. Impressions

Matula Thoughts

August 2, 2019

Impressions & metaphors:

Thoughts from a UMMS faculty member
2224 words/20 minutes

 

One.

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

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

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

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

 

Two.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Three.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Four.

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

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

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

 

Five.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Postscript

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

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

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

 

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

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

May 3, 2019. Sensations

Matula Thoughts  May 3, 2019

Sensations

 

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

 

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

 

One.             

Azalias 2019

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

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

Molly

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

Mulch

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

RueMorgueManuscript

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

“Perdidit antiquum litera sonum.

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

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

 

Two.

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

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

 

Three.

Ghost_In_The_Machine_cover 

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

“Too much information running through my brain,

Too much information driving me insane…”

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

Kandel

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

 

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

Piet_Mondriaan,_1939-1942_-_Composition_10

edu-meet-me-volunteers

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

 

Four.

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

“Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

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

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

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

life_c2

 

Five.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Short story.

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

Orangutan

 

Thanks for reading Matula Thoughts.

David A. Bloom

University of Michigan, Department of Urology, Ann Arbor

Spring

Matula Thoughts April 5, 2019

Calendar1

Spring considerations

20 minutes to read, two minutes to scan, one second to delete.

2341 words

Note of Passage

Mark C. McQuiggan, University of Michigan triple graduate, passed away last month leaving his beloved wife Carolyn (Brunk). Mark was the son of the late Dr. Mark R. McQuiggan and Dr. Catherine (Corbeille) McQuiggan, internists who had trained at the Mayo Clinic and worked together in an office in Detroit’s Fisher Building. Mark C. was born on May 15, 1933 and was 85 years old at the time of his death. He was thoroughly a Michigan Man with a BS from LS&A in 1954, an MD in 1958, and urology residency under Reed Nesbit, completed in 1964. Mark’s co-residents were Karl Schroeder and Dick Bourne, and other particular friends from residency were Clair and Clarice Cox and Dick and Jane Dorr.  Mark practiced urology with excellence and devotion in Southfield, Michigan, on the staff of North Detroit General Hospital and Ascension Providence Hospital. Mark and Carolyn were lovely and loyal presences at our yearly Nesbit Society Alumni Reunions. (Below: Mark in October, 2010, at the Nesbit Scientific Session.) Mark loved the University of Michigan, and Michigan Urology, along with Michigan athletics. Michigan Urology will miss Mark, who seemed to always have a smile and was a wonderful link to Michigan Urology’s past.

Urology at Michigan undergoes its own passage, this being the transition to Ganesh Palapattu as chair, who is already bringing exciting and substantive change to the department just around the fortuitous time of the Michigan Urology Centennial. He is continuing the weekly Urology What’s New aimed at departmental specifics along with this monthly set of Matula Thoughts on the first Fridays, and simultaneously available on the web site matulathoughts.org.

 

One. 

April brings spring, so welcome after a rough winter’s polar vortices reached down to our geography and innermost bodily cores. Flowering dogwoods, photographed last year (above), will return soon and that’s much of the attraction of photography – preservation of meaningful moments with fidelity to the momentary truth. We want to hold on to things we value as best we can and photography allows us to keep them, in a way, by replication. Words can also replicate those moments and truths with fidelity and beauty.

Last spring this column referred to Dr. William Carlos Williams and his book, Spring and All, a title mysterious in its promise. [Above: Williams and Ezra Pound at their last meeting, photographed by Richard Avedon in July 1958, Wikipedia.] The central piece in Williams’ collection, On the Road to the Contagious Hospital, speaks to facilities that that have faded away, the leprosaria, tuberculosis sanitaria, and other such places. New diseases and antibiotic-resistant resurgence of the old ones may resurrect those institutions. Leprosy, by the way, is not a disease of the past. The Lancet recently had a photoessay “Picturing health new face of leprosy.” The authors noted: “… leprosy impairs and society disables.”  [Kumar A, Lambert S, Lockwood DNJ. The Lancet, 393:629-638, 2019.]

The University of Michigan once had its own contagious hospital after the citizens in Ann Arbor in 1914 voted for a bond issue of $25,000 for an isolation hospital to be maintained by the university. [Below: UM Contagious Disease Hospital, courtesy Bentley Library.] It was placed on a ridge behind the Catherine Street Hospital and looked over the Huron River. Horace Davenport’s book (Not Just Any Medical School, 1999) tells how in the first year the 24-bed hospital housed patients with chicken pox, diphtheria, necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (Vincent’s angina), pneumonia, tuberculosis (TB), and whooping cough. [Davenport HW. Not Just Any Medical School. University of Michigan Press. 1999.]

 

Two.

Photography, as a neologism meaning drawing by light, may have had a number of separate origins between 1834 and 1839. Previous methods to capture images by means of cameras obscura or shadow images on silver nitrate-treated papers were novelties, but didn’t scale up in terms of utility, until Louis Daguerre announced his sensational process on January 7, 1839. The rest is the history of the Kodak moment, motion pictures, Polaroids, and now the cell phone camera with its albums of thousands of pictures and videos.

Anesthesia, in contrast to photography, had a specific origin in time, place, and originator. Anesthesia was the neologism of Oliver Wendell Holmes in Boston, 1846. Just as photography was coming of age, medical practitioners were starting to bring science and new technology to their art. Large metropolitan hospitals, notably the Napoleonic legacies in France, afforded large numbers of patients that inquisitive physicians studied and compared. Evolving tools of measurement and investigation allowed new clinical skills and a slowly growing sense of hygiene would bring a greater level of safety to medical care.

Professor Charles-Alexandre Louis (1787-1872) in Paris at the Pitié-Salpêtrière was among the best of these physicians and his comparison of patients with pulmonary TB who were treated with leeches against those untreated patients was one of the earliest clinical trials. Young people from around the world came to Paris for weeks, months, or years to watch Louis at work. He stressed the idea of critical clinical observation (including the medical gaze), measurement, and analysis to improve understanding of disease and therapy, forming a Society of Clinical Observation that many young American trainees joined.

The idea of clinical material as the milieu for medical education and the improvement of health care through careful observation, inquiry, and research, received as great a boost from Louis as anyone. The medical gaze went beyond a quick visual glance. Deep inspection by an experienced physician was something new, a gaze that would discover clues to a diagnosis, understanding of co-morbidities, and other relevant facts to the case, the story, and the truth of a clinical situation.

The medical gaze, like the photograph, was novel and they complemented each other. Photography became a teaching and documentary tool. The informed gaze discovered a condition, an attitude, or a moment that the photograph could replicate and preserve. The medical gaze also inspired a new genre in literature – bringing the idea of astute medical discovery by observation, listening, and reasoning to crime solving.

One wonders if the medical gaze, once a desirable clinical skill, has now been eliminated by modern imaging tests, laboratory studies, biomarkers, and check lists? This begs the question whether or not tomorrow’s masters of those technologies and processes will quickly succumb to nonhuman purveyors of “artificial intelligence”?

 

Three.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Edgar Allen Poe’s famous short story in 1841, initiated a new genre of crime literature and the clever reasoning, Poe called “ratiocination,” necessary to solve crimes. [Poe 1809-1849, above] Curiously, Poe’s story included a brief speculation on uroscopic clues, specifically the odor of urine.

This scientific crime solver genre continues to gather cultural momentum. The picture above, made in the last year of Poe’s life, is the “Annie” daguerreotype, the best known of the eight known Poe daguerreotypes and named for Mrs. Annie Richmond of Lowell, Massachusetts who commissioned and owned the picture. Poe was just a little ahead of his time with ratiocination, his take on the medical gaze, where careful observation and trained reasoning could discover the truth of a situation. Over the next decades up to the fin de siècle a scientific corpus of knowledge, bringing new technology, would expand the medical gaze into a powerful capacity to produce data and evidence for both health care and criminal investigation.

Future detective author Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) was barely ten years old when Preston B. Rose started teaching Ann Arbor medical students urinalysis and scientific methods of forensic investigation in the Chemical Laboratory just behind the University of Michigan Medical School. Only 17 years later, as a 27-year old ophthalmologist with a struggling practice, Conan Doyle created a powerful blend of ratiocination and scientific analysis in the intellectual superhero, Sherlock Holmes. The detective was modeled on a real-life medical role-model of Doyle when he was a medical student and the name Doyle selected coincided with the real-life medical superhero Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of the most prominent Americans Abroad, who studied with Louis in Paris, as explained in David McCullough’s book. After return to Boston, Holmes presented one of the first convincing hypotheses for the germ theory to explain puerperal fever. [Below: Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle by English photographer Herbert Rose Barraud. Carbon print on card mount. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London.]

Doyle SS

 

Four.

Holmes embraced the new technology of photography, writing essays about it, making his own pictures, inventing a stereoscopic camera, and studying human ambulation with it. In the June issue of The Atlantic Magazine in 1859 Holmes commented on the improbability of the technology of capturing an actual moment in time totally on a single surface:

“This is just what the Daguerreotype has done. It has fixed the most fleeting of our illusions, that which the apostle and the philosopher and the poet have alike used as the type of instability and unreality. The photograph has completed the triumph, by making a sheet of paper reflect images like a mirror and hold them as a picture.”

It is a universal truth that pictures tell stories more immediately than words, and we humans have been practicing this art since cave-dwelling days, inspired by beauty in the natural world, fantasies, or unnatural horrors. Photography offers realistic images of faces, scenes, or situations, and complements the older visual arts of drawing or painting.

Earlier, in the inaugural Atlantic Monthly (above) Holmes had written:

“The next European war will send us stereographs of battles. It is asserted that a bursting shell can be photographed… We are looking into stereoscopes as pretty toys, and wondering over the photograph as a charming novelty; but before another generation has passed away, it will be recognized that a new epoch in the history of human progress dates from the time when He who

Never but in uncreated light

Dwelt from eternity –

Took a pencil of fire from the hand of the ‘angel standing in the sun,’ and placed it in the hands of a mortal.”

[“The stereoscope and the stereograph,” Atlantic Monthly, November, 1857.]

 

Five.

Guernica. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) while living in Paris was commissioned by the Spanish Republican Government to make a work in response to the destruction of Guernica. This  Basque town in northern Spain was bombed for two hours by Nazi Germany and Italian warplanes in their support of Spanish nationalists on 26 April 1937. [Above: Picasso working on the mural. Wikipedia.] The town was at a major crossroad 10 kilometers from the front lines between the Republican retreat and Nationalist advance to Bilbao. The target was a minor factory for war materials outside of town. The bombers missed the factory, but destroyed the town.

Picasso completed the large oil painting on canvas in June, 1937, after 35 days of work. The specific disputes of the Republicans and Nationalists, and the justifications of their supporters and suppliers are nowhere evident in the mural, only the grotesque mangled forms and anguished expressions of the victims. Guernica may be Picasso’s greatest work and one of mankind’s iconic images of the horror of war. The event itself was miniscule in the grand scale of 20th century conflict, but Picasso made it a transcendent moment for humanity.

No single painting, photograph, or narrative can capture the full and terrible story of Guernica, although together they give a fuller sense of the horror than any one work alone. [Above: Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain. ©Picasso. Below: ruined Guernica. German Federal Archives.]

Guernica, Ruinen

Picasso had commissioned three full-size tapestry reproductions of the work by Jacqueline de la Baume Durrbach and her husband René in 1955, weavers in Southern France. Nelson Rockefeller purchased one of these and it hangs on loan in the United Nations at the entrance to the Security Council room. A blue curtain strategically covered Guernica for televised press conferences of Colin Powell and John Negroponte on 5 February 2003. [Kennedy M. “Picasso tapestry of Guernica heads to UK.” London: The Guardian, 26 January 2009.] Picasso entrusted Guernica to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, pending re-establishment of liberty and democracy in Spain. After Spain became a democratic constitutional monarchy in 1978 the painting was ceded to Spain in 1981, although not without dissent that the ruling system was still not quite the republic stipulated by the artist in his will.

 

Short bits.

Morbidity and Mortality (M&M) conferences, discussed here last month, brought M&M candy to mind. The story goes that the Spanish Civil War inspired Forrest Mars, Sr. to create an American version of the British confection Smarties. Mars was working in England in the candy business at that time, estranged from his father, Frank Mars of Mars candy fame. Forrest had created the Mars Bar in Slough in 1932 and was looking for another product. Rowntree’s of York, maker of Chocolate Beans since 1882, had recently tweaked the name to Milk Chocolate Beans in 1937, and changed it to Smarties the following year. These oblate spheroids were sold in cylindrical cardboard tubes, with a colorful lid that contained a random alphabet letter, designed to encourage children to learn. The chocolate center was protected by a shell of hardened sugar syrup to prevent melting, a convenience enjoyed by soldiers in the Spanish Civil War.

The Spanish Civil War (17 July 1936 – 1 April 1939) engendered strong international sympathies, involving anarchists, communists, nationalists, aristocratic groups, and religious factions, although largely became viewed as a contest between democracy and fascism. British volunteers, likely including George Orwell, carried Milk Chocolate Beans and Smarties into battles and Forrest Mars might have noticed. Just as likely one of his children brought some home.

Returning to the U.S. and working with Bruce Murrie, son of Hershey Chocolate’s president, Mars developed their button-shaped variant, patented it on 3 March 1941, and began manufacture that year in New Jersey. M&M derived from Mars and Murrie, with a small “m” stamped on each button. The first big customer was the U.S. Army and during WWII M&Ms were sold exclusively to the military. “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand,” was first used as a tagline in 1949. Peanut M&Ms were introduced in 1954, and the rest is history.

Thanks for reading Matula Thoughts

David A. Bloom, M.D.

University of Michigan, Department of Urology, Ann Arbor

 

 

Sun rise 2019

Matula Thoughts Jan 4, 2019

Sun rise 2019
3734 words

 

Periodic re-explanation. This column, Matula Thoughts, recalls ancient uroscopy flasks called matulas, used for centuries to examine urine for clues to illness. People want to know “what comes next,” a question, explicit or unspoken, dominating most conversations in medical practice: “can it be fixed and what will happen to me?” Remedy and prognosis mattered more than diagnosis in ancient days, when technology and verifiable medical knowledge were sparse, and understanding pathophysiology (using today’s terms) was not as useful to a patient as remedy and prognosis. Direct examination of urine, particularly for color change, was one of the few early tools of practitioners and the matula was the dominant symbol of the medical profession for over 600 years in western art, until Laennec invented the stethoscope in 1816.

As a monthly collection of thoughts, relevant and random, from a senior genitourinary surgeon, the title seems appropriate. This electronic column began nearly 20 years ago in Allen Lichter’s dean’s office as a weekly email called What’s New. After returning full time to Jim Montie’s Urology Department in 2007, we continued What’s New as a weekly communication, published every Friday by varying members of our department, except for the first Friday of each month when I claimed the electronic podium. A parallel version began 5 years ago on the website MatulaThoughts.org. Happily, the Department of Urology will soon have a new chair with forms of communication to better match the times and people of the next decade. Nevertheless, this monthly habit will continue at MatulaThoughts.org reflecting personal observations, relevant and irrelevant, and events related to Michigan Medicine and the Department of Urology. [Above: Sun face on ceiling fresco, church of Saint Jean-Baptiste de Larbey, Southwestern France. 1610. Wikipedia. Below: variant of Nesbit log by Julian Wan.]

 

One.

Imagine just 100 years ago how different things were for our predecessors at the University of Michigan Medical School: Americans were recovering from WWI and the first two deadly waves of the 1918 influenza epidemic; Woodrow Wilson was US president, having been Princeton president when he was offered the Michigan job ten years earlier; women couldn’t vote and any adult could drink alcohol on this day in 1919, but by the end of the year women’s suffrage was secured in the 19th Amendment and prohibition came with the 20th Amendment; socialist and communist parties were on the rise; anarchists were preparing for spring bombings; and racial tensions festered nationally. Meanwhile, the University of Michigan carried on with its work at the Medical School and University Hospital, as life went on in Ann Arbor. [Above: Approaching New Year’s Eve, December, 2018, Liberty & Ashley, Ann Arbor.]

The University in 1919, already more than a century old as an organization and in Ann Arbor for around 80 years, was amidst a building binge under President Hutchins with the new Union, Art Museum, Hill Auditorium, and other defining structures. The 60-year old Medical School, which had looked quite good to Flexner on his visit in 1909, had since fallen behind its peers in terms of facilities. The hospital was badly out of date well before the war and replacement was further delayed by the national emergency. The practice of urology at UM was a little more than a single faculty effort in a surgery department consisting of a handful of other individuals.

Late in 1919, Medical School dean Victor Vaughan recruited Boston urologist Hugh Cabot, who would engineer 11 years of change bringing the Medical School back to the top of medical education internationally and at the pinnacle of state-of-the-art clinical practice for the first time. Academic urology in Ann Arbor surely began with Cabot.

 

 

Two.

Pundits and ordinary folk made predictions and resolutions when the sun rose on 1919 and we repeated these customs three days ago. Events will happen and paradigms will surely change over the next 12 months, but the only solid predictions this posting will offer for 2019 are: a new chair will begin stewardship of this fine Department of Urology sometime soon and we will celebrate the Michigan Urology Centennial later in the year. Other than those predictions, the rest is noise (to borrow the title of the book on 20th century music by Alex Ross). Sunrise each new day or year brings uncertainty and new possibilities. Predict and resolve whatever you wish, paradigm changes are usually outside your control, although the ability to recognize their inflection points is a useful gift. [Below: Encyclopaedia Biblica, 1903. Public domain.]

The centrality of the Sun to life is a fundamental feature of biology and logically a universal symbol in human civilizations. The 14th century BC image of pharaoh Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) worshipping sun god Ra, in form of Aten, shows a partial solar disc with rays ending in little hands. Curiously, Akhnaten (1983) was one of three biographical operas written by American composer Philip Glass, the other two being Einstein on the Beach (1976) and Satyagragha (in 1979, about Mahatma Gandhi).
Inevitably, an Anthropocene imprint was added to the sun, seen in the introductory figure from Larbey and much earlier in a 4th century BC marble relief of sun god Helios driving his chariot at the Temple of Athena in Troy. [Below: Pergamon Museum, Berlin.]

The man-in-the-moon, a whimsical anthropomorphic imagination, when combined with a solar face suggests the ancient Asian complementary opposites yin and yang. [Below top: Amiens, Bibliothèques d’Amiens Métropole, manuscrit Lescalopier (Fourth Day of Creation) c. 1200. Wikipedia. Bottom: yin and yang.]

 

Janus, Roman god of beginnings, looked to both the future and the past, presiding over transitions such as war and peace,  and might be viewed as a symbol of paradigm shifts in modern times . [Below: Janus, Vatican Museum.]

Solar symbols, seen on some national flags, are ubiquitous in the Happy Face, the mother and father of all emoji, designed by commercial artist Harvey Ball in 1963. Charles Kuralt’s Sunday Morning show, launched by CBS News on January 28, 1979, continues to employ a solar disk theme throughout 40 years of reiteration by Charles Osgood and Jane Pauley, remaining a pinnacle of news and civilized commentary as each episode rolls through a set of beautifully curated solar symbols. [Below: Sunday Morning (top) & Authentic Worcester Smiley (bottom).]

 

Three.

Isaac Newton’s big paradigm shifts began inauspiciously when he was born this day in 1643. His birth date in the old-style calendar was 25 December 1642, but Gregorian conversion brings his birthday to today in the modern calendar and solar year. Bad luck shaped him from the start; father died three months before he was born and mother commented that Isaac, ar birth, could fit inside a quart mug (Wikipedia). Mother remarried, but young Isaac, unhappy at home and bullied at school, reacted by focusing on his studies, becoming a top student at Trinity College in Cambridge. Apples, gravity, planetary motion, and mathematics come to mind at first with Newton’s name, which is also celebrated in the term for a unit of force.

Newton’s color theory was another product of his astonishing ability to think about the world and find clarity about how things work. Countless people before him had seen white light refract through glass prisms into the colors of the visible spectrum and everyone sees rainbows. Yet only Newton carried those observations into a theory of color, described in a book he wrote at 71 years of age in 1704: Opticks: or, a Treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflexions, and Colours of Light. [Above: double Alaska rainbow. Eric Rolph. Below: Color wheel of Goethe. Wikipedia.]

Color theory continued to attract great minds, including German polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) and Scottish scientist James Maxwell (1831-1879) whose differential equations in 1865 explained the electromagnetic spectrum. [Below, User:penubag, Wikipedia.]

An early Apple Computer symbol (above) was perhaps an intentional play on Newton himself and Adobe’s color disk (below) fragments color into infinitesimal gradients of hue.

 

Four.

Urine may not be a window to the soul, but it’s a useful indicator of disease through color, sediment, or odor. Red is an obvious hallmark of trouble, whether renal trauma, urinary stone, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, infection, BPH, structural anomaly, metabolic dysfunction, rhabdomyolysis, or genetic mutations. Ancient uroscopists expanded color change into fanciful imaginations and medieval uroscopy charts offered wild speculations of what color, sediment, consistency, smell, and taste of urine might portend in terms of prognosis. [Below: uroscopy clinic. Hortus Sanitatis. 1491, Mainz. Courtesy Dick Wolfe, Countway Library.]

The paradigm shift from uroscopy to urology occurred over two centuries replacing sensory examination of urine by eye, nose, and occasionally tongue, with microscopy and chemical analysis. Nevertheless, persistent uroscopic fortune-tellers claimed legitimacy even in the face of emerging scientific reason. Thomas Brian’s book in 1637, The Pisse Prophet, is a classic example of rational attempts to debunk dogma and fraud.[Below: Wellcome Library, 1655 copy.]

The metabolic dysfunction porphyria (named for purple urine) affected Scottish physician, Archie Cochrane, born 110 years ago in 1909 on January 12, and the prime advocate in modern times for evidence-based health care. Later this month Guilia Lane, our FPMRS fellow, will educate us on Cochrane in What’s New. [Below: normal urine sample on left and porphyria sample on right.]

This sample below from my clinic a few years ago was oddly green, but I failed to make note of the cause. Color still matters in modern urinalysis although, since matulas gave way to microscopy and chemical analysis, physicians rarely demand to view urine themselves before it heads to a machine or laboratory.

Macroscopic uroscopy gave way nearly completely to modern urine investigation with specific gravity measurement, chemical analysis, microscopic exam of spun sediment, bacteriologic culture, antibiotic sensitivity testing, and who knows what will come next. Twentieth century urinalysis was a cornerstone of urologic practice when it was unimaginable for a patient to leave the office of a good urologist without submitting a urine for examination. Hinman’s Eight Steps to Presumptive Diagnosis constituted the basis of urologic practice, at his start in San Francisco in 1920 as the first trained urologist west of the Mississippi: history, general examination, abdominal and external genital exam, urinalysis including a stained smear, prostate exam, plain x-ray, phenolsulfonephthalein test (PSP), and residual urine. [Bloom DA, Hinman F Jr. Frank Hinman, Sr: a first generation urologist. Urology. 61:876-881, 2003.] Color and other sensory inspection still matter and while details have changed, urology is diminished somewhat when its practitioners no longer personally inspect urine grossly and microscopically, favoring instead automated readout from machine or lab.

 

Five.

The story of urology at the University of Michigan was last told 20 years ago just after the Urology Section in the Medical School Department of Surgery emerged as a full-fledged department alongside its sibling disciplines of Neurosurgery and Orthopaedic Surgery. Much happened in the next 20 years to justify a new rendition of the story and additionally much more has been learned about the earlier years. The new book should coincide with the Michigan Urology Centennial, beginning later this year. Urology is a microcosm of modern specialized health care, but its roots are also of particular interest as the first designated medical specialty in Hippocratic times and the stories since then of the discoverers, progression of skills, and innovations that led to 19th century genitourinary practice and 20th century urology should be retold and interpreted for each new generation.

No story is ever complete, in its recollections of the past, because only partial relevant knowledge is known to any author and myriad other details of the cultural and physical soups surrounding those facts are mostly lost to historical recollection. Lucky historians may find, reconstruct, resuscitate, or recover useful details, but all stories are largely narratives of imagination and facts, whether true facts or otherwise, in the words of the late urological scientist, Don Coffey. Stories, even as particular as one of an academic urology unit, are enriched by the context of its people, events, and circumstances. For example, it’s inconceivable to consider urology at Michigan without understanding Moses Gunn, and any appreciation of Gunn requires the context of the Civil War. In that sense, the Michigan urology story aims to be rich in context.

 

Six.

The bicentennial edition of Howard Peckham’s sesquicentennial work, The Making of the University of Michigan, by Margaret and Nicholas Steneck is indispensable to understanding this institution. The Stenecks proposed, metaphorically, that this university began with a single strand that represented the foundational aim of the university to disseminate knowledge and embracing education at all levels. This strand thickened over time and became joined by a second strand, turning around the first one, the new strand representing knowledge itself, that must be interpreted, renewed, created, and disseminated through explorations, criticism, research, and invention. The Stenecks identified yet another part of the braid.

“Now there is a third strand wound with the other two. The University touches more than just its young students and faculty. It gives services to the State that help maintain it; it aids citizens who never enroll. These services began when its hospitals received perplexing cases from all over the State. It continued with the upgrading of high schools, the testing of municipal water supplies, with experiments in reforestation, testing programs for state highways. It supplied reading lists for club programs, lecture series for enlightenment, and musical concerts for entertainment. It expanded to research contracts for Michigan industries, development of new products for manufacture in Michigan, seminars for business executives, realtors and assessors, state college presidents, and refresher demonstrations for physicians and dentists. It provided radio and TV educational programs for all. Teaching–research-and service. These are the warp and woof of the University today.” [Peckham HH. The Making of the University of Michigan. 1817-1992. Edited and updated by ML Steneck and NH Steneck. University of Michigan. Ann Arbor. 1967, 1994. p. 1-2.]

A better term for “service thread” is that of public goods, and today those public goods extend far beyond the state of Michigan to the world at large. Universities, since the Middle Ages, have been the single entity in human society to attend consistently and dutifully, albeit imperfectly, to the human and planetary future. In the past few centuries the university, or the Academy as some call it, has extended from small Ivory Towers that educate a particular narrow subset of learners, to complex Multiversities with broader aims such as the Stenecks listed.

 

Seven.

Mission homeostasis. The University of Michigan entered the 20th century with a more complex, but clearer iteration of an academic medical center than it displayed at its start when medical education was the sole basis for its existence. The Chemical Laboratory in 1856 introduced the service of chemical analysis to medical education, clinical practice, and scientific discovery. A more complete linkage of medical education to clinical practice came with Michigan’s first university hospital in 1869 and by its third iteration in 1891 the triple mission of an academic medical center was fully in place, although confusion over priorities played out in such disputes as moving the medical school closer to large urban populations and hospitals, compensation of clinical faculty, and criteria for academic promotion.

Mission balance continued to confuse faculty and perplex leadership for that next century and into the present one. History brings some clarity to the matter: the University of Michigan Medical School began with an educational mission of training the next generation of physicians, research followed quickly initially to refine biochemistry in the service of the public, and clinical care was recognized as the necessary milieu for medical education and research. Among these three parts of the conjoined mission, clinical care is the moral epicenter, trumping any other part of the mission at any moment. Furthermore clinical care, a matter of complex intellectual teams, is the financial engine that currently underpins the other missions. Any great academic medical center must be first and foremost a state-of-the-art health care system that not only delivers excellent patient-centric service, but also studies and improves its systems of care and technologies along with its many scholarly and clinical disciplines. Clinical teams are the essential center and most important deliverable of academic medical centers. [Above: scribe’s heart measured against “feather of truth.” Book of the Dead, c. 1,265 BC. National Geographic, Ancient Egyptians. May 2009.]

 

Eight.

No Property in Man. January 15, 1929, the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., is celebrated later this month for his role in the slow, halting, and sometimes retreating movement towards universal human rights, a struggle that remains a very incomplete paradigm shift worldwide. [Above: MLK 1964.] Extending Mahatma Gandhi’s methodology of nonviolence and civil disobedience, King fought inequality through resistance that was nonviolent on his side of the bridge to change laws, public sensibility, and hearts and minds. Martin Luther King Day is celebrated around the time of Dr. King’s birthday, January 15, but the specific day this year will be January 21 according to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Michigan Representative John Conyers along with US Senator Edward Brook (MA) offered the first bill in Congress to honor King, but it fell short of passage by a few votes in 1979. In 1983, President Reagan signed the final bill to establish the day of remembrance, which commenced in 1986, also establishing a federal commission to oversee observance of the holiday. In 1989 President George HW Bush made Coretta Scott King a lifetime member of the commission. Toronto, Canada, Hiroshima, Japan, and Wassenaar, Netherlands also honor Dr. King with public observances.

We don’t close clinics, operating rooms, or phone lines for that day at Michigan (that would hardly have been in the spirit of Dr. King, anyway), but the occasion offers a time for reflection, study, relevant academic talks, and renewed efforts toward the unfulfilled paradigm shift to universal human rights. A good friend and Americana scholar, Jim Beuche, recommended a book called No Property in Man, by Sean Wilentz. In the spirit of this month, this is a “must-read” for 2019. Wilentz explains the issue starting at the Federal Convention (U.S. “Constitutional Convention”) in 1787.

“Descriptions of the Constitution as proslavery have misconstrued critical debates inside the convention. They have slighted the anti-slavery impulses generated by the American Revolution, to which the delegates, for better or for worse, paid heed. They have missed the crucial subtlety, which is this: although the framers agreed to compromises over slavery that blunted antislavery hopes and augmented the slaveholders’ power, they also deliberately excluded any validation of property in man.” [Wilentz. No Property in Man. Harvard University Press, 2018.]

Many forces assembled to abolish slavery in America, but Wilentz argues that the United States Constitution, the Republican Party (“an antislavery mass organization unprecedented in world history”), Proclamation 95 (Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation), and the 13th Amendment, legally abolished any legitimacy of the notion of “property in man” in America. [Below: page one of the five-page Emancipation Proclamation. National Archives.]

At President Kennedy’s suggestion, King led an effort to draft a Second Emancipation Proclamation, that would have outlawed segregation and expanded equality, but Kennedy’s Executive Order 11063 fell short of the draft. Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964, fulfilled more of King’s aspiration. That year King won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 35. He was assassinated in 1968 at age 39.

 

Nine.

Harvey Ball (1921-2001) designed the Happy Face to repair a decline in morale after the bumpy merger of two insurance companies. How effective the ideogram was in that instance is not clear, but Ball earned $45 for it and never applied for trademark or copyright. He never voiced regret for giving his symbol to the public, even after it became a universal symbol. Ball was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, served in the Pacific Theater of WWII with a Bronze Star for heroism at Okinawa, started his own advertising company in his home town in 1959. One day, in 1963, he drew Smiley.

 

As a matter of law, copyright goes back to 1709 and the Statute of Queen Anne of Britain, the last monarch of the House of Stuart and the same Anne portrayed in the current film, The Favourite. Another current film, Mary Queen of Scots, portrays the start of the House of Stuart two centuries earlier, with the conception and birth of James, later first Stuart and first king to preside over England and Scotland.

The U.S. Constitution in 1787 includes a Copyright Clause (Article 1, Section 8), recently updated with the Copyright Act of 1976 and the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, also called the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” [Above: Queen Anne’s Statute. Below: Bell’s graph of US Copyright law expansion. “©1999-2008 Tom W. Bell. All rights reserved. Fully attributed noncommercial use of this document permitted if accompanied by this paragraph.” Wikipedia.]

Three days ago (Jan 1, 2019), according to U.S. copyright laws, all works published in 1923 entered the public domain. Sonny’s name was likely linked more to his music than his love of 1923 literature. (Wikipedia.) Works published then were to have entered the public domain in 1999, but were granted postponement by 20 years when Congress extended their copyright length with the Bono Act. Willa Cather’s A Lost Lady, Agatha Christie’s The Murder of the Links, Joseph Conrad’s, The Rover, Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, Marcel Proust’s The Prisoner (vol. 5 of In Search of Lost Time), William Carlos Williams’s The Great American Novel, and Virginia Wolfe’s Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street were so reprieved.

[Above: copyright applied. Below: public domain.]

 

Ten.

Matula Thoughts analytics, 2018. We have no sense of the readership of the monthly What’s New delivered by email, but the web version, MatulaThoughts.org had 3454 views last year compared 3173 views in 2017. Viewers came from 89 countries, ranging from a few viewers in 35 countries, to 54 in Germany, 70 in the U.K., 87 in Canada, and 2578 in the US. Most views are cursory, but we enjoy hearing back directly from periodic careful readers who challenge our facts and alert us to errors.

[Above: analytics 2018.]
New Year 2019 began on a Tuesday and a short work week ends today for most people, but health care is a 24/7 business and by necessity we will offer more scheduled afterhours and weekend services at Michigan Medicine Urology, even though we have been doing so formally and informally for years. It is curious that most calendars begin each week on Sunday, although for most people that day is the end of the week and weekend, with the next week beginning at sunrise on Monday.

The 1902 fantasy film, Le Voyage dans la Lune, by Georges Méliés, shows an oversize spacecraft planted in the right lunar eye. We don’t have to travel 240,000 miles to stick it to a heavenly body, because Homo sapiens is doing this well enough right here at home on Earth, but possibly 2019 will be a turning point for planetary stewardship.

[Above: Schedel’s World History or Nuremburg Chronicle, 1493. Below: Earthrise, December 24, 1968. Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders.]

 

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