November matters

DAB What’s New Nov 3, 2017

3742 words

One.
The matula, an historic symbol of the medical arts and title of this electronic periodical, was the transparent beaker used to examine urine in the pre-scientific days of health care, as people sought explanations for and expectations from their illnesses. Fear and uncertainty exacerbate human illnesses and our earliest prehistoric ancestors found comfort from their fellows in clans and caves to care for and sometimes heal them. The matula is a useful metaphor for the acts of looking, listening, and examining evidence to discover what really matters in clinical situations.

In ancient days what really mattered to people with illness or injury were the issues of treatment and prognosis: what can be done to help, what comes next, will I live, or will I die? The specific matter of diagnosis was most likely subsumed by the idea of what caused the problem. Gods, fates, cosmic forces, evil-doers, bad luck, or obvious injury were likely culprits before germ theory, organ-based dysfunctions, or other explanations based on a verifiable conceptual basis of health and illness. A sense of prognosis, however, was of practical value.

Uroscopists inspected urine for color, consistency, clarity, sediments, smell, and sometimes taste of urine, to find clues for treatment and prognosis. This was not illogical. Pink urine from infection or trauma might be followed by recovery. Gross blood and particulate sediments would suggest recurrent bladder stones. Scanty concentrated urine from dehydration might signal severe gastroenteritis and a grim prognosis. Uroscopy grew into a complex pseudoscience with fanciful claims of prognostic significance based on intricate characteristics of urine samples. Newer tools, such as the stethoscope and microscope superseded matulas and the future will bring better tools.

Thoughts about the future occasionally slide into dystopian visions and invite the question: what really matters to each of us? Putting aside occupational questions of healthcare professionals (making a diagnosis, ascertaining a treatment), political ideology (conservative or liberal, R or D, libertarian or socialist), or pragmatic issues (where do I live, what car do I drive, what’s for lunch?), we each have our own beliefs, although ultimately most people share similar fundamental desires for safety, comfort, and peace of mind. Family and friends matter.

We cherish personal liberty, physically and intellectually. Beauty, curiosity, and clarity matter. Social matters are important to most people; kindness, truth, integrity, respect, belonging, and sustainability are essential in a civilized world. The last item may seem a bit out of place, but as we sustain health, welfare, independence, and safety, for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our descendants, by simple logic we need to sustain our environment.

 

Two.


With Michigan’s gorgeous autumn colors fading in the rear-view mirror, November’s matula brings Thanksgiving into sight and notably the iconic holiday images of Norman Rockwell. His Four Freedoms paintings, based on Franklin Roosevelt’s State of the Union Address in 1941, illustrated the freedoms that FDR thought mattered greatly: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. These freedoms extended the sense of the liberty entrenched in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, – that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, …”

Roosevelt’s four freedoms are more specific than the liberty mentioned in The Declaration at the dawn of the Revolutionary War, although political liberty was not far from Roosevelt’s mind when he gave the speech 11 months before the U.S. entry into World War II. The speech also slyly broke with America’s non-interventionism, by advocating support for our allies already in armed conflict. The words of Roosevelt and paintings of Rockwell mattered greatly to Americans in the 1940’s and they seem to matter now in this new century. Rockwell’s Four Freedoms paintings appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1943 and were used in war bond posters and postage stamps.

Rockwell also painted enduring images of healthcare professionals, some modelled on his neighbor Dr. Donald E. Campbell. After this topic was discussed in previous pages of WN/MT (March 4 & May 6, 2016) the doctor’s great granddaughter, Moira Dwyer, kindly sent us information and photographs that the family kept. Dr. Campbell, born in 1906, graduated in 1939 from Middlesex Medical School and practiced in Stockbridge, Massachusetts providing nearly the full spectrum of medical care to his community. He retired at 83 and died in 2001 at 95. Like the English physician, John Sassall, detailed in John Berger’s book, A Fortunate Man, Campbell was an indelible part of his community, providing far more than clinical services for patients by going beyond the specificity of medical conditions of his patients to understand their co-morbidities, inner needs, and social constraints. [Matula Thoughts Oct, Nov, Dec. 2016 & Feb. 2017]

As a footnote to Dr. Campbell, Middlesex College of Medicine and Surgery was founded in 1914 in East Cambridge, Massachusetts and was affiliated with a hospital of the same name. The campus moved to Waltham in 1928 and by 1937, it also included schools of liberal arts, pharmacy, podiatry, and veterinary medicine in addition to its school of medicine. Accreditation by the AMA became problematic, ostensibly due to issues of funding, faculty, and facilities although many claimed the merit-based admission policy and unusually diverse student body of Middlesex grated on the far more homogeneous American medical establishment at mid-20th century. Medical schools then maintained ethnic and religious admission quotas and Middlesex was an unabashed outlier with its diverse student body. In 1946, the Middlesex trustees transferred the charter and campus, with the hope that the medical and veterinary schools would be continued, to a foundation that created Brandeis University two years later. Middlesex Medical School did not survive the transition to the new university.

 

Three.
It is a profound community asset to have a Campbell or Sassall and it is impossible to fully measure their impact as a citizen, leader, mentor, and role model. These essential anchors of society bring not just their professional skills, but also their values, leadership, and expectation of fairness to a community. They look out for the common man and particularly for the most vulnerable members of the community. It is no coincidence that a universal ploy of anarchists, revolutionaries, and authoritarian pretenders as seen widely across the planet, is assassination of these “honest brokers.” The moral example and leadership of doctors such as Campbell and Sassall is our ultimate expectation for the medical professionals we teach. These mentors and role models act as epigenetic factors for the larger “superorganism” of humanity. They are operational factors between human genetics and civilization.

Education and training of physicians changed since 1939 when Campbell graduated medical school. The 4-year curriculum deepened with the growing scientific basis of biology and disease while graduate medical education (GME) also expanded with enlarging technology and new specialties of health care. The period of residency practice and study is now the career-defining facet of a doctor’s learning. Nearly 80 years since Dr. Campbell’s graduation, medical students enter fields of GME in as many as 150 areas of focused medical practice with learning experiences that may exceed twice the years the trainees spent in medical school.

Healthcare education differs from that of lawyers, engineers, and most other career paths. Physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and dentists require an immediate educational context of patient-care. The University of Michigan recognized this fact in 1869 when it converted a faculty house into a hospital, thereby becoming the first university to own and operate a medical center. We recognized this anew when we began to create a wider health care network, in the past few years, capable of supporting our large educational mission, now educating 900 MDs and health care PhDs, 1100 residents and fellows in medicine, as well as dentists, nurses, and pharmacists. One could easily argue that universities should offer a wider coherent educational milieu. A grander educational vision to include all parts of the health care workforce (physician assistants, surgical scrub technicians, medical assistants, etc.) would have a great effect on state economy and on our workforce pipeline. It could be done with robust partnerships not only with the UM Flint and Dearborn campuses, but also with our adjacent and regional community colleges.

 

Four.
In its more rudimentary days, the UM academic health center was distinguished by its implementation of  fulltime clinical faculty, terminology indicating that physicians who practiced or taught exclusively within a teaching hospital had a fulltime salary independent of their patient care revenue at that site. In the early days of UMMS this model attracted national luminaries such as Charles de Nancrede in 1889 and Hugh Cabot in 1920. de Nancrede was an attending surgeon and clinical lecturer at Jefferson Medical College, among other Philadelphia medical institutions, and was a major name in American surgery as a clinician, teacher, and pioneer in antiseptic and aseptic technique. At Michigan he presided over the construction of the new West Hospital in 1892, established a world-class surgery department where he practiced exclusively, and wrote an influential textbook of surgery. [World J. Surg. 22:1175, 1998.] Cabot was an even more stellar addition, coming from Boston as an internationally known urologist, where he had become disillusioned by the monetary nature of medical practice.

The world of healthcare practice, education, and investigation is different in the 21st century. The few academic medical centers that will survive well in the future will be those with the best and brightest geographic fulltime faculty, the majority of whom will be busy clinicians. Their milieu may well depend upon robust clinical productivity that brings the most challenging clinical problems to them and their facilities, but this will also require a very substantial volume of more routine clinical work as the context for education of all learner groups and clinical trials, in addition to inspiring basic science investigation. This clinical milieu will require a robust array of endowed professorships to give faculty a modest disconnect from clinical practice to allow teaching and academic work.

 

Five.

Fellow professionals. Modern specialty-based health care has shifted emphasis from individual all-knowing utility-player doctors like Campbell and Sassall to large teams that deliver their parts of today’s healthcare. The knowledge base, growing list of specialties, and technology of medicine today is so great that the centrality of a single physician is a model that no longer works well for health care delivery. Furthermore, linguistic confusion arises as other terms are awkwardly deployed to indicate all healthcare providers (not just physicians) more inclusively. This matter became acute as we have been creating bylaws for our new University of Michigan Medical Group (UMMG). A good nomenclature solution arose from Gerald Hickson, a Vanderbilt pediatrician (above), speaking to the UMMG this summer about programs that build professionalism and create a culture of safety. His phrase, fellow professionals, nicely includes MDs, DOs, nurses, PAs, physical therapists, podiatrists, occupational therapists, optometrists, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, medical assistants, etc. [Hickson et al. A complementary approach. Acad. Med. 82:1040, 2007]

 

Six.
Medical professionals are under stress today from many sources, but the idea of a career in medicine still drives some of the best and brightest young people into our work, as judged by the medical school and urology residency applicants we see each year. I’ve just read applications, personal statements, and letters of recommendations from nearly 70 candidates for our 4 positions to start next July, and again I am blown away by the breadth and depth of these fourth-year medical students who will, all too soon, become our successors as urologists. They will have to resist the pressures to commoditize, corporatize, and industrialize their work as the 21st century rolls along. The electronic record is one of the pressures. A paper in Health Affairs last April surveyed primary care physicians and found they spent 3.17 hours on computers (desktop medicine) for every 3.08 hours spent with patients. [Tai-Seale et al. Electronic health record logs. Health Affairs. 36:655, 2017.]

It is impossible to predict the world that will envelop our successors. The conceptual basis they will learn and the skills they acquire are merely momentary assets. Ideas and techniques will change as long as human progress continues. The values, mores, social skills, curiosity, imagination, and ultimate kindness of our successors will be the principle assets to distinguish their careers, their effects on their communities, and their value to society in general. The influence of their ambient role models is as important as the book-learning and clinical skills imparted in graduate medical education. The epigenetic nature of values, mores, social skills, and role models show us, our colleagues, and our successors how and when to deploy the vast stores of information and skills we have accumulated. Just as importantly, some among them will be inspired to discover new knowledge and develop new skills.

 

Seven.

With Thanksgiving coming up, I’m appreciative for precarious and relative world peace, food security, respite from climactic disasters, and the happy, healthy, lives we may have. [Above: Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1914, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts.] The great minds who have made this world so interesting are another blessing, people who looked at the world with clarity to make observations or find patterns that escaped everyone else at their moments.

The name, Conrad H. Waddington, probably doesn’t spring to mind, but is worth consideration. Born on a tea estate in Kerala, India, around this time of year in 1905 this British developmental biologist introduced the concept and word epigenetics. At age four he was sent off to England to live with family members while the parents remained at work in India for the next 23 years. In England, a local druggist and distant relation, Dr. Doeg, took the boy under his wing and inspired his interest in sciences. At Cambridge, “Wad” took a Natural Sciences Trips (a flexible curriculum across sciences) and earned a First in geology in 1926. With a scholarship he studied moral philosophy and metaphysics at university, assumed a lectureship in zoology, and became a Fellow of Christ’s College until 1942. During WWII he was involved in operational research for the Royal Air Force, and in 1947 became Professor of Animal Genetics at the University of Edinburgh where he worked for the rest of his life except for one year at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Waddington’s landmark paper in 1942 begins with four lovely sentences.

“Of all the branches of biology it is genetics, the science of heredity, which has been most successful in finding a way of analyzing an animal into representative units so that its nature can be indicated by a formula, as we represent a chemical compound by its appropriate symbols. Genetics has been able to do this because it studies animals in their simplest form, namely as fertilized eggs, in which all the complexity of the fully developed animal is implicit but not yet present. But knowledge about the nature of the fertilized egg is not derived directly from an examination of eggs; it is deduced from a consideration of the numbers and kinds of adults into which they develop. Thus genetics has to observe the phenotypes, the adult characteristics of animals, in order to reach conclusions about the genotypes, the hereditary constitutions which are its basic subject-matter.” [Waddington. Endeavor. 1: 18-21, 1942]

Later on the first page he suggests the term epigenetics to encompass the “whole process of developmental processes” that carries genotypes into phenotypes. The influence of Dr. Doeg, whom Waddington called Grandpa, was no doubt significant. The specifics of Dr. Doeg eluded me as I read about Waddington. Too bad, because it would have been illuminating to understand the nature of the fruitful mentorship that shaped Waddington’s curiosity, lucidity, communicative skills, and sociability that left him a context to discover what he did.

 

Eight.

Black Bart, legendary stagecoach robber, committed his last robbery on this date in 1883. He specialized in Wells Fargo robbery, and it’s a bit ironic that the bank’s more recent history indicates it has internalized that larcenous bent to its own customers. Black Bart was actually Charles Earl Boles, variously known as Charley Bolton, a gentleman bandit in Northern California and Oregon. Born in Norfolk, England, he and his brothers joined the California Gold Rush in 1849. The brothers died and by 1854 Charles was married and living in Decatur, Illinois with a wife and four children. After serving in the Civil War he returned to California and gold prospecting in 1867, leaving his family behind. In 1871 Bolton wrote his wife and described an unpleasant encounter of some sort with Wells Fargo & Company agents and vowed revenge. He fulfilled the vow, adopting the name Black Bart, and robbed at least 28 coaches in California and Oregon, although never fired a weapon or harmed anybody. The last known robbery was in Calaveras County, between Copperopolis and Milton, when he was wounded in the hand while escaping. Detectives found personal items at the scene and through laundry marks traced a handkerchief to a San Francisco laundry on Bush Street. They quickly located Boles, living in nearby boarding house, and convicted him of the November 3 robbery.

Black Bart served four years at San Quentin and after release he was constantly shadowed by Wells Fargo detectives. In a letter to his wife he said he was tired of the attention, and disappeared after being last seen near Visalia on February 28, 1888. A distinctive feature of Black Bart was that he was consistently a gentleman, always polite and never using profanity. It might be said that he was a rare and exemplary professional in his business, living according to his values. His sense of mission will never be exactly known to us today, but Black Bart was somehow compelled to right some perceived wrong and, like most of us, he needed an income so Wells Fargo was a fitting opportunity.

Even in his risky occupation Black Bart remained kind and harmless, other than theft from a corporate entity of questionable kindness itself, it turns out. If he could act kindly in spite of living on the edge as he did, health care professionals such as us might consider him as a role model, although somewhat of a peculiar one. Somewhere along the line he must have had the parenting, mentorship, or experience that built his character of kindness, larcenous though it might have been. [Above book cover. Black Bart: Boulevardier Bandit. George Hoeper. Word Dancer Press, 1995]

 

Nine.

Jack Lapides. As we unearth stories of Michigan Urology, colorful anecdotes come to light and many involve Jack Lapides. The personal story of a patient who underwent a life-changing Lapides vesicostomy was told on these pages in July and that gentleman was ultimately laid to rest in a ceremony at Arlington in August. Another story from a former medical student was that of Jack teaching the students the art of cystoscopy when he would ask the students to peer over his shoulder and look through the scope to describe what they saw.

It is said that Lapides sometimes mischievously disconnected the light source cord as someone leaned in to look and occasionally an uncertain student provided a fanciful description of the dark or black field. This may have been one origin of his Black Jack moniker, although just as likely it might have been related to the fear he struck among rookies in his expectation for high standards and excellence. Dr. Lapides’s conferences were legendary. He was exacting and tough, requiring that all presentations be stripped of jargon and abbreviations. The IVP, for example, was intravenous pyelogram. Conferences today are more causal. The tradition of teaching conferences persists, but on a larger canvas since Lapides’s days with 4-5 faculty, our scale having increased by a factor of 10. Just below is Thursday morning Grand Rounds. Further below is the Friday AM Mott imaging conference that follows a formal review of operations scheduled the following week. In both instances we have outgrown our rooms.

Yet another Lapides anecdote turned up last week when I was at the American College of Surgeons (ACS) meeting and spent an evening with Lou and Ginger Argenta (below: with Tony Atala of Wake Forest, in San Diego October, 2017).

Lou had been our plastic surgery head in my early years at Michigan and innovated, with Michael Morykwas at Wake Forest, the Vacuum-Assisted Closure (VAC) device, a paradigm-changing system to manage burns and wounds. For this he won the Jacobson Innovation Award from the ACS in 2016. Lou recalled how Jack Lapides, in his retirement years, took up welding and small engine repair, learning and teaching them at Washtenaw Community College. Jack kindly performed a welding repair on the broken bicycle of young Joey Argenta, and the work held up for years of further bicycle abuse.

Lapides stories will undoubtedly continue to emerge. The man and his work had a long reach.

 

Ten.
What really matters to us, to our patients, to our colleagues, to our community, and our 7 billion global brethren is a deep question usually lost in the daily hustle of life. Most people have roughly similar ideas about what matters, although each has a particular take on things. Donald Campbell, Charles de Nancrede, Charley Bolton, Jack Lapides, Dr. Doeg, CW Waddington, FDR, and Rockwell had their particular world views that shaped their legacies. All, no doubt, shared many of the things that mattered to them, although each likely ordered and interpreted those characteristics idiosyncratically, perhaps Black Bart most peculiarly.

It is no accident that the four essential freedoms that Roosevelt identified have a strong basis in health care. Freedom from want is most obviously tied into food security, but it could just as easily be interpreted as freedom from needs that rationally include shelter and health care. Freedom from fear was illustrated by Rockwell as a fear of illness, but safety and personal security could just as easily have been the visual that Rockwell used. Liberty in the political sense is not so far from liberty in its mobility sense. An authoritarian regime may enforce curfews or travel restrictions, just as health conditions restrict people from being out and about to participate fully in society. If governments are to promote life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the four freedoms are essential.

Human values and role models are the factors that translate human beings into the superorganism of human civilization. Those factors can go the way of apoptosis or can epigenetically build a prosperous, just, beautiful, robust, and sustainable version of itself for the next generation.

[Autumn foliage, my neighborhood 2017]

 

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

Matula Thoughts December 2, 2016

Politics, nutcrackers, and earthly delights
3799 words

One.

election-2016-copy

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

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

herblock1950

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

castro

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

 

 

Two.

colors

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

baa

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

supermoon

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

first-quarter

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

snowy-4th

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

 

 

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

el_jardin_de_las_delicias_de_el_bosco-1

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

van-leyden

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

 

 

Four.

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

lange

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

peterson-tim

 

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

 

 

Eight.

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

nutcracker

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

 

 

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

house-of-cards

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

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

 

 

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

repub-pres

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

political-promises-copy

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

 

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

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