Watching the Happy Hospitalist’s Xtranormal Videos

By |December 15th, 2010

Some weeks ago I discovered Happy’s hilarious Xtranormal videos on his anonymous blog. Yesterday I laughed watching the Hospitalist vs the ER:


I can’t tell you much about who the Happy Hospitalist is. His is one of the few anonymous blogs I read. Based on the apparent relevance of cars and parking lots in his everyday life, I doubt he’s anywhere close to Manhattan. On politics – a tangent on the said Hospitalist’s site, most often I’m not on the same page. But on the ins and outs, and ups and downs of hospital care and personalities at work, most often he’s spot on – with instructive, occasionally deep, specifics and humor.

At the footer of Happy’s blog, beneath an image with a picture of two perky dogs in a vehicle, a caption reads: “IF YOU ARE READING THIS, YOU NEED TO FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO DO. GO SPEND TIME WITH YOUR FAMILY.”

Yes.

Xtranormal’s mission is to bring movie-making to the people, according to its website. (I aspire to try the “text to movie” function after I’ve published my first book, in 201?)

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Twitter, The Notificator, and Old Social Media News

By |December 8th, 2010

A series of clicks this morning brought me to an interesting web finding in a Wiki-like Dead Media Archive that links to NYU’s Steinhart School of Media, Culture, and Communication.

Dead Media Archive, NYU Steinhardt School of Media, Culture and Communication

And there rests the Notificator, said (by me) to be Twitter’s great-great-great grandfather, with details:

On September 9, 1932, the London Times printed an article following up on a “correspondence in The Times proposing that British railway stations might, like those in Japan, provide facilities for messages from one person to another to be displayed.” An electrical engineer had written to the paper, agreeing, and noted a device that he had heard of; an “automatic machine…to be installed at stations and other suitable sites, and on the insertion of two pennies facilities were given for writing a message that remained in view for two hours after writing.”

The archive cites the August 1935 issue of Modern Mechanix & Inventions Magazine: “To aid persons who wish to make or cancel appointments or inform friends of the whereabouts… the new machine is installed in streets, stores, railroad stations or other public places where individuals may leave messages for friends… The machine is similar in appearance to a candy-vending device.”

In case you’re interested, my starter source was today’s post on Get Better Health by Dr. Westby Fisher on the Pros and Cons of Social Media for doctors. There, a link in a list “you may also like these posts” drew my eye: Twitter First Conceived By British Hospital In 1935. That July, 2009 post by Berci of ScienceRoll, included an image of an unidentified old-appearing newspaper with an intriguing photo of a man with a hat pointing to a strange device with the word “Notificator” at its top.

A Google search of the headline, “Robot Messenger Displays Person-to-Person Notes in Public” led me to a 1935 Modern Mechanix issue (with the fabulous logo, “YESTERDAY’s Tomorrow TODAY”), some Russian blogs and, finally, the Dead Media Archive, based in principle if not in fact, somewhere near my home in Manhattan, 3 miles or so north of NYU.

This Web find is a good example of how social media and on-line reading can accelerate learning and finding new (and in this case old) ideas. And what goes around comes around –

The Dead Media Archive brims with interesting stuff, worth a virtual visit!

I may go check it out in person, sometime later, for real, if that’s possible -

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A Video About a Patient Who Might Have Too Much Information

By |December 1st, 2010

A link to a video, the Too Informed Patient came my way several times lately. You can find the curious clip on NPR’s Marketplace site:

The Too Informed Patient from Marketplace on Vimeo.

The skit depicts the interaction between a young man with a rash and his older physician. The patient is an informed kind of guy – he’s checked his own medical record on the doctor’s website, read up on rashes in the Boston Globe, checked pix on WebMD, seen an episode of Gray’s Anatomy about a rash and, most inventively, checked i-Diagnose, a hypothetical app (I hope) that led him to the conclusion that he might have epidermal necrosis.

Not to worry, the patient informs Dr. Matthews, who meanwhile has been trying to examine him (“say aaahhh” and more), he’s eligible for an experimental protocol. After some back-and-forth in which the doctor, who’s been quite courteous until this point – calling the patient “Mr. Horcher,” for example and not admonishing the patient who’s got so many ideas of his own, the doctor says that the patient may be exacerbating the condition by scratching it, and questions the wisdom of taking an experimental treatment for a rash.

“I just need you to sign this paper,” says the patient.

The doctor-puppet pauses momentarily, seemingly resigned to a new role. After the patient leaves, the doctor thinks to weigh himself. The skit ends with the sounds of keyboard typing.

The piece supplies thought-provoking details in under 2½ minutes. It’s a useful teaching tool, among other things. There’s been some discussion about it on the NPR site, the Patient Empowered Blog, the Health Care Blog and elsewhere. Some comments suggest annoyance, that the “informed patient” is misrepresented here as exaggerated or foolish, or that the skit is off-mark.

To me it rings true, representing an older doctor who’s trying, open-mindedly but not at the cutting edge, to embrace new technology, and has the patient’s interests at heart. His efforts and his knowledge are set aside.

My reaction is sadness. Am I the only one?

Thanks to the team who created this insightful production: produced by Gregory Warner and Mara Zepeda. Created by Sebastienne Mundheim of White Box Theatre, acted by Charles DelMarcelle and Doug Greene, and voiced by two actors from Philadelphia’s Pig Iron Theatre Company, and to NPR’s Marketplace for presenting.

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Doctors Singing On YouTube

By |November 10th, 2010

A few weeks ago I found some doctors singing on YouTube. They made me laugh and perhaps, even, feel better.

Doctors in Cyberspace

I contacted the singing doctors to check, among other things, that they’re still in business. It turns out that Drs. Barry Levy and Greg LaGana both graduated from Cornell University Medical College just a few years back, in 1971. They’ve been performing together for years and still do.

“Why rant and rave when a laugh will do?” said the New York Times about the pair, in 2004.

Now, they have a YouTube channel. Of the five videos available, my preference is Doctors in Cyberspace (above) but that’s probably because I’m partial to the “I Feel Pretty” melody from West Side Story. Health Care Business, to the tune of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” comes in at a close second and, based on the number of YouTube viewings so far, seems to be the public’s favorite.

Their website is called Damaged Care. You can buy a CD for a holiday gift. Or hire the doctors to entertain at a real-life party or other event: they’ve performed for state medical societies, hospital associations, the AMA, pharmaceutical industry associations, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church among other agencies, and at Off-Off-Broadway venues in New York City.

The Damaged Care Doctors

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Wednesday Web Sighting A Blog on Medicine in Art

By |November 3rd, 2010

Some months ago I came upon a unique blog, Ars Medica, by Paul O’Connor. The title means “medical arts” in Latin. O’Connor studied medicine before delving into the humanities. Now he writes and gives a seminar on Literature & Medicine at Trinity College in Dublin.

The site’s theme is portrayals of physicians, medicine and illness. There are short book reviews, essays on film and among other items lately, work posted by students. I am particularly drawn to a recent post on reading poetry to people with dementia.

Worth a visit!

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Annals of Pink: Chilean Miners Don Ribbons

By |October 27th, 2010

The Santiago Times reports that the rescued Chilean miners donned suits and pink ribbons, the latter in honor of breast cancer awareness month, at a ceremony at the the presidential palace, la Moneda.

Sure, the pink scene’s getting to be a bit much around here. But I don’t belittle this gesture; the miners’ intentions are surely well-meaning, and in places like northern Chile where they lived and worked, BC doesn’t get the overblown attention it does here, at least not yet. Not even close.

So kudos to the miners, from this one blogger in NYC.

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Classic Saturday Night Live on Bloodletting, and Barbarism

By |October 20th, 2010

New Year’s Update:  The video to which this post refers is no longer available through legal, open-access sources. You can still read a bit on phlebotomy, near the post’s end. – ES, Jan 2014

***

A student clued me in on an old take on therapeutic phlebotomy: the classic 1978 SNL skit, Theodoric of York (Season 3, episode 18), stars Steve Martin (as the barber, Theodoric of York.). It also features Dan Aykroyd (as William), Gilda Radner (as Broom Gilda), Jane Curtin (as Joan), John Belushi (as a hunchback) and a youthful Bill Murray (as a drunkard).

Theodoric of York

It’s a very funny skit when it’s not too gory, with some insight into the history of medicine.

But it’s also a sad reminder about the early deaths of Belushi, a promising actor who died at 33 years from heroin and cocaine toxicity, and of Radner, a wonderful comedian who died at 42 years from ovarian cancer.

As for modern, therapeutic phlebotomy –

In the U.S. and most other places, trained physicians, nurses and other providers perform this procedure routinely using sterile techniques and other precautions. (Checklist, anyone?) Typically a pint or so of blood is carefully drawn from the body so as to reduce iron overload in people with hemochromatosis, or to lessen the number of circulating red blood cells in patients with other, rarer blood conditions.

For the record, we don’t use leeches any more, although a New Yorker piece from several years ago delves nicely into those slimy creatures’ comeback in research and other possible applications.

One thing I learned today is there’s surprisingly little open-access information on modern therapeutic phlebotomy, which might serve as a useful counterpoint to the SNL skit. The NIH (including National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute) and MedlinePlus offer little specific information on this procedure, and in a multi-hour search I can’t find any non-commercial sites that do.

—–

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The Music of H.I.V.

By |October 6th, 2010

Yesterday I came upon something I’d never heard before: Alexandra Pajak, a graduate student at the University of Georgia, merges art and science in a novel way. She composed a new work, the Sounds of HIV, based on the virus’s genetic sequence.

A CD, produced by Azica records, will be available later this month. A ScienceRoll post, by Bertalan Meskó, clued me into this fascinating project. He shared the artist’s explanation of her work:

Sounds of HIV is a musical translation of the genetic code of HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.  Every segment of the virus is assigned music pitches that correspond to the segment’s scientific properties.  In this way, the sounds reflect the true nature of the virus.  When listening from beginning to end, the listener hears the entire genome of HIV.

In English, the nucleotides Adenine, Cytosine, Uracil/Thymine, and Guanine are abbreviated with the letters A, C, T, and G.  Since A, C, and G are also musical pitches in the Western melodic scale, these pitches were assigned to the matching nucleotides.  To form two perfect fifths (C-G and D-A), “D” was arbitrarily assigned to musically represent Uracil.  I assigned the pitches of the A minor scale to the amino acids based on their level of attraction to water…

According to a May, 2010 post in the Daily Scan, the artist has assigned pitches to each viral segment’s properties:

…The composition’s Prelude and Postlude correspond to the first and last 100 nucleotides, and the sections named after the proteins (Proteins 1-9) represent translations of the amino acid sequences…

Upon searching further, I tracked down some partial HIV music clips, available now, at ClassicsOnline. The start of the prelude sounds calm and lovely to my rock-trained ears; other portions are distinct and lively.

I look forward to more listening!

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Wednesday Web Sightings

By |September 22nd, 2010

(Snakes on the Net, and OR games!)

Today ML read in the WSJ that a 3-foot long yellow corn snake popped up in a 19th floor Bronx apartment yesterday. It seems the resident was so surprised to find the snake in his toilet, and shaken, that he dialed 911 more than once.

a corn snake (Wikimedia)

Medical tidbit: according to the Journal, corn snakes are not usually harmful to humans.

The above would have been the most curious Internet medical finding of the day, except for an ad I found on a blog for a short adventure called OR Games. (The video is sponsored by Kimberly-Clark, a medical supply company.)

Serious stuff tomorrow!

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Peter Sings Colonoscopy

By |March 17th, 2010

Hi Readers,

This new form of medical information outreach outweighed any other contenders for today’s post:

“When I had my colonoscopy I had a question on my mind.

Do we all look the same when the doctor sees us from behind?

Then I had the answer…

Peter Yarrow, starting The Colonoscopy Song

Am I pro- or con- colonoscopy for routine screening, you might wonder. Well, that depends.

Am I pro- or con- famous singers and other celebrities extolling the benefits of particular medical interventions? Well, that depends, too.

But I’m sure I prefer “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Also “Leaving on a Jet Plane” fills me with imperfect memories of 6th grade. (I don’t know much about the history of this song, but there is an older, grainier and harder-to-hear version on YouTube dating to March, 2008.)

Thanks Peter, for this unique verbalization of what some doctors might otherwise convey. Glad to see you singing, aging, smiling about something.

The CDC confirms that March is national colorectal cancer awareness month (NCCAM).

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Beware the Power of Data Handling in Politics (and Medicine)

By |January 17th, 2010

Into my Google Reader this morning came a post from Biophemera (an intriguing blog at the interface of art and science). Scientist-artist-blogger Jessica Palmer offers a provocative clip featuring Alex Lundry, a self-described conservative political pollster, data-miner and data visualizer.

Alex Lundry Chart Wars: The Political Power of Data Visualization
more about “Alex Lundry Chart Wars: The Political…

Some excerpts:

“These charts are meant to illustrate the political power of data visualization. It’s a discipline that’s only just beginning to bloom as a messaging vehicle…

“So what changed, why now?” he asks rhetorically.

“Well of course the internet…What’s really changed is data. We capture more data, we store more data and more data is available to us in machine-readable parsable format. So it’s really gotten to the point where anybody with a computer can create a data visualization easily enough…

“Here are a few quick lessons in graphical literacy…You’ll see that messing around with the origin and axis can make unimpressive growth look pretty amazing, right?…

——

Scary stuff. We’re vulnerable to brainwashing by pie graphs with pretty colors. Men are hired to collect and represent data with a particular aim. And there’s more to come this way, faster than ever by twitter.

So why here? Why a Medical Lesson?

Because the same is true for health information.

——

One of the first rules of medicine is knowing your sources. Before you make a decision, consider: did you read or hear about a treatment in a textbook, in a reputable journal, at a scientific meeting or over lunch with a representative from a pharmaceutical company?

Immersed in data as we are, it’s tempting to grasp at the best-presented material regardless of its intrinsic value. Nifty graphs can persuade or fool even the best of us.

For patients:

1. Know your doctor – be aware of industry ties, academic connections and other sources of pressure to perceive or publish results more clearly than they are;

2. Distinguish ads from articles about health – the difference is not always clear, especially on-line;

3. Read the fine print and identify the perspective of who’s depicting “data” in charts and graphs – when medical information comes onto your TV screen or magazine page, there’s a good chance someone’s got something to sell you.

For doctors:

1. Remember the difference between peer-reviewed journals and PeerView Press (a CME company with a host of industry sponsors, one of many such that provide free, neatly-packaged information targeted to busy doctors);

2. Take the trouble to read the methods and statistical sections of published papers in your field – your patients are counting on you to discern good studies from bad;

3. Don’t forget we’re human, too. We’re vulnerable, drawn to promising new results –

Mind those origins and axes!

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