Monday, September 29, 2008

Blame it on Congress

Before we all scream about how congress didn't pass a bill to give $7x10^11 to a bunch of fat cat bankers...

...don't forget about:

The bankers who lied to themselves.
And the loan applicants who lied to the lenders.
Oh! and the lenders who didn't care they were being lied to.

Boy, am I glad to be liquid!

Practice Question

A 30 year old colleague approaches you for a curbside consult. A friend of his who is 4 days status post a recent comprehensive psychiatry exam is now complaining of malaise, headache and frequent urination. He has rhinorrhea, and is complaining of frequent sneezing and a "throat tickle" that requires frequent clearing of his throat. He denies throat pain, ear pain, nausea or vomiting. Your colleague humored his friend with a brief physical exam. On exam, there were engorged nasal turbinates with profuse clear discharge, there was a mild white discoloration of pretonisilar pillars; tonsils were absent. His breath smelled faintly sweet. Bilateral mobile, tender, 3 cm sub-mandibular nodes were appreciated. Chest exam was clear. Further history revealed nocturnal urinary retention and dry mouth that awakens him several times at night. A thorough social history indicated the 'friend' felt a sense of impending doom, especially when presented with web-based tutorials. Your differential diagnosis includes:

A) Antihistamine use
B) Panic Disorder
C) Viral upper respiratory infection
D) USMLE Step 2 CK
E) Sleep disorder NOS
F) Caffeine dependence, sustained
G) Specific Phobia

Saturday, September 27, 2008


My latest article at The Differential is about the medical use of the word, "elope." It probably won't get as much interest and commenting as my last article about firing patients and abortion.

Some of the critical comments responding to my entry suggested it was inappropriate for me to draw similarities between firing psych patients because you cannot help them any more and referring patients to another provider if you are uncomfortable not performing a procedure (namely, abortion). At the core of my argument is my concern that patients get the best care available, and that they should seek said care from the best individual able to provide it. Most of the rest took the opportunity to voice their own opinions about abortion in medicine. Some of my critics argue that all doctors should be willing to provide abortions (that's not going to happen). One reader questioned my disclosure that I was 'uneasy' with providing abortions myself. I'm not sure how to respond to that... Finally, one reader has argued that we must get over the fact that the country is divided about abortion. I would argue that adopting this perspective would effectively invalidate half of your patients' beliefs.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

500 Coyotes

Earlier this week around 6 AM, we caught a glimpse of a bushy black-tipped tail. And this evening, there was the familiar refrain of yip yaweeee. What a great way to celebrate my 500th post! The introspective coyote, searching for his reflection in pavement puddles is not a bad representation of the recent self examination I've been doing in the residency application process.

I'm guessing this season will have more rain and introspection. Hopefully, more coyotes too!

Happy 500 to me!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

More than Meets the Eye.

I love living in a world where this is news.
When the transformer malfunctioned, operating temperatures rose from below 2 Kelvin to 4.5 Kelvin -- extraordinarily cold by most standards, but warmer than the normal operating temperature.
Isn't this so much better than what's her name's what's it called?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Abortion, psychiatry, firing patients: three issues that elicit strong emotions. So if you suffer from a panic disorder, you may not want to...

Read my latest entry at The Differential to get my take.

Otherwise, carry on!

Monday, September 08, 2008


I just finished uploading my personal statement, applied to 30 emergency medicine programs and shelled out $365 to the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS). That's just one dollar a day to feed an orphaned... wait, that must be something else. I'm just glad I have the opportunity to continue my training to be a physician. Since my wife and I are both applying, we have selected ten cities that have programs that appeal to both of us. They include (from west to east):

The Bay Area
St. Louis
New York
New Haven

This is the end of one stressful task (applying), and the beginning of another (hopefully, interviewing!). Read my personal statement here.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Palin, The Alaskan

My favorite local editorial cartoonist points out that just because you're from Alaska, doesn't mean you have the interests of wilderness in mind. And by one perspective, it's likely that your idea of custodianship is more akin to pillaging. We Washingtonians have an interesting relationship with Alaska politics: we're big trading partners, AK is a frequent vacation destination, most of the fishing fleet docks in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood, we share a medical school - okay that last one's not SO big a deal... This is the third or fourth consecutive shot at Go. Palin that Horsey has taken this week. I guess it's one way we look out for or meddle in the business of our neighbor to the north.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Me, In A Page

Lately, I've been diverting most of my wordsmithing to a one page document that may be the single determinant of where I spend the next four years of my life. Putting these ideas about science, medicine and society into a page has me really excited about a career in emergency medicine.


One late summer night in Harborview Medical Center's emergency department, an exasperated medicine resident turned to me with a rhetorical question: “Who would want to treat homeless, drug-using prostitutes?” When I immediately thought, “I do,” I knew I was home. This epiphany at the end of a month in Seattle’s level one trauma center cemented my commitment to a career in emergency medicine. Contributing to the trauma team, working with a diversity of cases, the rapid progression from presentation to diagnosis to treatment, and the societal issues I pondered after each shift all conspired to entrench my connection to the ED.

My path to a career caring for the acutely ill started with dreams of building life support machines. As a clinical technician for the University of Pittsburgh's artificial heart program, I learned that invention and patient care have a tendency to interdigitate. The image of science and medicine clasping hands framed my motivation for earning a bioengineering PhD. I developed innovative new surgical, molecular and tissue engineering techniques as part of my thesis project to improve the viability of embryonic stem cell-derived cardiac tissue replacements for use after myocardial infarction. Long hours in the lab doing thoracotomies on mice and measuring with echocardiography the extent to which we were repairing infarctions introduced me to the importance of intellectual and manual dexterity in medicine. Experience suturing hundreds of rodents enabled me to consider each human laceration repair a new artistic challenge. My first successful ultrasound-guided basilic vein cannulation opened wide my appreciation for sonography in the ED. Emergency medicine requires mastery of numerous techniques and knowledge from many disciplines; this environment of collaborative innovation makes EM a perfect career for someone like me who wants to combine multiple skills and interests to provide the best care for patients.

The notion that today’s scholars have to focus narrowly on subdivided fields in order to make contributions to society contrasts with my perspective that the actors of social change must think deeply in multiple fields. As a graduate student working with human embryonic stem cells, I learned firsthand not only how scientific research occurs in the context of social and political concerns, but also that scientists and physicians are obligated to contribute to public dialogue. I am as proud of defining 'blastocyst' and 'in vitro fertilization' for stem cell research legislation in Washington State as I am of my labwork to further the potential of cardiac regeneration. Through a science policy group I co-founded, I planned campus-wide conversations about genetically modified food that spurred constructive conversations that continue more than three years later. Hosting President Clinton's science advisor to engage the University of Washington about the future of research funding in America offered a glimpse into the importance of sound science policy.

However, one needs look no further than county hospitals' waiting rooms to see that innovation in patient care is not merely a scientific enterprise – it needs to be a social one. Our current policy morass of underserved health care in America establishes emergency medicine as the front line for individuals seeking to heal people and the system. Solutions are not easy to find, especially from within the academic ivory tower; some of my understanding of the complexities of urban health care is grounded in relationships I've built over four years as an STD counselor for homeless teens. I aspire to be the emergency physician who draws on experience treating the neediest of patients to facilitate difficult conversations about health policy.

The ED is not merely a safety net. Challenging ethical dilemmas that emerge from a diversity of diseases, the urgent presentation of humanity in crisis, and the varied manner in which people respond to acute illness demand that emergency providers have ethical reasoning skills at the ready. The emergency room is a laboratory for teaching medical ethics; I hope to translate an “Ethics in the ER” course I developed for medical students at the University of Washington into a training tool for tomorrow's doctors. My experience designing this course has helped me understand better that educating others is a critical element of the practice of medicine. Teaching forces me to shore up topical understanding and requires communication accessible to a range of individuals: patients, students and colleagues. I look forward to an EM residency that provides both teaching role models and opportunities to refine my own skills.

Scientist, activist, writer, ethicist, engineer, doctor: for me, each of these roles supports the others. Rather than a collection of titles in separate contexts, I prefer the simple title of citizen-physician. There is deep meaning in the patient-physician interaction, both in the literal space of a sick person seeking care and as a metaphor for how physicians can improve society. My diverse and well-developed interests are ingredients for a career in emergency medicine that steps beyond discrete disciplines to address patients’ immediate health needs and improve the practice of medicine.