Thursday, March 1, 2012


N.B. This post may be considered, um, politically incorrect. Let's just consider it in a clinical context.

I am jewish, well, my mitochondria is. And if I'm right, my oral microbiome, rather, my breath, is as well. I call it "Jew Breath". It resembles mothballs(note: this is not my breath all the time, only occasionally!). I've noticed it a lot at Temple and had it independently confirmed by an old jewish roommate:

"You know what I'm talking about" I said to A. "Jew Breath is real!". A put his face in his hands, smiled, and nodded slowly, admitting the painful truth. I could smell it on him too.

As an SGU'er, with my school's majority Indian population, I also noticed among some a certain "Indian Breath" (or more offensively: Desi Breath). I can't quite put into words what it smells like, but I prefer it to Jew breath. Anyways, a fellow (caucasian/goyim) med student who is dating an Indian women actually had that breath... which means either the smell is not associated with the subcontinent OR she transferred some of her oral flora to him through excessive make out sessions (how long and how many remains a subject for further study).

There is some clinical relevance to this, however. Analyzing the myriad microbiomes of the gastrointestinal tract is a hot research topic,implicated in everything from Chron's disease, type 1 diabetes, failure of anastomeses in surgery (from a grand rounds lecture pre-pub) to development of pancreatic cancer. And it turns out, some research has found a difference in the oral microbiome of different ethnicities.

So maybe there is something to Jew Breath after all...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Maple Syrup

The tapping of trees for maple syrup was practiced in north america for thousands of years before the arrival of the immigrants. The French adopted its use early on and it's a tradition that has had a noticeable impact on the St. Lawrence River valley. Maple syrup also has a history as one of the earliest examples of socially responsible purchasing. Slavery lords of the south produced much of the sugar in the United States in the early to mid 19th century. For abolitionists, maple syrup became an alternative source of sweetener to divert funds from the economic clout of the slave owners, as were other agricultural products similarly boycotted as part of the Free Produce Movement. Interestingly, the Free Produce Movement began in the 1790's and lasted until the 1850's. Somewhat parallel to today with fair-trade and organic goods, the "Free Produce" products never were able to compete economically with slave labor products. Though, one could say "Free Produce" is finding a more enlightened market in the 21st century, ultimately people have to value their ethics of human rights and environmental responsibility more than saving money...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Round, Cut, Eat, Sleep

Alarm slap at 4:45, got 20 miutes to get ready. It starts with a cold bike ride through the dark park, and suddenly I have coffee and Ins & outs. The parade of patients then flies by, soon back in the OR and the ritual scrub in begins. Inside the abdomen now, presurized camera port view - like a reverse submarine periscope. Hiding spleen and adherant umbilicus, don't forget the internal hernias. We're out and grabbing an Oxygen tank, wake up - you did well, well your GIT did, now it's up to a duel b/w your WBCs and disturbed microbes. Pass off at PACU, go grab something for $3.26 - surgery makes you hungry. But at the end of the day sometimes, you're more tired than hungry - wake up at midnight wiht the light on, turn it off - rinse and repeat.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Competitive Specialties

Entering clinicals, I never expected to like the more "procedural" specialties. But ever since I scrubbed into my first C-Section in OBGYN, I've been drawn to the OR. The excitement, the atmosphere, the sense of accomplishment, the work of having a few, long, nice projects to work on for the day and the ability to see a difference in a patient after surgery are all very attractive to me. I can see that much of my pre-clinical work was also project oriented, even if it had little to do with surgery.

If only things were so simple. I decided to take SGU up on there clinical academic advising services (something I made good use of in basic sciences with the great Dr. DB). I sent in my CV, GPA, Step 1 and goals of matching in Surg or OBGYN. I will say Dr. PB (the clinical advisor) gave me some needed advice and gave a great critique of my resume. But he basically said I have less than a coin flip's chance of matching in either specialty. Not a 0 chance, but not great either. It's tough news, but I'm thinking about what I can do to change my chances and think hard about what I like about the OR.

But it got me angry and thinking about WHY certain specialties have cut offs. Does someone need to be that much smarter to go into General Surgery than to go into Family Medicine? Is the academic training of Dermatology really more broad than Primary Care?

From my experience in medicine: No. In fact, general practice is in many ways more challenging intellectually - you really have to know the subtle signs of sickness to catch the deadly diseases early among the sea of worried well. No, there is something else at play, as DJ Shadow once alluded to...

The most competitive specialties pay the best. Lifestyle is a part of this, which is why EM - a midrange compensation - is becoming highly sought after. This is not surprising if one is a cynic, but it's disheartening if one is kinda typical on stats paper but wants to follow their interests and make a difference in a field. We live in a capitalistic society, so I guess I shouldn't expect things to be different - it's just always startling when the brutal reality of it stares you in the face. I just wonder what the distribution of Derm vs. Family vs. Surgery vs. Psych would be if all of them paid the same and had the same hours. And what that would do to the delivery of healthcare in this country. Considering how many physicians I've hear complaining about compensation cuts, I'm guessing it would be a bit different than today :)

F/U post comparing specialty distrubution in other healthcare systems (europe, canada, india) to follow...