Tag Archives: Scientific American

Answering The Unasked Questions

Death sucks.

Yes, I realize that I am courting the obvious there, but I thought we needed to restate where we stand on the issue. Sure there are some occasions, some deaths, where the cessation of breathing is cause for celebration and I would not try to argue that.

For the most part, though, people who die don’t want to die.

Again, blindingly obvious, but stick with me. I do have a purpose to this.

See, we as civilians only have to deal with death on a fairly irregular basis. It’s not like we see it every day as part of our job. Because we, as civilians, are not doctors.

Shara Yurkiewicz is a fourth-year medical student at Harvard Medical School where she’s learning what it takes to become a physician. She’s taking classes about anatomy, about chemistry, about diagnosis of disease and all of that.

However, it’s what she’s going to learn outside of the classroom that will determine how good of a doctor she becomes. My wife, known to many as She Who Must Be Our Best Chance, also is a doctor. She’s an OB/GYN and she’s one of the best doctors I’ve ever met. Not only is she a dedicated physician, who continues her medical education every day, but she’s also got a tremendous stirrup-side manner. She connects with her patients as people, as sometimes friends.

And patients appreciate that. She didn’t learn that in a classroom, but it’s a big part of why she’s such a great doctor. Shara Yurkiewicz has plenty of time to work on her bedside manner, but, right now, she’s still learning some powerful lessons.

Thankfully, she shares a lot of those lessons with readers of her Scientific American blog “This May Hurt A Bit,” which follows her trials and tribulations as a medical student.

In a recent column, Ms. Yrukiewicz transcribes a conversation she Diversity can be accomplished with tiny, little steps and it's not all that hard, now, is it?had with a patient following his hip-fracture repair. It offers we civilians a gripping view inside the real-world learning medical students must go through to become effective doctors.

She thanks the patient for allowing her, a medical student, to watch as the surgeons worked to fix his hip. It’s a relatively bland conversation and I began to wonder why it was in her blog. Until we neared the middle and things — through no one’s fault — began to go downhill.

Very badly downhill.

I watched as they kept your eyes shut and handled your body just as gently as they had a few hours ago.

I listened to the final zip of the body bag. I don’t know who had the time to switch off the radio, but I’m glad they did.

I listened as the nurse asked God to rest your soul.

I watched you leave in a different kind of bed, to a different place. I’m not sure where.

You can learn a lot from watching. Thank you for letting me watch.

We fixed your hip, sir.

The operation was a success, but the patient died. It’s not an oxymoron, but a notice that physicians must understand the different values for success.

To become a good doctor, medical students need to understand that patients are not simply a presentation of diseases and symptoms. They are people, with lives and loves and desires all their own.

What Ms. Yrukiewicz doesn’t mention in her post is the next most important lesson a good doctor must learn: How to learn everything you can about what happened so it doesn’t happen again and then move on to the next patient, fully confident that the surgery will be a success and the patient will survive.

Her blog provides an interesting look into the world of student physicians. I’d recommend you dudes and dudettes go and give it a read. It’s always interesting to learn what the person on the other side of the white lab coat is thinking.


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Freaky Friday: You Write, I Know You

by Richard

The way you write says a lot about who you are and with whom you’re communicating. I know that seems a bit obvious to most of you dudes, but it’s actually really fascinating.

According to a recent article in the Scientific American, you can tell the relative dominance positions of two people just from reading their e-mail.

Basically, we discovered that in any interaction, the person with the higher status uses I-words less (yes, less) than people who are low in status. The effects were quite robust and, naturally, I wanted to test this on myself. I always assumed that I was a warm, egalitarian kind of guy who treated people pretty much the same.

I was the same as everyone else. When undergraduates wrote me, their emails were littered with I, me, and my. My response, although quite friendly, was remarkably detached — hardly an I-word graced the page. And then I analyzed my emails to the dean of my college. My emails looked like an I-word salad; his emails back to me were practically I-word free.

This from psychologist James Pennebaker, who’s been researching how the use of pronouns like “I,” “we,” or “she,” for instance, can reveal a lot about our psychology. He’s even written a book about it called, “The Secret Life of Pronouns.”

In the 1980s, my students and I discovered that if people were asked to write about emotional upheavals, their physical health improved. Apparently, putting emotional experiences into language changed the ways people thought about their upheavals. In an attempt to better understand the power of writing, we developed a computerized text analysis program to determine how language use might predict later health improvements. In other words, I wanted to find if there was a healthy way to write.

Much to my surprise, I soon discovered that the ways people used pronouns in their essays predicted whose health would improve the most. Specifically, those people who benefited the most from writing changed in their pronoun use from one essay to another. Pronouns were reflecting people’’s abilities to change perspective.

Pennebaker said he found that pronoun use correlated with just about anything he and his intern-dudes studied. Whether this is a case of seeing the forest, but not the trees, I don’t know, but it does suggest some interesting relationships. And also that we need to start looking at the slightly more formal writings of our young dudes. I don’t think even Pennebaker could make much from the misspelled, deliberately gibberished text of txts.

It’s really interesting stuff that I think you should go over and give a read to. Even though it forced me to end a sentence with a preposition. It’s still good stuff. Go read.

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