Longer Looks: Chinese Medicine; Revolutionary Doctors; Frozen Embryos

Every week reporter Ankita Rao selects interesting reading from around the Web.

The New York Times: The Enigma Of Chinese Medicine
A few years ago, while visiting Beijing, I caught a cold. My wife, who is Chinese, and wanted me to feel better, took me to a local restaurant. After we sat down, she ordered a live turtle. The proprietors sent it over. I startled as the waiters unceremoniously cut the turtle's throat, then poured its blood into a glass. ... Many Westerners will scoff at the very idea that turtle blood could have medicinal effects. But at least some of those same people will quaff a tree-bark tincture or put on an eggplant compress recommended by Dr. Oz to treat skin cancer. We are all living in the vast gray area between leech-bleeding and antibiotics. Alternative medicine has exploded in recent years, reawakening a philosophical problem that epistemologists call the "demarcation problem" (Stephen T. Asma, 9/28).

The New York Review Of Books: The Doctor Who Made A Revolution
The Lower East Side of New York was one of the most densely populated square miles on the face of the earth in the 1890s. ... It was in the 1890s that Sara Josephine Baker decided to become a doctor. Not the Josephine Baker who would become celebrated as a cabaret star and dance at the Folies Bergère in a banana miniskirt but the New York City public health official in a shirtwaist and four-in-hand necktie, her short hair parted in the middle like Theodore Roosevelt, whom she admired. By the time Baker retired from the New York City Health Department in 1923, she was famous across the nation for saving the lives of 90,000 inner-city children (Helen Epstein, 9/26).

The Atlantic: Dark Days For Medical Research
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health, the federal agency with a $30 billion budget responsible for funding medical research across the country, probably woke up Tuesday morning with, at best, audible sighs. First, in the spring, there was sequestration -- the automatic, across the board spending cuts that lopped off 5.5 percent of their budget. Now, thanks to the government shutdown, 73 percent of NIH staff is sitting at home, furloughed -- among them, some of the most brilliant scientists and medical researchers in the word -- and, thanks to a Congress whose mental health is open to debate, they've been put in the untenable position of turning away 200 patients to the NIH Clinical Center, including 30 children, many of them cancer patients (Mark Micheli, 10/2).

The New York Times: Easing Doctor Burnout With Mindfulness
According to the nurse's note, the patient had received a clean bill of health from his regular doctor only a few days before, so I was surprised to see his request for a second opinion. He stared intently at my name badge as I walked into the room, then nodded his head at each syllable of my name as I introduced myself. Shifting his gaze upward to my face, he said, "I'm here, Doc, to make sure I don't have anything serious. I’m not sure my regular doctor was listening to everything I was trying to tell him." ... Research over the last few years has revealed that unrelenting job pressures cause two-thirds of fully trained doctors to experience the emotional, mental and physical exhaustion characteristic of burnout. Health care workers who are burned out are at higher risk for substance abuse, lying, cheating and even suicide. They tend to make more errors and lose their sense of empathy for others. And they are more prone to leave clinical practice (Dr. Pauline W. Chen, 9/26).

Elle: Determining The Fate Of Frozen Embryos: Do You Know Where Your Children Are
When my wife and I did in vitro fertilization, the doctor put two blastocysts in her because that bettered the odds that one would take. He handed my wife a picture, two lumpy circles in black-and-white on slippery thermal paper. They looked like rice cakes. Blastocysts are early embryos. These had been fertilized five days prior -- which, because we’d actually fertilized four of them, left two embryos for later. So in one of the surprises of my married life, my wife and I became custodians of about 200 cells that reside in a freezer at a clinic in New York City, not far from Times Square (Paul Ford, 9/30).

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