Longer Looks: A Medical Student Takes On Dr. Oz; The Mystery of Blood Types

Every week KHN reporter Marissa Evans finds interesting reads from around the Web.

The New York Times: How To Talk About Pain
In 1926, Virginia Woolf published an essay on pain, "On Being Ill." Isn't it extraordinary, she observed, that pain does not rank with "love, battle and jealousy" among the most important themes in literature. She lamented the "poverty of the language of pain." Every schoolgirl who falls in love "has Shakespeare, Donne, Keats to speak her mind for her; but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry." Where are the novels or epic poems devoted to typhoid, pneumonia or toothaches, Woolf wondered? Instead, the person in pain is forced to "coin words himself, and, taking his pain in one hand, and a lump of pure sound in the other (as perhaps the inhabitants of Babel did in the beginning), so to crush them together that a brand new word in the end drops out." The difficulty in talking about painful sensations forces people to draw on metaphors, analogies and metonymies when attempting to communicate their suffering to others (Joanna Bourke, 7/12). 

The New York Times: Fertility Clinics Scan For The Strongest Embryo
Annika Levitt initially resisted the fertility clinic’s suggestion that only one embryo — rather than the usual two or more — be transferred to her uterus because she was too small to risk carrying more than one baby. "You go through all that and you put only one back in?" she recalled thinking, fearing it would lower her chances of becoming pregnant. But her embryos had been tested for chromosomal abnormalities, giving a fair degree of confidence that the chosen one was healthy. "Knowing that it was the strongest of the strong was reassuring," she said. Ms. Levitt, who lives in Morris County, N.J., gave birth to a girl from that embryo and is now pregnant from another single-embryo transfer (Andrew Pollack, 7/11).

The New Yorker: One Of A Kind
The couple had their first child, a son, on December 9, 2007, not long after Matt completed his Ph.D. in computer science and Cristina earned her M.B.A. They named him Bertrand, in honor of the British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell. After a few blissful weeks, the new parents began to worry. Matt and Cristina described Bertrand to friends as being "jiggly"; his body appeared always to be in motion, as if he were lying on a bed of Jell-O. He also seemed to be in near-constant distress .... "What have we done to our child?" she said. "How many things can we put him through?" As one obscure genetic condition after another was ruled out, the Mights began to wonder whether they would ever learn the cause of their son’s agony. What if Bertrand was suffering from a disorder that was not just extremely rare but entirely unknown to science? (Seth Mnookin, 7/17).

Modern Healthcare/Crain's Detroit Business: Safety Advocates Push To Curb Hospital Surgical Fires
It was a chaotic scene in the operating room just moments before a critically ill patient burst into flames at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, Pinehurst, N.C. There was “lots of confusion,” a surgical technician later told hospital inspectors. The patient who arrived at the emergency department in June 2013 needed an immediate tracheostomy. ... As blood gushed from the neck incision, the surgeon deployed an electric cauterizing tool. It ignited the alcohol-based disinfectant used at the incision site, leaving the patient with second-degree burns on his neck and shoulders. ... that initial scramble in the operating room, as described in the report, led to violations of several well-established best practices for safe-equipment use to prevent surgical fires. They are included in the Preventing Surgical Fires Initiative, which has been aggressively pushed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the past three years (Joe Carlson and Sabriya Rice, 7/14).

Science Based Medicine: An Egregious Example Of Ordering Unnecessary Tests
Last week I wrote about doctors who order unnecessary tests, and the excuses they give. Then I ran across an example that positively flabbered my gaster. A friend’s 21-year-old son went to a board-certified family physician for a routine physical. This young man is healthy, has no complaints, has no past history of any significant health problems and no family history of any disease. The patient just asked for a routine physical and did not request any tests; the doctor ordered labwork without saying what tests he was ordering, and the patient assumed that it was a routine part of the physical exam. The patient’s insurance paid only $13.09 and informed him that he was responsible for the remaining $3,682.98 (no, that's not a typo) (Harriet Hall, 7/8).

Vox: Meet The Medical Student Who Wants To Bring Down Dr. Oz
Benjamin Mazer is a third-year medical student at the University of Rochester. Last year, after becoming increasingly concerned with the public-health impact of Dr. Mehmet Oz's sometimes pseudoscience health advice, he decided to ask state and national medical associations to do something about it. "Dr. Oz has something like 4-million viewers a day," Mazer told Vox. "The average physician doesn't see a million patients in their lifetime. That's why organized medicine should be taking action." Last year, Mazer brought a policy before the Medical Society of the State of New York—where Dr. Oz is licensed—requesting that they consider regulating the advice of famous physicians in the media. His idea: Treat health advice on TV in the same vein as expert testimony, which already has established guidelines for truthfulness (Julia Belluz, 7/12).

Pacific Standard: Is The Quest To Build A Kinder, Gentler Surgeon Misguided?
My profession is filled with exceptional individuals who do amazing, lifesaving work. Many of us are jerks. This is the trouble with surgeons. We are a sub-tribe of doctors who have long been celebrated for our abilities yet reviled for our personalities. In movies and TV shows, we are egomaniacal, hostile, and even mentally unstable. A low point came in 1993 with the film Malice, which featured a scenery-chewing turn by Alec Baldwin as a gifted but evil cardiac surgeon who denied having a God complex. "I am God," he clarified. Behind the caricatures lies some truth (Wen Shen, 7/14).

Mosaic Science: Why Do We Have Blood Types?
When my parents informed me that my blood type was A+, I felt a strange sense of pride. If A+ was the top grade in school, then surely A+ was also the most excellent of blood types – a biological mark of distinction. It didn't take long for me to recognise just how silly that feeling was and tamp it down. But I didn’t learn much more about what it really meant to have type A+ blood. By the time I was an adult, all I really knew was that if I should end up in a hospital in need of blood, the doctors there would need to make sure they transfused me with a suitable type. And yet there remained some nagging questions (Carl Zimmer, 7/15). 

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.