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Dr. Patient: Doctors And Self-Care

I did a little “self care” earlier this week. I did it by not caring for myself. I went to the doctor.

I was sitting in the waiting area for my appointment and saw the mother of one of my patients. “Why are you here?” she asked. “I have a doctor’s appointment,” I replied. She got a curious look on her face, asking: “Don’t you doctors just take care of yourselves? I thought that was what doctors did.”

We do take care of ourselves. In fact, we do it far more often than we should. Being your own doctor allows for a lot of denial. When you spend your day advocating healthy lifestyles after you had trouble finding pants that would fit in the morning, denial is necessary. “Do as I say, not as I do.”

I realize that this is hypocrisy — that is why I was at the doctor on Monday. My patients have noticed my expanding waistline, commenting on it more than I would wish. Certainly my pants get in the way of denial as well, not forgiving the fact that I have been under a whole lot of stress. Pants don’t accept excuses.

So I found myself in the unfamiliar experience of being the patient. Instead of closing my mind and emotions to my own body, I had to frankly assess what I was doing to it. Standing on the scale was as frank of an assessment as I would ever want. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

Drug Seekers And A New Threat

I wish I could say that every patient encounter worked out well, that all my patients went home happy and satisfied. It would be nice, but unfortunately that is not true at all.

There are many patients who present with unrealistic expectations or an agenda which is non-therapeutic, and I am relatively straightforward and unapologetic about correcting patient’s misconceptions about the care that is or is not appropriate in the ED. Unsurprisingly, this often though not always involves narcotic medications.

Which is not to say that I am a jerk. I try to be compassionate, and I try to find alternative solutions, and I have been told that I can turn away a drug seeker more nicely than any other doctor in the department. But when it is time to say “no,” I say “no” firmly and without evasions or excuses. People don’t like to hear that, and all the more so in this “the consumer is king” environment of customer-service culture we foster in the medical industry these days.

So when I do say “no,” as nice as I try to be, some people get upset. Sometimes they escalate. They hurl insults, spit, throw themselves on the floor and throw a fit or feign unconsciousness. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*

A Doctor’s Many Hats

I have taken on the task of writing 50,000 words for a novel in November (NaNoWriMo) and would have to carve time out of work or family [my posts are decreased by this new hat]. I can only wear so many hats.

But I am here, and my writing has been far more enjoyable than I expected. This is the time when it is easy to hit the wall (we get daily encouraging emails from successful writers to get us through this time), but I’m okay so far. I am writing about a doctor who encounters a very unusual patient. I am writing in the first-person, which was a good choice, as I know the first person of a physician intimately and stand no risk of getting those details wrong. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

The Practice Of Medicine: When A Funeral Provides Perspective

Here’s my column in this month’s Emergency Medicine News:

I have practiced with the same group, in the same hospital, for 17 years. Because we have been together so long, our group is a family. So it was with enormous grief that we buried our founder, Dr. Jack Warren, 11 years ago after a tragic car crash. That wound is still open, but we still tell stories about his humor, his compassion, and his grace.

As I write this I am tending another wound, or I should say our group is tending another. A second partner passed away last week. Unlike the sudden horror of the first death, the second was progressive, as our friend and partner, Dr. Howard Leslie, left us by degrees, the victim of metastatic melanoma. Jack and Howard founded our group before any of the rest of us arrived. Both of them are buried in the same wooded, hillside nature preserve. Pieces of our group, pieces of ourselves, interred in the red-clay earth. Just as they practiced before the rest of us, so they went to sleep before the rest of us. I think they’ve gone ahead to show the way. So they can one day help us adapt to peace the way they helped us adapt to practice.

But both deaths remind me of partnership. Medicine today is chaotic and difficult for many reasons. Part of the problem is that government and regulatory bodies overwhelm us and litigation threatens us. Part of the problem is that we, and our patients alike, have untenable hopes and impossible standards for the practice of medicine. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

When The Body Rights Itself

It’s been a very busy few weeks. Medicine is like that — seldom is “business” steady. Like rainy weeks in the southeast when you think it will never be sunny again, there are weeks when you think everyone’s atria are fibrillating. So there were shocks, and burns, and wires installed. The heart rhythm was rocking, and so were we.

But in all this fury two cases stand out as a reminder that in spite of, not always because of, what we doctors do, the human body can right itself — like it did before their were drugs, procedures, and surgery. (Keep this quiet, though.)

Case 1: A semi-emergent consultation for atrial flutter (AF’s crazy sister) came in. “Something has to be done, Dr. M,” was the message. She was symptomatic and scared (not necessarily in that order), but after a bit of simple doctoring (a pill), the heart rate had slowed and the symptoms abated somewhat. Then after a heavy dose of an AF doctor’s greatest weapon, reassurance and education, we mutually decided on one of my secret treatments for acute AF/AFlutter: A deep breath, a chair, a book, and time. Just in case, though, a cardioversion (shock) was set up for the next morning. I knew that since this was a first episode, that given some time the heart may right itself, without any fury.

Bingo. The text message came the next morning: “Cardioversion cancelled. Patient converted to sinus rhythm right after you saw her yesterday.”  (Grin.) Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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