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Cancer Survivorship And Fear

I had breakfast this morning in Las Vegas with my friend, Dave Garcia. Dave is a pit boss on the graveyard shift at the Belagio Hotel where they made the modern-day “Ocean’s 11″ buddy movie from 1960. Dave is also a 52-year-old chronic lymphocytic leukemia survivor. He reached out to me online and we have been friends since soon after his diagnosis in 2002.

Dave is a father of two young kids. He dreams of seeing them grow up. But, understandably, he worries. Some days more than others. Today was his day to see his oncologist and get the latest blood test results. Would his white blood count (WBC) be in the normal range? If so, his third round of treatment was still working. If not, he might be headed to a stem cell transplant, short-term disability, and living in another city for weeks or months.

As  you can imagine, Dave was on pins and needles today. He would be against more chemo because he worries about the toxic drugs killing cancer cells but weakening him in the long run. Dave admits his blood pressure goes up on these days.

Dave is not alone in his fear. For millions of cancer survivors, while each day is special, some days are anxiety producing. For me it’s when I have a strange ache or pain. I rarely tell Esther, but I worry. For almost everyone it’s on days when we are having a “checkup.” The worry is, is this the day another shoe will drop? Fortunately, that hasn’t come for me yet and I hope it never will. I am happy to say Dave just texted me. His worry today was unfounded. The WBC was normal. He was given a pass at least for a few more months. We hope forever!

At another meeting today in Las Vegas there was a discussion about information for cancer patients. Nurses ticking off all sorts of facts and admonishments to patients. The nurses feel they are doing their job of education quite well. Some patients would say maybe not so well. How come? Fear. For us it is not clinical routine. It is our lives on the line at diagnosis or at a checkup. We often don’t hear so well in those moments. Dave may not have heard so well today. Only one word counted: “Normal.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

Same Sex Vs. Opposite Sex: What’s The Rule On Friendship?

I’m stealing a post from Jay at Two Women Blogging entitled “Was Harry Right?” Here’s their post, and I discuss it below:

Was Harry Right?

Bluemilk got me started thinking about this. I first heard Harry’s thesis advanced by the resident I worked with on my med school psych rotation. She assured me that while I might think I had platonic friendships with men, the men didn’t see it that way. I was pretty sure they did see it that way. I wasn’t naive, I was engaged to be married and had done my share of dating and flirting — I knew what it felt like when a man was interested in me sexually and I knew the difference. I still know the difference, and I still have men friends. For most of my life, my closest friends have been men. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*

Latest Interviews

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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How To Make Inpatient Medical Practice Fun Again: Try Locum Tenens Work

It s no secret that most physicians are unhappy with the way things are going in healthcare. Surveys report high levels of job dissatisfaction burn out and even suicide. In fact some believe that up to a third of the US physician work force is planning to leave the profession…

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Latest Cartoon

Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.

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Click here for a musical take on over-testing.

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Latest Book Reviews

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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Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

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