A doctor’s diary from a pandemic: Art and medicine

Photo credit: Twin Cities Public Television, tpt.org

It’s been a while and I’m getting pandemic fatigue. I’m too exhausted to do much of anything, including blog posts, but recently I was fortunate to be part of something really special. Happily, my friend and terrific doctor, Dr. Jon Hallberg, has put together something to help us re-connect with the arts. Read on for a brief intro and then look for important links at the end of this post.

Jon is a doctor at M Health Fairview Mill City Clinic, just a Hail Mary pass over USBank Stadium from my office at Hennepin Healthcare in downtown Minneapolis. Jon has for years produced Hippocrates Cafe (info on the live productions here) which is a performance event that explores health care topics through the arts. I’ve been to a live Hippocrates Cafe and was treated to song, poetry, comedy, music, and laughter.

So I am so thankful that Dr. Hallberg, along with his colleague Dr. Renee Crichlow, a talented group of folks at Twin Cities Public Television, and the University of Minnesota Medical School Center for the Art of Medicine, has produced a virtual version of Hippocrates Cafe. It premiered last week on Twin Cities Public Television and now is streaming online. I was honored to be featured in one segment, a one-minute poetry reading of Bouquet by John Patrick Murray which you can watch by clicking the link. (Also, how cool is it that my medical school has a Center for the Art of Medicine program?)

The show also features:

  • A gorgeous string quartet with members of the Minnesota Orchestra, Minnesota Opera Orchestra, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
  • A short film on what Shakespeare really did during the plague lockdown.
  • A lovely piece composed and played by Covid-19 survivor Nachito Herrera
  • A song from the voice and soul of Minnesota favorite T. Mychael Rambo.
  • Porch portraits. Poignant stories from a gorgeous diversity of cultures. Incredible photography. And much more.

I suggest you take an hour and re-connect with the arts. Here are links to stream it online or watch on TV.

Photo credit: Twin Cities Public Television, tpt.org

Links to Hippocrates Cafe: Reflections on the Pandemic

Thanks for checking in. And next time you hear Dr. Jon Hallberg dispense medical wisdom on Minnesota Public Radio, remember he is also a champion of the arts. Awesome.

Subscribe if you wish by entering your e-mail at the top of this page or do the Twitter thing @DrDavidHilden.

David

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A doctor’s diary from a pandemic: We will remember these days

I wrote the following short piece for the Minnesota Chapter of the American College of Physicians of which I am privileged to serve as Governor. I edited it a bit for my colleagues – physicians and all others – at Hennepin Healthcare. I offer it to you here.

We will remember these days.

Some day we will remember standing outside a patient room covered head to toe in hair net, mask, plastic face shield, gown, and gloves. We will remember looking at our nurse colleague similarly covered, look into each other’s eyes, take a deep breath, and walk into that room and once again, for the umpteenth time, be face-to-face with a patient. A patient with COVID-19.

Some day we will remember canceling every CME conference, business meeting, family vacation, wedding, funeral, and family gathering for a whole year and wondered how we will ever re-connect.

Some day we will remember how we learned how to care for our patients over a video connection.

Some day we will remember that crazy time when we put our masks in paper bags so that there would be enough for later.

Some day we will remember taking pay cuts and furloughs so that our hospital and clinics could survive.

Some day we will remember the time when our fellow human beings died without their family by their side.

We will remember these days.

But some day, we will also remember feeling closer to our colleagues than we ever have been and realize that these are our lifelong brothers and sisters.

Some day we will remember that people stood on their balconies to applaud what we do every day.

Some day we will remember that during a pandemic there was still kindness and compassion.

Some day we will remember that we were smart and we were brave.

Some day we will remember that what we do still matters.

We will remember these days. And we will remember what a privilege it is to be a caregiver at Hennepin.

Thanks for reading.

Twitter: @DrDavidHilden

Healthy Matters airs on News Talk 830 WCCO at 7:00 am Sunday morning Central time and streams live at wccoradio.com.

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Music and wellness

In this post I’m going to diverge slightly from my usual medical writing to talk about a different part of being healthy and well.  So I’m going to ask you to read an essay I wrote this past summer for the Minnesota Orchestra.  The link is repeated below after a few introductory comments.

How does music – or art in general –  relate to health and wellness?

There is a notion in healthcare that I think we need to explore further.  In brief, it is likely true that stress in our lives may lead to health problems, probably via some complex inflammatory changes in our bodies.  So reducing stress in our lives is probably a good idea.  Art can certainly do that.

But beyond that rather nerdy physiologic reason, I think it is vitally important that each of us find beauty in our world.  Our national discourse is so ugly and uncivil that it is making us sick.  Our daily lives are filled with screen time, busy schedules, bills to pay, and the daily tasks of life.  All of this makes music and art and beautiful things all the more important.

I often turn to orchestral music.  I spend lots of evenings at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis and I am privileged to have met some of the talented people at the Minnesota Orchestra.  They have graciously published my thoughts on music on the orchestra’s website and I invite you to read it by clicking below.

For my essay, click on “A Life with Music” at the Minnesota Orchestra website.

I also wrote a piece in August 2016 about my trek to Europe with the Orchestra in which I talk about saunas full of naked people, Beethoven, bicycles in Europe and my thoughts on being abroad with a world-class orchestra.  Read about all that in “The Finer Things” here.

Comments are welcome below.  Subscribe by e-mail to MyHealthyMatters if you wish to receive non-commercial health and wellness info!

David

 

 

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Finding the ordinary among the extraordinary

Hi, Healthy Matters friends!

I have been steadily moving toward more writing in my career and specifically I’ve been working in an area called “narrative non-fiction.”  My writings are mostly based on medicine, health and wellness.  Big surprise there – sort of like what I do on this blog. I hope to collect them into a book at some point if I get any good at it.

A venue for publishing narrative non-fiction in the medical field is an online journal called Intima and I had an essay posted there in April.  It was called Don’t worry, at least we will die together!” and it was about my experience with medical students in Jerusalem.  If you missed it, you can access the piece in this blog post below.

The editors encourage writers to interact with other writers on the site, and so I wrote a very short post in response to an essay by Margot Hedlin, a newly minted doctor whom I have never met.  Her essay was called, “There’s a limit to your love” and it was really thought-provoking.  She’s a terrific writer and she masterfully got me thinking about the mundane and the not-so-mundane parts of medicine.

My response to Dr. Hedlin’s piece has now been published in Intima.  It is called Finding the ordinary among the extraordinary.”  It has my musings about the need to sometimes find normalcy even in utterly abnormal situations.  Like medicine.

I encourage you to read Dr. Hedlin’s piece first in the “Field Notes” section, then my short response in the “Crossroads” section.  Maybe as a trio these pieces will pull together some themes that resonate with you.

Here are quick links to these three pieces:

I’d love to foster dialogue, so please feel free to share these pieces on Facebook, e-mail, Twitter, or wherever you spend your social media time.  Or simply share this MyHealthyMatters blog post and let people do their own clicking!  (Buttons to share are at the top and bottom of every post I do).

And the editors at Intima encourage a wider conversation, so maybe you could leave a comment on the site with your reaction to any of these pieces.

For the main Intima site, click the logo here:

Happy reading and happy contemplation!

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“Don’t worry, at least we will die together!”

Jerusalem, photo © David Hilden

Hi, friends!

In this post I simply want to invite you to read an essay I wrote which was recently published in a journal I admire.  Called Intima: a journal of narrative medicine, it is a literary place where medicine is explored through story, narrative non-fiction, and art.

My piece is called “Don’t worry, at least we will die together” and is an account of an experience I had back in 2015 while in Jerusalem.

In addition to reading my piece, I hope you will explore Intima and immerse yourself in any of the outstanding works that were submitted.  The journal, which originated at Columbia University in 2010, is a treasure that I hope many of you will come to know.

I haven’t posted much about my interest in Middle East issues, so I’ll give you just a bit of background.  If you do nothing else, please click on the Intima logo above and check out my essay.   For just a little more on my experience, keep reading. Continue reading ““Don’t worry, at least we will die together!”” Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Maybe your doctor should be a woman

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Quick, picture in your head a highly competent physician.  What does that person look like?

Does your doctor image look like this?

Photo: ABC Television [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Public domain photo

Or like this?

By Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer, Stone Richard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Public domain photo

 For the record and the recognition, that’s Dr. Gibson-Hill, a doctor in Bristol, England.  You probably know the guy in the top photo.

History has maybe ingrained in us the image of doctors as many things, but first of all they have been men.  The reality, even dating back over a hundred years (Elizabeth Blackwell, anyone), is that women have served as physicians for a great long time.

And the reality today is that women are a huge part of the physician workforce in the United States.  I remember vividly one moment during the first hour of the first day of my Medical School education at the University of Minnesota some 20 years ago.  The Dean stood up in front of the nearly 200 of us eager young medical students and announced that for the first time in that school’s history, more than half the medical students were women.  The room erupted in applause that day.

My current practice bears this out.  In my group of hospitalist physicians at HCMC, we have 17 women and 14 men.  So when you see a doctor in our hospital and I presume at all other hospitals in the country, you are likely to be cared for by a physician who happens to be a woman.

This is a good thing. Continue reading “Maybe your doctor should be a woman” Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Book club! How Doctors Think

how doctors thinkHi, everybody!  For about 2 months I’ve been yammering both in this blog and on the radio broadcast about the current Healthy Matters online book club selection, and it’s time to get to it!  As they say in billiards .. “Quit talking and start chalking . . . “

 I don’t know about you, but I’ve been reading How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman.  For regular readers of MyHealthyMatters, hopefully you’ve had a chance to check it out.  But it’s OK if you didn’t read the book.  I’ll bet you’ll have something to add to the conversation even if you didn’t get to read it!

 

To get you thinking, I’m going to talk about the book in the following format:

  1. My summary and reflections about an aspect of the book, broken into 3 topic sections
  2. A few questions for you to consider in response to my reflections.  Hopefully you’ll leave a comment at the bottom with your own thoughts.

I’d rather this be a two-way conversation – an online book discussion – rather than just me talking.  (I talk enough).  I’m most interested in your thoughts so please join the conversation even if you didn’t get a chance to read the book.  (Just like in-person book clubs where half the people didn’t actually read the book!  You know who you are.) Continue reading “Book club! How Doctors Think” Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Dying too young

CandleThis has been a tough week as too many people have died way too early.  I’m going to write a few thoughts about young lives cut short – one from my own life and one from the nation.  No links to medical information, no medical advice, nothing funny and probably not too uplifting.  I think I just need to make note of these young lives. Sorry it is a sad read.  Just some reflections and a poem at the end.   Thanks for reading. Continue reading “Dying too young” Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Book club: start reading “How Doctors Think”

The first timhow doctors thinke I did a book club selection was after I had read a book and I was really excited to share it with you.  That was in March 2016 and the book was When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.  If you missed the post about that terrific read, click here.

For the second book in our Healthy Matters book club – and for all future selections – I will post the book before I have read it and hopefully many of you will pick up a copy and read it as well.  Then I hope we can have a good discussion about it -here on the blog, on the radio broadcast, and on Twitter.  I really value using literature, the arts, the humanities, and so forth to help us all think about the practice of medicine.  You can be part of that conversation!

So here’s the book I’d like you to considering reading:  How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman.  Then look for a post on this blog in mid-June in which I hope you will give me your feedback – let’s start an interactive discussion!

Why this book?

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When Breath Becomes Air – Healthy Matters Book Club

when breath becomes air“I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything.”

Paul Kalanithi, from When Life Becomes Air

Welcome to Healthy Matters Book Club!  This is the first of what I hope will be many posts in which I will explore a health & medicine book that I have read and found interesting .  I’m not a book critic and this is not a thorough book review – just a couple of my thoughts.  I hope you will read it and join the conversation by leaving a comment below or perhaps joining me on Twitter @DrDavidHilden.  Plus, I’m hoping you will leave me book discussion suggestions in the comments – I’m always looking for a good read!

Today’s Book:  When Breath Becomes Air

Re-read the quote at the top of this post.  It is a pretty good summary of When Breath Becomes Air, the recent book from Dr. Paul Kalanithi.  I strongly recommend the book to you – it is a quick read – just a few hours – but it is gripping.

Dr. Kalanithi died in March 2015 and the book is a memoir of his last months of life.  An accomplished neurosurgeon and a rising star in the medical community, Paul Kalanithi learned of a terminal diagnosis when he was just 35 years old.   Also a talented writer who was initially torn between a career in medicine or as a writer, he set out to chronicle his life knowing that he would not live a great deal longer.  He is a terrific writer and his prose is quite lyrical – almost poetic to the degree that some may find a bit much –  and I found it brilliant.

Paul writes with an intimacy rarely seen in books by doctors.   Neurosurgeons, fairly or not, are not known for their sensitive sides.   But in this case, the surgeon becomes the patient and is faced with what he knows in his mind and in his gut – that he has a disease from which he will certainly die.  He knew it the instant he looked at his own CT scan.   This unnerved me a bit as I can imagine any of my colleagues facing the same situation in which we look at our own medical results and know a bit too much what it means for us.

When I was reading the book, I couldn’t escape the knowledge that the writer has already died and is really speaking from the grave.  Made me pause more than once or twice.

But it is a great read even if you are not a doctor.  Maybe even more so, as it gives you an unfiltered glimpse into the mind of a brain surgeon with a soft spot for poetry.  You really feel like you get to know him.  And just as great is that you get to meet Lucy, his wife, who seems to me an incredible person.

Throughout the reading I couldn’t escape the knowledge that Lucy and their infant daughter are still here – real people, alive and carrying on their lives.  To me Lucy is as fascinating as her husband and her epilogue is as poignant as her husband’s writing.  Now about one year after his death, she has found herself doing something she probably didn’t imagine just 2-3 years ago – she’s on a book tour for her late husband.

Here’s an interview she did on National Public Radio that I encourage you to listen to:

 “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

This oft-quoted bit of wisdom by Gandhi was realized by Dr. Kalanithi during his lifetime.  After his awful diagnosis, he continued to practice surgery, continued to read, continued to write, continued to love, continued to learn, and continued to reflect on what is important in life.  He indeed was acting as if he may well live forever.

But he also acted as if he may die tomorrow which for him was not an abstract concept but a real possibility.  One aspect of their lives that gets my thoughts all tied up in knots is their decision to have a baby, knowing that he would not live to see their child grow up.  Here is an exchange from the book:

“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”

“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.”

Can you imagine having such a conversation when thinking about having a child? Holy cow.  Listen to the audio clip above to hear Lucy say more about this.

Join the discussion!

What would you do if you knew you had a very limited amount of time to live?  Would you continue to work at whatever you do?  Would you drop everything and try something new? What would you do if you were Lucy – his spouse?  Are you a “live-for-the-moment” type or a “planner for the future” type?  Maybe a little of both?

So now it’s your turn.  Read the book and leave a comment below with your reactions.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Also, if you have read a health/wellness/medical book that you’d like to recommend – leave me a comment right here on the blog (in the comments section below).   Can be fiction or non-fiction.  Maybe we can discuss it on a future post on the Healthy Matters Book Club!

 

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