Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Douglas Brinkley Presidential historian speaks at Ferguson Library on Civility in American History

Douglas Brinkley, Presidential Historian

Douglas Brinkley who currently teaches at Rice University in Houston electrified his audience last Monday night.

He began by introducing us to Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress first appointed in 1774. After Washington became our first president, Thomson remained a fierce supporter of allegiance to our country's leader.

Thomson gathered many papers with a view of writing a history of his time.  Toward the end of his life , he destroyed nearly all his papers. Brinkley suggests that one of the reasons may have been his desire to leave no record of the contentious and fiercely fought election of 1800 between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Polarization of political parties, vehement rhetoric and gridlock have been a part of American politics from its inception.

The highlight of the evening was his discussion of his latest book "American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race."  Though the Russians were first at orbiting a man in space in April 1961, President  Kennedy announced in May, 1961 his intention to land a manned spacecraft on the moon by the end of the decade.

This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing which unfortunately Kennedy did not witness. But what is significant, says Brinkley, is that this project ushered in a time when both parties laid aside their enmities and joined in a camaraderie to help fund the project to land a manned spacecraft on the moon.

Civility had commandeered a Camelot 'moment' in American politics.

When asked what he would do to ameliorate the current atmosphere of incivility which plagues our national government, Brinkley suggested that answer lies in the education of our youth  We must reintroduce civics and geography in the classroom curriculum.

It is only through understanding how our government functions can there exist an atmosphere of respect and tolerance for the opinions of others.

Again, thanks to the Dilenschneider group for their support of Civility in America series as it enters its eighth year.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

A Celebration of the Life of Columbia University Professor Edward W. Tayler


Professor Ted Tayler
Photo Credit Eileen Barroso 

On Friday, March 15, over one hundred plus students, colleagues, friends (and family) gathered at Columbia University's Low Rotunda to pay tribute to the inspirational life of 16th and 17th Century English Professor Emeritus, Edward W. Tayler. 

Ted passed away on April 23, 2018.

(Professor Tayler  is remembered as being both a Shakespeare and Milton scholar and April 23rd happens to be the very date on which William Shakespeare was both born and died.)

The program was introduced by Michael Rosenthal, Professor Emeritus;  he was followed by reminiscences by ten of  his students. They included three authors, a playwright (Tony Kushner), a journalist, a lawyer (Abbe David Lowell) and four Professors.

Here are just a few remembrances of Ted:

" Dark and light...God set up opposites, Ted said, which is something we all do--all the time in life. Moral opposites...how do you escape the binary bind? There are people you touch and people you don't touch. Every choice becomes an exclusion.  His injunction all year was think double. When you think you understand something, try to penetrate its opposite and see if they have a relationship to each other....The voice was remarkable...baritone...steady, quiet, very penetrating with little traces of mockery and wit...." (David Denby, CC'65, author)

"....short, self possessed, still young, standing directly before us with a burning cigarette as his only prop-- delivering sentences in a clipped, dry, dead pan voice---occasionally pausing to mumble a caustic witty aside....Ted had a most military bearing in class. The general had a plan a step by step strategy to guide us through a series of small epiphanies toward greater and greater clarity about Milton's work."  (Paul Auster, CC'69, author)

Ted, I  miss you, too. I am privileged to be numbered among the many students who were lit up, inspired and enriched by your exemplary teaching. Here is my tribute penned nearly 10 years ago.

The event is now available for viewing on you tube 


   










Monday, March 11, 2019

My Old Grey Lady Goes Digital: Saying Goodbye to the Print Edition of the New York Times

The Old Grey Lady

It was a bold decision when made.

I have never thought I would make the move---

About two weeks ago I traded my daily subscription to the print edition of the New York Times for the digital one.

Why have I done so at this time?

First I am on overload with daily print news media. Besides the New York Times, I have read and still read the Wall Street Journal and also our hometown daily, the Stamford Advocate---all cover to cover. This routine is  overwhelming as I am constantly playing catch-up and nearly always feel behind the eight ball.

Why the overload?

I have always felt it necessary to stay on top of the news---growing up in a family that always had the Times delivered daily and where we all were expected to be up on the latest news. And just recently I led a biweekly discussion of current events for seniors in our community--making it necessary for me to up on international, national and local news.

In addition, I have always been a 'print'  man who has always enjoyed the tangible hard copy book or daily rag in my hand --spanning my careers as English major, college and high school English and science teacher, print advertising/space sales, then publisher of Brooklyn Community Magazine.

Of course, there are other online news sources such as Huffingtonpost, Politico, Drudgereport, the Daily Mail, The Hill, etc. besides my New York Times online subscription.

I will miss the display ads and the daily and Sunday crossword puzzles in the print edition.

Stay tuned as I further assess my decision.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

How the Study of Fine Art is Improving Observational Skills of Medical Students

In 1998, Dr. Irwin Braverman, Yale School of Medicine professor of dermatology,  started the "Observation Skills Workshop" --a joint program between the Yale British Art Gallery and the medical school.

Dr.Jacqueline Dolov and Dr. Irwin Braverman host "The Art of Noticing"
the first discussion in a new series of Yale netcasts. (photo by John Curtis/Yale University)

The program came about because Dr. Braverman was finding that students were not describing patients as well as he thought should have been.

He brainstormed the idea of exposing students to unfamiliar objects --in this case 19th-century victorian paintings from the gallery. Then he had students itemize as many details as they could from a painting, followed by the students meeting in a conference room where relate their art observations to photos of actual patients.

In a study, he found that "first year medical students detected important details nearly 10 percent better than peers who had not." ( a later study performed by one of his students put the figure at 20%)

This procedure spurs the students to become better doctors because the careful observation skills can actually help them in making better diagnoses and otherwise prevent them from 'jumping to conclusions' which often prove wrong.


The workshop  is now a required course at Yale for all first year students. At least 24 other institutions have adopted the course into their curricula.

Kudos to Dr. Braverman and his students for bringing the liberal arts into medical education.

For more details on the mechanics of the program, click here.




Sunday, November 18, 2018

Dr. Saul A. Schwartz, Remembering My Dad 20 years after his passing

In an earlier article, I recounted my dad's passion for playing different sports in college: baseball, basketball and field and track.

Today,  I remember his passion for caring for his patients (which led, incidentally,  to his building one of the largest practices in the Bronx.)

His dedication to the sick was reflected in several ways. First he made house calls, going up and down flights of stairs. I should know as I would often accompany him-- carrying his doctor's bag. (at the time, he would charge $5 per house visit.) And he spent time getting to know each of his patients--patiently listening to all their complaints.

Well the word go around very quickly along the Grand Concourse and the East Tremont section of the Bronx about the doctor who makes house visits. Naturally, when the patients recovered, they flocked to his office at the Flat Iron Building located at 1882 Grand Concourse.

Here it was not unusual  for up to 40 patients to be waiting for a consult. I would ask dad why they didn't make appointments. His answer was: I would urge them to schedule appointments, but they simply come and who can stop them. Half would find seats in the waiting room and others would stand.

They did not mind waiting, sometimes up to two hours. Why?

Dad had  a special caring, empathetic, bedside manner that was infectious. He took time to hear their complaints, speak to them in Yiddish, German, or English. He did much to alleviate their worries and anxieties that often led to ulcerative colitis, his  specialty.

Dad, I am so grateful to have experienced the importance of taking the time to listen to each patient's story before making a diagnosis- a luxury rarely heard of in the practice of today's medicine.

You have inspired me to write a series of articles to examine the current crisis.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Medical Students turn to poetry discussions to share experiences and to develop empathy

In an earlier article I discussed the enlightened lead of the St. Andrews Medical School in giving every graduate a small portable book of poems, Tools of the Trade to accompany them on their rounds.

 Then in my most recent posting, I explained how reading and reciting poetry helps the reader-including the medical student/professional-- to deal with the complex of emotions that are not easily resolved by simple reading of prose.

The next obvious question is: how can medical educators work with their students to get them to express-- in a group setting--what it is they are experiencing when reading poems dealing with their daily contacts with their ailing patients?

St. Andrews has added a new direction: using the Tools of the Trade: Poems for new doctors  book of poems as a base, it has instituted a program called Poems for Doctors. First there is a blog which publishes these short poems. Then "video readings are made by medical professionals or  trainees who have chosen one poem for particular reasons or associations that they explain. Each reading provides a seed for informal discussion in a Facebook group managed by a group of highly experienced medics." (bold italics mine)

Contrast the St. Andrews informal discussion in a Facebook group with the following poetry centered program at Hadassah- Hebrew University Medical Center to "increase student's capacity for empathy and awareness of patients' narratives." Five 1-hour meetings were "held immediately following a teaching round, of seven to nine students with a facilitator doctor. At each meeting a poem reflecting the patient-caregiver relationship is discussed in order to encourage students to share their experiences." The results favored the students' empathetic identification with the patient (what it is like to be a patient). Read evaluation here.



 St. Andrews and Hadassah present differing models of how to  bring students together to share reactions to poetry. First they are alike in that each has an experienced faculty member who facilitates discussion. The former uses an informal discussion in a Facebook group  while the latter brings the students together in a face-to-face meeting held immediately following a teaching round.

Both schools are to be commended for their encouraging students to share their reactions to
poems.

The Hadassah method of having round table discussions, where students face each other --eye to eye --  is, perhaps, preferable because it done immediately after coming off the wards  when the emotions are still so fresh.

   Yet, on the other hand, the St. Andrews method of informal Facebook discussions may be more preferable mode for shy students who may be more reluctant to share their emotions in a 'live' setting.
They may be inhibited to share reactions in a setting where they have to view their peer's reactions such as facial expressions.

Besides St. Andrews and the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center other medical schools such as Yale and Harvard are also taking the lead in including poetry as a means of fostering empathy.

In my next article, I will explore how medical schools are requiring art classes as well. So stay tuned in.

 


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

On the road to Relief from stress: How Poetry Works to make known the unknown, to make the impalpable palpable

In a recent article, I pledged to explore how the composition, recitation and listening to verse can alleviate the inevitable stress associated with the study and practice of medicine. In this context, I discussed Psalm 23.

So why, one might ask, is poetry more effective than prose in this regard?

 I was enlightened by comments spoken by Rabbi Gidon Shoshan who declares in G-d's Poem that the text of the Torah (arguably the most read book in  both the original and in translation) "is not prose, but poetry. While prosaic writing is deliberate, detailed and thorough, poetry is concise, choice and laden with allusion. A poet does not write all that he wishes to communicate but, rather, uses the power of language and brevity to encapsulate, in limited words, all virtually unlimited ideas." (italics mine)

What he is saying is so profound. The poet, in my opinion, is a master of words. He chooses words that resonate with meaning, many meanings which allude to many ideas and so what he writes can be interpreted in many different ways.

King David praising the Lord with his Harp
Illustrator: Richard Andre, London, 1884


He is in tune with inner rhythms, that akin to music, can not be expressed in one note, but many notes. Recall that the psalms of David were composed to be sung to the accompaniment of the harp. The classic epics, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey were also written to be sung.

 And since we each have individual sensibilities,  each one of us as reader/listener can and will have our own unique response(s).

The poet, in my opinion, makes the unknowable knowable, the impalpable  palpable. He takes abstruse, complex ideas and feelings and chooses words and rhythms to share conflicts, paradoxes, ironies and emotional states--that are hard to articulate in simple prose.

To write in simple prose is limiting, dull and boring while poetry opens the mind and soul to multiple unlimited feelings and thoughts that need to be communicated.

This is why, reciting, understanding and discussing poetry lends itself to unraveling, the confusing-- often tormenting-- complex of emotions experienced by student medical professionals as they come in contact for the first time with real life threatening diseases afflicting their patients.

Indeed, before one can be an empathetic care-giver to those experiencing pain and suffering, one must first deal with one's own emotions.

In forthcoming article(s), I will explore how poetry discussions are helping to germinate the seeds of empathetic, humanistic medicine.