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SPOTLIGHT
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Medicine, social media and a slogan

Published on -5/14/2012, 8:52 AM

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I'm always concerned about the well-being of my fellow humans. Last week when I saw a robust young man perusing the shelves in the pharmacy's Colds and Flu section, I thought "Gee, I hope he's going to be OK."

Those drugs can be nasty.

* * *

Clostridium difficile (C. dif) is a potentially fatal bowel infection that often develops after antibiotics have killed off all the competing germs, allowing the C. dif germs to spread. The C. dif can sometimes be killed in turn by a small, select group of drugs, but these drugs can lose their effectiveness.

Innovative science to the rescue!

Sudhir Dutta, M.D., head of the Division of Gastroenterology at Sinai Hospital, performed fecal transplant procedures for two patients with severe C. dif colitis that wouldn't respond to routine antibiotic and other treatments. C. dif causes symptoms ranging from mild diarrhea to more serious, sometimes life-threatening colon inflammation.

In the transplant procedure, feces from a donor are first processed in the lab, then instilled into the small intestine and right side of the colon. "Normal healthy bacteria from the donor's feces leads to repopulation of the patient's colon with these beneficial bacteria," Dutta contends.

One Sinai patient had C. dif for about a year before having the fecal transplant procedure. The donor was her daughter.

"My choices were to lose my colon, die or have a fecal transplant from a loving donor," she said.

This could explain phenomena such as Glenn Beck, who might well have employed this life-saving procedure on multiple occasions, though he would probably have resorted to a more accessible low-complexity technique. As the computer geeks might say, FIFO. There'd be no problem finding willing, if not necessarily loving, donors to assist Mr. Beck with his inoculations.

* * *

With the proliferation of "social media," many Americans have come to feel more "connected" than ever before. There's little doubt that these media can be used to influence and mobilize mass opinion.

Are we really more connected at a personal level? I'm one of the few people in this sector of the galaxy who don't use Facebook, but I've seen it in use. A mind-boggling (perhaps literally) variety of communications show up; a person could spend all his waking hours keeping current on the doings of multitudes of befrienders. The sheer volume of information (to use the term loosely) can overwhelm one's critical capacities.

The entries I've seen have been heavily weighted toward the banal, the trivial and the irrelevant. Why would anyone want to keep current with them?

How bored do we have to be in order to find these things interesting?

There is some indication that heavy reliance on social media actually diminishes creativity and problem-solving ability. Why invent something, why reason something through, if you can just post the problem and wait for someone else to comment about it? Or quickly conjure up the malign spirits of Witchipedia?

In some cases, knowing that we can, in principle, access answers via the www serves as a substitute for thoughtfully considering an issue at all.

I recently saw this blatantly demonstrated at a Kansas history museum. A class-cluster of kids moved rapidly past displays large and small. They didn't examine the exhibits or read the commentaries. Many did take a quick cellphone snapshot of each display; having discharged their responsibility to learning, they immediately moved on. A click is as good as a thought.

Will they later study each image and consider its implications for their own future? Sure they will.

A starkly vivid example of faux connectedness appeared as I gazed down a wide corridor outside a series of meeting rooms in a Topeka hotel. Scattered down the otherwise-deserted hall were seven people, each standing erect and motionless as a fence post, none within 15 feet of any other. Unaware of their environment, they were positioned like vertical speed bumps along the middle of the passage.

Each was frowning, intent on tapping away at some text message.

Alone in a crowd of ghosts.

* * *

Kansas' official state slogan trumpets "Kansas, As Big As You Think." Is that what people think when they consider Kansas -- that it's big? My experience is somewhat different -- when people learn I'm from Kansas, they're often thinking of Fred Phelps; a state board of education that regards modern biology as a moral aberration; boring, flat-as-a-pancake topography; or a governor who rejects actively supporting the arts.

I was born 'n' raised in Kansas, and maintained it as our home of record while I was a commissioned officer on the Rez. Both our kids went to KU. I love the hills -- yes, hills -- and streams, the forests along the rivers, the friendly waves from motorists who don't know me, the hugs and handshakes at class reunions, the skills and intellect that once made Kansas a leader in social progress.

Some years ago, I was called from our field clinic to the area office, charged with interviewing a candidate for the area chief medical officer position. He had experience providing health care in third-world settings across the globe.

When I told him I was from Kansas, he chuckled. "In all my travels, two kinds of people typically show the greatest dedication and skill. Either they're pediatricians -- or they're from Kansas!"

So I suggest a new slogan: "Kansas -- Not As Lame As You Think."

Jon Hauxwell, MD, is a retired family physician who grew up in Stockton and now lives outside Hays. hauxwell@ruraltel.net

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