Randapanda III

A reader comments : “I have serious trepidations about electing a president who was a POW for 5 yrs and remained in solitary confinement for two of those five. I have total respect for the service and valor of John McCain, but I don’t believe you can endure this type of treatment and come out unscathed psychologically. He is famously short-tempered and impulsive. This is not a quality that I want in someone who has substantial control over the free world. I am underwhelmed by the other candidates, but I’ve seen the psychopathology that developed in many of our veterans who served in Vietnam and were not POWs and shudder to think about what McCain has to do in order to get to sleep at night.

The reader, along with many other people, is completely buying into the popular misconceptions about Viet Nam veterans. I, too, have worked at the VA with Viet Nam veterans and you know what? When you question many of these creepy guys about their military service, most of them are so full of shit…and I mean totally full of it…that there is no way possible they were anywhere close to combat. And I doubt some of them even went to Viet Nam. I don’t expect you to know how to tell a plausible war story from a bogus one but I assure you that I have a pretty good idea who is genuine and who is blowing smoke up my ass.

“Where did you go to boot camp?” for example, is a basic kind of question to ask an alleged former Marine who can vividly recall every detail of his super-secret black-ops missions but cannot come up with the name of the base where he trained (Hint: there are only two places a Marine of the post-Korean War era could have gone to basic training) or anything about his unit or specialty that makes sense.

The trouble is that the VA does a very poor job of checking service records. They are not easily accessible and it takes time, money, and staff to interpret them. I guarantee that if I selected any ten frazzled Viet Nam era PTSD patients whose lives have been a shambles since the ‘Nam and scrutinized their record, five of them would have never seen any combat and two or three would probably have never even been overseas or even in the military. You see, to verify combat experience, you have to compare their story to their service record and the patient’s unit’s “Unit Diary,” something that’s impossible to do on a routine basis. A DD214 has very little information on it and people are taken at their word which would be a mistake.

You need to understand the concept of “tooth and tail.” In Viet Nam as in most wars, eighty to ninety percent of those involved were in support positions and the majority of them saw no action at all. Imagine the vast number of sailors, aircraft mechanics, clerks, cooks, radio repairmen, truck drivers, and other specialists required to support one infantryman on the ground. I’m not putting down anybody, you understand, because logistics and support wins wars but for every infantryman, combat engineer, artilleryman or tanker shooting at the enemy, the “teeth”, there is a long, long logistical “tail.” Being anywhere in a combat zone, however, qualifies you as a combat veteran for purposes of VA benefits and no distinction is made between serving on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin or sticking a knife into the enemy at Hue City. Therefore it takes almost nothing to convince the VA that your personal problems, problems that you may have had before you enlisted, are the result of stress from your military service. Free VA medical care is no different from any other government benefit. It attracts the usual freeloaders but in this case, since so many of you have no experience whatsoever with the military you let yourself get browbeaten into believing any war story you are told because you hold your manhood cheap whiles anyone speaks who fought on Saint Crispin’s day (so to speak).

The country is full of people exaggerating their POW status, combat experience, or even their military service. I suggest you read “Stolen Valor,” a book that exposes the depth of the scam in which many of you so intently believe. For my part, I know many Viet Nam combat veterans who are the “real deal” and although their experiences have profoundly changed them, they are not the psychotic druggies that Hollywood and the left love to portray. There is most certainly a disorder known as PTSD and many of our combat veterans suffer from it. But guys who are “put together” well enough to to be Navy Fighter pilots, Rangers, SEALS, Special Forces, Marine Infantryman (the blue collar of the military elite), and other hard-chargers that the drugged-out homeless guys pretend to have been do not turn psychotic. Rather, they struggle with their memories but otherwise live fairly normal lives where they are part of the vast yet unseen foundation of sturdy citizens upon whom is supported the whole circus of dependency that grabs all the headlines.

My point is that Mr. McCain is impulsive and short-tempered, not necessarily bad qualities if channeled properly, because he was a Naval aviator, the kind of guy who could fly an A4 Skyhawk in the teeth of Migs and SAM batteries. He is the real deal and if you prefer an anti-American fuck like Mr. Obama, a guy who won’t wear a flag pin because it makes his anti-American leftist cronies uncomfortable and who has never done a decent thing in his entire self-centered life that didn’t benefit Obama…well…what can I say?

Randapanda III

Randapanda II

Actual Patient Encounter:

“I’m really, really annoyed.”

“Really? Why?

“I’ve been sitting here for an hour and you just now walked in.”

“I’m sorry. We’re pretty busy tonight.”

“Well, I’m still annoyed.”

“How annoyed?”

“Like, a 10 out of 10.”

“You know, my Great-grandmother was driven from her home in Asia Minor by the Turks and had to walk two hundred miles to get to Smyrna where she took a ship to Athens. Several of her children died along the way and the Turks wouldn’t even let her stop to bury their bodies. When she arrived in Athens what was left of her family had nothing but the clothes on their backs. As far as being annoyed, to me that’s a ‘10 out of 10.'”

“OK, maybe it’s a 9.5 out of 10.”

Speaking of…

Speaking of wait times, the typical non-emergent patient encounter in a busy and understaffed Emergency Department proceeds in a predictable manner full of emotional highs and lows. First comes the interminable ordeal in the crowded, smelly waiting room relieved at last by the hopeful flurry of activity with the triage nurse. Determining however that you are going to live, she sends you back to the waiting room for another stint with the cross-section of the city who have nothing better to do at 2AM. There you stew until, at last being called to “to the back,” you are treated to another optimistic spurt of activity as your nurse asks you all kinds of interesting questions, hooks you up to the lights and whistles, and even draws some blood for some standard lab work associated with your complaint.

Unfortunately you will now have to wait again, rapidly becoming bored with the novelty of your room the type of which you have probably seen many times before. The flat screen television is nice but since you don’t really like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, by the time your doctor decides to finish his coffee break, chatting with the nurses, or whatever it is he does to pass the time on his ridiculously easy job you are now at the limits of your patience and wondering to yourself if it wouldn’t be easier making an appointment with your own doctor. Just when your boredom starts to turn to despair however, the doctor walks in and everything seems now to be headed in the right direction. He is professional, calm, listens intently to your complaints, asks probing questions, lays his hands on you like you were his prom date, and finally gives you a learned opinion on what he thinks and what he’s going to do to elucidate and treat the source your problems.

And then the bastard disappears. You are vaguely aware of some frenzied activity in the big mysterious rooms that you passed on your way to your own and your babydaddy (or cousin or friend or whomever came with you) angrily reports that all your doctor is doing is standing at the nurse’s station talking on the phone. In his good time he saunters in, reports that all the tests have been negative, and confirms that not only are you not going to die but the horrific disease that brought you in would be best managed by your own doctor or worse yet, would respond quickly to smoking cessation, weight loss, or a little bit of rest and patience. So long, nice meeting you, and don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out.

I mention this because my hospital is making a tremendous effort to decrease wait times. I am completely in favor of this, both because I want my patients to be happy and because a shift is a lot nicer if people are seen, evaluated and admitted or discharged quickly. And as I am currently negotiating a contract where part of my bonus is going to depend on patient satisfaction scores, not only am I going to have pre-printed prescriptions for percocet with my address and pager number in case the patient’s dog eats the pills, but I can see how happy patients are going to be good for my bottom line. On the other hand I work at a busy and completely understaffed hospital and I can only see so many patients per shift. I try to work quickly but we cannot just run the patients in and out like cattle as this would jeopardize their safety. I am also still a resident so every patient I see has to be discussed with an attending, herself fairly busy, before admission or discharge which further slows patient disposition.
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Not to mention that despite a waiting room jam-packed with mostly non-urgent complaints, we occasionally get a really bad trauma (or two or three from the same accident) or a critical patient that sucks up a lot of time. It’s not like I’m just standing around. I think every Emergency Medicine resident who reads my blog can attest that, although our hours are good and we get lots of time off, when we are at work we are usually working at a frenzied pace that sometimes precludes even taking a break to eat or urinate.

So although I am as appalled as the next guy that people occasionally wait an hour or two in their rooms to be seen by a doctor, it’s not my fault and I’ll get to them when I get to them. Additionally, the stream of nurses, patient representatives, and various bureaucrats exhorting me to move my lazy ass will forgive me for not panicking and dropping everything to see the non-emergent patient cooling his heels because I am oh-so-obviously taking my sweet time dealing with the eight patients I am already working on. I suppose I could work a little faster but there is very little incentive to do it. I won’t make a dime more for sprinting from room to room instead of walking and the hospital is already getting a lot of work for the twelve bucks an hour they’re paying me. The expectation that I’ll struggle to justify their poor staffing decisions is asking for a little too much sugar for their dime, even from a resident who is used to being taken advantage of.

Not to mention that the other day when I allowed myself to be browbeaten into dropping everything to see a patient who had been waiting long enough to make Press-Ganey feel a disturbance in the Force, when I asked him how long his back had been hurting he said, “Since high school.”

Piling On

Several readers have commented that it’s time to lay off of chiropractors and other purveyors of Complementary and Alternative Medicine because I have apparently said everything about the subject that needs to be said. While it is true that there are only a limited number of ways to demonstrate the ridiculousness of things like Reiki or acupuncture, I get the same enjoyment from doing it as I get from other equally useless activities such as poking a dead ‘possum with a stick.

As a good Southern boy I have poked plenty of dead ‘possums (and even et me a couple or three) but like poking the glassy-eyed corpus of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the novelty never wears off. Those things are weird and they don’t usually lay still long enough to be inspected. In fact, I only got a brief glimpse of the last live ‘possum I saw because he was charging at me making bone-chilling enraged ‘possum noises and my dog and I were running away for all we were worth. When we finally got clear of the creature my dog cocked her head, looked at me, and I’m sure she was saying, “Man, that was one crazy marsupial.” It says something about didelphis virginiana that a black lab, a dog that will chase anything that moves, instinctively knows to flee from it.

But I digress. Complementary and Alternative Medicine is incredibly retarded and people who believe in it are operating on the same intellectual plane as people who claim to have been sodomized by extra-terrestrials. The fact that ostensibly educated people like the totally ridiculous folks over at Duke Integrative Medicine embrace completely ridiculous therapies like Reiki and homeopathy only goes to show that on many levels academia is a trailer park, as mired in ignorance and superstition as any collection of movable housing anywhere in America. They’re just a little thinner is all. The squalid academics living in their ivory single-wides can talk a good game of course, but the minute you start to believe in Reiki, a therapy that is nothing more than spiritual fire flowing from some greasy charlatan’s hands, you start to lose credibility rapidly. If the intelligentsia in this country believe in things as ridiculous as Reiki and homeopathy, in what else do they believe and why should I take them seriously?

Randapanda II

Randapanda

(I can’t concentrate. I admit it. Sorry. -PB)

Hey…

So I was absent for about a week from my blog and my daily readership actually went up. Clearly there is some optimal number of posts per month that will maximize daily hits and I am usually exceeding it….or maybe if I stopped posting altogether my sitecounter would explode. The end is coming, actually. I can feel it. I don’t know what more I can say about most things without doing some research and producing the kind of footnoted and referenced articles that would delight about six of you and bore to tears the rest. Either that or I could get overtly political which would probably increase readership but I am trying to avoid that kind of thing. I’m not even following the election that closely. I like John McCain of course (without feeling the need to take my ball and go home if he doesn’t exactly mirror my opinions), feel a little sorry for Mrs. Clinton, and think that Mr. Obama is the quintessential empty suit, full of rhetoric that signifies nothing except to draw attention away from his doctrinaire leftists opinions.

I marvel at how quickly the leftigentsia have turned against the Clintons and are only just now discovering that they are both totally corrupt and infinitely corruptable. It’s as if all over the United States old grizzled reporters are slapping themselves on the forehead and saying, with sheepish grins spreading across their once credulous faces, “Man, they sure had us fooled!.”

And I confess some distress. Is being a war hero important this time around? It’s hard to keep track. It was the last time, I’m sure about that, and the Lord Marshal certainly made a big deal about the medals that he threw away…or didn’t. To make matters more confusing, at one time being a draft dodger was de rigueur and then a few years later flying a jet fighter in the Air National Guard wasn’t. All I know is that of the three candidates left in the race, all of them were surrounded by communists when they were young but only one of them fought back.

But I digress. I mightily appreciate all of you who take the time to read my excessively verbose ramblings. I’m not whining, just informing, but producing a blog is hard work. It can be a chore, actually. If I haven’t posted for a while I get the nagging sensation that I am neglecting something important and, although I enjoy writing, I don’t always have the time and feel somewhat pressured to produce. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Except for some minor advertising revenue from Google and the good people at Epocrates, nobody is really paying me that much to write and although it might cause a small stir in a tiny corner of the vast internet, when I disappear no one will be worse for the wear.

I Kept My Mouth Shut

I had a trauma patient the other day who quickly informed me that he was a chiropractor and then rattled off the cervical vertebrae he believed to be injured just to show us that we were dealing with a medical professional and not some yokel. He had fallen off of a ladder and bumped his head. After the usual “pan scan” that the trauma surgeons order on everyone regardless of mechanism or history he was given a clean bill of health and discharged from the department. We usually send these minor trauma patients home with a small prescription for vicodin or percocet even though all most people really need for this kind of thing is some motrin. I have been sticking to the motrin lately because we don’t have to give narcotics to everybody. He flagged me down before he was discharged and demanded something stronger for his pain. I smiled politely and wrote him a prescription for Vicodin. Chiropractor, heal thyself. Doesn’t he have any colleagues that could, I don’t know, adjust him or something?

Chiromancy

Speaking of chiropractors, I have had a run of patients lately who are under their treatment. I keep my face blank and my tongue still but most of them feel the need to apologize which shows you that even most of the chiromancer’s customers suspect that the they are being hornswoggled by this century’s equivalent of the Patent Medicine Man. Look, its not rocket science. You can’t cure an inflamed gallbladder or a pulmonary embolism by adjusting the spine. You can’t actually adjust the spine either because, while I am second to none in admiration for the typical chiromancer’s knowledge of spinal anatomy, all of those ligaments and muscles that they rattle off prevent the kind of movements that they claim to induce. Hell, in my line of work we call chiropractic “spinal adjustment” by its correct term, “trauma,” and it is only the inability of most chiromancers to generate motor vehicle collision-type forces that keep them from hurting more patients than they actually do.

Look…

Despite what Dinosaur thinks, I can tell the difference between an elderly patient who can benefit from medical care and one upon whom dollars fall as ineffectually as autumn leaves on a rusty old car propped on blocks waiting for the time when the junkyard shall give up her wrecks. And I believe I have repeatedly come out in support of providing expensive, high-tech medical care to the elderly. My in-laws for example, two of the finest people you could ever meet, are still in total command of their mental faculties and have benefited mightily from a couple or three artificial knees and the attentions of a cardiologist or two.

But just the other day I had three critical/trauma bays occupied by three patients with a combined age of 288. To keep clear of HIPAA I will just say that between them they had three legs, one working kidney, and the combined ejection fraction (a measure of cardiac output) of a healthy two-year-old. None of them had moved purposefully for the better part of a year and they probably had enough viable brain tissue between them to fit out two border collies or one pharmaceutical salesman of average intelligence. And they were all “full code” and headed to the ICU for an all-expenses-payed sojourn into the belly of our completely out-of-control health care system where I have no doubt that at least one of them will be “saved” and sent back to the warehouse until the next time.

Look, I understand what Dinosaur is saying. But I also think that he doesn’t spend a lot of time with patients at the futile end of the spectrum. I don’t believe anybody is advocating severely rationing care for the elderly like they do in the vast Freeloader Dependocracies Across the Water (although this kind of rationing is inevitable) and I don’t think withdrawing futile care will solve all of our money problems but, my Lord, it would be a start.

My Daughter

My eight-year-old daughter. God bless her. One of her little friends was over and kept calling me “Mister” Panda. My daughter finally had enough and said, “Um, my daddy didn’t go to four years of Evil Medical School to be called ‘Mister.'” We are all huge Austin Powers fans.

(This is the same little girls who, when she was five, was told by her mother that I had been a Marine and, having heard it imperfectly, spent the next year telling her little friends that her daddy had been a “ballerina.” )

Randapanda

Madhouse

It’s Only Getting Crazier

Maybe it’s the change in the weather but our Emergency Department seems to have gone insane. It’s always been pretty busy but since the beginning of this month (and Spring temperatures) it seems like the patient population of our city has exploded as if there is some kind of Vague Abdominal Pain convention or the Grand Conclave of the Knights of Senility in town. We expect the usual increase in trauma, as befits the ability of people to stay out later now that it’s not below zero up here in the great American tundra states, but we’re also seeing an inexplicable increase in complaints of all kinds, from the serious to the futile to the sublimely ridiculous. It’s the usual stuff, you understand, just more of it. Even our attendings are puzzled.

I have been working the 9AM to 9PM shift this week which means that I’m actually working until about 11PM. I stop seeing new patients about half an hour before the official end of my shift but we have been so busy that I need another couple of hours to finish my charts. I get off to a good start at the beginning of my shift but no sooner have I seen one patient and written orders when somebody comes in who needs to be seen right away, say a trauma or a chest pain that turns out to be the real thing, and the chart just has to wait. At the end of the shift today I had about 20 charts to “lock” (or finalize on our electronic medical record system) and five of them had nothing on them but a chief complaint, lab results, diagnosis, disposition, and orders. All of that “History of Present Illness” stuff not to mention documentation of the physical exam was rapidly eroding in my memory because I didn’t have time to document after I saw the patient. This is not a good way to see patients. Ideally a running narrative should be kept of every decision and conversation with an admitting physician or consultant but sometimes all I remember is that I talked to cardiology but not who or when and the documentation can get kind of sketchy even though I try to document the big decisions.

We’re supposed to document rechecks of patients as well but seriously now, when the department is bursting at the seams and you’re constantly being called to do something at different ends of the multi-acre establishment, it’s hard to keep up with the stable ones let alone document it. And because we are so short-staffed for this current deluge, patients are sitting around for a long time waiting for disposition even after all of their lab work and studies are back. Today, for example, I had a whole slew of minor patients languishing while we took care of four traumas and a couple of critically ill patients almost one after another. I intubated two of these patients and you just can’t walk away from them to see how your chronic back pain patient is doing.

I enjoy the fast tempo but I also realize that this is not the best way to practice medicine. It can’t be safe this week to come to our department if you have something serious that presents as something minor. We are just a little more apt to throw a lot of tests at you to temporize, just to put you on the back burner so to speak, and your increased sitting-in-the room-time could be dangerous, not to mention the time you spend in the waiting room which can be hours and hours. Thank god that most of the complaints are still relatively minor. I am a decent guy at heart and I do feel bad about keeping my patients waiting but it’s an Emergency Department and we still have priorities despite the temptations of that Arch-Devil, Press Ganey.

And we still suffer, as a medical system (or whatever you want to call it) from a terrific lack of common sense. We have had the same drunk visit us every day, sometimes twice a day, for the last two weeks. The paramedics keep finding him laying in parks and alleys in an obvious alcohol induced stupor and they keep bringing him in whereupon he wakes up, becomes abusive, ties up a nurse dealing with his demands for some food, and then finally staggers out when he is ready to be discharged only to repeat the little charade twelve hours later. We don’t even bother drawing an alcohol level or any labs. What’s the point? More importantly, why do they keep bringing him to us to use up our finite manpower on a non-acute medical problem? They will have a salad bar in hell before he is cured of his affliction. It is just beyond out power. Better to make sure he has a pulse, prop him up against a wall somewhere, and leave him to sober up on his own. This would be no different conceptually from what we do for him in the department except he wouldn’t get a sandwich and he wouldn’t stink up the whole place.

Even the other patients complain so we’re not talking the usual bad smells of the indigent.

I also don’t quite understand what motivates some people to wait as long as they do with complaints that are amazingly trivial. Maybe American life has been so medicalized that nobody believes they should suffer any discomfort, no matter how minor. Look, I get sick sometimes but if it’s just a cold or a little diarrhea I just tough it out. I’m young, healthy, and camping out in a dirty, crowded Emergency Department waiting room with irate people, some of whom are indeed really sick, is not an appealing prospect. If I were on the public dole because of disability or polybabydadia and could sleep in or rest all day without having to worry about my job I’d be even less likely to come in.

I know we worry about how we would ever handle a mass casualty event but if we just got aggressive with triage and sent some people home to suffer and get better on their own we might be able to squeeze in a surprising number of injured or really sick patients.

My apologies for neglecting the blog this week. Hopefully things will slow down a bit as people come out of their sun shock and I will have some energy to write.

Madhouse

Medical School Pre-Clinical Years: Twenty Questions (Part 3)

What About Student Government in Medical School? Waste of Time or What?

Every medical school has some sort of student government. You will have class officers and the usual student body President, Vice-President and other offices filled by medical students looking for…well…who knows? At the basic level it cannot be denied that the predominant impulse for any sojourn into student governance is one of self-aggrandizement. It looks great on your CV, not to mention that some people just like the illusion of power and control.

I say “illusion” because students are largely powerless at most medical schools and, their pretensions to the contrary, are indulged, tolerated, but never taken seriously by a patronizing administration. The time has not arrived when the crafty academic dinosaurs who have fought and eaten their way to the top of the bureaucratic food chain will take direction from the little proto-mammals scurrying about in the ferns. The faculty will smile pleasantly and praise the dedication of the students but the ragged hanks of rotting flesh clinging to their kitchen knife-sized teeth belie their true outlook. Or, to put it another way, the typical medical student doesn’t know enough about anything to be taken seriously and, even if they did, as they have no control of funding, pay, or policy have absolutely zero influence on the way medical schools are run.

This is a universal truth by the way, that management never really cares what the lower-level employees think. Good managers know that certain allowances have to be made if they are to have happy, productive employees but this almost never involves gaining consensus or acting on input from the employees that will effect how the business is run or the all-important bottom line. That’s the General Manager’s job and he doesn’t seek advice from the janitors. Medical students, in the hierarchy, have less input into the administration of their school than the janitors.

My school, for example, implemented a mandatory attendance policy that was roundly condemned and vociferously protested by the entire student body. Tempers grew hot, meetings were held, but in the end the Board of Governors wanted it and that was that. Value of student input? Exactly zero, especially since medical students don’t have the sense to know that you are not occupying the moral high ground when you agitate for the right to skip class. The input of student government is neither desired nor taken seriously on real issue like this and the best that most of these bodies can do is to rubber-stamp the usual twaddle about celebrating diversity or supporting the rights of the freeloader class to medical care on the taxpayer’s dime. You know, harmless, frothy things. But trying to change real policy? Not a chance. You have to have some influence and, as a medical student, you have exactly none and no recourse but useless protest.

What are the medical students going to do? Quit? Strike? Walk out? Please. Not only are most medical students thankful to have made it into medical school and therefore extremely reluctant to rock the boat but most of them don’t have the time or the energy to get involved even if they wanted to which most don’t. About the only people who care about student government are the ones who run for office. Even their level of caring rapidly diminishes as the months roll by. Typically, the enthusiasm for student government peaks early in first year when egos are at their hottest and it seems like you are going to be in medical school forever. By the end of first year, if not sooner, everybody who is still on board can see what a crock the whole thing is and interest falls off drastically. During third year you are too busy to give a crap and when fourth year rolls around, not only does the whole thing still seem silly but it now becomes pointless as you will be gone in a few short months.

Despite all this, Student government is not completely useless. Within the confines of the possible they can do a few things. You will need a social committee, for example, to organize the occasional party. Student government usually organizes the note-taking service (which is always completely independent from the administration) and ours did a great job getting some money to get our student gym refurbished. We also had a “Challenge Committee” that coordinated challenges to exam questions. (On every exam there are some questions that are either ambiguous or flat-out wrong and you can sometimes get credit for them on a “challenge.” I never really cared because my scores were rarely in the range where a half a point would throw me into the next grade but if you’re jockeying for a Dermatology residency, every little bit counts.)

How About One Piece of Advice For First and Second Year?

If I had one piece of advice it would be to stay healthy. During the first two years there is plenty of time in the day to exercise and it is not necessary to get into the intern mode where you are indeed so busy and tired that you can rationalize not working out and making a meal out of vending machine doughnuts and a Dr. Pepper. I was a runner before medical school and found it easy to continue during first and second year. In fact, although I fell off the running wagon a little during the first few months of medical school, once I got the hang of things I had something of a renaissance and easily put in 30 miles a week. It’s just a question of time management. If you make your own health a priority you can take an hour five times a week for some physical activity. Maybe it will detract from your study time but to my mind, there is nothing worse than sitting in library trying to study while tired and feeling like a disgusting fat body. Sometimes you have to get outside or into the gym to just clear your head. The alternative is to try to study feeling like a sloth.

Now, I’m not waggling my finger at anybody. Although I managed to stay in pretty good shape during the entire four years of medical school, once I hit intern year although I tried to exercise regularly, I eventually gave up even trying. My schedule as an intern was so unpredictable that on the rare day when I got home on time all I wanted to do was rest. And I have always had a crappy diet high in bloody, fatty red meat and fried pastries so you can imagine that in the absence of exercise I put on a little weight. I did two intern years as some of you know and, although I now have a regular schedule and am getting back in shape, I have never been in as poor health as I have been since I graduated medical school. The point is that while maybe you can make an excuse for waddling around the hospital as an intern or even in parts of third year when you will be busy beyond a reasonable doubt, during first and second year your schedule is entirely predictable and there is absolutely no reason not to exercise or eat regular meals.

Hell, one of my motivators for studying was the knowledge that when I was done for the day I could throw a leash on Nora, my my beloved and now long-dead Border Collie and Zoe, my German Shepard (who is fourteen and still with us) and go out for a long run.

You also have to see to your mental health. The best advice I ever got from an upperclassman was to “Be Macho.” By this he meant that no matter what, don’t ever get into the self-pity mode. Medical school, while it has its difficult moments, is not generally that hard. Sure, some of the hours in third year can suck and you will not be treated well by many of those over you but it is important to not let this kind of thing bother you. Bad day? Failed a test? Pick yourself up, laugh, and move on. You can, for example, drive yourself crazy obsessing over a particularly low test score and reap a bumper crop of bitterness or you could just accept it as something that is now ancient history and forget about it.

This is not to say that you have to be a Pollyanna about things. Medical students complain all the time but most of them still manage to have fun, even on the worst rotations. You just have to see the humor in everything and enjoy the ludicrousness of the many strange situations in which you will find yourself.

What About “Gunners?”

A “gunner” is a medical student who is so intent on furthering his own career that he will sabotage other students to ensure that he scores higher on tests or looks better on the wards. Medical student lore is filled with dark tales of gunners sequestering old exam questions on loan in the library to keep them from the rest of the class or not only knowing everything about his own patients but yours as well so he can interject information that you don’t know, making you look bad in the process. I believe these tales to be apocryphal. When you think about it, medical school is not really a team sport and there is not much anybody can do to effect your grade. I cannot, for example, think of a single way anybody in my class could have done anything to effect my grade short of stealing my computer or knocking me over the head, both felonies, and not something that the mythical gunners are known to do. On the wards, if you are an ignoramus your secret will get out without help from anybody else. A gunner calling attention to you is just gilding the lily.

Next: USMLE

Medical School Pre-Clinical Years: Twenty Questions (Part 3)

Medical School Pre-Clinical Years: Twenty Questions (Part 2)

What About “Early Patient Contact?” Is It Important?

No. “Early Patient Contact,” like “All Natural” and “Holistic,” is a marketing phrase designed to entice earnest pre-meds into one medical school over another. Like “Problem Based Learning,” another slick marketing phrase, if I had my choice I’d flee as if from the Devil himself a school that touted this sort of thing. As if it’s not bad enough that on the first day of third year you have to march around the hospital like a big, fat, ignorant dork, at a school with “Early Patient Contact” you will not even have the benefit of a couple of years of medical knowledge crammed into your head when, like a cheap poseur, you will flit around in a sack-like short white coat, bestowed no doubt in some retarded White Coat Ceremony, trying not to spook the patients.

What’s the point? You will get, like God intended, plenty of patient contact during third and fourth year. The brief exposure to real patients in first and second year will be like studying during the summer before medical school, something anyone will tell you is a useless because even if you studied the right material, you will blow through your entire summer of effort in a few days once you start. In a similar manner, all of third and fourth year will be spent in contact with patients. The little bit of play-acting you do in your pre-clinical years will be a drop in the bucket and not worth the effort. Either that or they will give you a lot of Early Patient Contact and it will seriously intrude on your study time or anything else you wanted to do besides stutter your way through patient encounters with people who have diseases you have never heard of.

I would definitely run from a school that promised some sort of student-run clinic (usually for the indigent who are not particular about their food, sleeping arrangements, or doctors) during first and second year. Maybe I’m a purist but your first two years are best spent learning the theoretical basis of the medical profession, not playing doctor. I know that many of you feel that it is important to “keep your eye on the prize.” You believe that by seeing patients early you will stay motivated for the long struggle. For my part, I saw plenty of the motherfuckers hobbling into the building as I drove past them every morning on the way to the parking lot and that was enough. I like being a doctor but first and second year are probably the last time in your working life you will not spend your day listening and responding to someone’s complaints. Relish it.

Bottom Line? Early Patient Contact is unnecessary. At best it is an annoying distraction but if overdone, has the potential to really eat into your otherwise valuable time.

How Will I Handle Gross Anatomy Lab? Is It As Disturbing As I Imagine?

The hardest part about gross anatomy lab, at least from a psychological perspective, is maintaining the proper respect for your cadaver. Although the body you will be dissecting was once someone’s husband, wife, son or daughter, after a couple of days you will be so used to anatomy lab that the cadaver will begin to seem more like a piece of rancid meat than anything else. This is not to say that anyone is overtly disrespectful to the body. I believe that stories of medical students stealing body parts for use in elaborate practical jokes are mostly apocryphal and I never saw anything of the sort in my class. Rather, you will develop a casual relationship with your cadaver and you will find yourself leaning nonchalantly on the body, idly picking away at some scrap of flesh or another, as you daydream about what you’re going to do over the weekend or about the dinner party you are planning.

As for the initial weirdness of the situation, the sensation that you are doing something completely beyond the pale, that will last about five minutes as will any sensation of revulsion. Familiarity, after all, leads to acceptance and people have gotten used to and even grown comfortable with practices many times worse than dissecting a cadaver. You will, of course, dread your first encounter with the embalmed body of a real human being. Everybody does. It is often the biggest worry of new first year medical students and as you file into the lab for the first time, the tension, manifested by strained jokes and nervous laughter, will be obvious. It will quickly dissipate however as you expose your cadaver for the first time and get to work. To lay hands on the a cold, dead, naked body for the first time and to feel the rubbery texture of long dead muscle is the big hurdle. Once done their is nothing more to it. Certainly in the future you will step back from some particularly revolting procedure, sawing the head and neck in half and opening them like a book for example, to marvel at the creature that you are mutilating but it will be more appreciation than disgust.

As a precaution, you will probably not have eaten breakfast on your first day of gross lab. As the morning wears on you will forget that you were ever worried and look forward to lunch.

What’s Gross Lab Like?

At my school, the lab was in a large, bright, tiled room. There were about thirty “tanks” in the room, something like large stainless steel bathtubs on legs, that held the cadavers. The tanks had mechanisms to raise the cadaver out of the tank. At the end of the day the cadaver was lowered back into the pool of embalming fluid to keep it moist. A dried-out cadaver is hard to dissect and can still rot even though it is “preserved.” We had spray bottle of embalming fluid to periodically wet the areas we were dissecting. We kept the rest of the body covered with an embalming fluid-soaked sheet, not from any sense of propriety but to keep the cadaver, particularly the face and fingers, in good condition.

We had four students assigned to each cadaver. The cadavers themselves were mostly elderly people but there were a few relatively young bodies. Some were obese which makes for difficult and messy dissection as adipose tissue is greasy and difficult to dissect through or around. Some were better preserved than others. The tank next to mine opened their cadaver’s abdomen and were greeted with a flood of putrid goo, all that was left of the body’s internal organs.

Dissecting can be difficult and, particularly for delicate structures like nerves and small blood vessels, can also be extremely frustrating. Imagine trying to pick through a piece of chicken or roast beef looking for something the size of a thread. That’s what a lot of your time will be spent doing. Certainly you will easily appreciate large structures like internal organs and big muscles but the bulk of your time will be spent picking away at little things. You want to avoid using a scalpel for this as much as possible because it tends to cut across planes and distort anatomy. Blunt dissection with your fingers or a small instrument is the preferred method.

I was never very good at dissection. I don’t have the patience and I didn’t like anatomy lab very much so I spent as little time as possible there. In second year I skipped a lot of labs because, well, I was tired of picking at the damn things and smelling like embalming fluid. My wife refused to drive my car because even if you change scrubs, the smell gets into your pores and everything you touch is contaminated. My wife made me strip in the garage when I got home and proceed to the shower without touching anything.

Riding in an elevator with students just out of lab is unbearable and many people get one whiff when the doors open and decide to wait for the next one.

Anatomy lab was low-yield for me. I did very well on all the tests however because I had a good photographic atlas that showed perfectly dissected specimens. Gross Anatomy tests, you understand, are “practicals” where you circulate through the lab from tank to tank, identifying tagged structures on other people’s cadavers. The instructors looked for well-dissected structures that usually looked almost exactly like those in the atlas. If they couldn’t find a good example they dissected one themselves. So you see, my photographic atlas was like anatomy lab without the bad smell.

I did better on the practicals than many people who came in on their own time, after hours and on the weekends, to dissect. You are certainly allowed and even encouraged to spend as much time in lab as you want.

Get some cheap scrubs to wear in lab. We were not allowed to wear street clothes in our lab but even if you are resist the temptation unless you don’t mind throwing them away. I discarded all of my gross lab scrubs when I decided to stop going as well as my shoes.

Your group should get an anatomy atlas to keep in the lab as well as a “dissector,” the book that gives instructions for dissection. We kept ours in a plastic bag in the tank on top of the cadaver. The reason for this should be obvious. Do you really want to study on your kitchen table with a book that is soaked in corpse juice and may have small bits of human flesh stuck to it? Not to mention that it will stink up whatever library or Starbucks in which you decide to study.

Get a turkey baster. keep it in the tank. Trust me, there is nothing better for draining fluid out of body cavities and it beats rolling the body to drain it.

Next: USMLE

Medical School Pre-Clinical Years: Twenty Questions (Part 2)

Medical School Pre-Clinical Years: Twenty Questions (Part 1)

(With a hat-tip to EMphysician for the idea. -PB)

What’s the Secret to Medical School?

There is really no secret except the obvious. First, you have to be intelligent. Not necessarily Mensa material but smart enough to assimilate the material. Next you have to study…a lot although the actual amount and method will vary. Finally, you have to have the desire. The application process does a good job of selecting for people who fit the profile because not too many people fail out. It’s not that medical school is easy. It’s not. I have a fairly rigorous undergraduate degree but medical school was an order of magnitude more difficult. Rather, medical schools weed out the non-hackers at the front end instead of wasting time and money later on. In the old days, admission was easier but the attrition was much higher and it was very possible that the “person sitting next to you” might not make it past first year. My class started with 102 students and graduated with 98 of the original bunch plus a couple of students who had been held back a year and fell into our class. We had two people (to my knowledge) flunk out and two quit because they couldn’t handle the pressure. One who quit managed to come back the next year.

Is the Material Difficult?

Some of it is. Renal physiology, for example, gave me the heebie-jeebies and I didn’t really get a handle on it until I did a nephrology rotation. For the most part, however, it’s not the difficulty but the tremendous volume of material. When I was in college, I now know that we moved through the material at a leisurely pace. Most classes met three times a week and, in my major anyway, an entire class period might be devoted to solving a couple of the assigned problems. I recall the great pains the professors took to explain concepts and we might dwell on one topic, say lateral torsional buckling of a steel beam, for a week. This is because in undergraduate education, understanding the concept is stressed over memorizing facts. In medicine, while understanding the concepts is important, there are also a lot of straight-up facts that you need to memorize. A whole lot.

Which is sort of the difference between, for example, an undergraduate physiology course and the equivalent material in medical school. In college, you sort of lollygag along learning the big picture with your progress punctuated by the occasional reassurance from the professor that you don’t really have to know this or that. Serious pre-med students (I mean the ones who eventually matriculate and not the ones who decide that a psychology degree is less scary and allows more party time) sleepwalk through this kind of course.

In medical school on the other hand, although the occasional moron asks, “Will this be on the test?” they may as well save their breath because the answer is always, “Of course it will be. We’re not training half-assed doctors here.” Hence, the material comes at you as if from a fire hose (to use the popular analogy) and you do not have the leisure time as you did in college to sort it out before even more is sprayed at you. The syllabus for one course in medical school, I mean if you printed it out (which I never did, preferring to study directly from my laptop), would be a stack of paper the size of a medium-sized city’s phone book. Multiply that by six because several courses run concurrently at most medical schools and you have an idea of the volume of material that you are expected to review and regurgitate on your exams, not to mention retain for the USMLE Step I and eventual clinical practice.

The only class in college I took that even compared to the feel and pace of medical school was a basic circuit analysis course taught by a senile professor who spent the first two weeks teaching an advanced signals processing course instead. It was a week before we decided that something was wrong. The professor would call us to the blackboard to solve incredibly complicated operational amplifier problems and then berate us for not knowing a thing about them. It was two weeks before our complaints were believed and three weeks before the professor grudgingly started teaching the right class. (I failed the class but after making a huge stink got my grade raised to an “B.”) The first couple of months of medical school felt something like that. You look around and wonder if you are really as smart as everybody has been telling you because nothing is clicking and for the first time in your life you are struggling for just a passing score, drowning in the huge volume of unfamiliar and highly intricate information. What you learned in undergrad? Please. As EMphysician points out, they cover that in the first couple of days and then you move on.

On the first day of medical school I was prepared to take notes as I did in college but after ten minutes threw away my pen and never took another note in class again. It’s almost impossible to keep up with the speed of the lectures and take notes at the same time. I don’t have that kind of hand-eye coordination and if I looked down to write, I would have missed something.

How Did You Study

My medical school had most of the course material posted online by the professors. The occasional old-school lecturer still brought his early Bronze Age slide projector and the tired old slides he had been using to teach anatomy since the Kennedy assassination but almost every lectures was on Powerpoint and could be downloaded. Consequently, my preferred study method was to review the lectures on my laptop ten to twenty times in the interval between when they were given and the exam. We had a note-taking service but I never used it because the notes usually just recapitulated the Powerpoint lecture. I had a few of the major textbooks and used these to fill in gaps or when I didn’t understand something and needed a little more depth. For variety, I had the Board Review Series “Gridbooks” for every course and when I got tired of looking at my computer read the relevant sections in those.

Reading textbooks, by the way, was fairly low-yield. Test questions usually came from the lectures and while there is nothing fundamentally wrong with reading a textbook, you can get bogged down in the minutia of the minutia. You just don’t have the time, trust me, to read all 1200 pages of the “required” physiology textbook. What most students do is eschew the voluminous tomes and acquire a set of smaller, cheaper, and more focused review books (like the aforementioned BRS series) and if they must use textbooks, use them for reference. (Hint: Do not rush out and buy all of the textbooks on the “required” list. You can easily drop a thousand or two on books that you will rarely use and can be found in the library when you do need them. Big biochemistry book? $150. Review book? $20.)

I attended almost every lecture because, well, I like lectures and found that reviewing the material later made more sense if I had heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. Some people skipped almost every lecture and studied on their own. You can certainly do this with no penalty. Even at the few schools with mandatory attendance, as long as you are doing well on all the tests the administration will have a hard time making an issue out of you missing lectures. My own routine was to go straight from lecture to a library, any library, in town and study until it was time to go home. At my medical school, the lectures were generally over by two or three PM and I usually studied until five or six. I also studied on the weekends, the hours depending on the proximity of the upcoming exams.

Wait a Minute, You Only Studied Three Hours Per Day?

Yes and no. Remember, I went to every lecture, sat in front, and paid attention. You know, the funny thing is that most of the material is fairly interesting. The professors tend to get carried away in their own area of research but as I wasn’t coming from a background in the biological sciences it was all new and wonderful, even if I knew I’d eventually forget most of the details. So I’m going to count that as study time. Naturally I studied a lot more in the first few months of medical school before I learned what it took to pass the tests. On average, however, I generally couldn’t take more than three hours a day and that was that. Towards the end of second year I studied even less but that’s normal because by that time, you know how to study, what to study, and are generally conditioned to effortlessly assimilate the same large amounts of information that caused you to panic in the first confused days of first year (plus second year course work is more clinically oriented and a lot more interesting anyway).

Did people study more? Of course they did. Some of my classmates lived at the library. Keep a few things in mind, however. First, there is studying and there is studying. If you look, you will see that a lot of “study groups” full of nervous medical students burning the midnight oil as they frantically cram for tests are actually highly inefficient circle jerks. There is studying going on but there is also a lot of socializing, bitching, complaining, and general “grab ass.” You would also notice that some people study inconsistently and may not crack their notes for weeks after an exam. As the next exam approaches, they are thus forced into manic overdrive trying to catch up with all the material. These are the people smuggling their coffee pots into the library and bringing a change of clothes.

Too much for me. Many years ago in my first attempt at college before many of you were born, I used to regularly fall behind with my college classwork and frantically try to cram it all in as the tests approached, often pulling bleary-eyed, extremely non-productive all-nighters in what became an unsuccessful attempt to pass enough classes to not get kicked out of for bad grades. It is far, far better to have the self-discipline to study every day for a set amount of time than to periodically study in a crisis mode which does happen with medical students. Did I cover myself in academic glory as a medical student? No. And as long-time readers of my blog know I probably could have studied a little harder. But after the initial shock of first year, I settled into a very comfortable, low-stress routine and comfortably passed every test I ever took.

I even grew to enjoy the first two years of medical school because sitting in lectures was pleasant, my study method was not difficult or complicated, and as I looked at medical school as nine-to-five job no different than what I had been doing for the previous eight years or so had plenty of free time and was very rarely stressed out.

Things I Did Not Do Even Though at Orientation They Warned Us We Would Need To Do to Pass:

1. Highlight. Not in one color or many. The BRS books and Powerpoint lectures are outlines anyway so it is pointless to highlight.

2. Take notes on notes and then produce written summaries of the notes from my notes, color-coding where appropriate. Vishnu P. Shiva. Who has that kind of time? I did not make flash cards either.

3. Study in a group. Not once. I am not convinced at the utility of group studying. There is the potential for a lot of wasted time not to mention that dealing with other people’s learning styles can be distracting. I did not want to quiz and be quizzed by other people on material that I could learn on my own in a much shorter time seeing as I can read about ten times faster than I can talk.

4. Cram before a test. Look, at my school the tests covered about a month of material. If you haven’t got it on the day before the test, staying up late trying to fit it into short-term memory is only marginally effective. Suppose your cramming nets you a couple of correct answers that you would have otherwise missed. As our tests usually ran to about 200 questions, the real effect on your grade is almost undetectable and you’d probably do better if you came to the testing center fresh and alert after a good night’s sleep. Although it has been close to 25 years, the memories of those sleep deprived nights of futile cramming, nights which soon deteriorated into watching crappy television infomercials or the Reverend Jimmy Swaggart, are still vivid and I abhor losing sleep for any reason.

Did You Do Any Research or Anything Else to Make Yourself Stand Out?

No. Most medical students don’t. If you want to match into something extremely competitive research is a de facto requirement but otherwise you are probably safe to do some bullshit public service activity if you want to buff our resume. Have I ever mentioned that I am extremely jealous of my free time? After a long day of lecture and studying the last thing I wanted to do was to be some professor’s research scut biach. But if you want to match into something like Radiology, Urology, Dermatology, or Opthalmology you need to consider doing some research. Likewise if you have your eye on a particular prestigious program in an otherwise generally non-competitive specialty.

What Was Your Curriculum Like?

Our curriculum was organ-system based. The first six months of first year were devoted to the basic sciences as well as an introduction to gross anatomy. In the second semester of first year we started a Grand Tour of the human body organized by major system with lectures in each block for the physiology, pathology, and pharmacology of each system. In other words, we didn’t have one physiology course for six months that covered everything but instead had these lectures spread out over first and second year. We did the same for gross anatomy with an eight week introductory course in first semester and then a few days in the lab during first and second year for each system. On the cardiovascular block, for example, we dissected the heart in detail.

Some courses were taught en bloc such as Biochemistry, Embryology, and Microbiology but most of the other lectures were organized by organ system.

We had a smattering of Problem Based Learning but only enough for most of us to learn to despise it. We also had a smattering of the usual hand-holding, kumbayah type classes instructing us to celebrate diversity and the other touchy-feely stuff. We had a lot of that kind of thing during orientation but after the real curriculum started these lectures were viewed more as a pleasant break, a diversion if you will, from real lectures that required us to actually learn something other than “You have to respect primitive cultures and their backwards-ass beliefs about medicine.”

Next: Gross Anatomy, USMLE, Early Patient Contact is a Waste of Time

Medical School Pre-Clinical Years: Twenty Questions (Part 1)

Brief Notes From a Travelling Panda

(I am on vacation and we have made the 1200 mile trek from frozen Yankeeland to Louisiana to visit the family.  Please accept some short observations hastily typed on borrowed computers, apropos of nothing in particular and perhaps not really related to anything you want to read about. -PB)

A Modest Proposal

Although you wouldn’t believe it from the casino billboards that become more numerous the closer you get to Vicksburg, the typical gambler in one of the many riverboat casinos that have docked at the river ports of Mississippi and Louisiana is not a suave, bon vivant dressed to the nines in elegant casual clothes or dapper evening wear.  Nor are they young, fit, tan, and pretty.  In fact, the clientele of a riverboat casino look suspiciously like nursing home patients on holiday, complete with motorized scooters and portable oxygen tanks.  Either that or a cross-section of people who couldn’t get tickets for the tractor pull.  It’s not even the slightest bit glamorous. There are no James Bond characters casually dropping a couple of grand with cultivated indifference but instead mostly just a collection of middle and lower class Americans sweating and smoking as they desperately try to recoup the grocery money that they lost at the blackjack table.

I am ambivalent to gambling. It is, after all, a free country and how people spend their own money, within reason, is their own business.  Even so, there are huge legislative and public relation fights whenever the casinos want to set up shop, usually pitting those with moral objections to gambling against those lured by promises of free money to offset state budget deficits and provide for the economic development of decaying downtown river fronts.  I have a hard time getting excited about protesting gambling even if I know that, despite the promises of money for the sacred public schools or other bloated but still underfunded state activities, as casinos are usually owned by consortia with no ties to the city or the state, any rational person would suspect that the net flow of money is going to be out of the community and not in. The lure of easy money however, of something for nothing, is too appealing to both the gamblers and the government for any group of citizens, even those who have economic and non-religious objections, to prevent the casinos from arriving.

It’s hardly worth fighting as the outcome is almost preordained.

The typical script used to assuage public fears is that, as the gamblers will be mostly from out-of-town or out-of-state, the negative effects on the local economy will be slight or non-existent.  And yet, I have for curiosity’s sake wandered through some of the opulent casinos in Shreveport and I can’t help noticing that most of the gamblers look local.  I mean, they ain’t coming from Iowa but probably from no farther than the neighboring Louisiana parishes or Texas counties. (Shreveport is on the Red River in the Northwest corner of Louisiana and only about fifteen miles from the Texas state line.)  Most of them look like they really shouldn’t be throwing away large amounts of their disposable income in such frivolous pursuits, perhaps instead reserving some of it to pay their medical care, especially seeing how health care is the biggest concern of the electorate and our heads will explode if we don’t get everybody free health care as soon as possible.  I don’t have the statistics to back this up, just intuition, but I have a sneaking suspicion that many of the people I have seen feverishly pulling at the slot machines or rolling the dice with glazed expressions are even part of the Holy 47-million-uninsured.  Either that or they are sucking, literally and metaphorically, on Medicare oxygen as they wheel themselves from the buffet to the blackjack tables.

In short, there’s a lot of money being dropped by people who can’t afford it.  Consider then the problem of getting people to pay for their health care.  Gambling and other vices will always take priority, especially if medical care is free or quasi-free as it is today for the legions of those who know that no Emergency Department can turn them away for any reason regardless of their ability or intention to pay. Under the dual maxims that first, there’s no fighting human nature, and second, if you can’t beat ‘em, you may as well join ‘em, I propose we open up casinos in our charity hospitals.  That way not only will we save on ambulance costs when an elderly patient living on a fixed income codes in front of a slot machine but the house’s cut, usually fairly substantial, can help defray the costs of providing free care.

It’s win-win, I tell you.

10,000 BC

Social welfare, at least how it has been implemented in the wishy-washy West where we don’t have the gonads to throw troublemakers into a gulag, would have worked a lot better in 10,000 BC, at the dawn of human history when mastodons still trampled the occasional Neanderthal who came a little bit too late to take advantage of early Bronze-age affirmative action. It would have been great. They could have picked some arbitrary age, say 50, after which the rest of the tribe supplied you with bison meat and berries and everybody would have hunted and gathered in security, feeling pretty darn good about themselves, even though nobody, but nobody ever lived that long. Not only could a disease always be counted on to finish what a couple of bad winters started but, as being an active senior meant being able to flee from the saber-tooth cats with the rest of the clan, the odds were against anybody even living to forty. This is how it went for most of human history and, with slight variations, what is necessary on the graveyard end for any system of cradle-to-grave socialism to be sustainable.

The problem today, and surely FDR must be rolling in his grave, is that people refuse to oblige the state by dying at a reasonable age. Where once people routinely expired long before they could collect a single dime of government benefits , now the selfish bastards live many years beyond the time when a good citizen, if he really cared about the financial solvency of his nation, would sheepishly shuffle off his mortal coil to avoid offending anyone. In the United States, most of our socialism is for the elderly and they are voracious consumers of it, everything from Medicare to Social Security, the rich bounty of which many reap in excess to the contributions they have made when they were productive citizens back when Nixon was President. It’s a serious problem. The projected cost of supplying just medical care to the elderly is estimated to be around 40 trillion dollars in the next fifteen years. That’s 40 trillion dollars, most of which we do not have and yet are legally obliged to pay as Medicare, like Jehovah, lives in the Holy of Holies and death will strike down the blasphemer who dares suggest that we cut back on the burnt offerings.

Cut back we must. There is no way to pay this huge and rapidly growing sum. No way at all. Socialism in the United States (and everywhere else), as it is depends on a large pool of young workers paying the benefits for a small group or beneficiaries who play shuffleboard, totter around the house, and then obliging die before they can make too many demands on the system, is unsustainable.   People are just living too long with too many medical problems all of which need to be carefully managed at great expense to ensure their ability to continue to use finite resources.  A bit of a Catch-22 situation, I mean looking at it from a cold-blooded economic perspective.

It’s not that I am against taking care of the elderly.  I’m all for it.  I am just pointing out that shortly, very shortly, the decision not only to do it but to what extent is going to be taken out of our hands by two of the major principles of economics, first that nobody works for free and second, that you can’t pay for things forever with money you don’t have.  You can borrow for a while but eventually your creditors will catch on that you cannot possibly pay them and the ride on the artificial prosperity train is over.  One way or another we are heading for extreme rationing of medical care, either overtly or covertly, because there is no money to pay for unlimited access to all the health care you can eat.  Surely our elected leaders know this but still not only promise to maintain the current levels of medical care to those already eating from the public trough but to extend similar benefits to everyone else.  There is no money.  We cannot add another 40 trillion to the projected deficit  with impunity.  The government does have other obligations, you know.  Like defense, infrastructure, and the other traditional roles of government in free societies.

Brief Notes From a Travelling Panda