Is the Pink Ribbon starting to chafe?

The New York Times

I just read a fantastic essay from this Sunday’s New York Times about the impact that breast cancer Awareness (with a capital “A”) has had on victims of the disease.  The author, Peggy Orenstein, herself a survivor, argues that the real experiences of real women with cancer are getting lost among all of the pink football cleats and teddy bears, and that the “sexualization” of breast cancer is doing more harm than good.

I wrote an essay for Harlot of the Arts (an online journal run by rhetoricians in our very own English Department) that touches on exactly the same themes, but with a focus on how they affect the relationship between patients and their doctors.

Whether or not you have any personal experience with breast cancer – whether or not you have breasts – you should check out these essays.  They’re not really about breast cancer.  They’re about the fact that your relationship to your health, your body, your doctor, even your loved ones can be manipulated in invisible but powerful ways.  And that, my friends, is definitely something to be aware of.

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

I say to thee, Achoo!

Gerardus Cremonensis, Wikimedia

BuckMD is delighted to welcome Sarah Kernan to our blog. Sarah is a PhD student in medieval studies here at The Ohio State University. Her area of specialization is late medieval French and English food and cookbooks. Now, it might not seem like medieval cookbooks and student health have a lot in common. Wrong. Read. Learn. That’s why you came to college, after all. -Victoria Rentel MD

As a medievalist, my mind often wanders to daily life in the Middle Ages.  With cold and flu season upon us, I have been thinking about how people in the Middle Ages tried to stay or become healthy by eating right.

Just as people today turn to nutritional information in books or online, literate people in the Middle Ages turned to books of health and nutrition advice called “regimens of health” and “dietaries.”  One extraordinarily popular regimen of health was the Regimen sanitatis salernitatum, a twelfth-century poem about hygiene and diet dedicated to the king of England.

Eating right in medieval Europe meant balancing four bodily humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.  Each of these humors had a combination of hot, cold, moist, or dry characteristics.  Imbalanced bodily humors could be balanced by foods which contained opposite characteristics.  Ingredients were often selected for their humoral properties.  Foods that could potentially be dangerous to eat, such as eel – an extremely cold and moist fish – could be remedied and balanced by a warming and drying sauce containing ingredients such as pepper or garlic, rendering it healthy for consumption.

Medieval cookbooks often contained recipes called “sickdishes” for foods that could be easily eaten and digested by picky eaters, convalescents, or someone suffering from a nonspecific illness.  These dishes contain more sugar, nuts, and chicken than regular recipes. The chicken and nuts – especially almonds – had balanced humoral properties similar to the balanced humors of a healthy human.  Sugar was thought to purify blood.  It was the most common item in sickdishes, but rarely was an ingredient in regular food preparations.

Strange combinations of food were thought to restore health and wellness to the sick.  I am, however, comforted to know that my sickdish of choice, chicken noodle soup, would have been approved by medieval physicians.

Sarah Peters Kernan

Blanc mengier d’un chappon: An Invalid’s White Dish of Capon

Cook a capon in water until it is well done; grind a great quantity of almonds together thoroughly with the dark meat of the capon, steep this in your broth, put everything through the strainer and set it to boil until it is thick enough to slice; then dump it into a bowl. Then sautee a half-dozen skinned almonds and sit them on end on one half of your dish, and on the other half put pomegranate seeds with a sprinkling of sugar on top.”

Terence Scully, The Vivendier: A Critical Edition with English Translation (Totnes, England: Prospect Books, 1997): 291.

How do you decide when to let your friend leave the party with that guy?

So you’re out partying with your girlfriend, and a cute guy invites her back to his place.  She’s getting ready to take off with him, but she’s had a lot to drink and you’re not so sure this is a good idea.  Do you:

  1. Try to persuade her not to go by telling her she’ll regret it in the morning?
  2. Tell her to have fun and call you tomorrow?
  3. Make sure she gets home safely?

Well the good news is that according to a recent study published in Communication Education, approximately 80% of college students would choose option “3” and not let their intoxicated female friend go home with a male acquaintance.  The goal of the study was to figure out how they made that decision and what they would do to back it up.  Here’s what they found out:

Relationships are more important to you than health risks

All kinds of bad things can happen to people when they get drunk and hook up – sexual abuse, unsafe sex, and decreased self-esteem among others – but those weren’t as big a deal to the students who were polled as the relationships between the people involved.  They were more willing to let their friend go home with the guy if they or their friend knew him. 

You’re not afraid to use shame, deceipt or even confrontation to help out a friend

Some students would tell their friend what going home with the guy could do to her reputation.  Others would simply try to trick her into leaving with them by telling her they were taking her to the guy’s house but take her home instead.  Many would even confront their friend directly to keep her from making a mistake, even if it meant physically dragging her out of there.

So what’s the take home message? 

The good news is that most of you would do whatever it takes to keep your friends safe.  The bad news is that you might let your guard down a little if you feel like you “know” the guy.  Bottom line – if you think your friend is making a dangerous decision when she (or he) isn’t thinking clearly, don’t hesitate to step in no matter who is involved.  That’s what friends are for, right?

Cheryl Czapla, Med IV
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

Adjusting to College Life

Don't get lost in the crowd!

Q: I was super excited to go away to college, but now that I’m here there are times when I feel a little overwhelmed.  I never thought I’d say this, but I miss home!  Is this normal?

A: When you’re going off to college everyone is full of stories of good times, good friends, and new experiences.  But people often fail to mention that some new experiences can be a little scary.  Whether you are attending a huge university or a tiny college, whether you moved across town or across the country, it’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed and even a little out of place at times.  Even if the going is a little tough right now, college is full of amazing opportunities.  Here are some tips for making the transition as smooth as possible.

  • Be an individual:  Don’t be afraid to make yourself known.  Attend office hours for your professors or TA’s even if you’re doing fine in class.  This is a great way to get more one-on-one teaching that you might be used to from high school. It’s also a great time to ask some of those questions you may not feel comfortable asking in front of a room full of 200 people!
  • Join the community:  Nothing makes a new place your home like finding a group of people that you connect with. The great thing about attending a big university like THE Ohio State University is that no matter what your interest, there is probably a club that shares your passion.  Don’t see what you’re looking for? Start your own! 
  • Use your resources:  Know where to go for what you need.  Whether it’s help figuring out what you want to do with your career, where in the world you can go to study abroad, where to get a sore throat checked out or where you can get something good to eat, Ohio State has someone here to help you!  The Office of Student Life is a great place to start looking.
  • Remember that it’s OK to ask for help:  Even if you do all of this stuff, you may still feel overwhelmed and this can lead to depression and anxiety.  A study done at UCLA found that there has been a 40% increase in the number of students who seek some form of mental health care during the first year of college. If this happens to you, the Student Health Center and Counseling and Consultation Service are here to help. 
  • Have fun:  Remember you aren’t alone!  Look around your classroom or the oval and you’ll see thousands of students going through the same thing you are, even if they look like they have it all together.  Click here to see how it affected a student at Columbia and the great advice “Alice” gave her to get through it.  

College is more than parties and football games, and it’s more than GPA’s and GEC’s.  It’s a time where you learn about yourself, the world and your place in it.  Enjoy it!

Cheryl Czapla, Med IV
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

Mary Lynn Kiacz, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

Images from Medicine: Be Still My Beating Heart

wellcome images

One of my favorite bloggers is Dr. Wes, a cardiologist who specializes in the heart’s electrical wiring (AKA cardiac electrophysiologist).  He recently posted an absolutely gorgeous image of the muscle fiber orientation in the left ventricle of the heart, generated from a special brand of MRI called diffusion tensor imaging.  You can get a good look by clicking on the image at the right.

The original comes from Wellcome Images Biomedical Collection, and is aptly entitled “Heart Strings.”  The picture clearly demonstrates the “helical alignment of the muscle fibres in the left ventricle.”  The left side of the heart has the responsibility for pumping blood out to the body. The systemic circulation is a high pressure system so the muscle on that side of the heart is thicker, more muscular.  The right side of the heart, in contrast, pumps to the lower-pressure circulation in the lungs and isn’t as “ripped”, as it were.

“Heart Strings” was runner-up in a British Heart Foundation Reflections in Research Competition.  Other short-listed images were equally compelling, but perhaps not quite as macroscopically elegant and relevant.

Put your hand on the left side of your chest and feel those Heart Art fibers squeezing. 

Victoria Rentel MD (OSU SHS)

There’s a Harlot on campus you’ve got to meet!

click to enlarge

Harlot: A Revealing Look at the Arts of Persuasion, an outstanding online magazine created and edited by graduate students in our very own English Department, just published their 4th issue – Rhetoric at Work.  This issue of Harlot “offers fresh insights into our everyday experiences by examining the curious and powerful ways persuasion operates within the workplace.” 

What does an online literary magazine about rhetoric have to do with health care?  Well, it contains an essay I wrote about a patient encounter that taught me the powerful impact – both good and bad – that persuasion can have on a patient’s relationship with her doctor and her illness.  My goal was to get people thinking about their health care in a new way; please check it out and let me know if I was successful or not.

In addition to my essay, the issue includes a sculptor gently refusing to explain what her art “means;” a chaplain shaping her spiritual identity as professional development; two professors not-so-gently poking fun at J.CREW’s catalog of gender norms; and a police officer explaining what’s really going on when you get pulled over.  Thought provoking stuff – and it’s all thanks to the efforts of your fellow students. 

So take a few minutes and visit Harlot.  It’s always inspiring to see what amazing things are being done right here on our campus, and who knows – maybe you’ll be inspired to think about how the art of persuasion impacts your life and share it with others.  I’m sure they would love to hear from you.   

John A. Vaughn, MD (OSU SHS)

Illness as Art

I’ve taken care of thousands of patients in 10 years of practice. I’ve shepherded patients through colds, pneumonias, urinary tract infections, and birth. I’ve been at the bedside of patients with innumerable cancers, complications from diabetes, heart attacks, brain injuries, gunshot wounds, and toe amputations. I’ve palpated acute abdomens, fussed over toenail fungus, and been the very first person in the world to touch a new baby. God help me, I adore it. 

While I’m on a first name basis with the nuts and bolts of illness and recovery, I’m fascinated by life on the other side of the examination table.  What is it to be sick, fighting for life?  I know what it’s like to wait for hours in the emergency department; to have to beg for pain pills; to feel relief as a fever comes down; but how does somebody with a more creative sensibility process the experience? The experience of caring for sick patients is specialized; the experience of being sick is human.  

I chanced upon a link today on the superb and always fascinating New York Times photojournalism blog, Lens, about a photographer with lymphoma. His images, many of which were taken while he was undergoing chemotherapy, are shown in a short movie which he narrates. They’re lovely, stark images by a gentleman facing the end of his life:

A cancer survivor and his Kodachrome

On a similar but more literal vein, artist Cathy Aten posted a video about how multiple sclerosis has affected her art and life as her physical abilities are “edited down.”  Fascinating, heart-wrenching stuff:

Healing through multiple sclerosis

Through the link you can get to her blog, where she posts essays and images about her experience. As her physical body demands more attention and assistance, she asks “What does change actually look like?”  Her struggle to document that through her art is fascinating.

Also from Lens – photos of a young Afghan boy suffering from tetanus.  An ancient disease in a boy living in an ancient civilization, interacting with very modern US field medicine. The first four photos in the sequence are harrowing, graphic, and beautiful. My maternal, physician, (amateur) photographer eyes are educated; my heart, broken.

Pictures of the Day: Afghanistan

Those of you lucky enough to be healthy right now might be rolling your eyes. But I have seen many student patients who have been quite ill – cancer, diabetes, congenital heart defects, assaults, nasty infections, emergency surgeries – and many others who have lost family members to illness; it has a way of changing your outlook. 

If you’ve had the same experience and have created art from it-a quilt, a photo, a poem, a story-or you have found somebody else’s art which helped you through it, please share!  Email me ( or post a link in the comments.  I’d love to hear from you.

Victoria Rentel, MD

Get Prepared for Life After College!

From Classmates to Colleagues: Come gain the knowledge that will help you get a job!

University Career Services Committee, the Student Wellness Center, Office for Disability Services, and The Alumni Association are sponsoring a free event for anyone who wants to prepare for a job or internship.

You will have the opportunity to meet with recent alumni, wellness professionals, and career experts to assist you with life after college transitions, particularly in light of the changing economy. You can attend workshops that address managing finances, coping with life after college challenges, marketing your college experience, finding alternatives to 9-5 work, and learning how to network. Additionally, a resource room will be available for you to get free resume critiques, access to helpful career handouts, and meet representatives from a few organizations in the community.

WHEN: Monday, February 22, 2010 from 4:30PM-8:00PM

WHERE: 3rd Floor RPAC Meeting Rooms

FOR MORE INFO: website and Facebook page and attached flier (click on link at right to open)

There is limited seating for the workshops so please plan to arrive early!

Business Casual Dress Recommended!

The 3 Facebook Settings You Should Check Right Now

The title of this blog post is stolen directly from a New York Times article that appeared a few days ago.

While Facebook privacy settings aren’t technically a “health” issue, they can have a huge impact on the life of a college/grad student who uses Facebook… in other words – all of you. 

When Facebook updated its privacy settings last month, the dialog box that informed you of the changes had a set of recommended privacy settings.  If you just selected that option, which most people did, then you basically gave Facebook the right to publicize all of your information.  This article walks you through the steps to take to regain your privacy.  It takes about 5 minutes to do, and it’ll be the best 5 minutes you’ve spent in a long time.  When you’re applying for a job, or an internship, or a study abroad program the last thing you need is people looking up the photos from last weekend’s party! 

John Vaughn, MD (OSU SHS)

Making the flu beautiful!

The Visual Miscellaneum

I recently stumbled across a blog called Information Is Beautiful.  It is written by a London (England, not Ohio unfortunately)-based “independent visual & data journalist” named David McCandless.  In his own words: A passion of mine is for visualizing information – facts, data, ideas, subjects, issues, statistics, questions – all with the minimum of words.  I’m interested in how designed information can help us understand the world, cut through BS and reveal hidden connections, patterns and stories underneath. Or, failing that, it can just look cool!

The reason I’m mentioning all of this on a health blog is that he has created a very cool and informative article about the H1N1 vaccine that presents the information in a visualized format.  I encourage you all to check it out – especially those of you who are more “visual” learners – and let me know what you think.  With all of the amazing resources on our campus, couldn’t we develop similar alternative information delivery systems here at Ohio State?

John A. Vaughn, MD (Ohio State Student Health Services)