Have to … choose to … get to …

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with life? So many things simply need doing and you have not enough time to do them.

You might feel like a victim of one more demands on your time and energy.

Try this simple gratitude exercise from the Naikan book mentioned last week. Medical students in UTMB’s Physician Healer track were assigned to create a list of routine daily activities and apply the following to them:

1. I have to …

2. I choose to …

3. I get to …

Such a process helped remove a sense of helplessness, victimhood, or the burdensomeness of daily activities. Once we realize we choose or even get to do the things we do, our whole attitude shifts.

Here are some examples of this process from a student journal: Continue reading

Medieval antibiotic

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Almost every week there is another report about the catastrophe of drug-resistant bacteria, and very few new antibiotics have been developed to treat people who have been infected. But a possible solution to this modern-day problem has been discovered in a 1,000-year-old source: an eye salve, as recorded in a ninth-century text, has effectively killed methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

One of the oldest known medical texts, “Bald’s Leechbook” contains instructions for various medicines and treatments. One is a remedy for sty, an infection of the eyelash follicles that is usually caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. Christina Lee, an expert in the Anglo-Saxon language at the University of Nottingham, translated the instructions for making the eye salve and collaborated with the university’s Centre for Biomolecular Sciences to test its effects on MRSA. The recipe is simple: equal parts of minced garlic and onion or leek are crushed in a mortar for two minutes, then mixed into 25 milliliters of wine from a historic English vineyard. To that, cow bile salts dissolved in distilled water were added, and then the mixture was aged in a brass vessel for nine days at refrigerator temperature. Finally, it was filtered through a cloth to clear it and put into a horn. The instructions said to apply the salve to the eye with a feather. Continue reading

Naikan: Gratitude, grace and the art of self-reflection

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Gratitude opens untold blessings in our lives. The cultivation of gratitude requires constant discipline in an era often surrounded by a mentality of lack, of ever needing more material goods to believe we can be happy, or when we blame others for not meeting our expectations to make our lives better.

A technique that UTMB students and faculty practice as part of the Physician Healer Track comes from Naikan, a book, by Gregg Krech. You might recall my description that the aim of the healer track is to preserve empathy in physicians in training.

A week after my empathy piece, Time magazine ran a feature article on physician burnout, depression, and suicide. It described a program called The Healer’s Art that is being offered at Stanford University to residents to deter these negative spirals into dysfunction. This long-standing program, developed by holistic physician Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen offers reflection, insight, healing, and opportunities for including gratitude in medical education. It offers many similar skills and practices as does the healer track. Continue reading

Snake bite defense: The Opossum

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

If you live in a rural area, you’ve probably had to deal with snakes. Almost 500,000 people are bitten by snakes and more than 20,000 die from them worldwide each year, although the World Health Organization notes these figures may be closer to 1.8 million incidents and 94,000 deaths. Opossums, on the other hand, never have to worry about that since they are resistant to snake venom. Opossums have a protein in their blood that binds to the toxins in snake venom and neutralizes them. Now scientists are looking into whether this protein could be used to treat human victims of snake bites.

Venomous snakes generally have different combinations of toxins: cytotoxins that kill cells, neurotoxins that affect the nervous system, cardiotoxins that act on the heart, hemotoxins that influence the blood and mycotoxins that are toxic to muscle. Venomous snake bites can cause paralysis that prevents breathing and can cause fatal hemorrhages, irreversible kidney damage and destruction of tissue in and around the bite site, which can lead to amputation. Continue reading