The year ended with many lists for best reads of 2018.
I’m a firm believer in literature improving empathy. Literature, fiction, stories all impact our daily work. We are in the business of storytelling and story gathering. Therefore, it makes sense that we should be good readers and great storytellers. The Atlantic reminded physicians in July to read fiction and use short stories to teach ethics. Storytelling matters.
Here then is a short list of some reads in 2018 you might have overlooked to help you kick off 2019.
A November story in Harper’s magazine shone a light on Israel Kleiner’s unfortunate missed opportunity to develop insulin years before the 1922 discovery by Banting and Best. The only treatment prior to insulin was a starvation diet, first used in 1913. Kleiner’s research predicted that a hormone in the pancreas would lower blood glucose. Then his worked came to a halt. Why? WW1, the Spanish flu epidemic, anti-Semitism all vie to stymie his lab, but then the research world changes, too.
I began to see proteomics stories pop up everywhere. A NY Times proteomics story traces the new technology as a new lab breakthrough for diagnosis, patterns of proteins displaying a warning sign of disease. This proteomics piece in the New Yorker breathes new life into history, using science to uncover long lost stories. A charged plastic that removes proteins is embedded into an acetate film. This film is placed onto an ancient artifact, allowing researchers to explore papers without having to understand the words – only the residue left behind centuries ago. Bulgakov, the early 20th century Russian physician writer, who you must read here – and watch Radcliffe and Hamm reenact his stories on Netflix – has new stories awoken about his life by uncovering proteins in his old papers. All his papers contained traces of morphine, as well as markers of his kidney disease. In addition, researchers searched for traces of bubonic plague in old papers from Milan during an outbreak in the 17th century. Six hundred proteins were extracted, such as rat and mouse proteins, with many from Yersinia pestis, the organism that causes plague. The picture is one of a city overrun by vermin and plague. This technique has turned ancient manuscripts into a biological archive.
This book, Culture Code, reminds me of why and the how to continue to push a just culture as the cornerstone of quality improvement – that local culture will drive change. It is a business book about high-functioning teams. I read it twice in 2018 and recommend it to many. Modern healthcare requires us to be able to work in teams, in a culture that supports reporting errors, speaking up, as well as how to be curious, creative and collaborative. Find out why a group of kindergarteners outperforms a group of MBA students, why everyone in your group should have a nickname and how complicated comedy improv, like The Harold, helps foment teamwork.
I also enjoy digesting anything about Arthur Conan Doyle. The writer of Sherlock Holmes laid the groundwork for forensic science. He was a physician, brilliant writer (creating the most famous character in literary fiction), who also believed in fairies, and tried to live out the life of his fictional detective in trying to solve a famous murder case.
Bad Blood tells the story of Theranos, the failed darling of Silicon Valley. Elizabeth Holmes was going to transform healthcare, with a simple, low cost, broad lab test. Politicians, companies, and venture capitalists fawned over the company, and then it came crashing down. While you seethe over this story, read another classic medical ethics deep dive with a book of the same appellation, James Jones’ Bad Blood.
I suggest you take the following quiz. A quiz where most American do worse than a team of monkeys (who clearly didn’t read Culture Code).
How’d you do?
Everything is death and doom, the world going up in flames before our very eyes. Right?
94% of Americans think the world is getting worse. And yet the data all points to the exact opposite conclusion. Less poverty, improved vaccination rates, improved mortality, less violence. Why are we so pessimistic? We hear about the super-rich and extreme poverty, when most of the world is in the middle. Change is occurring slowly, hence not reported. Rosling asks us to change our worldview, understand our biases, and relook at the world with that amazing tool called “facts”. His website, gapminder, gives you the tools to understand and share the data with others. Everything you know about the world is wrong. Read about it in Factfulness, or here and here. See about it here.
Other great recent medical history reads include this recent history of blood in 9 Pints and the biography of Benjamin Rush, who bled many people to death, while also playing an important role in the formation of this country.
There’s a lot to read and see in the New Year. Post your favorites. Wishing all a great 2019.
It’s going to be better than you think.