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Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

A Last Look At The Body

June 7, 2012

Tags: order, autopsy, A Last Look At The Body, Allgemeines Krankenhaus der Stadt Wien, alma mater, Austria, body, Braunschweig, Brunswick, cadaver, case load, clinician, cost-effective, death, disease, Europe, Hamburg, hospital, imaging procedures, Kiel, mathematics, medical knowledge, medical mistake, medical skill, medicine, Morbidity/Mortality Conference, nineteenth century, Nuremberg, Nürnberg, pathologist, philosophy, physician, Rokitansky - Carl von (1804 to 1878), school, social sciences, teaching hospital, USA, Vienna

Vienna, in the nineteenth century: At his teaching hospital – the Allgemeines Krankenhaus der Stadt Wien – a pathologist named Karl von Rokitansky institutes an autopsy on every single patient who dies there. After the autopsy, clinicians and pathologists sit down together to compare notes: The Morbidity/Mortality Conference is born.

New diseases were found, old diseases became better known, medicine improved greatly, and Vienna became a magnet for physicians who wanted to learn there - it still is Europe's biggest hospital. My father spend some semesters studying medicine in Vienna. In Europe, one is not as wedded to one's alma mater as one is in the USA; in Europe, it behooves everybody to seek out good schools and good teachers to learn as much as possible. For instance, I studied in Nuremberg (Nürnberg), Brunswick (Braunschweig), Kiel and Hamburg, and finished degrees in mathematics, philosophy, social sciences and medicine. Here, if you change schools, you are frowned upon. – Both methods seem useful in their own way – I am not sure which one I prefer.

Back to pathologist Rokitansky. For about a century after he made them mandatory, autopsies were the norm, especially at teaching hospitals. Now they are the exception: Barely one in a hundred dead bodies get a second look, to find out what the cause of their demise was. Autopsies are not “cost-effective”, and different imaging procedures, done when the patient is still alive give the patient a better chance to stay alive.

But medical knowledge and skills are in decline – and patients complain. It seems as if physicians don’t want to be confronted anymore with their mistakes. Before, a physician learned from every case. Now the physician just tries to handle the case load.

This time it seems it is up the patient to demand an autopsy …

Summer Reading 2011

August 26, 2011

Tags: order, A Sentimental Education, art, Austria, Balzac - Honoré de (1799-1850), books, Comédie Humaine, Cousin Bette, Dickens - Charles (1821-1870), education, Flaubert - Gustave (1821-1880), gardening, Hard Times, idealsism, Indian Summer, Madame Bovary, Maine, minerals, music, Nachsommer, Nietzsche - Friedrich (1844-1900), nineteenth century, painting, realism, rocks, sculpture, Stifter - Adalbert (1805-1868), Summer Reading 2011, The Maine Woods, Thoreau - Henry David (1817-1862)

You are asking what I am reading this year in Maine.

As we are staying here much shorter than usual, I did not bring too many books. I wanted to read some French classics which mostly eluded me so far: Balzac and Flaubert.

But I had been "working" a German novel on and off for a year, in turn fascinated and repelled at the same time, and had difficulties making up my mind what to think about it. The novel wasn't translated into English until recently. Its English title is "Indian Summer", which is not totally getting the meaning of the German "Nachsommer", which means a summer after the summer. It was first published in 1857.

The author Adalbert Stifter hardly recommends himself - he slit his throat later, and seemed to have been a petty Austrian school superintendent, exactly the kind of guy young people would abhor, who thought that everything old is better than everything new, and that young people should learn from the older generation, without asking and without arguing - not exactly my ideal of education.

But then again, so much could be said for the fields he educates his young hero Heinrich in: gardening, rocks and minerals, art, music, sculpture and painting, and so on.

This is heavy fare, but worthwhile if you have time and want to think deeply about what matters. Friedrich Nietzsche counted it among the only four books he let stand of the nineteenth century.

I began reading "Cousin Bette" by Honoré de Balzac. For two nights it gave me nightmares - so I avoid now reading it at night. The people are so incredibly mean to each other! I haven't finished, and this is only a tiny puzzle piece of Balzac's huge oeuvre "Comédie Humaine" - I should defer judgement. But I was close to throwing it away. I expect books to show me the good in people, and like to think that the good will prevail in life - as idealistic that is. - Balzac and Flaubert are not called "realists" for no reason.

From that summer I was reading all Dickens, I still have left over "Hard Times". Not sure if I will not elope with Dickens soon ...

The two books by Gustave Flaubert I brought with me are "Madame Bovary" and "A Sentimental Education". - You will hear about them from me - probably later in the fall because there is no way that I finish reading them here.

And, I forgot: In the bathroom we always have lying open Henry David Thoreau's "The Maine Woods".

Tell me what you are reading!
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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