Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Brexit & Coffee: Fakes and Failures!

With clear evidence that politicians ignore professional advice and that looming Brexit is going to harm patients when there is uncertainty about the availability of certain life-maintaining medications from Insulin down. I am reprinting what I have written about how ignoring professionals cost the French dearly over the construction of the Panama Canal.



Panama has been associated with some fabricated plots. There were the John Le Carre book The Tailor of Panama that was turned into a film, the location shoot of the Quantum of Solace (in Panama, doubling as a country in South America), and the Canoeist faking death, just to mention a few.

Then there was the coffee scandal.
In 1996 in California, a certain  Michel Norton, owner of Kona Kai Coffee was sentenced to 30 months in prison. Apparently for an extended period of time (some reckoned a decade may not be an over estimate), cheaper and “lower grade” Panamanian and Costa Rican coffee were used to pass off as “Pure Kona Coffee”.

Cheaper, certainly, as you would not otherwise be doing it. But, INFERIOR? I think many would certainly dispute that. I do not think you can really use an inferior product to pass off as something superior and fool people for long.



So the Ambassador of Panama in Washington D.C. wrote to the 
New York Times:

To the Editor:
I read with amusement about the indictment of a coffee supplier on selling fraudulently marked beans to retailers (news article, Nov. 13).
Without making light of the charges, I am pleased that the coffee buyer for Peet's Coffee and Tea is uncertain that he can tell the difference between the ''cheaper'' Panamanian beans allegedly substituted for the more expensive Kona.
Panama's coffee is among the world's best. In fact, members of my staff have seen Panamanian beans for sale at high-end coffeehouses for little less than Kona. Perhaps we can arrange a taste test of Kona and Panamanian coffee for the sellers mentioned in the article. I am sure that no one will be more pleased with the results than my native coffee growers. 

Panama Coffee is now world famous.

Poor Theresa May, she is not so lucky with Brexit but perhaps she is rich enough not to worry too much about her insulin!

Politician & The Panama Canal

It is a common practice for politicians to ignore professional advice. As The Cockroach Catcher, his wife and friends cruise across this greatest of all human endeavour, he likes to re-post one of the Panama Posts.Sometimes they might get away with it; sometimes it led to failure, gross failure as in the case of the French attempt at building the Panama Canal.Can we really learn anything from such a colossal failure?


We learn little or nothing from our successes. 
They mainly confirm our mistakes, while our failures,
 on the other hand, 
are priceless experiences in that 
they not only open up the way to a deeper truth, 
but force us to change our views and methods. 

Panama Canal © 2008 Am Ang Zhang

Most people probably know about the French failure to build the Panama Canal. Many thought that this was due to yellow fever and malaria which were diseases thought to be due to some toxic fume from exposed soil.

Extracted from the Official Website: Panama Canal Authority /French Construction

In 1879, Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps, with the success he had with the construction of the Suez Canal in Egypt just ten years earlier, proposed a sea level canal through Panama. He was no engineer but a career politician and he rejected outright what the chief engineer for the French Department of Bridges and Highways, Baron Godin de Lépinay proposed, a lock canal.

The engineer was no match for a career politician:

“There was no question that a sea level canal was the correct type of canal to build and no question at all that Panama was the best and only place to build it. Any problems – and, of course, there would be some - would resolve themselves, as they had at Suez.”

“The resolution passed with 74 in favour and 8 opposed. The ‘no’ votes included de Lépinay and Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. Thirty-eight Committee members were absent and 16, including Ammen and Menocal, abstained. The predominantly French ‘yea’ votes did not include any of the five delegates from the French Society of Engineers. Of the 74 voting in favor, only 19 were engineers and of those, only one, Pedro Sosa of Panama, had ever been in Central America.”

The French failed in a spectacular fashion.

Cost to the French: $287 Million (1893 dollars) or $6.8 Billion (2007 dollars)

Many reasons can be stated for the French failure, but it seems clear that the principal reason was de Lesseps’ stubbornness in insisting on and sticking to the sea level plan.  But others were at fault also for not opposing him, arguing with him and encouraging him to change his mind.  His own charisma turned out to be his enemy.  People believed in him beyond reason.

Could any of us learn anything from this experience?


Hermione: "You pay a great deal too dear for what's given freely". -

(Act I, Scene I). The Winter’s Tale.

President Jimmy Carter: Time

Panama:

Panama Canal: Diseases & Failures.


Thursday, April 18, 2019

First Emperor, Animal Farm & Allyson Pollock

“For centuries, the brutal and tyrannical reign of Qin Shihuangdi, First Emperor of China, was summed up by a four-character phrase, fenshukengru 焚書坑儒, ‘He burned the books and buried the Confucian scholars alive.’”Anthony Barbieri-Low: 21st Sammy Yukuan Lee Lecture. See alsoThe Independent.

Forty years ago, Colin Douglas, geriatrician and novelist, when on a gap year in a remote secondary school in post-colonial Ghana, was summoned by the headmaster and informed that "we had in our library a book the government didn't think we should read." The book was of course Animal Farm.
Here in The BMJ, he reviewed Allyson Pollock’s Book, NHS plc.
NHS plc/Allyson Pollock
"Allyson Pollock describes her experience in November 2001 at the hands of the House of Commons Health Select Committee, then just refreshed by an influx of New Labour ultras, including one Julia Drown MP, a former health service manager. Against the advice of the committee's chairman and clerks, Ms Drown tabled a rant aimed at undermining Professor Pollock and her Health Policy and Health Services Research Unit at University College London. In the chairman's view such an attack on an individual witness was unprecedented and wrong, yet it nevertheless (by virtue of a nasty but neat little bit of committee footwork) appeared in the final report of an inquiry into the implications of the private finance initiative (PFI) for the NHS.”


Allyson Pollock must count herself lucky for not living in China during the reign of The First Emperor although she did leave the England part of The Kingdom.

“……if you are old enough, or even just curious enough, to wonder whatever happened to the British NHS as first conceived, you might find NHS plc a useful little book. An excellent early reputation—for cost effectiveness and equity based on integrated services, minimal management costs, and a vast and intensely practical pooling of risk—dwindled slowly. This was firstly because of chronic and insidious underfunding, later because a notional internal market began to take it apart, and finally (though the word may still be slightly premature) because of the current assault: a burgeoning, divisive, sometimes mendacious for-profit marketisation of a healthcare system that was once an admired public provision and a right of citizenship in the United Kingdom.”

Regarding PFI he continued:
"Since it was Pollock's views on the PFI that so upset its proponents, it is worth summarising them briefly. Costs are now intrinsically higher, because of capital borrowing at higher rates than those available to government, because of cash hungry consultancies and the vast transactional and monitoring costs of countless contracts, and because—for the first time on a large scale in the NHS—commercial profits must be made. To accommodate all these new costs clinical services have been scaled down, while matching assumptions about increased efficiency are only variably delivered. All this, along with the rigidity of a trust based strategy for building hospitals and the locking in effect of contracts fixed for decades, seems to Pollock and many others at best a bad bargain, at worst a naive betrayal that opens the NHS to piecemeal destruction and the eventual abandonment of its founding principles. And all over the country PFIs—greedy, noisy, alien cuckoos in the NHS nest—gobble up its finances and will do so for the next 30 years.”

Next 30 years!

Other concerns:
"Foundation trusts (‘public benefit corporations’—what?) will further disrupt any attempts to build effective local health services, drive the balance of care in the wrong direction, and almost certainly get choosy about the patients they treat. All this will least benefit elderly patients, whose care as our population ages ought to be explicitly identified as the core commitment of our NHS. Will elderly people be surprised? I doubt it. Their long term care was totally abandoned by the NHS in England long ago, and given the direction of current reforms any priority for their acute care would be astonishing. And meanwhile, under the Orwellian rubric of choice and diversity, all manner of dubious, expansionist corporate players, many from theUnited States, where these things are managed so much worse, are circling, scenting opportunities for private profit in a once great public service.”

I have to thank Dr. Grumble for pointing me to this site that has a write up too.

Rupert Read wrote in OurKingdom:
When I was at Oxford taking PPE 20 years ago, my best friend was Simon Stevens, who went on to become Tony Blair's key health policy adviser. Back then, he was a socialist. Now, he is Chair of United Health Europe, one of the US's giant corporations profiteering from the break-up of the NHS, and angling to take over doctor's surgeries across the UK. That little timeline symbolises quite a lot about what has happened to the NHS.
Why do we still have the great books of Confucious and other scholars? They have all been memorised by scholars and The First Emperor could not kill all of them. When he failed to achieve eternal life and died, the scholars just re-wrote these books again.
The last words go to Colin Douglas:
“Professor Pollock, with the help of many colleagues acknowledged in a list that reads like a roll of honour for services to the real and now threatened NHS, has written a brave, necessary book. And because you know the government thinks you shouldn't read it, you probably should.”

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Norway and The Answer to Prayer: Teratoma.


We provided World Class Medicine without trying. A quote from a fellow blogger, Dr. No.


Dr No said...
Excellent post - and yes, that is exactly how it used to be. World class medicine without even trying - we just did it, because that is what we did, just as the dolphin swims, and the eagle soars. A key, even vital feature was that the doctors looking after their patients did not need to worry about money or managers. They just got on with it. There was no market to get in the way of truly integrated care. Some may point out that 13 year olds with teratomas are rare, and that is true, but what this case shows us, precisely because of its complexity, is just how capable the system was. And most of the time (of course not always), it dealt just as capably with more routine cases. "How is (sic) the new Consortia going to work out the funding and how are the three Foundation Trust Hospitals going to work out the costs." Exactly. And then: who is going to pay for the staff and their time to work out out all those costs and conduct the transactions?
What many politicians may not know is that pride in what we do is often more important than money or anything else. Our pride is one sure way to ensure quality of practice.

Do we really want to take that away now? Years of heartless re-organisation has left many of us dedicated doctors disillusioned. Many young ones have left. Poorly trained doctors that have no right to be practising medicine now even have jobs in some of these well known hospitals. 

Can we continue to practise World Class Medicine even if we wanted to?

According to old Chinese advice, it is wise never to discuss politics or religion even amongst best friends.  

Religious belief can often blur judgment in the wisest of people.

Thirty years ago, a patient of mine was unconscious for 23 days and it was mother's belief that it was through prayer that her daughter was saved. I did not argue with her then.

But perhaps God works through his people in his own way. Discoveries in Medicine should therefore enhance our faith rather than the other way round.

It took nearly 30 years for the real answer to her prayers to really emerge.

My recent visit to this beautiful church in Norway reminded me of my patient. and i cannot believe that it took another 30 years for the true answer to arrive. 


Beautiful Church in Tromso, Norway.


© 2019 Am Ang Zhang

The following is extracted from The Cockroach Catcher: Chapter 29 The Power of Prayers.

  Some time in early February of 1978 I was called to do a Home Visit on a thirteen year old girl by Dr Pinkerton, a paediatric consultant. Dr Pinkerton had been the local Paed for years and was generally well regarded. She had, in my short time as consultant, referred a couple of cases, most notably that of a Tourette syndrome and a boy with non-stoppable hiccups. Both cases put me in her A-list and I gathered that not many were on that list. Needless to say I realised too that her cases were never straightforward or simple.  Those she would have dealt with herself. The girl had upper arm stiffness on the left side and Dr Pinkerton could not find much else wrong with her, and so it crossed her mind that perhaps there was something psychiatrically wrong.  The girl was also carrying out some strange rituals around the house and Dr Pinkerton did wonder about psychosis or even catatonia.
...............


 The x-ray came back. The tell tale tooth was there and yes – a Teratoma[5], the distinctive type of tumour that can include teeth, hair, sometimes, even a jaw and tongue.  I guessed just a split second before the results came back. How annoying.
         Working diagnosis: Teratoma with possible toxic psychosis.
         Emergency operation was arranged. Yes, she would be fine a little while after the operation, I reassured the parents.
         The paediatric junior arrived and took some history and did a quick physical before she was prepared for the theatre. This petite doctor with a very babyish face told me that on her first day in her last job she had to do an emergency tracheotomy. This time she had been on call for the last three nights and the battery in her old Mini could not cope with the heavy frost so she had to wait for AA before coming. She was most apologetic for not having got in earlier.
         She asked if I had seen many toxic psychosis cases and I asked if she had come across any in her psychiatric placement. As with all good psychiatrists answering a question with another is in our blood and here it worked well.
         Neither of us knew what was to hit us next.
         At 2 A.M. I had a call from her.
         “Your patient – I mean our patient could not be aroused after the operation. Yes they removed the teratoma, complete and intact. It is bigger than any specimen I have seen but she could not be aroused.  Any ideas?”
         “Call the paediatrician on call in the regional paediatric unit and I will be in.”
         What happened?  I asked myself as I drove to the hospital.
         What had we done? This was fast becoming a nightmare situation.
         What was I going to say to the parents?

         Something else was going on here, and I was not happy because I did not know what it was. I was supposed to know and I generally did. After all I was the consultant now.........


Read the whole chapter: Chapter 29  The Power of Prayers


In medicine, truly new discoveries are uncommon and with the emergence of guidelines and protocols it has become even more difficult to make new discoveries. It has taken over 30 years before I could understand what happened to my Teratoma patient. Luckily for her, the treatment she received would have been in line with what we know now of the condition.

Hospital Medicine indeed has its important place and most important of all in the discovery of new conditions and establishing diagnostic and treatment programmes.

It is perhaps timely to remind the next generation of Bright Young Things that become doctors to remember that psychiatric symptoms presented by a patient may indeed be the presentation of a neurological condition.

This is more so for bizarre combinations of psychiatric and other symptoms. It was in the last five years or so that much progress has been made on what is now called Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis.

Who knows, one day medical scientists might be able to decipher the most difficult of psychiatric conditions: Schizophrenia. Bright Young Psychiatrist might have noticed that Clozapine, one of the most effective drugs for schizophrenia has a marked effect on the immune system.

In the mean time Pennsylvania might have something they could be proud of: the discovery of this new neurological condition.



For now, my patient’s parents’ prayer has been answered. 

Chapter 29  The Power of Prayers


Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis


NEW ORLEANS — A mysterious, difficult-to-diagnose, and potentially deadly disease that was only recently discovered can be controlled most effectively if treatment is started within the first month that symptoms occur, according to a new report by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The researchers analyzed 565 cases of this recently discovered paraneoplastic condition, called Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis, and determined that if initial treatments fail, second-line therapy significantly improves outcomes compared with repeating treatments or no additional treatments (76 percent versus 55 percent). The research is being presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 64th Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

565 cases! Not so rare!

The condition occurs most frequently in women (81 percent of cases), and predominately in younger people (36 percent of cases occurring in people under 18 years of age, the average age is 19). Symptoms range from psychiatric symptoms, memory issues, speech disorders, seizures, involuntary movements, to decreased levels of consciousness and breathing. Within the first month, movement disorders were more frequent in children, while memory problems and decreased breathing predominated in adults.

My patient was under 18 and presented with catatonia symptoms. She later lose consciousness and was ventilated.

"Our study establishes the first treatment guidelines for NMDA-receptor encephalitis, based on data from a large group of patients, experience using different types of treatment, and extensive long-term follow-up," said lead author Maarten TitulaerMD, PhD, clinical research fellow in Neuro-oncology and Immunology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "In addition, the study provides an important update on the spectrum of symptoms, frequency of tumor association, and the need of prolonged rehabilitation in which multidisciplinary teams including neurologists, pediatricians, psychiatrists, behavioral rehabilitation, and others, should be involved."

The disease was first characterized by Penn's Josep Dalmau, MD, PhD, adjunct professor of Neurology, and David R. Lynch, MD, PhD, associate professor of Neurology and Pediatrics, in Annals of Neurology in 2007. One year later, the same investigators in collaboration with Rita Balice-Gordon, PhD, professor of Neuroscience, characterized the main syndrome and provided preliminary evidence that the antibodies have a pathogenic effect on the NR1 subunit of the NMDA receptor in the Lancet Neurology in December 2008. The disease can be diagnosed using a test developed at the University of Pennsylvania and currently available worldwide. With appropriate treatment, almost 80 percent of patients improve well and, with a recovery process that may take many months and years, can fully recover.

Teratoma: finally!

In earlier reports, 59 percent of patients had tumors, most commonly ovarian teratoma, but in the latest update, 54 percent of women over 12 years had tumors, and only six percent of girls under 12 years old had ovarian teratomas. In addition, relapses were noted in 13 percent of patients, 78 percent of the relapses occurred in patients without teratomas.
As Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis, the most common and best characterized antibody-mediated encephalitis, becomes better understood, quicker diagnosis and early treatment can improve outcomes for this severe disease.
The study was presented in a plenary session on Wednesday, April 25, 2012 ET at 9:35 AM at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting.
[PL01.001] Clinical Features, Treatment, and Outcome of 500 Patients with Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis

Of 100 patients with anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis, a disorder that associates with antibodies against the NR1 subunit of the receptor, many were initially seen by psychiatrists or admitted to psychiatric centres but subsequently developed seizures, decline of consciousness, and complex symptoms requiring multidisciplinary care. While poorly responsive or in a catatonic-like state, 93 patients developed hypoventilation, autonomic imbalance, or abnormal movements, all overlapping in 52 patients. 59% of patients had a tumour, most commonly ovarian teratoma. Despite the severity of the disorder, 75 patients recovered and 25 had severe deficits or died.

Related paper:



Post Script:
“Ten years later mother came to see my secretary and left a photo. It was a photo of her daughter and her new baby. She had been working at the local bank since she left school, met a very nice man and now she had a baby. Mother thought I might remember them and perhaps I would be pleased with the outcome.

I was very pleased for them too but I would hate for anyone to put faith or god to such a test too often.”