Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tweet the Week in San Diego

frontpage-bird Those planning to attend Renal Week, the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology, are invited to Tweet the Week. A lot of those signing up for the activity have not tweeted before. Some of the nuts and bolts of the service are obvious after the sign-up process, but there are ins and outs of the Twitterverse that may not be readily apparent.

Basics of Twitter

So you have a screen name (if not, click on the logo below; all you need is a valid email to sign up). Now it is time to create your profile page. Try to come up with a photo or image of some kind to represent you online. Put some information about who you are, but nothing you don’t want strangers to see.TwitterLogo For an example, click on the Tweet the Week logo below; it will take you to the RenalWeek profile.

You also have to make a choice about whether or not to protect your updates. If you do not, anyone on Twitter can follow you and see what you put out there. You can go through your list of followers every so often and block anyone you want (like the half-naked women whose profiles list their favorite sex act), but you will also encounter a broader, more interesting swath of people this way. If you protect, then only people who you approve can see your updates; however, this means you will have to manually OK each and every follow.

For Tweet the Week, we have chosen to keep the feed closed. Some of the followers are closed, but most are public. RenalWeek is following all of the participants. Anything tweeted by RenalWeek will be visible only to official followers.  TweetWeek

Specific Tweet the Week Issues

If you are tweeting something general on your public feed, anyone who follows you will see it, including RenalWeek. If you want to send a message to RenalWeek that you only want the Tweet the Week crowd to see, you can direct message it. Do this by placing “D” in front of the screen name: D RenalWeek. If it is something of interest to the RenalWeek crowd, it can then be retweeted. Most twitter clients allow you to repeat someone’s tweet; this is how stuff “goes viral” and spreads quickly.

Mechanics of Twittering On the Go

You can tweet from a computer, and there certainly will be internet access in the San Diego Convention Center. Most stuff worth chatting about does not happen when you are near a screen. Luckily, Twitter was made for the mobile world, with a character limit shorter than a standard text message. You can register your cell phone and have tweets texted to you; this may drive you crazy after a while. You can also set it up so you can send tweets to the service via text message. Your usual text fees apply, so figure out ahead of time what this may cost you.

If you have a smart phone, you are in luck. BlackBerries, iPhones, and Pre’s all have Twitter clients that make participation easy and fun. There are too many to list here, and more popping up every day; a quick Google search will take you to lots of choices.

Even if you decide to limit your tweets to your laptop, you may want to check out a dedicated Twitter client. Many will let you group your followers or work with multiple accounts. I am using TweetDeck, and I have my personal account (PHLane; feed shown on the blog page above) and the RenalWeek account for Tweet the Week. A bunch of these are available; some may be downloaded via the Twitter web site, and there is a Wiki that lists many more.

I hope you decided to attend RenalWeek and to Tweet the Week with us. If you have any specific questions, ask in the comments below so others can share your answer.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Why Not Everyone?

For a while I have considered posting on “the public option” in healthcare that I am most familiar with, the Medicare End-Stage Renal Disease Program. The history of this disease-specific program is fascinating, and I think it provides a good example of what “the public option” could be (and why private insurance companies are scared).

See, you can get public coverage now if: Photoxpress_3007312

  1. You are employed by the government (like congress)
  2. You are or were in the military
  3. You are of “retirement age”
  4. You are disabled
  5. You are poor with dependent children or you are a dependent child
  6. You have kidney failure

That’s a whole lot of health care already run by the government. In my experience, it works pretty well with far fewer headaches than many of the private insurers generate.

I was toying with a post about this topic; however, someone has provided a far more compelling story than I could tell as a physician. Jennifer Nix in Salon tells us the history and realities of the Medicare ESRD program through a family saga:

My family's 36-year journey with end-stage renal disease -- the only long-term, chronic disease classification for which the U.S. government provides insurance coverage, regardless of age or income -- offers a telling case study into what once met Congress' standard of an unequivocal, moral imperative to provide public-financed health insurance. My family history mirrors exactly the period from 1973 to 2009, during which this entitlement program has allowed access to life-saving dialysis and kidney transplants, treatments previously denied to all but a very privileged few.

Read the full story: I love my socialist kidney.

We have identified a number of groups for whom we, as a society, feel a moral imperative to provide health coverage. Isn’t it time that a nation with our wealth and spirit extends that opportunity to all of our citizens?

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.

Friday, September 25, 2009

It’s ExtraORDinary

I have a confession. A dirty little secret. Nothing that threatens life, my marriage, or the free world. But something that no other traveler in the US is likely to admit:Iheartohare

Yup, O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. I have had my share of really bad days there – 9 hours trying to find a good chair, and several hours of delays with my entire family during a layover on that first day they banned carry-on liquids. It’s a really busy airport, with way too many people running around without apparent direction. Folks are often surly or rude as well. And yet, I still find stuff to love.

ohare-international-airportI first appreciated the architecture of the B and C concourses in the original Home Alone movie. Ceilings seem to soar and become part of the air above, even when the fog rolls in off of Lake Michigan. The halls look wide and expansive, without the tunnel effect of many older terminals. If you ignore the jostling around you, the concourses are truly beautiful.

On this last trip, I crossed from B to C concourse. These terminals are parallel, unconnected halls of gates. Between them is a giant jet parking lot, under which runs a tunnel. A tunnel can beOHare tunnel utilitaritarian or it can be this:

The photo really can’t do this crossing justice. Moving walkways are centered between walls of lit glass bricks. Overhead are wavy neon tubes in the full spectrum of colors, presenting an amazing light show. While you run or stroll through the corridor, a new-age version of Rhapsody in Blue accompanies your journey, a version that sounds as if fairies are tapping it out on tiny chimes. Very Disney-esque.

There are some issues with the airport. The older terminals could use some more updating, and better shops would help during long delays. Overall, it is an amazing building.

And good thing, because I spend many hours there every year.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Food For Thought

How do we get the message out that animals are important in biomedical research? There are so many things about normal cells and organs that we do not understand, and only through observing and testing in mice, rats, and other animals can we learn new things that can drive new treatments. A lot of animal testing could be redundant, and we can learn many things using cell and tissue cultures; however, on the sharp, cutting edge of science, interactions of various systems in a living organism are still necessary.

A while back when I was in medical school, physiologists studying animals could tell that some signal transmitted from the heart caused the kidneys to excrete sodium. My faculty were betting on some sort of neural signal. Instead, some investigators tried injected extract of heart into rodents and found that the atria of the heart produce a hormone that induces sodium excretion (see Experientia. 1982 Sep 15;38(9):1071-3). Eventually the secretory granules were identified, the protein was purified and named (atrial natriuretic peptide), the protein and gene were sequenced, and antibodies were made. We now know that other organs make these proteins (like brain), and we use them for diagnosis of heart problems (by measuring blood levels) and therapeutically (infusion of BNP can improve salt and water output in patients with congestive heart failure). It took about 20 years from initial discovery to clinical use, but this discovery has helped a lot of people and animals.

What other undiscovered systems lie in the living body? Computer models require that we know everything about a system so that we can predict its actions and reactions. I know we aren’t there yet. Culture studies cannot replicate complete living systems where multiple organs, tissues, and cells interact with each other. And we can’t examine some of these systems in humans because we do not have the technology to test them… yet.

Here is a video from the Foundation for Biomedical Research:

This short video tells a compelling story of living with a disease on all levels personal and professional; I am not certain it conveys how essential these rodents are to medical progress.

FBR has other stories planned. We will have to wait and see if the overall effect is what we need.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

We, The People


Today passed quickly on the Hill in DC. Advocacy is always an interesting experience. I am amazed that a brief walk through a metal detector and having my bag x-rayed allows me access to my elected officials. So my heels set off the detector the first time through… eventually they went through the x-ray box and we were in!

ANYONE can do this! We had made appointments ahead of time with some key members (and their key-er staffers), while we dropped by other offices with contact information and materials about our issues.

We passed several groups in the halls. Some wear tee or polo shirts displaying their group or cause. Others carried signs or other props. All were there for the same thing that brought us: personally extending our opinions to our elected officials. (Note: my group did not wear matching uniforms of any sort, just nice business clothing).

Will they do what we ask? Some will, some won’t. Some will decline for political reasons, others will frankly disagree with our opinions and information. In the end, we made our voices heard for the American Physiologic Society.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress. Yeah, I forgot my real camera, and the phone camera image wasn’t good enough…

Monday, September 21, 2009

Blogging from the Airport

I am seated in Eppley Airfield in Omaha, awaiting my first flight of the day. CNN plays on the television, another story about H1N1 flashing by. The accompanying footage has a bench with a lot of Photoxpress_3290805pretty colored liquids being pipetted from flask to flask.

It does not resemble any virology lab I have seen. And no one is masked in the footage…

I guess I am thinking too hard again. Time to traipse through security and wait at the gate.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Omaha Fashion Week: Who Knew?

Last night was Girls’ Night Out. Last  year I purchased a wine tasting at a charity auction, and we started the evening there. All agreed that we learned a lot about wine; we also found out that the storeI'm gonna get you has spa nights with pedicures, facials, and wine tastings. We will be back.

My mom, daughter, and I then ate dinner. Then my kid took me to Omaha’s Fashion Week show. Omaha has fashion week? Apparently they do!

They closed off a block in downtown Omaha near some trendy clubs and bars. A giant catwalk and stage dominated the space. Every chair was filled, and the parking decks and overpasses were packed with spectators.

Local designers showed off their stuff on local models. Cameras flashed and telephoto lenses waved. No movie stars, but the event rocked! Of course, nothing on the runway will be in my wardrobe; I don’t think they have 48 year old professional women in  mind, especially the guy who did a goth-inpired collection in red and black patent pleather.

It was a GREAT evening, and I am delighted to see a venue for local artists.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Something To Cheer About?

A friend sent me this ditty a few days ago:

I cannot figure out what US citizens are so afraid of losing through meaningful healthcare reform. It’s not like our current nonsystem gives us longer lives or costs less than other countries…

Friday, September 18, 2009

What I’m Reading

Angels Game

Sometime last year, a copy of The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, came to me. For several days life was on hold while I perused its pages, enjoying the world it painted. If you have not read that one, STOP RIGHT NOW and get a copy. The story tells of the power of books, and reading the novel illustrates the power of books.

When I learned that The Angel’s Game would be available in translation, I was excited. Thus far, the tome does not disappoint. It starts with an orphaned child who has a gift of words and storytelling. He works as a gopher for a Barcelona newspaper, but is given the chance to write in 1917. He starts spinning tales of an underworld that captivates readers and leads to success. I am not yet a quarter through the book, but it already provides that mystical quality to events that makes me wonder what is reality and what might be magic. Once again, books have value and meaning beyond the printed word.

I am glad that my week of call finished a few minutes ago. While I have chores this weekend (Hello, laundry!) I hope to make major headway in the story. If events prevent its completion over the weekend, well, I have airport time next week!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

An Open Letter to an Omaha Driver


I encountered you this morning waiting to get on the major east-west route in town. The line of autos stretched about a block from the entrance to the express lanes, but it moved at a reasonable pace. When my car had almost reached the ramp entrance, you pulled up in the lane to my left, turned on your signal, and tried to hog in.

I did not let you in, and I know you believe that I am an incredible bitch. While that may be the case, you must have an inflated vision of your importance. At least 20 cars waited patiently in line to enter Dodge Road; why are you SO SPECIAL that you can bypass the line?

Would it really have been a problem to backtrack and get in line? Or to continue to the next cross road? This situation occurs every morning around 8. You have local plates.

Omaha drivers value civility, and someone a few cars back finally let you in. But I won’t.

Art courtesy of PhotoXpress.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Proverbial Wall

I have been remiss in updating my blog this week. The clinical service hasn't been that busy, really. And I haven't had that many pressing tasks on my plate.

Yet somehow, every time I sit down to take it on, the pager goes off, the phone rings, or someone yells "Fire!".

I mean, my tweet rate is probably half its usual output this week.
I don't know where the wall came from, but I have hit it. I hope I get around it soon. Cause I have lots of stuff to say and do...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wardrobe Maintenance

Photoxpress_4171617 Now for the surest sign of a change of seasons: closet clean-out!

Every spring and fall as I exchange the linen for the cashmere, I sort through my wardrobe for stuff I haven’t worn. If an item has hung in the closet through its entire season, gathering dust, then it deserves a new home. I get to make room for “update items", new purchases that will make my outfits look 09/10 instead of 99/00. Photoxpress_1687572

Sometimes one or two pairs of shoes accompany the clothing. Occasionally, a “good buy” at DSW becomes a “fashion don’t.” But shoes generally have more staying power in my closet.

My hubby left an hour ago for a football game, while I am here in town, covering the patient service. I will use the time to edit my clothing and make my closet functional again.

And maybe I will find some time to shop…

Photos courtesy of

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Today I planned to write about the inexplicable hub-bub that has greeted Obama’s speech to schoolchildren today. I have listened to it while traveling and unable to blog.

As a schoolgirl, I remember reading interviews with Richard Nixon in Weekly Reader where he talked about studying hard. If there is any leader in recent memory that I would NOT want indoctrinating schoolchildren, Tricky Dick is the guy. I don’t seem to have been indoctrinated by his efforts, though latent effects would explain some of the behavior demonstrated this week…

I was going to write about this issue, but then I followed a link to Discover’s Bad Astronomy Blog. It links to the text of speech, and discusses the issues so eloquently, that I have nothing left to add.DiscoverBlog

So if you like what I write, follow the link…

The news about this story has been absolutely unbelievable. I can’t believe what is essentially a motivational speech has been spun as socialist. As initially tweeted by Terrified Tabetic (@ttabetic):

Overheard: "I am starting to suspect that some Dr. Evil managed to pour dumbfuck juice in the national water supply. srsly."

We all must do everything we can to combat ideologic fuckwittery.

So study hard and take responsibility for your education!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Signs of the Season

It is now, officially, in my mind… autumn!

Back to school! Is it because school has started? No, my son has been back in class for more than 3 weeks. Besides, the stores start trumpeting their supplies and clothing as soon as the Fourth of July gear goes on clearance. No, back-to-school smells more of sunblock than apple cider.


Perhaps a sign of nature triggers my mood. Colored leaves? Not yet… Shorter days? Not enough to spoil evenings yet… Labor Day? Traditional, but not the real trigger…

What makes me feel that the season changed this week?


College football! Last night the first fans of the ‘09 season donned spiritwear, painted bare chests, and tail-gated. The smell of fall is a grilled brat and a cold bottle of beer. Right now, all things are possible… unless you are an Oregon fan, and I am not certain that their top-20 status will survive the match last night with Boise State.

My weekend will be filled with both live and televised gridiron matches. May everyone be so lucky!

Photos of bus and leaves courtesy of PhotoXpress. Football image from

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Trivial Actions Net Results

Yesterday proved highly productive. My output surprised me for a couple of reasons, mostly because a cold virus has taken possession of my nasopharynx. Tears and snot flowed all day long, leaving my cheeks and nostrils raw. Yet I got a lot of work done.

Another factor made the day inauspicious for work. Someone burned something in a microwave in the break area near my office. The halls reeked all day, and the smoke (when it penetrated the mucus) burned in my nose. I thought about leaving early; instead I shut my door.

Now, I do not entertain a lot of spontaneous visitors to my office. A colleague may discuss our daily trek to the cafeteria for luPhotoxpress_3455381nch, or my lab personnel may drop by to chat about their progress. Overall, very few interruptions break into my time. I cannot believe the shut door was keeping inefficiency out.

Was it keeping efficiency in?

Wednesday mornings begin with a conference call. Today I put out my sign, “Conference Call. Please Do Not Disturb,” and shut the door. The difference this week? I left the door shut after the call finished. Just to test my hypothesis. And to deal with the burning odor that still permeates the hallway (what the hell did they have in that microwave?).

I do not feel quite as accomplished as I did yesterday. The tasks yesterday were all ready to be completed. Those today await the input of others; their completion is out of my control. I have managed to slog away a lot of tasks, though. I feel really good about today’s accomplishments. So what is it about that door?

The shut door signals a new mental status. I am isolating myself from outside distractions, minimal as they are, and I plan to get stuff done. When I look up from the computer, I do not see a conduit to escape; I see a barrier that seems to help keep me at my desk.

I wonder what other subliminal messages we send ourselves through seemingly trivial actions? I will continue testing my hypothesis and looking for other examples. After all, I am a scientist.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Upgrades and other lies


I live by my BlackBerry. I have a lot of duties that take me off of my main campus, and away from my desk even when I am there. My BlackBerry lets me keep up with patients, family, lab, and administrative messages. I can communicate by phone, email, text, or tweet just by thumb typing.

Until a few weeks ago, all was electronic bliss. Then I noticed that my calendar was funky. Appointments I entered on the BlackBerry wouldn’t show up on my desktop. I started re-entering appointments on the computer, then deleting them on the BlackBerry. Annoying, but doable. I let my IT guy know, and he said it was probably the result of a ….

Key spooky music here:


Everyone seemed to have some sort of synchronization issue; so far, I was the only calendar complaint.

He waited a few more weeks, then suggested that I wipe my device and reassociate it with the server. Now, wiping a BlackBerry requires reinstalling a bunch of software and tracking down registration codes. It is not to be done lightly, but I was game.

So last week we did the deed. I almost have everything registered again, but now I have a new problem. When I delete emails on the BlackBerry, they do not delete on the desktop client. The settings clearly state to “delete on handheld and desktop.” I am at a loss.

So I beg my administration to quit upgrading. It rarely seems to improve anything.

The photo was taken from via Google Images. Since their web address shows prominently, I have linked to them, and I am giving them credit for the image, I hope that they will not complain about my probable copyright violation…