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Medical Humanities Section Newsletter - December 2006, Vol 3, #1


circle_arrow From the Section Chair –
The Cool, The Creative, and The Captivating
circle_arrow From the Editor
circle_arrow ACEP Artistic Expressions and Open Mic Night:
Medical Humanities Annual Events at Scientific Assembly 2006
circle_arrow Medical Humanities Section Scientific Assembly Meeting Minutes
circle_arrow Floods
circle_arrow Section Announcements
circle_arrow Listening and Remembering

Newsletter Index

Medical Humanities Section


From the Section Chair –
The Cool, The Creative, and The Captivating

Michael D. Burg, MD, FACEP

Mostly, I try to fill this space with something a bit creative. Mostly, I fail; occasionally…who knows?

This time around, it’s pure genius. I promise. That’s because I’ll be writing about what others in the section are up to. In no particular order:

Elizabeth Mitchell, MD, is already hard at work on Open Mic #2 for the Seattle Scientific Assembly (October 8 – 11, 2007). She’s ably assisted and supported by ACEP staffers in many departments (grants, sponsorships, membership, etc). The first Open Mic (held in New Orleans) was a huge hit. To paraphrase one of the participants, "This is the coolest thing ACEP has ever done!" The mythical creature that is ACEP apparently agreed since they’re devoting lots of time and effort to OM#2.

Seth Collings Hawkins, MD, is busily organizing the Artistic Expressions gallery for Seattle. He’s in the early planning stages, but expect to hear from him in the next few months asking for your involvement (by the way, his e-mails are wildly amusing). We’ll need artistic contributions, ideas, musicians, staff, judging committee members, and more, as this project moves forward.

Catherine Marco, MD, would like to propose a medical humanities-based course for SA ’08. That may seem like that’s light years from now, but the course proposals pathway is fairly labyrinthine. She too is looking for volunteers to contribute ideas and move this proposal along. You may remember that Catherine was responsible for the success of the inaugural Artistic Expressions (up to, and including, funding). I’m sure, if she’s championing a medical humanities course, it’ll succeed as well.

Hans House, MD, continues to turn in a stellar performance as our section’s newsletter editor. (Why he’s yet to win an award is anyone’s guess.) Now that the newsletter is electronic, the types of entries that can be accepted have expanded. Please communicate with Hans about what "works" in the newsletter space and continue to inundate him with material.

And now a final idea to consider - "mini" Artistic Expressions at your state ACEP Scientific Assemblies. The California chapter of ACEP will be holding its SA May 31-June 2 and has agreed to provide space for artists, photographers, and authors to display their work. The local powers-that-be think it’ll be "cool." I think so too.




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From the Editor

Hans House, MD, FACEP

First of all, thank you everyone for making my job so easy. I am thrilled to report that we are now collecting material for the May 2007 newsletter. Yes, you read that correctly- May. The February issue is just about full!

This current issue is dedicated to the memories and merriment we all enjoyed in New Orleans in October at the annual Scientific Assembly (SA). The Artistic Impressions gallery was again wildly popular and the new Open Mic night was a rousing success. We have re-published the ACEP News article by Catherine Marco, MD, FACEP, and Seth Hawkins MD, FACEP, reporting on these wonderful section events. Thanks to the new medium of these electronic newsletters, not only will you be able to see color photos of the events, but you can also hear it: we have an audio track of Open Mic organizer Elizabeth Mitchell, MD, performing her original piece, "The Knife and Gun Club." Several Open Mic tracks are available on the  Medical Humanities Web site.

As per tradition, we have also published the minutes from our Section Meeting held at SA. In keeping with the New Orleans theme, we have also included two original essays reflecting on memories evoked by the city and the Katrina experience. Please enjoy the readings, as well as the sights and sounds of the new newsletter!



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ACEP Artistic Expressions and Open Mic Night:
Medical Humanities Annual Events at Scientific Assembly 2006

Catherine A. Marco, MD, FACEP
Seth C. Hawkins, MD, FACEP

This year’s Scientific Assembly featured a second annual event sponsored by the Section of Medical Humanities. ACEP Artistic Expressions, a gallery of art created by ACEP members, was located in the exhibit hall during ACEP’s Scientific Assembly 2006 in New Orleans, October 15-18, 2006.

More than 1000 guests visited ACEP Artistic Expressions, which proudly displayed 47 art pieces created by 33 artists. ACEP Artistic Expressions was organized by the ACEP Section of Medical Humanities. Financial sponsors included Michael Burg, MD, FACEP; Manon Kwon, MD; Marianne Gausche-Hill, MD, FACEP; The UCSF Fresno Department of Emergency Medicine; The Harbor UCLA Medical Center Emergency Department; and Steinway and Sons, who provided an in-kind sponsorship of a player piano.

The gallery provided a venue for artistic ACEP members to showcase their work, and provided a unique haven for attendees to view artistic creations of colleagues. A total of 47 items were displayed, including paintings, photography, quilting, and literature.

The gallery was staffed by volunteers from the Section of Medical Humanities. Visitors commented, "My favorite part!"; "Wonderful to see the true depth of artistry from people [in ACEP]"; and "Wonderful showcase of ACEP talent!"

Another section contribution to Scientific Assembly was Open Mic Night, which was held on October 16. This event highlighted the musical and performance talents of many ACEP members, including original songwriters, folk music, impromptu jams, an electric cover band, and even a magician. The sets were energetic and very high quality, and both performers and audience left with a greater appreciation for the depth and breadth of talent contained within ACEP. "This is the coolest thing ACEP has ever done," noted one performer during his acoustic set, and certainly this evening ranked among one of the most surprising and engaging for those lucky enough to attend. Elizabeth Mitchell, MD, who organized this year’s event, is planning another Open Mic Night for the 2007 Scientific Assembly.

"Artistic Expressions and Open Mic showcased the very best ACEP and its members have to offer one another, the specialty, medicine in general and the world," said Michael Burg, MD, FACEP, Chair of the ACEP Section of Medical Humanities.

This article was previously published in ACEP News. Used with permission.



Used with permission of Gretchen Ela, MD.





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Section of Medical Humanities Scientific Assembly Meeting Minutes

October 15, 2006
New Orleans, LA

Participating in all or part of the meeting were: Carolyn Annerud, MD, FACEP; Frederick C. Blum, MD, FACEP, ACEP Board liaison; Michael D. Burg, MD, FACEP, Chair; Arthur R. Derse, MD, JD, FACEP; Nancy Ferguson, MD; Seth C. Hawkins, MD, FACEP; Hans R. House, MD; David S. Howes, MD, FACEP; William Kopelman, MD; Elizabeth Mitchell, MD; John Moskop, PhD; Raquel M. Schears, MD, FACEP; Robert Suter, DO, MHA, FACEP; Jeannette M. Wolfe, MD, FACEP

Others participating: Tracy Napper, ACEP staff liaison.



  1. Call to Order
  2. New Business
    1. "Open Mic" discussion
    2. Select chair for art gallery for 2007
    3. Membership
    4. Web site development/Newsletter expansion
    5. Medical humanities conference/course(s)
    6. Medical Humanities curriculum development
    7. Recognition (House, Napper, Gausche-Hill, Mitchell)
  3. Adjourn


Major Points Discussed


  1. The meeting was called to order by Michael D. Burg, MD, FACEP, section chair.
  2. New Business
    1. "Open Mic" – Dr. Mitchell encouraged everyone to attend the Open Mic Night on Monday, October 16. She agreed to organize it for 2007, and noted that it will be important to locate a Seattle-based band or musician to serve as the linchpin for the activity and to help with sharing instruments. Additional ways to advertise the event as well as timing and location for 2007 were discussed. A section grant or other sponsorship should be pursued to help defray costs.
    2. Art Gallery for 2007 – Dr. Hawkins has agreed to organize the gallery for 2007. Fundraising must begin immediately to help support the event. Dr. Annerud said that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has a humanities grant we could pursue. We could also pursue a sponsor for purchasing the easels, which we could store and ship to the site each year. Dr. Suter said that as chair of EMF, he may pursue cosponsoring the gallery with the section, especially as artists have been donating their artwork to EMF. Dr. Ferguson suggested digitizing all of the art and selling the CDs. Dr. Wolfe suggested asking exhibitors to donate to the gallery. She also was concerned about how to better display literature pieces. Dr. Mitchell suggested putting all of the literature into 1 book that could be displayed in the gallery as a "coffee table" book.
    3. Membership – Dr. Burg said that it might be necessary to have a membership drive as our numbers hover close to 100. He reminded section members to sign up their residents, as residents are allowed 1 free section membership. He also communicated with the Section of Young Physicians and EMRA to remind them of this benefit.
    4. Web site development/Newsletter expansion – Dr. House said newsletters will now be published online. This allows more opportunity for color photography, mp3 files, etc. He will e-mail the section to ask for newsletter submissions. Dr. Burg suggested adding more links to our Web site, including photos of the art from the gallery. He will e-mail the section list to ask if anyone is interested in spearheading the Web site development.
    5. Medical humanities conference/course(s) – Dr. Burg suggested that a course proposal be put together for Scientific Assembly 2008. Dr. Blum explained the parameters for new courses to be approved. At least 200 people would need to be interested in such a course for it to be accepted by the meetings committee and we would need a great guest speaker who would do at least 2-3 presentations.
    6. Medical Humanities curriculum development- Ideas for putting together resources were discussed. Dr. Blum and Dr. House agreed to help organize visual art resources. Dr. Derse suggested having a writer’s panel for emergency physicians by emergency physicians. Dr. Blum suggested including this type of panel discussion in next year’s section meeting.
    7. Dr. Burg thanked Dr. House for his excellent work on the newsletters; Dr. Gausche-Hill for her work on the gallery; Dr. Mitchell for her work on the open mic night; and Ms. Napper for her help as section liaison.
  3. The meeting was adjourned.



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Jennifer Blair, MD
University of Chicago


When I was ten, the Saginaw River flooded after a few days’ hard rain, and our flat section of Michigan was inundated. My sister and I opened the door to find ourselves on an island. We were delighted. This was better than a big snowfall, or even the apocalyptic landscape of downed trees that followed every violent storm. I remember our golden retriever dog-paddling across the yard. Our family lost little, and the flood brought me no traumas. But when my father and I turned out to sandbag the river, the flood marked me indelibly.

I was in sixth grade. I’d never done anything noteworthy. No one expected me to; my job was to go to school, read Beverly Cleary books, entertain my sister with paper dolls, and take out the trash. Mastering perspective in my little drawings and finishing book reports mostly comprised my life’s challenges.

This, then, was entirely new. My father and I worked among people who had nothing in common but the floodwaters. Everyone grabbed sandbags and slung them to the next person. The prevailing mood, if not festive, was cheerful; there was a can-do feeling in the air. Though I was a child, I was accepted without comment as an equal to the work that needed to be done.

I’d never met these neighbors. I’d never been to this part of town. I’d never worked so hard on something that I got wet and dirty. More than that, I’d never experienced what it was to be a part of something larger than oneself, what it felt like to work with total strangers on a cause we all held dear. Our reasons for being there differed. I’d agreed to come with my father because emergency sandbagging sounded like a fun and thrillingly grown-up thing to do. Some people had come to save their own homes. Others just wanted to help. I didn’t know any of this; I saw only the levee we were building. And as a witness to the curious truth that people are sometimes at their best when the prevailing order is disrupted, I felt a pride – in myself, in all of us – so deep it was almost inexpressible.

In his wise book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, the war journalist Chris Hedges observes that people may actually crave war for the focus and significance that it brings to previously humdrum lives. Perhaps a more charitable way of stating it is that people long to prove themselves by being part of something momentous. This tendency has many faces. It can be exploited in war. It can lead to guns and mayhem among rootless gangsters. But disasters teach us that of such longings may also come from depthless good.

Immediately after Katrina, many of my colleagues itched to go to the Gulf Coast. E-mails flew. Hurried conversations took place. One young attending burst into the residents’ lounge, saw me sitting at a desk, and asked if I was able to go, as he was working on chartering a plane to Louisiana.

In the end, only one resident went, accompanied by the enthusiastic attending; she’d transferred to our residency after earning her permanent medical license and so was eligible to work in one of the relief hospitals. The rest of us, though envious, did our part by working her shifts here in Chicago. (In any case, Katrina has brought victims to us: last night a patient appeared in our waiting room with severe diarrhea, and the Illinois Department of Health has issued a plea for volunteers to staff clinics for refugees.)

Why were we so anxious to help out? Were our motives simply altruistic, an unmitigated desire to fix what was broken? Or did we long to be heroes? Maybe we craved the challenge of practicing medicine in an austere place where supplies were scarce and we’d be forced to be creative. Maybe we longed to see history in the making. Maybe we just wanted a break in routine.

Though it may seem cynical not to disavow all but the purest altruism, in my opinion, all these motives are to the good, since the end result is the same: restoration in the aftermath of destruction.

But, whatever their reasons for rushing to help at a disaster, perhaps some who arrive will be astonished, as I was in the Flood of ’86, at what they see there. They may witness the human capacity for good, and be changed irrevocably. Perhaps of all reasons to go, that is the finest.

The piece originally appeared in the Hartford Courant on September 25, 2005. Reproduced by permission of the author and the publisher.



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Section Announcements

The University of Virginia School of Medicine has announced a new online journal, "Hospital Drive: A Journal of Reflective Practice in Word and Image." The journal is now accepting submissions of poetry, short fiction, personal essay, photography and visual art from those involved in providing, studying, teaching, or researching patient care – (Thanks to Lance A. Brown, MD, MPH, FACEP, for letting us know about this one!)

One day after tornadoes and floods ripped through the Carolinas, on November 18 at 7:11PM, section member Seth Hawkins, MD, FACEP, welcomed a new member to his family: Noah Collings Hawkins. Seth says, "Luckily we had blue skies for his birthday itself...he's not quite ready for ark-building yet!"



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Listening and Remembering

Hans House, MD, FACEP

"A long, long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile."
- Don McLean, "American Pie"

Wander, or more likely stumble, down Bourbon Street and turn right at St Peter’s, and you will find the landmark Pat O’Brien’s with its infamous piano bar. I first found O’Brien’s entirely by accident back in 1998 on the fourth of July when my girlfriend and I were just looking for somewhere to escape the oppressive heat. We were in New Orleans to celebrate Independence Day, the destination goal of a driving trip during our summer break from Medical School. Somehow we had convinced ourselves that driving from LA to New Orleans would be a good idea. We left Southern California with visions of driving our mustang down Route 66, celebrating the open road, and living out two weeks of Kerouac-style fantasies. Instead, we limped into the Big Easy tired, sore, fighting, and pissed at each other, our miserable moods made only worse by the 100 degree heat and 100 percent humidity. No one in their right mind takes a summer vacation to Louisiana.

This trip was our first vacation together; it would also be our last. Our relationship had started so easily, probably because Lisa and I had so much in common: we grew up in the same hometown, we were both in medical school in Los Angeles, and we were both die-hard college football fans. Opposites attract, but familiarity breeds contempt. Apparently we were more familiar than opposite. To this day I can not say what exactly went wrong. Beyond the sharing of many of interests and having a common upbringing and education, there was nothing. Rather than an indescribable passion there was a consistently uncomfortable intimacy. By the time I found myself drenched in sweat from the miserable heat of New Orleans, I began to believe the trip was a mistake.

But shining amidst this frustration and turmoil, O’Brien’s was one unexpected and pleasant surprise. Once inside the classic wrought iron-adorned antique brick edifice, and out of the infernal heat, we were ushered to a small table in a cramped piano bar filled with hurricane-sipping patrons. The dueling pianos played anything patrons would write on a napkin and attach to a dollar bill. Any inhibitions I had about joining the crowd in a round of "Sweet Caroline," "On Old Rocky Top," and, of course, "American Pie," quickly vanished with the first downing of O’Brien’s signature drink. The night wore on. "Margaritaville." Empty glasses began to crowd our table. "I Will Survive." I began to forget the heat. "Piano Man." Her smooth thigh against my leg. "Friends in Low Places." The sensual curve of her breast against my chest. "House of the Rising Sun." The choking cigarette smoke less noticeable now. "American Pie" again. They certainly have their favorites.

At one point, a diminutive elderly black man stood up between the pianos. He carried a silver serving tray and had thimbles resting delicately on his fingers. Along with almost imperceptible swaying of his head and shoulders, his fingers drummed out the beat of the song on his silver tray, adding a unique tympani to the twin piano plinking. He was the immortal and incomparable Eddie Gabriel, at 87 years young, tapping out the beat as he had done six nights a week since 1945. Eddie joined the bar in 1937, just 4 years after it opened its doors. After 61 years at the Bourbon Street landmark, Eddie had himself become an iconic emblem of New Orleans, almost as famous as the beignets of Café du Monde.

For a few glorious hours, we forgot about the heat, about hating each other, and about all of the world outside. Back in the car the next morning, too early at any hour, our splitting headaches and nausea sharply ended the joy we had met only hours before. Our hangovers brought back the troubles between us with acrid bitterness. The relationship lasted as far as Dallas.

When I made it back to New Orleans in the spring of 2005, I headed straight for O’Brien’s, and found it precisely as I had remembered it. There were still twin dueling pianos. Still a crowded room full of drunken tourists belting out pop sing-along classics. Still a line out the door if you arrived even a minute after 6:30 pm. Still the pink, tall, cool, potent drink that made the bar famous. And, remarkably, still Eddie Gabriel and his silver tray. Eddie was now 95, an employee for 68 years and still working his magic. If you get a gold watch after 25 years of service, what is the equivalent for 68 years? Back when Eddie had put in his 25 years, Americans were glued to their TVs because of a dozen missiles in Cuba.

For another few glorious hours, I ordered round after round and sang and sang along with 100 of my closest friends that I just met. I thought back to my previous visit, and recalled the drinks, the songs, the pianos, the heat, Eddie, but not Lisa. Somehow, she had faded from my memory of the place, like a smudged face in the background of Manet’s Night at the Opera. The waiter kept bringing the hurricanes but, curiously, never removed the empties from the table. Apparently, the management derived a sick pleasure from watching the patrons keep an active tally of their alcoholic conquests. When the table couldn’t fit any more glasses, we found room under the table...for our bodies.

Only 5 months after that return trip, another type of hurricane wrecked havoc on my beloved New Orleans. As Katrina raged, levees burst, and poor huddled masses at the convention center chanted for help, I recalled my visits to New Orleans. I thought of my emergency medicine colleagues stranded at Charity Hospital. I wondered about the fate of the Café du Monde and its beignets. I imagined floodwaters pouring into the basements of the mansions in the Garden District. But most of all, I thought of Pat O'Brien's. I am left to imagine what the waiters, doorman, and musicians did as the storm approached. Did they leave? Did they trust in the ancient founders of the city that the French quarter would be spared yet again? I would like to imagine that a few die-hards with absolutely nothing to lose gathered around the piano, toasted the floodwaters approaching from down the street, and just kept singing.

I now know that Eddie Gabriel was finally silenced. I "googled" Pat O’Brien’s recently to check in on this favorite place, and, displayed very simply on their Web site, was the grinning Eddie and his tray with the dates 1910 – 2005. Eddie and his family lived in the lower 9th ward. He performed at the piano bar on Sunday night, just like any other night, then went home despite urges to evacuate by his co-workers. Katrina raged ashore the next morning and Eddie remained in his house as the floodwaters rose. I don’t know what exactly happened in his final moments, but I don’t care. I’ll just pretend that the diminutive, wise, cool, black man in the black suit and black sunglasses with the silver tray went peacefully, strumming his tray along to the beat made by Katrina’s rain.


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This publication is designed to promote communication among emergency physicians of a basic informational nature only. While ACEP provides the support necessary for these newsletters to be produced, the content is provided by volunteers and is in no way an official ACEP communication. ACEP makes no representations as to the content of this newsletter and does not necessarily endorse the specific content or positions contained therein. ACEP does not purport to provide medical, legal, business, or any other professional guidance in this publication. If expert assistance is needed, the services of a competent professional should be sought. ACEP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to the content, positions, or actions taken or not taken based on any or all the contents of this newsletter.

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