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Recent Newspaper & Online Columns by Kate Scannell MD

Grappling with 'miracles' of modern medicine

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First Published in Print: 08/18/2012

Every doctor, it seems, has at least one story about a patient who, against all known odds, defied expectations and escaped -- "miraculously" -- from death's certain grasp.

One of mine involves a young man dying with multiple complications of AIDS during the early '80s. For days, his motionless body had been unresponsive to physical and verbal stimuli. He had ceased breathing and was ventilator-dependent. His blood pressure required chemical support to encourage blood flow. And one day, his heart just stopped beating. Honoring his previously expressed wishes, we disconnected the ventilator, the intravenous drips and the heart monitor, which had flat-lined. He didn't flinch when his breathing tube was extracted. After performing the ritual examination to determine death, I joined family members who comforted one another at his bedside, telling stories involving the patient, which made them laugh and cry.

About 10 minutes later, I informed the family that I needed to leave but would return within the hour. Before departing, I took the patient's cold hand in mine, while also checking for a pulse (none), and I placed my other hand over his heart (no beating and no response to the physical stimuli I covertly applied).

Approximately 30 minutes later, I returned to the patient's bedside. His cadaveric body had turned yet a deeper shade of gray, and his family was preparing to leave. We all said our final goodbyes and headed for the exit. And that's when, with our backs all turned, we heard him ask: "Where's everyone going?" Well, we were going into shock. And he proceeded to live several more months.

In general, we doctors don't like to speak publicly about such "cases." In fact, as someone who has written extensively about doctoring, I have not until now written about this patient. I didn't even include his story in the book I published -- "Death of the Good Doctor" -- that chronicles my experiences caring for AIDS patients within that same hospital during the early epidemic. Read More 

And Olympic gold for a health care system goes to, well, not us

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First Published in Print: 08/04/2012

I always learn a lot while watching the Olympics. During the parade of nations, I'm routinely educated about the existence of at least two countries that have, until then, escaped my awareness. I often discover that an otherwise ordinary capacity of the human body has been associated with some type of ball to create a new Olympic sport. And with each Olympics, I am freshly reminded that I am months or years behind in my personal fitness program.

But late last month, I was thoroughly stunned to learn from the 2012 Opening Ceremonies in London that real doctors can actually dance! The spectacle of British physicians and nurses kicking up their heels swept me off my feet. And it provided reassuring proof that medical office parties need not always be flat-footed events.

Watching an octogenarian Queen parachute into the stadium was unremarkable compared to witnessing happy doctors performing the Lindy Hop, keeping time and rhythm, having fun, receiving cheers from an appreciative public. In contrast, on this side of the pond, doctors are more likely to be doing the hobble, dancing as fast as they can, trying to work a somewhat cheerless crowd.

In the tradition of Olympics host countries, the Brits set out in the Opening Ceremony to showcase their unique history and culture. Homage was paid to the industrial revolution, the Beatles, the World Wide Web, multiculturalism, Mary Poppins, and, yes, the "NHS" -- the country's health care system.

The National Health Service is Britain's taxpayer funded, government-run health care system (akin to our country's Medicare program) Read More