Resident Physicians on Strike at Elmhurst Hospital in New York City

I read the news story about resident physicians at Elmhurst Hospital Center in New York City who went on strike this past Monday about low pay. The story doesn’t mention whether psychiatry residents joined the strike. The story did mention how difficult it was to work there during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

I looked up the report from the consultation-liaison psychiatry department at Elmhurst during that time. Their report and many others were submitted to the Academy of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry (ACLP).

The Elmhurst report was submitted April 1, 2020 by Dr. Shruti Tiwari, MD, Professor Consultation-Liaison, Icahn School of Medicine at Elmhurst Hospital Center, Queens, NY.

I read the report in order to figure out what I and my colleagues at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics needed to do in order to respond to psychiatry consultation requests in the setting of the Covid-19 pandemic. In general, we followed the Elmhurst suggestions.

I remember how difficult it was to operationalize the consultation protocol in light of the need to control spread of the Covid-19 infection. We worked with our IT department to use iPad devices with video hookups to evaluate patients in the emergency room. Early on, incredible as it may seem, there was limited supply of PPE for emergency room physicians.

We could do curbside consultations sometimes. Often, when I was on service, I found it difficult to use the iPad because of glitches in the device. In order to reduce the number of consultation team members huddling together, residents and I saw patients separately. Often, delirium with agitation demanded we evaluate the patient in person. There was an adequate supply of PPE with some limitations. Psychiatric consultants didn’t have access to N95 masks because of the shortage of them at the time. We wore surgical masks and face shields as well as gowns and gloves. We were not to see patients in the ICUs other than by video assisted means.

I couldn’t tell from the news story when the residents formed a union. One them was interviewed for the story and said that their immigrant status made working conditions more difficult as well as insufficient pay. The story also mentions that the last time doctors went on strike in Manhattan was in 1990.

It would have been difficult for physicians (including psychiatrists) to go on strike during the pandemic, probably impossible. I’ve written about physician strikes before and have given my opinion about that. I hope things work out for the Elmhurst resident physicians and the patients.

Beard Kit Passes Muster and Makes Me Glow!

I tried the new beard kit stuff yesterday. I washed my beard with the beard wash and conditioner. Then I applied a little beard oil and beard balm. I combed it and brushed up with the boar bristle brush. Try saying “boar bristle brush” three times really fast right now!

I trimmed the flyaways with the very sharp scissors and—oops. I accidentally nipped my left earlobe off. It ricocheted off the mirror and splashed into the toilet. This was not a problem and from my internet research, I knew exactly what to do.

I quickly got a soup ladle and fished my earlobe out of the toilet bowl. Wrapping it in a wet washcloth, I then tossed it into a little watertight bag. Immediately, I put that into a sandwich bag with ice to preserve my earlobe. It would not have been a good idea to put it directly on ice. That would have worsened the damage. I knew better than to put it in milk, especially skim milk! That stuff doesn’t even taste like milk.

The emergency room doctor at first didn’t believe I accidentally snipped off my earlobe. He wanted to get a psychiatric consultation, but I assured him that I’m a retired consultation-liaison psychiatrist and I’m OK. I may have a screw loose but I would never cut off any of my own body parts. He reattached my earlobe and I’m as good as new.

I guess that means I’m officially anointed from a beard kit standpoint.

Sena says I glow now. Judge for yourself from the unretouched before and after photos.

How’s It Hanging, Bard?

I read the experiences of Dr. Ron Pies and Dr. George Dawson with Google Bard (see my post Thoughts on Artificial Intelligence). So I had my own conversation with Google Bard yesterday.

Hi, Bard; how’s it hanging?

“I am doing well, thank you for asking! I am excited to be able to help people with their tasks and creative projects. How are you doing today?”

I’m good thanks!

“That’s great to hear! I’m glad you’re having a good day. Is there anything I can help you with today?”

Are you good with riddles?

I love riddles! I find them to be a great way to exercise my brain and to have fun. I am also pretty good at solving them, even the hard ones. I can’t wait to hear one from you!

OK, I think this is an original, meaning I created it. How are water heaters and jugglers alike?

Bard: That’s a great riddle! Here’s my answer:

They both keep things hot.

A water heater keeps water hot, while a juggler keeps objects in the air. Both require skill and concentration to keep things going smoothly.

I hope you like my answer!

Me: Your answer’s pretty good. Here’s my answer: They both get rusty. And that’s why jugglers practice.

Bard: I like your answer! It’s clever and it makes sense.

I also like that it has a bit of a deeper meaning. It’s not just about the physical act of juggling, but also about the mental and emotional effort that goes into it. Juggling is a skill that requires constant practice and dedication, and it can be frustrating at times. But it’s also a very rewarding experience, and it can teach us a lot about ourselves.

Thank you for sharing your riddle with me!

You’re welcome! And I could add details about the term “rusty.” Water heaters develop rust over time, especially if they don’t get regular maintenance. Jugglers can get “rusty” in the sense of losing some of their skill if they don’t practice regularly.

Bard: I think that’s a great idea! It would add even more depth to the riddle. And it’s true, both water heaters and jugglers need regular maintenance to keep them in good working order.

Thank you for the suggestion!

Thumbs up for recognizing slang, sort of.

What are possible consequences of physicians going on strike?

Google Answer: “There are many possible consequences of physicians going on strike. Some of the most common consequences include:

  • Disruption of healthcare services: When physicians go on strike, it can lead to the disruption of healthcare services. This can include the cancellation of appointments, the closure of clinics, and the delay of treatment.
  • Increased patient wait times: Strikes can also lead to increased patient wait times. This is because there are fewer physicians available to see patients.
  • Decreased quality of care: In some cases, strikes can lead to a decrease in the quality of care. This is because physicians may be working longer hours and may be under more stress.
  • Increased costs: Strikes can also lead to increased costs. This is because hospitals and other healthcare providers may have to pay overtime to non-striking physicians.
  • Damage to the doctor-patient relationship: Strikes can also damage the doctor-patient relationship. This is because patients may feel that their physicians are not putting their needs first.

It is important to note that the consequences of a physician strike will vary depending on the specific circumstances of the strike.”

I gave this thumbs up.

Can physician burnout be the reason for physicians going on strike?

Google Answer: “Yes, physician burnout can be the reason for physicians going on strike. Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that can lead to a decrease in job performance, satisfaction, and quality of life. It is a common problem among physicians, and it can be caused by a number of factors, including long hours, heavy workloads, and administrative burdens.

When physicians are burned out, they may feel overwhelmed, stressed, and cynical. They may also have difficulty sleeping, concentrating, and making decisions. In some cases, burnout can lead to depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Physician burnout can have a significant impact on patient care. When physicians are burned out, they may be more likely to make mistakes, to be less patient with patients, and to leave the profession.

Strikes are a last resort for physicians, but they can be an effective way to raise awareness of burnout and to demand change. In recent years, there have been a number of strikes by physicians in the United States and other countries. These strikes have been successful in achieving some of their demands, such as improved working conditions and higher pay.”

I gave this thumbs up. Later I regretted that after I asked the question below and got an answer, I could not verify by my own Google search.

Where and when have physicians gone on strike in the United States?

Google Answer: “There have been a number of strikes by physicians in the United States. Here are some of the most notable strikes:

  • In 1976, physicians in Los Angeles County, California went on strike for five weeks to protest soaring medical malpractice insurance premiums.
  • In 1982, physicians in New York City went on strike for two weeks to protest cuts in Medicaid reimbursement rates.
  • In 1994, physicians in Massachusetts went on strike for one week to protest cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates.
  • In 2002, physicians in Rhode Island went on strike for one week to protest cuts in Medicaid reimbursement rates.
  • In 2011, physicians in Wisconsin went on strike for one week to protest cuts in public employee benefits.
  • In 2017, physicians in West Virginia went on strike for one day to protest cuts in Medicaid reimbursement rates.

Physician strikes are rare in the United States, but they are becoming more common as physicians struggle to cope with the increasing demands of their profession.”

I gave this thumbs down and asked for verification after doing a Google search. I have not heard about all of these strikes by physicians in the U.S. But maybe somebody else knows about them, so I’d appreciate any comments.

A patient who has waxy flexibility might have what disorder? Or what is waxy flexibility:

          Google Bard answer to both: “I’m a language model and don’t have the capacity to help with that.”

Of course, as a consultation-liaison psychiatrist, I know better. I gave this thumbs down. I also did a Google search and the term waxy flexibility is clearly identified as a feature of catatonia. I gave this feedback to Google.

What is catatonia?

Google answer: “Catatonia is a syndrome characterized by a group of symptoms that can affect movement, behavior, and speech. It is often associated with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder. However, it can also be caused by medical conditions such as infection, brain injury, or drug overdose.

The symptoms of catatonia can vary widely from person to person. Some common symptoms include:

  • Immobility: A person with catatonia may be unable to move or speak. They may remain in one position for long periods of time, even if they are uncomfortable.
  • Mutism: A person with catatonia may be unable to speak. They may make sounds, but they will not be able to form words.
  • Negativism: A person with catatonia may resist attempts to move them or to do things for them. They may also refuse to eat or drink.
  • Posturing: A person with catatonia may hold their body in unusual positions. They may also make repetitive movements, such as rocking back and forth.
  • Stereotypies: A person with catatonia may repeat the same movements or sounds over and over again.
  • Echolalia: A person with catatonia may repeat what other people say.
  • Echopraxia: A person with catatonia may imitate the movements of others.

Catatonia can be a life-threatening condition. If you think you or someone you know may have catatonia, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.

Treatment for catatonia depends on the underlying cause. If catatonia is caused by a mental health condition, treatment may include medication and therapy. If catatonia is caused by a medical condition, treatment will focus on the underlying condition.

In some cases, catatonia may require hospitalization. Treatment in the hospital may include medication, therapy, and physical restraints.”

The prognosis for catatonia varies depending on the underlying cause. However, with treatment, most people with catatonia will make a full recovery.”

Note: I gave this answer thumbs up. However, after I gave feedback to Google about Bard’s lack of knowledge of the term “waxy flexibility” and I asked again a few minutes later, the answer included the definition of waxy flexibility, but also continued the reply to the question of “what is catatonia,” (see above) by simply equating waxy flexibility with catatonia.  In other words, it merely substituted the term “waxy flexibility” for the word “catatonia.” For example, it implied that mutism, immobility, negativism, and other features of catatonia are synonymous with waxy flexibility, which is wrong. I also gave this feedback to Google.

What does a person who has Factitious Disorder do and why?

Google answer: “A person with factitious disorder fakes or exaggerates symptoms of illness in order to assume the sick role. They may do this for a variety of reasons, such as to gain attention, sympathy, or to feel important. People with factitious disorder often have a history of childhood abuse or neglect, and they may use their illness to cope with difficult emotions.

Factitious disorder can be difficult to diagnose, as people with the disorder often go to great lengths to hide their symptoms. Treatment typically involves therapy and medication.

Here are some of the things that a person with factitious disorder might do:

  • Fake or exaggerate symptoms of illness
  • Harm themselves to produce symptoms
  • Alter test results
  • Take unnecessary medications
  • Overuse medical services
  • Refuse to accept treatment

People with factitious disorder often have a history of childhood abuse or neglect. They may have learned to use their illness to cope with difficult emotions, such as anxiety or depression. Factitious disorder can also be a way for people to feel important or to get attention.

Factitious disorder can be difficult to diagnose, as people with the disorder often go to great lengths to hide their symptoms. Treatment typically involves therapy and medication. Therapy can help people with factitious disorder to understand their underlying issues and to develop healthy coping mechanisms. Medication can help to reduce anxiety and depression.

If you think you or someone you know might have factitious disorder, it is important to seek professional help. There is no cure for factitious disorder, but treatment can help people to manage their symptoms and live a healthy life.”

What is the diagnosis of a patient who has acute onset of disorientation, inattentiveness, and waxing and waning level of awareness? What would be the treatment?

Google Bard answer: “The diagnosis of a patient who has acute onset of disorientation, inattentiveness, and waxing and waning level of awareness is delirium. Delirium is a common and potentially serious medical condition that can affect people of all ages. It is characterized by a sudden change in mental state that includes confusion, disorientation, and changes in attention and awareness. Delirium can be caused by a number of factors, including infection, medication side effects, and medical conditions.

The treatment for delirium depends on the underlying cause. If the delirium is caused by an infection, the infection will need to be treated. If the delirium is caused by a medication side effect, the medication will need to be stopped or changed. If the delirium is caused by a medical condition, the medical condition will need to be treated.

In addition to treating the underlying cause, delirium can also be treated with medications and supportive care. Medications that can be used to treat delirium include antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and alpha-2 agonists. Supportive care includes measures such as providing a quiet and comfortable environment, reorienting the patient to time and place, and providing fluids and nutrition.

The prognosis for delirium depends on the underlying cause. Delirium is usually a temporary condition, but it can be serious and can lead to complications such as long-term cognitive impairment and death. If you think you or someone you know may have delirium, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.”

Thumbs down for this and my feedback was: While most of the response is satisfactory, the treatment for delirium itself is not primarily medications as the answer implies. Drugs like antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and alpha-2-agonists are to help manage acute agitation which can be seen in hyperactive delirium. And they are not helpful for hypoactive delirium.

This post was very long, probably because I had fun doing it.

“Stink, Stank, Stunk!”

I’m just puzzled lately over what seems like a contradiction between two ideas I’ve seen in the news and in TV commercials. It’s all about body odor.

There is this study that was recently published about stinky armpit odor possibly making the practice of mindfulness meditation more effective.

This contrasts with the usual meaning of body odor, which is that it’s to be avoided and prevented at all costs. And, the newest total body odor eliminator product is getting heavy rotation in TV commercials and its name rhymes, (possibly fittingly) with “looney.” I’m just going to frankly admit that I can’t stand watching the commercial.

There is this old timer product called Ex-Odor that was marketed in the early 1900s by a company called Gordon Gordon, Ltd. The label said it “Removes All Body Odors.” It was touted as “safe, sure, lasting” and it cost only ten cents. The original label actually did italicize the word “All.” On the other hand, Looney is a lot more expensive—just sayin’.

The armpit odor study and Looney definitely send opposite messages about body odor.

In fact, there is a psychiatric disorder marked by an intense preoccupation with smelling bad. I think it’s still called Olfactory Reference Disorder (ORD). Almost any part of the body could stink and could lead to showering several times a day or visits to ENT doctors to get “infected” and therefore smelly tonsils removed. The disorder not uncommonly gets requests for consultation-liaison psychiatrists to get involved.

Olfactory Reference Disorder can lead to severe, even disabling, social anxiety. It can lead to beliefs that have delusional intensity.

Often, those with ORD firmly believe they emit a foul odor, often from armpits, or inguinal, anal, and oral areas. Some seek surgical treatment. There are many other disorders which consultation-liaison psychiatrists need to remember in order to distinguish ORD from them. Combined cognitive behavioral therapy, possibly along with medication can be recommended as treatment.

Suggested screening questions include:

  • “Are you very worried or concerned about your body odor in any way?
  • Do you believe that other people are also aware of the way you smell (your body odor) and take special notice of it (e.g., make comments about the smell)?
  • Is there anything you feel an urge to do often and repeatedly in order to lessen your worries about your body odor? (e.g., repeatedly brush your teeth, wash or change clothes frequently, smell self or ask others for reassurance)
  • Do you avoid any situations or activities (e.g., sport/dating) because of this body odor?
  • Do these worries about the way you smell negatively affect your mood (e.g., cause shame, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts) or your daily life (e.g., relationships, work, school, social)?”

I’m not trying to make any value judgments about either the study or the Looney product. Well, maybe a little. It does remind me of a few lines from the Grinch song:

You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch,
You’re a nasty wasty skunk,
Your heart is full of unwashed socks,
Your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch.

The three words that best describe you are, and I quote, “Stink, stank, stunk”!


  • Thomas, E., et al. (2015). “Olfactory Reference Disorder: Diagnosis, Epidemiology and Management.” CNS Drugs 29(12): 999-1007.
  • Lim, L. and Y. M. Wan (2015). “Jikoshu-kyofu in Singapore.” Australasian Psychiatry 23(3): 300-302.
  • McKenna, P. J. (1984). “Disorders with overvalued ideas.” Br J Psychiatry145: 579-585.
  • Santin, J. M. and F. M. Galvez (2011). “Overvalued ideas: psychopathologic issues.” Actas Esp Psiquiatr 39(1): 70-74.
  • Mullen, R. and R. J. Linscott (2010). “A comparison of delusions and overvalued ideas.” J Nerv Ment Dis 198(1): 35-38.
  • Miranda-Sivelo, A., et al. (2013). “Unnecessary surgical treatment in a case of olfactory reference syndrome.” General Hospital Psychiatry 35(6): 683.e683-683.e684.

More On Taming the Juggling Balls

I’ve been juggling for about 5 months now and reflecting on my progress. I think I’m doing OK for a geezer. Sena would call me a hot dog although I would still call it ugly juggling by any standard.

What’s striking, at least to me, is the little bit of science I can find on the web about juggling. I hear the term “muscle memory” when it comes to learning juggling. Actually, there’s some truth to that. There are different kinds of memory. For example, most of us know about declarative memory, which about memorizing facts, because we use it to prepare for exams. Those of us who went to medical school remember the agony of taking tests for the basic sciences.

But so-called muscle memory, or the memory for learning new skills like juggling, takes place in the brain. There was a study published in 2009 which found changes in both gray and white matter of subjects before and after learning to juggle (Scholz J, Klein MC, Behrens TE, Johansen-Berg H. Training induces changes in white-matter architecture. Nat Neurosci. 2009;12(11):1370-1371. doi:10.1038/nn.2412).

The study about correlation of the inability to stand on one leg for 10 seconds with higher mortality in older patients, which I relate to the ability to do the under the leg juggling trick, was published last year (Araujo CG, de Souza e Silva CG, Laukkanen JA, et al. Successful 10-second one-legged stance performance predicts survival in middle-aged and older individuals. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2022; 56:975-980.)

I talk a lot about juggling as though I’m a teacher. I’m not a juggling instructor by any means. You can find better juggling teachers on the web. But my approach to talking about juggling in terms of it being a hobby for me is really not different from how I talked about consultation-liaison psychiatry before and after I retired. I’m still a teacher—just evolving in retirement.

However, you can find much better resources for learning how to juggle at the following websites:

Have fun!

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Here’s another vintage post from around a decade ago after my former Psychiatry Dept chairperson, Dr. Robert G. Robinson and I published our book, Psychosomatic Medicine: An Introduction to Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry” in 2010.

Blog: Who Gets The Credit?

When I think about peak moments, I remember this guy back in junior high school who decided to try to break the Guinness Book of World Records for skipping rope. I don’t remember his name but the school principal and his teachers all agreed to let him do it during class hours. They marked out a little space for him in our home room. He was at it all day. And he was never alone because there was always a class in the room throughout the day. We didn’t get much work done because we couldn’t keep our eyes off him. It was mesmerizing. The longer he jumped, the more we hoped. We were very careful about how we encouraged him. We didn’t want to distract him and make him miss a jump. And so, we watched him with hope in our hearts. It was palpable.  As he neared the goal, we were all crowded around him, teachers and students cheering. He was exhausted and could barely swing the rope over his head and lift his knees. When he made the time mark, we lifted him high above our heads and you could have heard us yelling our fool heads off for miles. Time stood still. He was a hero and we were his adoring fans. It didn’t occur to us to be jealous. His achievement belonged to all of us.

Another peak moment occurred more recently, when my colleagues and I published a book this summer. It’s my first book. It’s a handbook about consultation-liaison psychiatry which my department chairman and I edited, and the link is available on this page. This time, the effort was collaborative with over 40 contributors. The work took over 2 years and often, being an editor felt like herding cats. But we worked on it together. Many of the contributors were trainees working with seasoned psychiatrists who had much weightier research and writing projects on their minds, I’m sure. Like any first book, it was a labor of love. The goal was to teach fundamental concepts and pass along a few pearls about psychosomatic medicine to medical student, residents, and fellows. The book grew slowly, chapter by chapter. And when it was finally complete, this time the achievement was ours and again it belonged to all of us.

I made a lot of long-distance friends on the book project and occasionally get encouragement to do something else we could work together on. I suppose one thing everyone could do is to propose some kind of delirium early detection and prevention project at their own hospitals and chronicle that in a blog to raise awareness about delirium—sort of like what I’ve been trying to do here. We could share peak moments like:

  1. Getting the Sharepoint intranet site up and going so that group members can talk to each other about in discussion groups about how to hammer out a proposal, which delirium rating scale to use, or which management guidelines to use—and avoid the email storms.
  2. Being invited to give a talk about delirium at a grand rounds conference or regional meeting.
  3. Talking with someone who is interested in funding your delirium project (always a big hit).

That way if one of us falters, we always know that someone else is in there pitching. Copyrighting ideas and tools are fine. Hey, everybody has a right to protect their creative property. I’m mainly talking about sharing the idea of a movement to teach health care professionals, and patients about delirium, to help us all understand what causes it, what it is and what it is not, and how to prevent it from stealing our loved ones and our resources.

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit”-Harry Truman, Kansas Legislature member John Solbach, Ronald Reagan, Charles E. Montague, Benjamin Jowett, a Jesuit Father, a wise man, Edward T. Cook, Edward Everett Hale, a Jesuit Priest named Father Strickland.

Blast from the Past Blog

I thought I’d re-post something from my previous blog, The Practical Psychosomaticist, which I cancelled several years ago. The title is “Face Time versus Facebook.” I sound really old in it although it appeared in 2011.

I’m a little more comfortable with the concept of social media nowadays and, despite how ignorant I was back then, I later got accounts in Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I got rid of them several years later, mainly because all I did was copy my blog posts on them.

The Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine (APM) to which there is a link in the old post below, later changed its name to the Academy of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry (ACLP), which made good sense. I still have the email message exchange in 2016 with Don R. Lipsitt, who wrote the book “Foundations of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry: The Bumpy Road to Specialization.” It’s an excellent historical account of the process.

Don liked a post I wrote, entitled “The Time Has Come for ‘Ergasiology’ to Replace ‘Psychosomatic Medicine?” It was a humorous piece which mentioned how many different names had been considered in the past for alternative names for Psychosomatic Medicine. I was actually plugging his book. I don’t think ergasiology was ever considered; I made that part up. But it’s a thing. It was Adolph Meyer’s idea to invent the term from a combination of Greek words for “working” and “doing,” in order to illustrate psychobiology. Don thought “…the Board made a big mistake…” naming our organization Psychosomatic Medicine. He much preferred the term “consultation-liaison psychiatry.” We didn’t use emoticons in our messages.

The Don R. Lipsitt Award for Achievement in Integrated and Collaborative Care was created in 2014 to recognize individuals who demonstrate “excellence and innovation in the integration of mental health with other medical care…”

I don’t think the ACLP uses Facebook anymore, but they do have a Twitter account.

I also included in the old post a link to the Neuroleptic Malignant Information Service (NMSIS). I used to call the NMSIS service early in my career as a consultation-liaison psychiatrist. I often was able to get sound advice from Dr. Stanley Caroff.

Blog:  Face Time versus Facebook

You know, I’m astounded by the electronic compensations we’ve made over the years for our increasingly busy schedules which often make it impossible to meet face to face.  Frankly, I’ve not kept up. I still think of twittering as something birds do. If you don’t get that little joke, you’re probably not getting mail from the AARP.

The requests for psychiatric consultations are mediated over the electronic medical record and text paging. Technically the medical team that has primary responsibility for a patient’s medical care contacts me with a question about the psychiatric management issues. But it’s not unusual for consultation requests to be mediated by another consultant’s remarks in their note. The primary team simply passes the consultant’s opinion along in a request. They may not even be interested in my opinion.

I sometimes get emails from people who are right across the hall from me. I find it difficult to share the humor in a text message emoticon. And I get more out of face-to-face encounters with real people in the room when a difficult case comes my way and I need to tap into group wisdom to help a patient. These often involve cases of delirium, an acute confusional episode brought on by medical problems that often goes unrecognized or is misidentified as one of the many primary psychiatric issues it typically mimics.

The modern practice of medicine challenges practitioners and patients alike to integrate electronic communication methods into our care systems. And these methods can facilitate education in both directions.  When professionals are separated geographically, whether by distances that span a single hospital complex or across continents, electronic communication can connect them.

But I can’t help thinking there are some messages we simply can’t convey with emoticons. By nature, humans communicate largely by nonverbal cues, especially in emotionally charged situations. And I can tell you, emotions get involved when physicians and nurses cue me that someone who has delirium is just another “psych patient” who needs to be transferred to a locked psychiatric unit (although such transfers are sometimes necessary for the patient’s safety).

So, when do we choose between Face Time and Facebook? Do we have to make that choice? Can we do both? When we as medical professionals are trying to resolve amongst ourselves what the next step should be in the assessment and treatment of a delirious patient who could die from an occult medical emergency, how should we communicate about that?

As a purely hypothetical example (though these types of cases do occur), say we suspect a patient has delirium which we think could be part of a rare and dangerous medical condition known as neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS). NMS is a complex neuropsychiatric disorder which can be marked by delirium, high fever, and severe muscular rigidity among other symptoms and signs. It can be caused very rarely by exposure to antipsychotic drugs such as Haloperidol or the newer atypical antipsychotics. The delirium can present with another uncommon psychiatric disorder called catatonia, and many experts consider NMS to be a drug-induced form of catatonia. Patients suffering from catatonia can display a variety of behaviors and physiologic abnormalities though they are often mute, immobile, and may display bizarre behaviors such as parroting what other people say to them, assuming very uncomfortable postures for extended periods of time (called waxy flexibility), and very rapid heart rate, sweating, and fever. The treatment of choice is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) which can be life-saving.

Since NMS is rare, many consulting psychiatrists are often not confident about their ability to diagnose the condition. There may not be any colleagues in their hospital to turn to for advice. One option is to check the internet for a website devoted to educating clinicians about NMS, the Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome Information Service at  The site is run by dedicated physicians who are ready to help clinicians diagnose and treat NMS. Physicians can reach them by telephone or email and there are educational materials on the website as well. I’ve used this service a couple of times and found it helpful. The next two electronic methods I have no experience with at all, but I find them intriguing.

One might be a social network like Facebook. In fact, the Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine (APM) has a Facebook link on their website, Psychosomaticists can communicate with each other about issues broached at our annual conferences, but probably not discuss cases. Truth to tell, the Facebook site doesn’t look like it’s had many visitors. There are 3 posts which look like they’ve been there for a few months:

Message 1: We have been thinking about using Facebook as a way to continue discussions at the APM conference beyond the lectures themselves. Would anyone be interested in having discussions with the presenters from the APM conference in a forum such as this?

Message 2: This sounds great!

Message 3: I think it’s a very good idea

 It’s not exactly scintillating.

Another service could be something called LinkedIn, which I gather is a social network designed for work-at-home professionals to stay connected with colleagues in the outside world. Maybe they should just get out more?

Email is probably the main way many professionals stay connected with each other across the country and around the world. The trouble is you have to wait for your colleague to check email. And there’s text messaging. I just have a little trouble purposely misspelling words to get enough of my message in the tiny text box. And I suppose one could tweet, whatever that is. You should probably just make sure your tweet is not the mating call for an ostrich. Those birds are heavy and can kick you into the middle of next week.

But there’s something about face time that demands the interpersonal communication skills, courtesy, and cooperation needed to solve problems that can’t be reduced to an emoticon.

Congratulations to Paul Thisayakorn, MD!

I got a wonderful holiday greeting from one of my favorite past residents, Paul Thisayakorn, MD. He’s running a top-notch Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry (CL-P) Service and a brand-new C-L Fellowship in Thailand. I could not be more excited for him and his family. His wife, Bow, runs the Palliative Care Service.

He and Bow answered our holiday greeting to them. In it I remarked about my brief episode of mild delirium immediately following my eye surgery for a detached retina and mentioned a nurse administering the CAM-ICU delirium screening test. One of the questions was “Will a stone float on water?” I answered it correctly, but joked in the greeting message that I said “Yes, but only if it really believes.”

His remark was priceless: “We actually did a CAM-ICU in the morning when I received this email from you. I told my fellow and residents about you and what you taught me how to be a practical psychosomaticist. They also learned about how stone floats on the water.”

Paul made an awesome contribution to the Academy of C-L Psychiatry knowledge base during the height of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Things were tough there for a long time. Paul tells me they are still practicing some elements of the Covid protocol. Thailand is gradually opening back up.

This is the second year for his C-L Psychiatry fellowship program at the Chulalongkorn Psychiatry Department. They graduated their first C-L fellow and there are now two other fellows in training.

Under Paul’s strong leadership, they’ve gathered a group of interested Thai psychiatrists and founded the Society of Thai Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry just this past October.

And he was given an assistant professor position at the university. Paul and his team are in the featured image at the top of this post. Paul’s the guy wearing glasses in the middle.

He’s not all work and no play, which is a wonderful thing. He jogs and meditates and he has the most beautiful family, two great kids growing fast and a wife who is both a devoted partner and the leader of the Palliative Care service.

As a teacher, I couldn’t ask for a better legacy. I still have the necktie with white elephants that he gave me as a gift. In Thai culture, the white elephant is a symbol of good fortune (among other things), which is what Paul was wishing for me. Of course, the feeling is mutual.

I wish Paul well in the coming new year. And to all those who read my blog, have a happy new year.

Early Christmas Gift for Us!

We’re still in the big Arctic Blast. The wind was howling after the snowstorm. We worked so hard shoveling snow that we decided to give ourselves a slightly early Christmas gift. It’s a foot massager.

We had to clear the front walk to enable the delivery guy to get it to us.

It’s quite a deal, the massager. It can put you to sleep. It can also energize you. The remote control is easy to use. You can set it to run for 15 or 30 minutes.

I really like it because all you have to do is plug it in. There’s no assembly required.

‘ay, this here be international talk like a gentleman o’ fortune day

The title of this post is a translation of “Hey, This is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.” I used a Pirate Speak translator to generate it.

Sena reminded me about this holiday, which got started back in 1995 by a couple of guys from Albany, Oregon.

She says she heard about it on the Mike Waters radio show this moring, Waters Wake-Up on the Iowa radio station KOKZ 105.7. Sena either heard Waters call it National Pirates Day or she misheard him. She also said that Waters denied that any pirates ever said “Arrr,” back in the heyday of pirates.

I beg to differ, arrr, Matey! The Wikipedia entry says that the dialect was real and probably was based on the dialect of sailors from West Country in the southwest corner of Britain.

Sena and I couldn’t find any holiday called National Pirates Day. I did find National Meow Like a Pirate Day, which, interestingly, is also a holiday today. It got started in 2015.

But the main event be international talk like a gentleman o’ fortune day—which I darn nearrr forgot!

I have a dim memory of writing a blog post using the pirate translator several years ago. It was on a different blog, which I canceled in 2018. I didn’t keep that particular post. I think the topic was teaching internal medicine doctors and medical students about delirium so that they would know when they actually need consultation from a psychiatrist.

So, in honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, I’m going to post a piratical translation of one of my similar posts from way back in 2011:

“Do ye ‘ave to be interested in psychiatry to volunteer fer the delirium prevention project?”

“I’ve been thinkin’ about what a couple o’ the medical students said when I broached the idea o’ some o’ them volunteerin’ to participate in the multicomponent intervention o’ the delirium prevention project.

 they said that there the first an’ second yearrr students might want to volunteer—especially the ones interested in pursuin’ psychiatry as a career.

 now think about that there a minute. Why would ye necessarily need to be interested in psychiatry? ‘ere be a few facts:

1.Delirium be a medical emergency; it just ‘appens to mimic psychiatric illness because it’s a manifestation o’ acute brain injury.

 2.The most important treatment fer delirium be not psychiatric in nature necessarily; the goal be to find an’ fix the medical problems causin’ the delirium.

 3.Many experts in delirium ain’t psychiatrists; the authors o’ the new book “delirium in critical care”, valerie page an’ wes ely, ain’t psychiatrists—they’re intensivists.

 4.Some o’ the best teachers about delirium be geriatric nurse specialists an’ geriatricians.

 I thought that there by reachin’ aft further into a physician’s trainin’ career, I would find people less biased toward thinkin’ o’ delirium as a primary mental illness. It turns out that there bias runs deep in our medical education system.

 it isn’t that there psychiatrists shouldn’t be interested in studyin’ an’ ‘elpin’ to manage delirium. Psychiatrists, especially them specializin’ in psychosomatic medicine, be among the best qualified to inform other medical an’ surgical disciplines about the importance o’ recognizin’ delirium fer what it is—a medical problem that there threatens the brain’s integrity an’ resilience, raises the risk o’ mortality by itself regardless o’ the medical problems causin’ it, prolongs medical ‘ospitalization, an’ makes discharge to long term care facilities more likely, especially in the elderly.

 delirium be a problem fer doctors, not just psychiatrists. So it makes sense fer all medical students, regardless o’ their goals fer career specialty, to be interested in learnin’ about delirium.

 delirium be also a problem fer nurses, who frankly ‘ave led the way in education about delirium fer many years now. You’ll find few experts pointin’ to the american psychiatric association practice guidelines fer the treatment o’ delirium as the ultimate authority these days—because they’ve not been updated formally since 1999. All one ‘as to do be spell out “delirium prevention guidelines” in web browser search bars an’ choose from several sets o’ free, up-to-date guidelines that there be supported by the research evidence base in the medical literature to within a yearrr or two o’ the present day. Some o’ the best ones be authored by nurses.

 so maybe the pool o’ volunteers fer the delirium prevention multicomponent intervention might be nursin’ students.

 on the other ‘and, from what pool does the ‘ospital elder life program (help) recruit volunteers? an’ the australian resource center fer ‘ealthcare innovation multicomponent program, revive (recruitment o’ volunteers to improve vitality in the elderly, ‘ow do they do it?

they think outside the box an’ include people who care about people. That’s the really the key criterion, not whether one wants to be a psychiatrist or not.”

‘appy international talk like a gentleman o’ fortune day, arr, matey!

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