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James Wong

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Junior Doctor
Kings College London
Foo20151013 2023 1nftkgk?1444774218
4
300

Gin & Tonic Anyone?

It was a Saturday, about tea-time in the quaint village of Athelstaneford, East Lothian. Mrs Alexandria Agutter sat in her cottage, enjoying the delights of the late-summer evening with a glass of gin and tonic. She listlessly sipped from the rather generous pick-me up, no doubt chewing over the happenings of the day. Blast! The taste was much too bitter to her liking. She stood up. And promptly crumpled to the floor in a dizzied heap. It had not been five minutes when a fiery pain gripped her parched throat and in her frenzied turn she watched the bleary room become draped in a gossamery silk. How Dame Agatha would approve. But this is no crime novel, on that fateful day, 24th August 1994, poor Mrs Agutter immortalised herself in the history books of forensic medicine; she was the victim of a revered toxin and a vintage one it was too. She had unwittingly imbibed a G&T laced with a classic poison of antiquity. A clue from the 21st century: do you recall the first Hunger Games film adaption? Those inviting purple-black berries or as Suzanne Collins coined them ‘Nightlock’; a portmanteau of hemlock and Deadly Nightshade. True to the laters’ real life appearance those onscreen fictional fruits played a recurring cameo role. Deadly Nightshade is a perennial shrub of the family Solanaceae and a relative of the humble potato (a member of the Solanus genus). It is a resident of our native woodland and may be found as far afield as Europe, Africa and Western Asia. The 18th century taxonomist, Carl Linnaeus gave the plant an intriguing name in his great Species Plantarum. The genus Atropa is aptly named after one of the three Greek Fates, Atropos. She is portrayed shearing the thread of a mortal’s life so determining the time and manner of its inevitable end. The Italian species name belladona (beautiful woman) refers to the striking mydriatic effect of the plant on the eye. The name pays homage to Pietro Andre Mattioli, a 16th century physician from Sienna, who was allegedly the first to describe the plant’s use among the Venetian glitterati - ladies of fashion favoured the seductive, doe-eyed look. Belladona is poisonous in its entirety. It was from the plant’s roots in 1831, the German apothecary Heinrich F. G. Mein isolated a white, odourless, crystalline powder: it was (surprise, surprise) atropine. Atropine is a chiral molecule. From its natural plant source it exists as a single stereoisomer L-atropine, which also happens to display a chiral potency 50-100 times that of its D-enantiomer. As with many other anaesthetic agents it is administered as a racemic mixture. How strange that atropine now sits among the anaesthetist’s armamentarium, its action as a competitive antimuscarinic to counter vagal stimulation belies its dark history. It was a favourite of Roman housewives seeking retribution against their less than faithful husbands and a staple of the witch’s potion cupboard. Little wonder how belladona became known as the Devil’s plant. Curiouser still it’s also the antidote for other poisons, most notably the organophosphates or nerve gases. On account of its non-selective antagonism, atropine produces a constellation of effects: the inhibition of salivary, lacrimal and sweat glands occurs at low doses; dry mouth and skin are early markers. Pyrexia is a central effect exacerbated by the inability to sweat. Flushing of the face due to skin vessel vasodilatation. Low parasympathetic tone causes a moderate sinus tachycardia. Vision is blurred as the eye becomes dilated, unresponsive to light and accommodation is impaired. Mental disorientation, agitation and ataxia give the impression of drunkedness or a delirium tremens like syndrome. Visual hallucinations, often of butterflies or silk blowing in the wind, are a late feature. It was then that Mr Agutter, seemingly untroubled by the sight of his wife’s problematic situation, proceeded to leave a message with the local practitioner. How fortunate they were to have the vigilant locum check the answering machine and come round to the Agutter’s lodge accompanied by an ambulance crew. The attending paramedic had the presence of mind to pour the remainder of Mrs Agutter’s beverage into a nearby jam jar, while Mr Agutter handed over what he suspected to be the offending ingredient: the bottle of Indian tonic water. As it soon transpired there were seven other casualties in the surrounding countryside of East Lothian – all involving an encounter with tonic water. In fact by some ironic twist of fate, two of the victims were the wife and son of Dr Geoffry Sharwood-Smith, a consultant aneasthetist. Obviously very familiar with the typical toxidrome of anticholinergic agents, he was quick to suspect atropine poisoning. Although for a man of his position with daily access to a sweetshop of drugs, it was not something to draw attention to. Through no small amount of cunning had the poisoner(s) devised the plan. It was elegant; atropine is very bitter. So much so that it can be detected at concentrations of 100 parts per million (0.001%). Those foolish enough to try the berries of belladonna during walks in the woods are often saved by the berry’s sour taste. They are soon spat out. But the quinine in the tonic water was a worthy disguise. The lethal dose for an adult is approximately 90-130mg, however atropine sensitivity is highy variable. In its salt form, atropine sulfate, it is many times more soluble: >100g can be dissolved in 100ml of water. So 1ml may contain roughly tenfold the lethal dose. There ensued a nationwide scare; 50 000 bottles of Safeway branded Indian tonic water were sacrificed. Only six bottles had been contaminated. They had all been purchased, tops unsealed, from the local Safeway in Hunter’s Tryst. Superficially this looked like the handiwork of a psychopath with a certain distaste for the supermarket brand, and amidst the media furore, it did have some verisimilitude: one of the local papers received a letter from 25 year old, Wayne Smith admitting himself as the sole perpetrator. The forensic scientist, Dr Howard Oakley analysed the contents of the bottles. They all contained a non-lethal dose, 11-74mg/litre of atropine except for the Agutter’s, it contained 103mg/litre. The jam jar holding Mrs Agutter’s drink bore even more sinister results, the atropine concentration was 292mg/L. It would appear Mrs Agutter had in some way outstayed her welcome. But she lived. A miscalculation on the part of the person who had added an extra seasoning of atropine to her drink. According to the numbers she would have had to swallow a can’s worth (330ml) to reach the lethal dose. Thankfully she had taken no more than 50mg. The spotlight suddenly fell on Dr Paul Agutter. He was a lecturer of biochemistry at the nearby University of Napier, which housed a research syndicate specialising in toxicology. CCTV footage had revealed his presence at the Safeway in Hunter’s Tryst and there was eye witness evidence of him having placed bottles onto the shelves. Atropine was also detected by the forensic investigators on a cassete case in his car. Within a matter of two weeks he would be arrested for the attempted murder of his wife. Despite the calculated scheme to delay emergency services and to pass the blame onto a non-existent mass poisoner, he had not accomplished the perfect murder. Was there a motive? Allegedly his best laid plans were for the sake of a mistress, a mature student from Napier. He served seven years of a twelve year sentence. Astonishingly, upon his release from Glenochil prison in 2002, he contacted his then former wife proclaiming his innocence and desire to rejoin her in their Scottish home. A proposition she was not very keen on. Dr Agutter was employed by Manchester University as a lecturer of philosophy and medical ethics. He is currently an associate editor of the online journal Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling. We will never know the true modus operandi as Dr Agutter never confessed to the crime. Perhaps all this story can afford is weak recompense for the brave followers of the Dry January Campaign. Oddly these sort of incidents never appear in their motivational testimonials. Acknowledgements Emsley J. Molecules of Murder. 2008, Cambridge, RSC Publishing, p.46-67. Lee MR. Solanaceae IV: Atropa belladona, deadly nightshade. J R Coll Physicians Edinb. March 2007; 37: 77-84. Illustrator Edward Wong This blog post is a reproduction of an article published in the The Medical Student Newspaper January issue, 2014 http://www.themedicalstudent.co.uk/  
James Wong
over 5 years ago
Foo20151013 2023 e9tc1t?1444774226
5
236

Grand Round: Dos and Don’ts

“To study the phenomena of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all.” The words of Sir William Osler, the acclaimed father of modern medicine, are still no less profound. They hark from an age when medicine still retained a sense of ceremony: an amphitheatre filled to the rafters, the clinicians poised in their white coats and ties, all eyes convergent on their quarry or rather the patient seated before them. Any memory of such scenes live out a vestigial existence in black&white photos or histrionic depictions recalling the rise of modern medicine. To think this is how the tradition of grand rounds proceeded in the not so distant past. Today grand rounds have a more tuitional flavour to them. The Socratic dialogue which reportedly took place has been superseded by the much less appetising PowerPoint presentation. It’s a weekly event marked in the calendar. For the ever-busy junior doctor it at least offers the prospect of a free lunch. I gest, they serve a social as well as an educational function. On the other hand medical student grand rounds are purely a learning exercise. They are most importantly not a race to find and present the most ‘interesting’ case in the trust because this is usually interpretted as a vanishingly rare condition, which even your ejudicating consultant has never encountered in a lifetime of experience. It falls short of the primary aim: to learn about the patients who you will be seeing as a junior doctor and as the addage goes - common things are common. What will make your grand round interesting, is not the patient you choose but how you choose to present that patient. Unfortunately, as fair a point Sir Osler makes, the old practice of patient participation in grand rounds has long since faded. You will have to call upon your thespian talents to retell the story to your fellow students. Of course not everyone’s a natural showman, however fortune favours the prepared and in my experience there are only a handful of things to worry about. Structure. This is the back bone of your presentation. Obviously a solid introductory line about the patient with all the salient points goes without saying, it’s no different to presenting to the consultant on ward rounds or in the clinic. Always set the scene. If you clerked your patient on a hectic night oncall down in majors, then say so. It makes the case less one dimensional. The history is your chance to show off - to consider the presenting complaint expressed in the patient’s own words and to form a working differential, which you can encourage your colleagues to reel off at the outset. The quality of the history should guide your audience to the right diagnosis. Equip them with all the information they need, so not just the positive findings. Showing that you have ruled out important red flag symptoms or signs will illustrate good detective work on your part. However you wish to order the relevant past medical/family history, medications, social impact etc is up to you. It’s a subjective thing, you just have to play the game and cater to the consultant’s likes. You can only gage these after a few cases so do the honourable thing and let your colleagues present first. Performance. Never read your slides in front of an audience. Their attention will rapidly wane (especially if they’re postprandial). The slides are an aide-memoire and to treat them as a script is to admit your presence adds nothing more to your presentation. Communicating with the audience requires you to present uncluttered slides, expanding on short headings and obliging your colleagues to listen for the little nuggets of clinical knowledge you have so generously lain in store. Insight. When the consultant asks you the significance of an investigation, always know on what grounds it was ordered and the limitations of the results. The astute student will be aware of its diagnostic or prognostic potential.The same may be said of imaging. Perusing the radiologists report and using it to guide the audience through (anoynmised) CXRs, CTs, US etc is a feather in your cap. Literature reviews of your choosing constitute a mandatory part of the presentation. They are demonstrative of not only your wider reading but your initiative to find the relevant evidence base e.g. the research underlying the management plan of a condition or perhaps its future treatments. Timing. Waffling is only detrimental to the performance. Rehearsing the presentation with a firm mate is a sure way to keep to time constraints. Memorability, for the right reasons, relies on a concise and interactive presentation. A splash of imagination will not go unnoticed. The consultant marking you has seen it all before; surprising titbits of knowledge or amusing quirks in your presentation will hopefully appeal to their curious and humorous side. If anything it might break the tedium grand rounds are renown for. Oratory is a universal skill and is responsible for so much (undue) anxiety. The more timid can take comfort grand rounds aren’t quite the grand occasions they used to be. Illustrator Edward Wong This blog post is a reproduction of an article published in the Medical Student Newspaper, December 2013 issue.  
James Wong
over 5 years ago
Foo20151013 2023 1u6up6r?1444774235
4
132

Keep on Truckin’

Shattered. Third consecutive day of on-calls at the birth centre. I’m afraid I have little to show for it. The logbook hangs limply at my side, the pages where my name is printed await signatures; surrogate markers of new found skills. Half asleep I slump against the wall and cast my mind back to the peripheral attachment from which I have not long returned. The old-school consultant’s mutterings are still fresh: “Medical education was different back then you see....you are dealt a tough hand nowadays.” I quite agree, it is Saturday. Might it be said the clinical apprenticeship we know today is a shadow of its former self? Medical school was more a way of life, students lived in the hospital, they even had their laundry done for them. Incredulous, I could scarcely restrain a chuckle at the consultant’s stories of delivering babies while merely a student and how the dishing out of “character building” grillings by their seniors was de rigeur. Seldom am I plied with any such questions. Teaching is a rare commodity at times. Hours on a busy ward can bear little return. Frequently do I hear students barely a rotation into their clinical years, bemoan a woeful lack of attention. All recollection of the starry-eyed second year, romanced by anything remotely clinical, has evaporated like the morning dew. “Make way, make way!...” cries a thin voice from the far reaches of the centre. A squeal of bed wheels. The newly crowned obs & gynae reg drives past the midwife station executing an impressive Tokyo drift into the corridor where I stand. Through the theatre doors opposite me he vanishes. I follow. Major postpartum haemorrhage. A bevy of scrubs flit across the room in a live performance of the RCOG guidelines for obstetric haemorrhage. They resuscitate the women on the table, her clammy body flat across the carmine blotched sheets. ABC, intravenous access and a rapid two litres of Hartmann’s later, the bleeding can not be arrested by rubbing up contraction. Pharmacological measures: syntocinon and ergometrine preparations do not staunch the flow. Blood pressure still falling, I watch the consciousness slowly ebb from the woman’s eyes. Then in a tone of voice, seemingly beyond his years, the reversely gowned anaesthetist clocks my badge and says, “Fetch me the carboprost.” I could feel an exercise in futility sprout as I gave an empty but ingratiating nod. “It’s hemabate....in the fridge” he continues. In the anaesthetic room I find the fridge and rummage blindly through. Thirty seconds later having discovered nothing but my general inadequacy, I crawl back into theatre. I was as good as useless though to my surprise the anaesthetist disappeared and returned with a vial. Handing me both it and a prepped syringe, he instructs me to inject intramuscularly into the woman’s thigh. The most common cause of postpartum haemorrhage is uterine atony. Prostaglandin analogues like carboprost promote coordinated contractions of the body of the pregnant uterus. Constriction of the vessels by myometrial fibres within the uterine walls achieves postpartum haemostasis. This textbook definition does not quite echo my thoughts as I gingerly approach the operating table. Alarmingly I am unaware that aside from the usual side effects of the drug in my syringe; the nausea and vomiting, should the needle stray into a nearby vessel and its contents escape into the circulation, cardiovascular collapse might be the unfortunate result. Suddenly the anaesthetist’s dour expression as I inject now assumes some meaning. What a relief to see the woman’s vitals begin to stabilise. As we wheel her into the recovery bay, the anaesthetist unleashes an onslaught of questions. Keen to redeem some lost pride, I can to varying degrees, resurrect long buried preclinical knowledge: basic pharmacology, transfusion-related complications, the importance of fresh frozen plasma. Although, the final threat of drawing the clotting cascade from memory is a challenge too far. Before long I am already being demonstrated the techniques of regional analgesia, why you should always aspirate before injecting lidocaine and thrust headlong into managing the most common adverse effects of epidurals. To have thought I had been ready to retire home early on this Saturday morning had serendipity not played its part. A little persistence would have been just as effective. It’s the quality so easily overlooked in these apparently austere times of medical education. And not a single logbook signature gained. Oh the shame! This blog post is a reproduction of an article published in the Medical Student Newspaper, February 2014 issue.  
James Wong
over 5 years ago
Foo20151013 2023 vvr5q9?1444774253
5
184

Clinics - Making the most of it

Commencing the first clinical year is a milestone. Things will now be different as your student career steers straight into the unchartered waters of clinical medicine. New challenges and responsibilities lie ahead and not just in an academic sense. After all this is the awaited moment, the start of the apprenticeship you have so desired and laboured for. It won’t be long before these clinical years like the preclinical years before them, will seem just as distant and insular, so why not make the most of it? The first days hold so much excitation and promise and for many they deliver, however, it would be wise not to be too optimistic. I am afraid your firm head standing abreast the doors in a prophetic splaying of arms is an unlikely sight. In this new clinical environment, it is natural to be a little flummoxed. The quizzical looks of doctors and nurses as you first walk in, a sure sign of your unexpected arrival, is a recurring theme. If the wards are going to be your new hunting ground, proper introductions with the medical team are in order. This might seem like a task of Herculean proportions, particularly in large teaching hospitals. Everyone is busy. Junior doctors scuttling around the ward desks job lists in hand, the registrar probably won’t have noticed you and as luck would have it your consultant firm head is away at a conference. Perseverance during these periods of frustration is a rewarding quality. Winning over the junior doctors with some keenness will help you no end. What I mean to say is that their role in our learning as students extends further than the security of sign-off signatures a week before the end of the rotation. They will give you opportunities. Take them! Although it never feels like it at the time, being a medical student does afford some privileges. The student badge clipped to your new clinic clothes is a license to learn: to embark on undying streaks of false answers, to fail as many skills and clerkings as is required and to do so unabashed. Unfortunately, the junior doctors are not there purely for your benefit, they cannot always spare the time to directly observe a history taking or an examination, instead you must report back. With practice this becomes more of a tick box exercise: gleaning as much information and then reconfiguring it into a structured presentation. However, the performance goes unseen and unheard. I do not need to iterate the inherent dangers of this practice. Possible solutions? Well receiving immediate feedback is more obtainable on GP visits or at outpatient clinics. They provide many opportunities to test your questioning style and bedside manner. Performing under scrutiny recreates OSCE conditions. Due to time pressure and no doubt the diagnostic cogs running overtime, it is fatefully easy to miss emotional cues or derail a conversation in a way which would be deemed insensitive. Often it occurs subconsciously so take full advantage of a GP or a fellow firm mate’s presence when taking a history. Self-directed learning will take on new meaning. The expanse of clinical knowledge has a vertiginous effect. No longer is there a structured timetable of lectures as a guide; for the most part you are alone. Teaching will become a valued commodity, so no matter how sincere the promises, do not rest until the calendars are out and a mutually agreed time is settled. I would not encourage ambuscaded attacks on staff but taking the initiative to arrange dedicated tutorial time with your superiors is best started early. Consigning oneself to the library and ploughing through books might appear the obvious remedy, it has proven effective for the last 2-3 years after all. But unfortunately it can not all be learnt with bookwork. Whether it is taking a psychiatric history, venipuncture or reading a chest X-ray, these are perishable skills and only repeated and refined practice will make them become second nature. Balancing studying with time on the wards is a challenge. Unsurprisingly, after a day spent on your feet, there is wavering incentive to merely open a book. Keeping it varied will prevent staleness taking hold. Attending a different clinic, brushing up on some pathology at a post-mortem or group study sessions adds flavour to the daily routine. During the heated weeks before OSCEs, group study becomes very attractive. While it does cement clinical skills, do not be fooled. Your colleagues tend not to share the same examination findings you would encounter on an oncology ward nor the measured responses of professional patient actors. So ward time is important but little exposure to all this clinical information will be gained by assuming a watchful presence. Attending every ward round, while a laudable achievement, will not secure the knowledge. Senior members of the team operate on another plane. It is a dazzling display of speed whenever a monster list of patients comes gushing out the printer. Before you have even registered each patient’s problem(s), the management plan has been dictated and written down. There is little else to do but feed off scraps of information drawn from the junior doctors on the journey to the next bed. Of course there will be lulls, when the pace falls off and there is ample time to digest a history. Although it is comforting to have the medical notes to check your findings once the round is over, it does diminish any element of mystery. The moment a patient enters the hospital is the best time to cross paths. At this point all the work is before the medical team, your initial guesses might be as good as anyone else’s. Visiting A&E of your own accord or as part of your medical team’s on call rota is well worth the effort. Being handed the initial A&E clerking and gingerly drawing back the curtain incur a chilling sense of responsibility. Embrace it, it will solidify not only clerking skills but also put into practice the explaining of investigations or results as well as treatment options. If you are feeling keen you could present to the consultant on post-take. Experiences like this become etched in your memory because of their proactive approach. You begin to remember conditions associated with patient cases you have seen before rather than their corresponding pages in the Oxford handbook. And there is something about the small thank you by the F1 or perhaps finding your name alongside theirs on the new patient list the following morning, which rekindles your enthusiasm. To be considered part of the medical team is the ideal position and a comforting thought. Good luck. This blog post is a reproduction of an article published in the Medical Student Newspaper, Freshers 2013 issue.  
James Wong
over 5 years ago
Foo20151013 2023 1vzj1mi?1444774262
5
201

Wikipedia - help or hindrance?

It’s quick, it’s easy and we’ve all done it. Don’t blush, whether it’s at our leisure or behind the consultant’s back we can confess to having used the world’s sixth most popular website. You might have seen it, sitting pride of place on the podium of practically any Google result page. Of course, it’s the tell tale sign of one of Web 2.0’s speediest and most successful offspring, Wikipedia. Now for fear of patronizing a generation who have sucked on the teat of this resource since its fledgling years, the formalities will remain delightfully short. Wikipedia is the free, multilingual, online encyclopedia, which harnesses the collective intelligence of the world’s internet users to produce a collaboratively written and openly modifiable body of knowledge. The technology it runs on is a highly flexible web application called wiki. It is open-source software; hence the explosion of wiki sites all united under the banner of combined authorship. Anyone with internet access can edit the content and do so with relative anonymity. It would be unthinkable that a source, which does not prioritize the fidelity of its content, could possibly play a role in medical education. How ironic it seems that medical students can waste hours pondering which textbook to swear their allegiance for the forthcoming rotation, yet not spare a second thought typing their next medical query into Wikipedia. Evidently it has carved itself a niche and not just among medical students, but healthcare professionals as well. According to a small qualitative study published in the International Journal of Medical Informatics, 70% of their sample, which comprised of graduates from London medical schools currently at FY2 and ST1 level, used Wikipedia in a given week for ‘clinical purposes’. These ranged from general background reading to double checking a differential and looking up medications. We are so ensnared by the allure of instantaneous enlightenment; it’s somewhat comparable to relieving an itch. "Just Google it..." is common parlance. We need that quick fix. When the consultant asks about his or her favourite eponymous syndrome or you’re a little short on ammunition before a tutorial, the breadth and ease-of-use offered by a service accessible from our phones is a clandestine escape. The concept of Wikipedia, the idea that its articles are in a way living bodies because of the continual editing process, is its strength. Conversely textbooks are to a degree outmoded by the time they reach their publication date. While I commend the contributors of Wikipedia for at least trying to bolster their pages with references to high impact journals, it does not soften the fact that the authorship is unverifiable. Visitors, lay people, registered members under some less than flattering pseudonyms such as Epicgenius and Mean as custard, don’t impart the sense of credibility students (or for that matter patients)expect from an encyclopedia. Since the prestige of direct authorship if off the cards, it does beg the question of what is their motivation and I’m afraid ‘the pursuit of knowledge and improving humanity’s lot' is the quaint response. There is a distinct lack of transparency. It has become a playground where a contributor can impress his/her particular theory regarding a controversial subject unchallenged. Considering there is no direct ownership of the article, who then has the authority to curate the multiple theories on offer and portray a balanced view? Does an edit war ensue? It is not unheard of for drug representatives to tailor articles detailing their product and erase the less pleasant side-effects. Obviously Wikipedia is not unguarded, defences are in place and there is such a thing as quality control. Recent changes will come under the scrutiny of more established editors, pages that are particularly prone to vandalism are vetted and there are a special breed of editors called administrators, who uphold a custodial post, blocking and banishing rebellious editors. A study featured in the First Monday journal put Wikipedia to the test by deliberately slipping minor errors into the entries of past philosophers. Within 48 hours half of these errors had been addressed. Evidently, the service has the potential to improve over time; provided there is a pool of committed and qualified editors. Wikiproject Medicine is such a group of trusted editors composed primarily of doctors, medical students, nurses, clinical scientists and patients. Since 2004, its two hundred or so participants have graded an excess of 25,000 health-related articles according to quality parameters not dissimilar to peer review. However, the vast majority of articles are in a state of intermediate quality, somewhere between a stub and featured article. Having some degree of professional input towards a service as far reaching as Wikipedia will no doubt have an impact on global health, particularly in developing countries where internet access is considered a luxury. March this year saw the medical pages of the English Wikipedia reach a lofty 249,386,264 hits. Its ubiquity is enviable; it maintains a commanding lead over competing medical websites. The accessibility of this information has catapulted Wikipedia far beyond its scope as a humble encyclopedia and into a medical resource. Patients arrive to clinics armed with the printouts. As future doctors we will have to be just that one step ahead, to recognise the limitations of a source that does not put a premium on provenance but is nevertheless the current public health tool of choice. Illustrator Edward Wong This blog post is a reproduction of an article published in the Medical Student Newspaper, November 2013 issue.  
James Wong
over 5 years ago
%3fr=0
2
129

A Modest Man

The registrar's face was taking on a testy look. So enduring was the silence our furtive glances had developed a nystagmic quality. “Galactosaemia” came her peremptory reply. Right on queue the disjointed chorus of ahs and head nods did little to hide our mental whiteboard of differentials being wiped clean. At the time conjugated bilirubinaemia in children only meant one thing: biliary atresia. A fair assumption; we were sitting in one of three specialist centres in the country equipped to treat these patients. Ironically the condition has become the unwieldy yardstick I now measure the incidence of paediatric disease. Biliary atresia is the most common surgical cause of neonatal jaundice with a reported incidence of 1 in 14-16ooo live births in the West. It is described as a progressive inflammatory obliteration of the extrahapatic bile duct. And Dr Charles West, the founder of Great Ormond Street Hospital, offers an eloquent description of the presenting triad of prolonged jaundice, pale acholic stools and dark yellow urine: ‘Case 18...It was born at full term, though small, apparently healthy. At 3 days however, it began to get yellow and at the end of 3 weeks was very yellow. Her motions at no time after the second day appeared natural on examination, but were white, like cream, and her urine was very high coloured.’ 1855 was the year of Dr West's hospital note. An almost universally fatal diagnosis and it would remain so for the next 100 years. The time's primordial classification of biliary atresia afforded children with the 'noncorrectable' type, a complete absence of patent extrahepatic bile duct, an unfortunate label; they were beyond saving. Having discovered the extent of disease at laparatomy, the surgeons would normally close the wound. The venerable Harvardian surgeon, Robert E. Gross saved an enigmatic observation: “In most instances death followed a downhill course…” K-A-S-A-I read the ward’s board. It was scrawled under half the children's names. I dismissed it as just another devilishly hard acronym to forget. The thought of an eponymous procedure had escaped me and in biliary atresia circles, it's the name everyone should know: Dr Morio Kasai. Originating from Aomori prefecture, Honshu, Japan, Dr Kasai graduated from the National Tohoku University School of Medicine in 1947. His ascension was rapid, having joined the 2nd department of Surgery as a general surgeon, he would assume the role of Assistant Professor in 1953. The department, under the tenure of Professor Shigetsugu Katsura, shared a healthy interest in research. 1955 was the landmark year. Katsura and Kasai operated on their first case: a 72 day old infant. Due to bleeding at the incised porta hepatis, Katsura is said to have 'placed' the duodenum over the site in order to staunch the flow. She made a spectacular postoperative recovery, the jaundice had faded and there was bile pigment in her stool. During the second case, Katsura elected to join the unopened duodenum to the porta hepatis. Sadly the patient's jaundice did not recover, but the post-mortem conducted by Kasai confirmed the development of a spontaneous internal biliary fistula connecting the internal hepatic ducts to the duodenum. Histological inspection of removed extrahepatic duct showed the existence of microscopic biliary channels, hundreds of microns in diameter. Kasai made a pivotal assertion: the transection of the fibrous cord of the obliterated duct must contain these channels before anastomosis with the jejunal limb Roux-en-Y loop. This would ensure communication between the porta hepatis and the intrahepatic biliary system. The operation, entitled hepatic portoenterostomy, was first performed as a planned procedure for the third case at Tohoku. Bile flow was restored and Kasai published the details of the new technique in the Japanese journal Shujutsu in 1959. However, news of this development did not dawn on the West until 1968 in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery. The success of the operation and its refined iterations were eventually recognized and adopted in the 1970s. The operation was and is not without its dangers. Cholangitis, portal hypertension, malnutrition and hepatopulmonary syndrome are the cardinal complications. While diagnosing and operating early (<8 weeks) are essential to the outcome, antibiotic prophylaxis and nutritional support are invaluable prognostic factors. Post operatively, the early clearance of jaundice (within 3 months) and absence of liver cirrhosis on biopsy, are promising signs. At UK centres the survival after a successful procedure is 80%. The concurrent development of liver transplantation boosts this percentage to 90%. Among children, biliary atresia is the commonest indication for transplantation; by five years post-Kasai, 45% will have undergone the procedure. On the 6th December 2008, Dr Kasai passed away. He was 86 years old and had been battling the complications of a stroke he suffered in 1999. His contemporaries and disciples paint a humble and colourful character. A keen skier and mountaineer, Dr Kasai lead the Tohoku University mountain-climbing team to the top of the Nyainquntanglha Mountains, the highest peaks of the Tibetan highlands. It was the first successful expedition of its kind in the world. He carried through this pioneering spirit into his professional life. Paediatric surgery was not a recognized specialty in Japan. By founding and chairing multiple associations including the Japanese Society of Pediatric Surgeons, Dr Kasai gave his specialty and biliary atresia, the attention it deserved. Despite numerous accolades of international acclaim for his contributions to paediatric surgery, Dr Kasai insisted his department refer to his operation as the hepatic portoenterostomy; the rest of the world paid its originator the respect of calling it the ‘Kasia’. Upon completion of their training, he would give each of his surgeons a hand-written form of the word ‘Soshin’ [simple mind], as he believed a modest surgeon was a good one. At 5 foot 2, Kasai cut a more diminutive figure one might expect for an Emeritus Professor and Hospital Director of a university hospital. During the course of his lifetime he had developed the procedure and lived to see its fruition. The Kasia remains the gold standard treatment for biliary atresia; it has been the shinning light for what Willis J. Potts called the darkest chapter in paediatric surgery. It earned Dr Kasai an affectionate but apt name among his peers, the small giant. References Miyano T. Morio Kasai, MD, 1922–2008. Pediatr Surg Int. 2009;25(4):307–308. Garcia A V, Cowles RA, Kato T, Hardy MA. Morio Kasai: a remarkable impact beyond the Kasai procedure. J Pediatr Surg. 2012;47(5):1023–1027. Mowat AP. Biliary atresia into the 21st century: A historical perspective. Hepatology. 1996;23(6):1693–1695. Ohi R. A history of the Kasai operation: Hepatic portoenterostomy for biliary atresia. World J Surg. 1988;12(6):871–874. Ohi R. Morio Kasai, MD 1922-2008. J Pediatr Surg. 2009;44(3):481–482. Lewis N, Millar A. Biliary atresia. Surg. 2007;25(7):291–294. This blog post is a reproduction of an article published in the Medical Student Newspaper, April 2014 issue.  
James Wong
over 5 years ago