C’est La Vie

John Lennon once remarked, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  I, for one, couldn’t agree more.  For the last one year or so, this has been the story of my Life…

It all started in February of last year, when we were scheduled to go on our annual vacation.  That trip was of course, cancelled on account of my needing spinal decompression surgery for my prolapsed lumbar discs.  The weeks and months that followed, involved a slow and painful process of getting back on my feet again, which I was determined to do.

BossLady – my wife – was already pregnant with our second child, at the time.  We did not know, however, that only a few months later, we would be facing a difficult time with the pregnancy thanks to the increased probability seen in the triple marker test, warranting a risky procedure called amniocentesis to rule it out completely.  Just like we did not know that, a few months after that, the pregnancy would unfold yet another exciting chapter with an “incompetent os” that would need surgical intervention and complete bed rest for several months!

Finally, after an eventful term, a healthy baby boy was born to us in Oct 2007. Life was beginning to take a turn for the positive… Or was it?

A few months after that, Mom developed a sinus-bronchial infection that would take several months to treat, at the minimum.  According to the ENT specialist, we were lucky to have caught it in time!  The treatment had not yet been completed, but she was making good progress.  The baby was also a healthy four-month-old now.  So it would be a good time to take a much-needed holiday, we thought.

Once again, we planned our annual leave – this time to an exotic coffee estate in South India.  I’d applied for leave well in time, and planned for all my projects to be managed in my absence.  BossLady was already on leave, so that was not a problem.  A week before departure, however, she developed a fever – one that would go from 100 to 104 in just a few days!

I was actually out-of-town on an official trip and had to rush home to attend to that.  Naturally, the annual vacation was cancelled, once again.  In fact, an entire course of antibiotic and antimalarial medication hardly had any effect on the ailment.  A plethora of tests followed, but the fever remained undiagnosed.  Finally, a consulting specialist diagnosed it as Typhoid.

The hardest part of it all was communicating to an innocent four-year-old that we will not be going on the much-awaited vacation.  We always prepare Pumpkin for what’s coming, and had spent quite a few days building up hype for the upcoming trip.  Naturally, she was looking forward to the entire experience of going to a coffee estate, especially since she’s not even permitted to drink coffee!  Alas, her vacation would have to wait for another day…

Even today, 11 days after the first bout of fever, the recovery has only just begun.  She still gets a fever every 5-6 hours, but is slowly… very slowly… gaining back some of her strength.  A microorganism that’s one millionth our size is presently controlling how we live.  And, if what I understand is correct, typhoid is an ailment that can take 4-5 weeks to recover from.

We are, of course, hopeful of a full recovery.  And, can only hope that things take a different turn, this March onwards.  Only, I won’t be making any plans to that effect.

Leadership and Driving Change

At a highly unlikely venue of a conference entitled Symantec Vision 2007, I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Arun Shourie speak on lessons in “Leadership and Managing Change”. The seminar was organized to educate IT practitioners about the looming Threat Landscape of the Information Technology world, and Dr. Shourie was its Guest of Honour. At the end of the speech, it was evident that the “honour” was entirely the pleasure of the audience which was left mesmerised by his words…

At a highly unlikely venue of a conference entitled Symantec Vision 2007, I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Arun Shourie speak on lessons in “Leadership and Driving Change”.  The seminar was organized to educate IT practitioners about the looming Threat Landscape of the Information Technology world, and Dr. Shourie was its Guest of Honour. 

For those of you who don’t know Dr. Shourie, he has had the distinction of having served as the editor of one of India’s prominent dailies – The Indian Express – including during the Emergency.  He’s also managed various portfolios in the Central Government including Disinvestment and Communications & Technology.  During his tenure as a Minister, he has also been responsible for some of the most liberal-minded and controversial policy roll-outs in highly regulated industries like Telecom and Energy.  When Dr. Shourie started speaking on the lessons he’d learnt, it did not matter if you were a VP in an IT company or a system administrator, every one in the room listened with rapt attention.

According to Dr. Shourie, when you’re trying to go against the grain… rock the boat, so as to say… it helps to keep in mind the following:

1. Get your facts right – It will make it difficult for those who oppose that change to find the weaknesses in your arguments and target them.  And, there will be many who will want to do just that.

2. Conduct yourself impeccably – Give no opportunity to others to raise a finger against you, and you will find that it is difficult for them to focus on any thing else but the task at hand.

3. When difficulties come, put them to work! – This was explained with a few examples, but the gist of it was to think creatively about the obstacles that you face, and make them a part of the solution instead.

On Leadership, he added:

A good Leader is one who anticipates future problems and has the team begin working on possible solutions well in advance, keeping in mind the gestation period required for the solution to bear fruit! 

A good Leader is also someone who exhibits a “core” that is non negotiable – The world at large knows that there are some things that you will do (no matter what happens) and there are other things that you will not do (no matter what happens), and that’s what defines you as a Leader.

In the end, he went on to narrate an oft-repeated incident that Dr. APJ Kalam – the ex President of India – loves to share when asked about his own take on Leadership.  Instead of trying to reproduce the story here, I will let you read the original narrative (PDF) in the words of Dr. Kalam, himself. (Search for “Satish” in the PDF that opens up).

At the end of the speech, it was evident that the “honour” was entirely the pleasure of the audience which was left mesmerised by his words…

Heart of the Matter

A link from Seth Godin’s ‘Liar Blog’ led me to an interesting post on how Heart Surgery may be a complete sham! It turns out that bypass surgery (which is incredibly expensive, quite risky and leads half of the patients to suffer depression and a third to have measurable memory loss) does no good at all. None.

A link from Seth Godin’s ‘Liar Blog’ led me to an interesting post on how Heart Surgery may be a complete sham!

Dr. Nortin Hadler, professor of medicine at UNC knows what he’s talking about. He’s spent the last thirty years examining the stats associated with various medical interventions… and he’s written up some of his results in the Journal of the American Medical Association…

It turns out that bypass surgery (which is incredibly expensive, quite risky and leads half of the patients to suffer depression and a third to have measurable memory loss) does no good at all. None.

In one study, half the angina patients waiting for surgery got nothing but a cut in the chest—no surgery. The other half had the surgery. The results? The placebo group enjoyed the same improvements as those that had the “real” surgery.

Naturally, I googled it to find out more.  Hadler had this to say in an interview published in the Discover magazine:

I think bypass surgery belongs in the medical archives. There are only two reasons you’d ever want to do it: one, to save lives, the other to improve symptoms. But there’s only one subset of the population that’s been proved to derive a meaningful benefit from the surgery, and that’s people with a critical defect of the left main coronary artery who also have angina. If you take 100 60-year-old men with angina, only 3 of them will have that defect, and there’s no way to know without a coronary arteriogram. So you give that test to 100 people to find 3 solid candidates—but that procedure is not without complications. Chances are you’re going to do harm to at least one in that sample of 100. So you have to say, “I’m going to do this procedure with a 1 percent risk of catastrophe to find the 3 percent I know I can help a little.” That’s a very interesting trade-off.

BusinessWeek also wrote a feature on the subject of physicians questioning whether bypasses and angioplasties necessarily prolong patients’ lives:

With doctors doing about 400,000 bypass surgeries and 1 million angioplasties a year — part of a heart-surgery industry worth an estimated $100 billion a year — the question of whether these operations are overused has enormous medical and economic implications. “It is one of the major issues in cardiology right now,” says Dr. David Waters, chief of cardiology at the University of California at San Francisco.
 
It is also part of a far broader problem — what some health-care experts call the medicalization of life. “None of us will live long without headache, backache, heartache, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, sadness, malaise, or other symptoms of some kind,” argues Hadler. Yet under relentless bombardment by messages from the pharmaceutical and health-care industries, Americans increasingly believe that these symptoms — and many others — are conditions that can and should be cured. “We have an image of ourselves as invincible and powerful and able to overcome all odds,” Hadler says. “And the lay press is too quick to talk about the latest widget and gizmo without asking what it is and does it work.”

The BusinessWeek article offers significant insights into the questions that surround invasive and expensive medical care. It may raise more questions than answer them. But, in the end, aren’t you better off knowing the truth, as shocking as it may be!