Doctors and data entry, animal love and loss, what cities need—and don’t—to “reset,” march of time.
Art Programs Won’t Rescue Ailing Doctors
The article “The Museum Prescription” [Nov|Dec 2020] merits recognition that help is needed for the ailing medical profession, but in fact it is analogous to applying Band-Aids to stanch the blood flow of a hemorrhaging patient.
The stressors are well enumerated, but it is the electronic health record (EHR) that deserves the most attention.
Psychiatrist Stephen Bergman (writing as Samuel Shem) in his recent book Man’s 4th Best Hospital compares EHRs to “texting while driving.” Rightly so, he also denounces the term physician burnout, which he states is rather physician abuse.
In the span of 15 minutes or so, major complaints, review of lab results, preventive measures, physical examination, and responses to infomercials and Dr. Google must be addressed. By the end of the day the doctor is totally drained. He or she is like the lobster in the boiling pot of water: trapped! Most often due to financial pressures.
They are too tired to go to art museums or to say we chose medicine to care for people not to be data entry technicians. We want to bond with our patients and know we are really helping our patients get or stay well.
So until we stop the clicking on the EHR, things won’t improve and visual arts programs, although well intentioned, will not rescue the ailing doctor and his profession.
Mayer L. Horensten C’61, Tucson, AZ
The Right Decision, But Painfully Hard
“How could you put your own dog to sleep?” When that question was put to me, my response was simply: if I couldn’t do it for mine, I wouldn’t be able in good faith to do it for others … but it was never easy.
I had a solo small animal practice—through the years I got to know my clients (and patients) quite well. There was one client who, whenever he called to schedule an appointment, my staff knew to allot a half an hour rather than the normal 15 minutes. We would attend to “business” for the first half—and just kibitz for the remainder (the joy of my own practice).
When faced with the reality of a patient’s lessening quality of life, we often collectively made that fateful decision. Knowing that relationship—aware of the many years the family had bonded with that loved one—and while in time there would be wonderful memories—now was the appropriate time; that very difficult choice to perform euthanasia was something we all knew to be painfully hard—but the right one. Albeit, my sadness lingered. On my last day of practice before entering retirement, I asked my receptionist one favor: please don’t schedule a euthanasia. I need a lighter, more happy day to end my career.
I admire Brad Bates V’10 [“Lapping Up a Final Act of Love,” Nov|Dec 2020]. He’s found a way to perform a necessary function of our profession—in a gentle and thoughtful manner—without adding to his pain by establishing long relationships with the client.
Moe Lipson V’68, Sarasota, FL
The Price We Pay for the Gift of a Dog’s Love
Even though Sammie was my cousin’s son’s dog, I never met her until the day she died. I was introduced to Sammie by Dave Zeitlin’s moving eulogy in “Lapping Up a Final Act of Love.”
All of us who have ever loved and lost a dog can relate to the heart-wrenching decision that an old friend’s time has come. But veterinarian Brad Bates’s thoughts on how he deals with people on their worst days and Zeitlin’s reflections on “the day” should give comfort to anyone who has also faced that sad day. A dog’s life is cruelly short, but that is the price we pay for the gift of a dog’s love.
Mitchell Albert W’76, Palos Verdes Estates, CA
In a Puddle of My Own Tears
When I opened up this issue, I had the strange experience of finding a familiar face staring back at me. It wasn’t a classmate, but rather it was the face of Sammie, Dave Zeitlin’s late giant beagle mix, and the subject of his beautiful article. Having known Sammie for all of her 11 years and having shared a long and close friendship with her owners, I was able to vividly “see” every detail of this story as I was reading it—from the front window facing their very narrow street, to the faces of their two inquisitive children reacting to this difficult event. While I always find Dave’s writing to be compelling and poignant (he sometimes even gets me to care about sports), this particular article left me in a puddle of my own tears. Thank you for sharing this story with us, Dave; I’m sure it pulled at the heartstrings of many readers. Rest in peace, Sammie.
Amy Cohen C’05, Bryn Mawr, PA
Family of Blessed Memory
The Nov|Dec 2020 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette with Dave Zeitlin’s article “Lapping Up a Final Act of Love” arrived at a very opportune moment for me. On October 26, I had to have my beloved Shih Tzu Mercedes euthanized at home. Although the veterinarian, Dr. Katherine de Jong, was proficient and sympathetic, it was still a disturbing moment for me. My Mercedes was 13-and-a-half years old, and a healthy dog until she developed bladder cancer. Her condition declined very rapidly afterwards.
Reading the article, I relived all the sad emotions of my recent experience with Mercedes. Her death was especially hard to take since she had been cured of a serious eye infection this past January by the excellent doctors at Penn’s Ryan Veterinary Hospital. Here’s what Dr. Keiko Miyadera, the canine ophthalmologist, wrote to me after treating Mercedes: “Mercedes is a very sweet little Shih Tzu and it was a pleasure to work with her! Feel free to contact us with any questions you may have. Take care!”
Mercedes’ ashes are now on my mantle along with those of my cats Candy and George and photos of my deceased relatives. They are all my family of blessed memory.
God bless the staff at the Gazette, Penn Vet, and Dave Zeitlin. It’s comforting to know there are many people who share my love for our animal friends.
Bill Gagliardi CGS’90, Aston, PA
Quality Public Education Is Essential for Cities
There is another major factor in the reset of major cities [“A Reset for Cities?” Nov|Dec 2020] that needs to be added on to the list outlined by writer JoAnn Greco: quality of public education. Education is one of the most important services cities deliver, something clearly documented by Penn’s recent large gift to the School District of Philadelphia [“Gazetteer,” this issue]. The total level of education funding involves all three levels of government, thereby opening up the allocation of the funds to the political divisiveness that has swept the country.
A recent Brookings Institution study shows that the largest cities in the country have the lowest test scores. That leads affluent urban families to use private schools or to live elsewhere—thereby reducing the urban tax revenues. Middle-income families also settle elsewhere, leaving low-income families to be the ones whose children attend public schools.
It is up to all three levels of government to approve budget allocations that reflect the handicaps of a child coming from a low-income home. If those formulas reflected that, and if teacher unions were cooperative, more employees and residents who pay taxes would live and work in the city. The economy would be stronger, the population would be healthier, and the crime rate would decline.
Anita A. Summers, faculty
Impact of Emerging Transportation Technology Must Be Considered
I have been a professional transportation planner for 40 years, and was excited to see the article “A Reset for Cities?” My practice has been primarily in metropolitan areas, and I know how much urban planners from Penn and elsewhere have to offer. As we face an ever more uncertain future, the value of planning is very certain.
An important issue that was not addressed in the article is the role of emerging transportation technology. Transportation planners have been considering the implications of automated, connected, and shared transport on our cities long before the COVID-19 pandemic occurred. The impacts are not just on the mobility of people and goods, but on urban form, equity, and public health. The pandemic has increased concerns about using public transit, but also Uber, Lyft, and every shared mode. Will those services be more or less acceptable when they use AVs without a driver?
E-commerce was already growing, and is now fueled by those who stay at home and order restaurant meals for delivery, or do not want to shop in stores. Systems that replace delivery drivers with robots that operate on the street (Nuro) and the sidewalk (Starship, Amazon, FedEx) are in use in pilot tests around the country. CVS and UPS have teamed on testing drone delivery of pharmacy orders.
Cities are witnessing ever more competition for the public right-of-way—streets, curbs, and sidewalks—for ride-hailing pickups and drop-offs, delivery vehicles, e-scooters and bikes, robots, and yes, pedestrians of varying abilities. City governments, planners, business owners, and residents all need to be thinking about this aspect of a post-pandemic world.
Steven Gayle C’71, South New Berlin, NY
Same Old Liberal Tropes
“A Reset for Cities?” goes a long way toward reinforcing the stereotype of urban planners as out-of-touch elitists, unaware and unconcerned about how their prescriptions might affect people in the real world.
Examples are numerous.
The article touts turning hotels into homeless shelters but ignores the impact that these—what might be euphemistically called “socially maladapted”— homeless people have on the surrounding neighborhoods. Eliminating zoning for single-family housing is seen as a “welcome corrective,” completely ignoring the fact that such housing is an aspirational choice for millions of Americans. Overlooking the needs of marginalized communities is (rightly) regarded as tone-deaf, but one supposed corrective is the issuance of business grants that explicitly exclude white business owners—something that would be loudly (and correctly) condemned as racist if it were done against any other group.
Particularly vexing is the issue of mass transit, which unarguably serves a vital need but at the same time has been hemorrhaging ridership as people work from home and avoid situations in which they cannot maintain physical distancing. Now is truly the time for the planning experts to put their heads together and figure out how to provide this essential service without breaking the bank.
But focusing on the notion that cracking down on fare evasion is a “criminalization of poverty” serves only to erode any support that might have been gained from people who play by the rules, pay for the services they use, and expect others to do so as well—and who would be loath to subsidize a service that they perceive as catering to freeloading lawbreakers.
Lastly, and perhaps most egregiously, the article notes, in approving tones, the currently en vogue trend to “defund” (reform, reallocate, etc.) urban police forces. No mention at all that crime trends have turned sharply upward after years of decline, steadily erasing the hard-won gains that turned formerly dangerous, crime-ridden cities into safe, desirable places to live, work, and play. If urban planners really want to save the cities, and if the Gazette wants to encourage this endeavor, they need to ensure that the programs they tout won’t turn the cities back into unsafe places from which people flee.
As a former resident of Philadelphia, I eagerly want to see it, and other great cities, not only survive but thrive. But the people whose job it is to figure out how to save them need to do more than just regurgitate the same old liberal tropes they’ve been dishing out for years, while expecting those who dislike their plans to just shut up and take it.
Glenn Hoge W’88, Ellicott City, MD
The Meaning of “We”?
Bill Clinton famously gave us “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Now comes this Gazette reader, wondering what the meaning of “we” is in “A Reset for Cities?” Consider just three examples from the article:
Sam Schwartz exclaims, “We’ve gone too far in relying on the automobile, and this is the moment to start making corrections.” Who went “too far?” Who will “start making corrections?”
Before lobbing a thinly veiled blivet (as defined by the Urban Dictionary) at President Trump, Michael Nutter asks, “Why do we provide this service? … Are we the best ones to do it?” Who “provides?” Who might be under consideration to do it “best?”
Nutter riffs on, wondering, “And by the way, what are we going to do with all of that office space? We need to reimagine everything. … [W]e need to take some of these lessons learned to figure out how to incorporate them going forward.” Whose office space is it? And just who reimagines what for whom and with what authority?
My guess is that “we” refers to those who would exercise ever more control over the rest of us. Am I right? (No pun intended.)
Stu Mahlin WG’65, Cincinnati
Maybe We Should All Have Pets
As often happens, I again noticed the interesting ways in which contents of the Gazette relate to each other—from “Letters” to “Views” to bylined articles.
My copy of the Nov|Dec 2020 issue propitiously arrived in my mailbox on Election Day—the end point of a rancorous political campaign and the beginning point of an unprecedented rejection of the results of the Election Day vote. Both sides of this political/social divide in our country between two about-equal halves of our society were reflected in different sections of the Gazette.
In the “Letters” section, I first encountered the schism in the starkly different responses to President Gutmann’s article, “Science and Solidarity” [“From College Hall,” Sep|Oct 2020]. The letters almost equally applauded and deplored Gutmann’s point of view as to the relationship between science-based public health concerns and the political pressures that arise in resistance to the responses suggested by these concerns. These reactions echoed the societal divisions clearly evident during the political campaign and clearly continuing based upon the initial political reaction to the election results.
Then I came to Dave Zeitlin’s article, describing Brad Bates (Dr. Brad) and his experiences as a palliative care veterinarian specializing in in-home euthanasia of pets. This article restored a little bit of my hope for our country in these divisive times. At the core, we are human beings and the same in important ways. As Zeitlin writes, quoting Dr. Brad on his interactions with people dealing with the loss of a loved pet: “‘They grieve the same. They live the same. The way they comfort their loved ones is the same. The way they teach their kids is the same.’ … [I]t doesn’t matter what politicians they like or what cable news channel they watch.”
As we work our way as a society through our current differences, we need to keep in mind our sameness as to our basic humanity. And maybe we should all have pets to help do this. As Dr. Brad observes: “There’s something to be said about people who love animals—they tend to be compassionate.”
Jim Waters WG’71, Pearl River, NY
Great Fun Then, Renewed Joy Now
Thanks so much for “Let Them March” [“Gazetteer,” Nov|Dec 2020], Dave Zeitlin’s retrospective celebrating the golden anniversary of women marching with the Penn Band. As a cheerleader and mascot, I remember well that the Penn Band members were by far the most engaged (and wonderfully loud) fans for Quaker football. Even when the Penn team was well behind its opponent’s score, the stalwart band members like Lynn Leopold, her sister Anne, and Peggy Schnarr still rendered themselves hoarse with their encouraging shouts. The partnership between our cheer squad and the band was a source of great fun for me and—even though one might consider this fond recollection trivial, considering all of life’s challenges we’ve endured through the succeeding half century—still, the article brought renewed joy to me.
Reeve Chudd W’73 C’73 WG’74, Los Angeles
I found it interesting that one of the museums collaborating with Penn Medicine for its Rx/Museum project is the Barnes Foundation. Albert Barnes graduated from Penn’s medical school in 1892, before he became rich (from a patent medicine) and famous (for his world-class art collection). Ironically, or perhaps intentionally, the paintings featured in the story are courtesy of the Barnes Foundation. Although Barnes never practiced medicine himself, no doubt he’d be pleased that his collection is helping doctors cope with stress, especially in the time of COVID.
Michele Winitsky Palmer CW’63, Storrs, CT
This letter is in response to the article “New Awakening” [“Gazetteer,” Nov|Dec 2020], which talks about the efforts by Dr. Eugenia C. South to increase diversity in the department of emergency medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine. In the article, Dr. South discusses the increase in diversity in the number of residents that are Black. This begs the question, was skin color a factor in the decision to admit these residents? If so, then it follows that five non-Black residents were denied admission to the program and were victims of discrimination because they were not Black. Rather ironic for a doctor who prides herself in ending discrimination in healthcare.
Another issue is if these Black residents went to Penn, then another program(s) were deprived of recruiting these same residents, therefore hurting their efforts to increase diversity. In this zero-sum game, her achievement came at the cost of other emergency medicine programs. The same could be said if she convinced these residents to go into emergency medicine as opposed to other fields in medicine. In this scenario, Dr. South deprived other fields of medicine of five Black residents, therefore decreasing diversity in these fields. Let us suppose these five residents were going into family medicine but instead went into emergency medicine due to the efforts of Dr. South. This decreases the diversity in the field of family medicine. In either scenario Dr. South has achieve diversity in her program at the expense of other programs. I do not think she should be proud of this.
Gerardo Reyes C’82 M’86, Burr Ridge, IL
Artful Balance of Views
I got a jolt from reading David Norcross’ witty sweet-and-sour letter, and enjoyed the aplomb and sense of humor of the Gazette editors publishing it as the lead item [“Letters,” Nov|Dec 2020]. Kudos for artfully balancing the diversity of letters you receive—most of which point in divergent or even opposite directions.
It is also good that the Gazette makes room for letters raising important issues, not just the entertaining ones. An example would be the terse letter by David Berkowitz, titled “Untrusting.” In view of the several restrictions on voting in “red” states, its reference to “Democrats’… historical/ hysterical win-at-any-cost attitude” does not appear to be its driving pun, albeit unintentional. Rather, the letter’s thrust is expressed in its call to be untrusting of “[the Democrats’] desire to alter the last vestige of constitutional hope—free and trustworthy elections.”
In view of the manifest robustness of our elections, is the letter’s intent to make light of our generation’s call for replacing the 18th-century device of an Electoral College by a 21st-century solution, easily afforded by the fact that information no longer travels on plodding stagecoaches but on extra-speedy optic cables? This issue of national interest deserves being afforded open debate—not peremptory dismissal.
William Acar Gr’83, Boulder, CO
An Internet Fever Swamp
Why does the Nov|Dec 2020 “Letters” section resemble an internet fever swamp? It features much of the usual cast of stock characters: a “globalist” conspiracy theorist/science-denier/“face-masks are tyranny” spokesperson; a writer who suggests that China is somehow responsible for our outgoing president’s lethally incoherent response to COVID-19; a fetid blast of pure gaslighting and projection baselessly accusing the Democratic party of undermining American electoral processes to “win at all costs”; and an individual bemoaning protests against persistent, deadly racial inequities in American society as “cancel culture.” Are these sorts of toxic cut-and-paste talking points truly representative of the opinions and the rhetorical skills of the Pennsylvania Gazette’s readership? Are you trying to be fair? Looking for balance and making space for a range of viewpoints is commendable. Well-reasoned dissent supported by facts is always worth printing. But lending credence to and amplifying alt-right disinformation and propaganda only deepens the divide between the reality-based community and those who seek—in the words of Steve Bannon—to “flood the zone with sh*t.” It furthers a political agenda that depends upon blurring the line between truth and disinformation. Based on content and substance, the Gazette clearly belongs to the reality-based community. I do not think you have any obligation to give the fever swamp equal time.
Michael Arsham SW’81, New York
Dear Dr. Fox
This message from a devoted student arrived in the form of a letter to sociologist Renée Fox Hon’11, who died in September and whose obituary appears in this issue.—Ed.
I did not know where to reach out to express my deepest condolences. I thought writing to you would somehow fill this void. I just sat down to read the Gazette and saw another alumnus write of how you impacted her life, in your loving way [“Letters,” Nov|Dec 2020]. I was smiling, feeling your warmth, until the end when I read you had passed. The world is a better place because of you. I am beyond indebted to your mentorship, guidance, friendship, and love. There are no words to express my gratitude for how you helped shape my undergraduate years—being my mentor for my individualized major and being instrumental in encouraging me to pursue a master’s degree as well during my four years at Penn. You were my role model and still are. I remember reading The Courage to Fail during my undergraduate years and reflecting on it during medical school, residency, and while I practice pediatric medicine. I remember sharing with you my excitement when my daughter was an undergraduate at the University of Maryland and she was reading your work! I called you to share our news when she was admitted to Georgetown University School of Medicine.
You impacted three generations of my family. My parents were always eager to read your work and were so grateful that you were there to shape my undergraduate education. I was so touched when you sent me a copy of In The Field—a Sociologist’s Journey. My mother and I read it cover to cover! I hope you are at peace and that you know how many people’s lives you touched with your brilliance, insight, compassion, kindness, and love. I miss you greatly.
With love from your forever student,
Mindy (Feller) Maggid C’87 G’87, Potomac, MD
Honoring an Esteemed and Brilliant Teacher
My computer system teacher Dr. Noah S. Prywes was amazing in a field few taught in the early 1960s [“Obituaries” this issue]. Few colleges even had computers, which occupied a large room. In Spring 1964, I was the first College for Women (CW) student and first undergrad liberal arts student to take his graduate course in computer systems. Dr. Prywes was so patient and kind. What an honor to have had such an esteemed and brilliant teacher.
Joyce Gendler CW’65, Clarion, PA