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November Newsletter!

November Newsletter!

November 2020

Welcome to the November issue of WonderWell, a newsletter intended to gather the most groundbreaking research and insightful commentaries in evidence-based medicine, wellness, healthcare leadership, writing, and innovation to help you live and work in alignment with your purpose and well-being.
***Please note that to access hyperlinks please subscribe**

CREDIT: Olivia Van Dyke

CREDIT: Olivia Van Dyke/Tofino British Columbia/ October 2020

Some things that had me wondering this month:

1. COVID and…hidden patterns
Some rapid-fire wonderings:
~Published in the BMJ: a new hypothesis on face masks might be associated in falls in the elderly (and note, it’s well known that a hip fracture in an older person is significantly associated with mortality risk during the following year). There’s no doubt face masks are crucial, but how do we avoid the externalities such as falls?
~From the NYT: how schools that are open to in-person instruction are shifting via allowing teaching to occur outdoors. Related to this: Richard Louv’s classic book “Last Child in the Woods,” is an excellent foray into the issue of ‘nature deprivation’ — outdoor teaching helps lower COVID transmission risk while also changing the setting for learning (it would be interesting to know if this helps with attention)
~A great, short discussion of Dr Akiko Iwasaki’s work and recent award, in Science. There are many unsung heroes, namely researchers and physician leaders, who are finally being recognized for their work this year, during COVID. There is also a Canadian/UofToronto connection here, as she did some of her training at the University of Toronto. That aside, especially as a woman of colour in research/medicine, it’s wonderful to see her gain influence.
~Few more choice pieces from the NYT: by the great Carl Zimmer on vaccine safety as it relates to research trials, Ashley Fetters (whose articles in the Atlantic were among the best in my view) on loneliness as it relates to working from home, and this great one on COVID long-haulers in pediatrics.

2. Two incredible podcast episodes to listen to:
Tim Ferris with Seth Godin: a long-time listener to Tim’s podcast, in 2020 his empathy and curiosity with his interview subjects is even more clear. He asks the questions most interviewers don’t, and really gets into the nuts and bolts of “process” and “habits”. This interview with Godin is excellent because 90% of the time they cover the writing process and what Godin advises. Godin’s thoughts on writers block alone are golden.

The GOOP podcast with Rebecca Traister: a somewhat divisive journalist, Traister isn’t afraid to ask tough questions and here she really interrogates traditional ideas of feminism, and specifically the role that white women have taken in oppressing women of colour as well as men of colour. We all intersect with various identities and it is sometimes the case where learning into power “over” an oppressed group is confused with self-empowerment. On my wish-list for 2021 is for Traister to have her own podcast: I’d really just love to hear more of her takes on provocative issues, and she seems like she’d be a thoughtful but brave interviewer.

3.Tiny piece on friendship and connection
Maria Popova’s hugely popular newsletter is hands down my favourite weekly email. This one is from last year, but it rings true during this time as well.

4.Sound (and wise) reflections
~From Knowable magazine — what lies ahead for “Black Lives Matter” from a political scientist and sociologist.

~Water on the moon!! But even better — a millennial discovered it, from the New Yorker
“‘For the first nine hours and forty minutes,Casey Honniball, a 27 yr old planetary scientist, didn’t have much to do. She took a nap, ate a PBJ sandwich, & used her laptop to work on research proposals.”

So what was that about millennials being lazy and entitled again? 🙂

~And an obituary from a very interesting psychologist– one who questioned the status quo, and the elements of psychiatry & psychology that have become, rightly or wrongly, dogma. The squeaky wheels in medicine/psychology are the ones that often make these fields better.

5.Miscellany (politics edition)
~AOC in Vanity Fair: her journey, and earnestness, has been incredible to watch

~Racial politics and Kamala Harris, in the New Yorker: how does a possible future Vice President navigate the harmful stereotypes on anger?

~Why this year really does feel different, from Politico.

6.Best tweet of the month goes to…
ANOTHER TIE between

Posthumous Richard Feynman:
One of the signs of intelligence is to be able to accept the facts without being offended.

and editor Jenee Desmond-Harris, mostly because I couldn’t agree more:
The beach really fixes everything. Except home pandemic haircuts.

In My Own Words…
This month, I’ll share an archival piece about Halloween (one of the first pieces I ever published) and trends related to allergy — the Toronto Sun is Toronto’s answer to the NYPost (!); I’m just glad they liked it enough to publish it. And another archival one on election stress, and how it can affect voter turnout, published in Ozy, also from 2016. The month was busy writing wise but because I was invited to contribute a textbook chapter, for a textbook on physician well-being, to be released in late 2021. I’m fortunate to work on it with two mentors I greatly respect and enjoy working with, and the chapter focuses on physician mental health. Academic writing is much much different compared to say magazine or news or op-ed writing (obviously) but it was still fun. I’ve excerpted the last paragraph of our [draft] introduction here [for subscribers only]

This is a BIG week ahead for my American readers (but really, who are we kidding — it matters for all of us). If you can vote, please do. I know I’ll be feeling a bit anxious for the results.

Have a wondrous & well (and healthy, and safe!) month,

Amitha Kalaichandran, M.D., M.H.S.

August Newsletter!

August 2020

Welcome to the August issue of WonderWell, a newsletter intended to gather the most groundbreaking research and insightful commentaries in evidence-based medicine, wellness, healthcare leadership, writing, and innovation to help you live and work in alignment with your purpose and well-being.

So…it’s been awhile! I took a few months off to focus on the first deadline for my book…yes book! Details at the end. Oh, and I broke my wrist (ironic, given the title of my book). Let’s say that the experience was eye-opening, as I had a first-hand glimpse into the American healthcare system! I also left beautiful New York City, a place that I got to know well, & fell deeply in love with, in sickness and in health. As mentioned in my last newsletter, we are living in very strange times currently, so the newsletter has pivoted slightly to include the same themes, but with a COVID19 lens.

Some things that had me wondering this month:

1. Can pandemic boredom be…Good?
Perhaps. At least according to a piece in the New Yorker and another in the New York Times Opinion Section. Perhaps some of our anxieties involve having to sit in deep contemplation — whether we like it or not. But what possibilities might this afford us? I loved this quote from the NYT Op-ed:

“This suggests that self-reflection can be intrinsically aversive…Sure, boredom is a signal that we’re underaroused, but if we sit long enough with our uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, boredom could provide us with an opportunity to rethink whether we are spending our lives in a way that is rewarding and meaningful to us. What things might we change to make life — and ourselves — more interesting?”

2.Election things and Current events
A big month in the U.S., as Kamala Harris was chosen as the Vice Presidential candidate, marking the first time a South Asian American and Black American was chosen for the role. This is a great article on what it means for many women who identify with parts of her heritage — myself included!

We also marked the passing of actor Chadwick Boseman from colon cancer, at the age of 43. This is a form of cancer that has seen an uptick among young (20s-50) people, and it’s a disturbing trend that serves as a reminder to take the signs and symptoms seriously, and to get screened. It’s also a reminder that we never really know what strangers, and sometimes even our loved ones, are facing privately — so kindness is key. There were lots of tributes over the weekend: this one from the New Yorker is especially good, as is this essay by Marvel director Ryan Coogler. What’s clear is that Boseman was motivated to use his platform and his work to advance social change, particularly as it applies to racial justice. His work speaks for itself, and he left a legacy — both in his work and all of those he impacted (the consistent theme is his humility, grace, and kindness) — which may inspire us all. This quote below, from the New Yorker article, sticks out as it reflects how often the industries we find ourselves in reward the conformists over the trailblazer. Personally, I’d much rather blaze a trail.

It is, perhaps, this very sense of history, of responsibility, of implicit but intensely personal political commitment, that also inhibited the acclaim, while Boseman lived and worked, from his timid and stumbling Hollywood milieu.

3.Are Doctors People?
I dug deep into the archive for this one, reflecting on burnout and the struggles many doctors are facing during his pandemic. Roger I Lee was an incredibly accomplished physician leader who also served in WWI. He also had a little mischief and sarcastic streak, which makes him even more interesting. This short essay is worth the read. His books are hard to find as they’re out of print — this one is next on my list, and sitting patiently on my nightstand.

4.Our memories and our attachments and….a contrariwise state
The theme of “attachments” has preoccupied me since January, for many reasons. I just gave a talk framing this idea within the context of the Biblical Book of Job, and William Blake’s rendering of it. This season finale episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History, builds on this theme in a slightly different way, and it will move you to tears. It’s well worth a listen, especially as we mourn many loved ones this year. After you listen, read this, from the Globe and Mail — a beautiful reflection on how we might mourn our old [pre-COVID] lives.

Sometimes the biggest attachments we have are to our opinions — so the challenge then becomes understanding how these opinions form (the best understanding I have is that it’s a confluence of information and our values), and what it might take to change our minds. I’m in the process of changing my mind about something quite significant (I’d share but am still cocooning it), and so this essay, on Medium, which touches on Heraclitus and Jung and the idea of “contrariwise” — that eventually we gravitate towards our opposite mind-state, is fascinating.

5.A book I’ve been enjoying
On my pandemic wish-list, since around March, was that someone, somewhere, might write an anthology — short stories and essays and images — about this ‘time of COVID.’ A written and visual “time capsule” of this moment, in other words. Well, Bill Hayes has done just that with “How We Live Now,” just released this month. Hayes is an amazing writer, whose subjects generally focus on medical nonfiction (everything from an exploration into the man behind “Gray’s Anatomy” i.e. the textbook not the show! And his own struggle with insomnia). He is also the partner of the late, great, Oliver Sacks (and this lovely piece describes their love story). I’ve been enjoying his latest book as a way to integrate my own reflections of this time, some of which will make their way into the last chapter of my own book. It’s worth the read.

6.Best tweet of the month goes to...
Adam Grant — with his tweet on which opinions we decide to share. It might especially be relevant for forums like Twitter.

“Not every opinion needs to be voiced. Not every emotion needs to be expressed. A key question: does what you’re about to share align with your values? It’s good to be true to your thoughts and feelings in the moment. It’s better to be true to your guiding principles in life.”

In My Own Words…
This month I gave a talk to the National Partnership for Hospice Innovation, on grief and attachments during COVID. I’ll link to the video next month. I also moderated an important discussion for Ellevate, on mental health, with a focus on this challenging period. Last, I’m pleased to share my formal book announcement — it’s slated for publication in 2022. Thank you for joining me on this journey!

Have a wondrous & well (and healthy, and safe!) month,

Amitha Kalaichandran, M.D., M.H.S.