Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Lame contest

I've poked a little fun at the National MS Society's new marketing campaign slogan--"MS stops people from moving. We exist to make sure it doesn't." But I think it would be helpful if we could lend a hand to the Society and its marketing geniuses. So, in the interest of being part of the solution, being team players, I'm announcing a contest to come up with a better slogan. Here's how it works: we're going to stick with the format of the current slogan. So your suggestions should fit the following model:
MS stops people from _____. We exist to make sure _____.

Here, I'll get the ball rolling:

MS stops people from playing in marching bands. We exist to make sure there's something to watch during halftime at high school football games.

MS stops people from joining the army. We exist to make sure every American platoon in Iraq has at least one guy who always has to pee.

MS stops people from attempting 58 of the 64 sexual positions described in the Kama Sutra. We exist to make sure you get a chance at those other 6, including the one known as "the barking rabbit".

Prize? I haven't decided. Rules? I reserve the right to make them up arbitrarily. Go nuts.

Signs of spring

1. Robin.
2. Crocuses.
3. End of maple sap.
4. Smelly asparagus pee (you know what I mean).

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Is big pharma paying your doctor?

Very interesting piece in today's NYT about records showing drug company payments to Minnesota docs. See, Minnesota is one of a few states with a law requiring drug makers to disclose what they're paying providers. Snip:
The Minnesota records begin in 1997. From then through 2005, drug makers paid more than 5,500 doctors, nurses and other health care workers in the state at least $57 million. Another $40 million went to clinics, research centers and other organizations. More than 20 percent of the state’s licensed physicians received money. The median payment per consultant was $1,000; more than 100 people received more than $100,000.
There is nothing illegal about doctors’ accepting money for marketing talks, and professional organizations have largely ignored the issue. But research shows that doctors who have close relationships with drug makers tend to prescribe more, newer and pricier drugs — whether or not they are in the best interests of patients. “When honest human beings have a vested stake in seeing the world in a particular way, they’re incapable of objectivity and independence,” said Max H. Bazerman, a professor at Harvard Business School. “A doctor who represents a pharmaceutical company will tend to see the data in a slightly more positive light and as a result will overprescribe that company’s drugs.”

I have a great deal of respect for the handful of doctors who make up my medical posse, and it would never occur to me that they might be influenced by whatever goodies Serono, Berlex, Biogen, or Teva might be passing out. And I'm sure that my posse honestly believe that they haven't been, and couldn't be, influenced by goodies from drug companies. But there are dump-trucks full of money at stake for the drug companies, and you have to believe that there are lots of really smart people working very hard to influence my posse and your posse in very subtle ways, so that more of those dump-trucks end up headed in their direction.

So what's a patient to do, especially if you don't live in Minnesota or another state that requires disclosure? Is this something worth asking your doctor, even if it might be offensive? Over the last 13 years, I've been on each of the CRAB drugs for a while, switching drugs when I switched neurologists, based on their advice. And now I wonder whether any of my switches were influenced by drug company marketing efforts aimed at my neurologists.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Pool running

Just got back from the local high school pool, where I've doing some pool running and lap swimming. Over lunch, I can drive to the pool, get a good 20 minutes in the water, and get back to work without unduly stretching my lunch hour, although I'm sorta pooped when I get back to work.

I'm especially pooped when I first get out of the pool. This means that it's sometimes hard to haul myself out of the water, and I'm rather wobbly on the way back to the locker room. It also means that my brain may not be functioning correctly for several minutes. This happens to me whenever I get fatigued, and it's especially apparent in my speech, which becomes labored and occasionally garbled, like my penmanship when I try to write left-handed.

So I get out of the pool today, and, as is often the case, it's just me and the lifeguard. As I walk by her, she picks up the punch-card that I use to pay for admission, and sees that it's got my wife's name, which she doesn't recognize. She asks me, "Is this yours?" I look at the card, then say something like "Ohio
lunchbox, apparently." This has happened to me before: a lifeguard will ask me if I had a good swim, and I reply, "Frozen pancakes in the boot, Helen."

It's a little embarrassing.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Early spring ritual

Last Friday was a beautiful day: sunny and warm, maybe in the low 40s, so I left work early to tap the trees. We've got a few good sized sugar maples in the yard, enough for five taps that, in a good year, produce enough sap to give us a gallon of real maple syrup. This is our fifth year of back-yard sugarin', and drilling that first hole and watching the sap start to drip down the trunk of the tree brings back some bittersweet memories.

Our first try was in March 2002. Back then, we lived up north, had just bought our first house. The house sat on a couple acres, maybe half of which was wooded with a mix of popples and maples and birches. Up there, hobby-level maple sugaring was common enough that you could buy the taps and stuff at the corner hardware store. That first year, spring came early, and I remember seeing little beads of sap on the very tip of every little twig on the big old maple out back. I also remember sitting on the back stoop, sipping a beer and watching the kettle boil as the sun set, and thinking I never wanted to live anywhere else.

But after that second year, we sold the house and moved to Chicago. We left the taps and the burner in the garage for the new owner. After a miserable year in Chicago, we moved to our current digs, where we restarted our early spring hobby. I think we missed last season for one reason or another, but it was good to fire up the kettle on Saturday and smell the familiar smell of boiling sap.

This year, there was still several inches of snow outside when I headed out with the drill, which made it tougher to get where I was going, but easier to avoid stepping in the dog turds out back. I'm a little weaker and a little tippier than the last time I did this, and I was ready for a rest when I finished. As I slouched in my big ugly recliner, where I seem to spend more and more time slouching and thinking, I thought about where I was and who I was the first time I drilled into a leafless maple tree.

I still miss living up north, but I think mostly I miss the person I was then, seven or eight years ago: active, fairly fit, and optimistic about my ability to control my own future. A couple weeks ago, I thought about heading out to the ski hill to see what would happen if I put on my skis and pointed them downhill. I used to ski a lot up north, but I haven't been out for a few years now. I just ran out of energy and stayed home, though. Gravity is much less of a friend than it used to be; I spend a lot more time fighting it and a lot less time enjoying it. But it still makes the sap drip down into the jugs in early March.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Orange, apparently

It's National MS Awareness Week, and I forgot to buy you a present. Last night, there was a woman on the local news talking about what it's like to have MS. Today, the National MS Society announces its new MS 'branding' initiative. Snip:
In an effort to help make MS more relevant to busy people in a busy world, over the past year, the advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy New York, whose corporate clients include Nike, Coca Cola and Starbucks, has worked pro bono with the MS Society to develop a campaign to totally transform the way MS and the National MS Society is viewed right down to the very color that has been associated with the disease for the past 60 years. The ground-breaking initiative introduces a new way of talking about MS that focuses on the universal elements of what it means to live with this chronic and unpredictable disease. The agency donated over $1 million in time and creative talent.

This outpouring of creative talent has given the Society a new tag line ("MS stops people from moving. We exist to make sure it doesn't."), and a new color: orange. That's right, orange. See, all your really cool diseases have their own colors (pink for breast cancer, red for AIDS, yellow for testicular cancer, for some odd reason), and we really want a piece of that action. So start thinking about what in your wardrobe will look really smashing with a little orange ribbon.

Well, whatever. I guess I'm resigned to the idea that effective PR is an important component of the fight against MS, mainly because this country has not made access to healthcare or funding for research a priority. On the other hand, I'm not inclined to politely applaud Wieden+Kennedy's creativity for the new color and Society logo (which consists of the capital letters "MS" in orange with a black slash through them) just because they use a plus sign instead of an ampersand. Really, how long did they sit around thinking about the new logo before they came up with that one?