Archive for May 16, 2009

Medical Minute Mysteries

May 16, 2009 Leave a comment


When I was in high school, there was a small paperback called Minute Mysteries that was kind of fun to read. Each page would have a mini-mystery, with characters and plot introduced and a puzzle presented. You were to solve the mystery, or try, before turning the page to learn the answer. (Or maybe you turned to the back of the book. I don’t remember.) One day in tenth grade, our English teacher, Miss Murphy, read a few of them to us. I suppose she had a point in mind about writing, but it was also an enjoyable diversion. What I’ve never forgotten is her over-reaction to my solving one of them instantaneously. Somehow, the essential point came down to a phone number that arose in the story’s dialogue. I should point out that in those days phone numbers had the form Xy 1-2345, where X and y were letters of the alphabet and 1-2345 are stand-ins for numbers. And the phone number in the minute mystery had ‘Q’ as one of its letters.

Of course, this is impossible, since phones didn’t have ‘Q’ as a letter. The numbers 0 and 1 were letterless (and still are), and each of the numbers from 2 to 9 had three letters assigned to it, allowing for 24 letters. The two letters omitted were ‘Q’ and ‘Z’. I pointed this out, and Miss Murphy couldn’t get over the idea that someone actually knew this. I admit, it probably wasn’t universally known, but it hardly struck me as obscure. Anyone could plainly see, when staring at a phone dial, that the full alphabet wasn’t there.

Anyway, the New York Times Sunday Magazine has a monthly feature that I love, a short article by Lisa Sanders, M.D., under the heading Diagnosis. Each article is two pages, with three parts: 1. Symptoms, 2. Investigation, 3. Resolution. Generally a patient sees his or her regular doctor, then specialists, gets nowhere, and finally has the good fortune to stumble on a doctor who has the key insight. They’re fabulous pieces, medical minute mysteries.

I almost missed the latest one. This afternoon, I grabbed last week’s NYT magazine to add to the pile of newspapers I was recycling, but decided first to open it, and there was the piece. I won’t ruin the mystery for you, but I will quote the opening paragraph from the Resolution section:

The patient says Helfrich was the only doctor who seemed to truly look at him. During that first encounter, Helfrich didn’t take notes, didn’t focus on his chart, didn’t click through page after page in the computer. He simply asked questions, listened to the answers and observed.

Good advice for us all.

Categories: Medicine

Baseball in Paradise

May 16, 2009 Leave a comment
Paseo Stadium, Guam

Paseo Stadium, Guam

Speaking of baseball (see previous post), I almost missed an article by Skip Rozin in the Wall Street Journal two days ago on baseball in Guam. Despite Guam’s long history with the game — the US having taken possession in the Spanish-American War in 1898 and Japan controlling it for a few years during World War II — players just aren’t serious enough about it to make an impact. Here’s an excerpt from the article.

“The great thing about Guam baseball is that it’s fun,” said John Hattig, an acknowledged local star. “When you play in the States, it’s for the love of the game and to get to the next level. When you come back, it’s more to be with your friends.”

Mr. Hattig would know. He’s the only player from Guam to reach the major leagues. Drafted in 1998 by Boston, he spent seven years in the minors before joining the Toronto Blue Jays in 2006. After the 2007 season he was released. He then played a season in the independent Golden Baseball League before returning to Guam this March, in time for the end of the season and the playoffs.

That he stands alone in Guam’s baseball history does not signify an absence of talent; the island’s Little League teams have made it to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., five times since 2001, most recently in 2008. It is, rather, an absence of urgency about the game itself.

“The problem we’ve always had is there’s not a lot of commitment to daily playing,” says Ray Brown, baseball development officer for the Pacific region called Oceania, part of the International Baseball Federation, the sport’s governing body. “You could play year ’round, but they don’t.”

High schools on Guam play only 12 regular-season games, compared with a typical school on the mainland that plays between 20 and 35 games. Even the BBL regular season is only 15 games long. (Midlevel minor league seasons in the U.S. are about 140 games; the majors, 162.)

“They don’t seem to understand that to play the game better you’ve got to work every day,” says Mr. Brown. It’s a harsh assessment, but Mr. Hattig agrees.

“I tell the other guys in the BBL that everybody’s got skills, but that isn’t enough — you’ve got to make sacrifices,” he said days before the playoffs began. “It kills us that we don’t play a longer season, and guys don’t want to go away. They go away to play in college but they get homesick and come back. I understand, yeah; this is paradise. But the game suffers.”

Categories: Baseball, Sports

A Game for the Ages

May 16, 2009 Leave a comment


Tyler Kepner has a piece in tomorrow’s NYT celebrating the Cubs-Phillies game that took place at Wrigley 30 years ago tomorrow. It’s a great story, and it led me to to check out the box score. Be sure to review it. You won’t see many like it. And what a collection of players. For the Phillies: Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Garry Maddox, Tim McCarver, Bob Boone, Tug McGraw. For the Cubs: Bill Buckner, Dave Kingman, Bruce Sutter, Bobby Murcer. The wind was blowing. The Phillies took a 7-0 lead in the top of the first. The Cubs got 6 in the bottom of the first, but the Phillies got another 8 in the third and 2 in the 4th. So now it’s 17-6. No problem. The Cubs got 3, the Phillies 4, the Cubs 7, the Cubs 3, the Phillies 1 — things were calming down. In one last spurt, the Cubs tied it in the bottom of the 8th, 22-22. Finally, a scoreless inning in the 9th And the Phillies won in the 10th, 23-22. They had 24 hits to the Cubs’ 26. But see for yourself at the box score link above.

The Kepner piece gives a taste of what the game was like. I love Dave Kingman. How can someone so mediocre be so good? He had three home runs that day. Here’s how Kepner treats the home runs:

Lamp said the presence of Schmidt motivated Kingman, who homered in the first, fourth and sixth innings with blasts that still resonate.

“The wind was like a hurricane, and Kingman hit one that went up so far, I’ve never seen a ball like that,” Bowa said. “Usually I’d just put my head down, but it was up so high I said, I’ve got to watch this.”

Kingman’s first two homers flew so far, Ashburn said, that if you added them together, they would stretch to Milwaukee. But the third was even more impressive, a towering drive off Ron Reed that touched down on Kenmore Avenue, three buildings in.

“It went over our heads by a mile,” Buhrke said.

Categories: Baseball, Sports