Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Tradition of Excellence

I had always admired The Ohio State University Marching Band. As the daughter of an OSU alum, I grew up watching the band practice on Friday afternoons before games on Saturday, listening to CDs of the band in the car on the long drives from Atlanta to Columbus and religiously attending Skull Session before each home game.

In middle school I joined band and, naturally, chose the trumpet (although for the record, originally I wanted to play clarinet, but my orthodontist had other ideas). I went on to become a core member of my high school band program: as section leader and then drum major of the marching band, and member of the top symphonic band and district honor band.  When the time came to choose colleges, Ohio State was an easy choice. It offered me the opportunity to spread my wings and leave home for the first time and to attend a university with virtually every opportunity at my fingertips.

And there was the band.

Although I considered myself an above-average musician, the marching style of TBDBITL was 180-degrees opposite from my high school band and the learning curve was steep. Nevertheless, I packed up my things over a month before classes began and moved to Columbus, Ohio to try out for The Ohio State University Marching Band in August of 2003. That first year I made the band by the skin of my teeth and will never forget the feeling of hearing my name called as a member of T-row. The rest, you could say, is history.

I was a proud 4 year member of T-row and felt honored to serve as assistant squad leader my senior year of college. I have always been a vocal and proud TBDBITL alum, and the last few years of innovation by the band have done nothing more than strengthen my pride in the organization.

The news today saddens me.

This post is not meant to address each and every issue raised in the University’s 23-page report, nor to demonize those that felt the need to complain; however there are some things weighing on me that I felt the need to say.

I came to Ohio State as a very sheltered and na├»ve 17 year old (sorry Mom and Dad). I had never smoked a cigarette (and still haven’t) or drank any significant amount of alcohol. My knowledge of the opposite sex was limited at best. Upon making the band, I found myself as a young, female member of a male-dominated organization of 17-23 year olds.

Was there alcohol? Of course. Were there crude jokes? Of course. Did some people make questionable decisions? Absolutely. 

However, never once did I feel unsafe or forced to participate in something that made me uncomfortable. I was always free to walk away. The idiot outliers were not part of mainstream OSUMB culture, and more frequently were laughed at than revered. The guys I was in the band with were some of my best friends, and fiercely protective of me. I trust them wholeheartedly. 

I would challenge you to scrutinize any organization of over 200 college students, as these vilified behaviors are undoubtedly present in each and every one of them. And anyone that truly believes otherwise is kidding themselves.

It sickens me that we will now be judged by the “outside world” from a few extreme examples in a university report. However, what saddens me most is that this organization, which is over 120 years old, will now be remembered for this debacle and not the decades of exceptional music and marching. It is our job as alumni to bring the conversation back to those basics: the music, the marching and the tradition of excellence.

The people I was in band with are some of the best people I’ve known in my life. Despite how we will be described, we were good kids. My fellow alumni are now scientists, accountants, teachers, lawyers, NASA engineers, meteorologists, police officers and physicians.  They are moms and dads, little league coaches and volunteers. They are leaders in their communities and they will continue to be - because that is who they are to the core.

When I became a member of TBDBITL, I became a part of a family. My time with the OSUMB was the pinnacle of my experience at Ohio State. I will always be honored to have been a part of this organization and will stand up for it now more than ever. I can only hope that the thousands of TBDBITL alumni will stand with me.

How firm thy friendship ... WB.  

Friday, January 24, 2014

Why I Believe ...

This post will tackle a very different topic than most on this blog. However given that this is my only "platform" to share my opinions, it will just have to do ... 

As a physician, I frequently field medically-related questions from friends and family. I recently received an email from a college friend inquiring about the safety of the HPV vaccine, as he is the father of two young girls. He shared a link to an article which highlighted some of these concerns, particularly given that he felt he was generally “skeptical of a lot of vaccines”.

I struggled with how to respond to him, as I am not skeptical of vaccines.

I can provide links and PDFs to reputable news sources and primary scientific literature addressing the safety and efficacy of vaccines; however in this "debate", those sources tend to be quickly dismissed by the mainstream. Instead, the voices of celebrities without college degrees, media outlets looking for ratings and conspiracy theorists believing in a massive, secret genocide campaign by Big Pharma, provide the most reliable information. 

I am no expert on vaccines, but I did go to school for twenty years to embark on a career of lifelong learning. I have learned to critically appraise scientific literature and when possible, to try to use only evidence-based therapies in treating my patients. In my four years of undergrad, four years of medical school and three (of four) years of residency, I have received no kickbacks from any pharmaceutical companies or vaccine manufacturers. In fact, I'm not even allowed to get a free pen from those companies, as to not appear unethical. 

Vaccines are safe. 

Specifically, with regards to the HPV vaccine, there has been tremendous misinformation in the media (see aforementioned article above). One of the scientists whose research helped develop one of the HPV vaccines has expressed some concerns about the time frame for vaccination (not knowing how long protection will last), not the absolute safety of the vaccine, despite claims otherwise. In fact, she co-authored a paper on the efficacy and safety of HPV vaccines in 2011 (Harper DM, Vierthaler SL. Next Generation Cancer Protection: The Bivalent HPV Vaccine for Females. ISRN Obstet Gynecol. 2011;2011:457204), in which it doesn't seem she harbors such serious concerns about the vaccine that she "can't sleep at night". 

The VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) HPV vaccine death data that is haphazardly tossed around in social media is completely invalid. As of June 2011, there have been 68 deaths reported within 1 year of vaccination. Only 32 of those have been confirmed and none of them have been attributed to vaccination. A 2011 meta-analysis of randomized-controlled trials looked at those that had received HPV vaccine versus placebo (~ 20,000 per group). The placebo group had 15 deaths during the study period as compared to 19 in the vaccine group; side effects were primarily related to local effects from the vaccine. 

We are facing an unprecedented rise in vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States, with frequent outbreaks of pertussis, measles and mumps. And we continue to see the devastating effects of vaccine-preventable diseases in the developing world where the luxury of vaccines frequently don't exist. 

I could continue to cite statistics and data which I truly believe in, but instead I'll share some of the personal reasons I believe in vaccines.

I have cried with parents in the pediatric ICU after their unvaccinated teenage son died from complications of influenza, 
I have sat and grieved with a husband in the medical ICU as he struggled with the decision to withdraw life support from his wife dying of metastatic cervical cancer, 
I have spent hours at the bedside of a critically ill unvaccinated adult patient with septic shock from S. pneumoniae bacteremia, 
I have tossed and turned, unable to sleep, after an after-hours phone call with the mother of an unvaccinated infant with fever - worrying I was missing the signs of early-onset bacterial sepsis, 
I have commiserated with colleagues battling on the front lines against the resurgence of pertussis - working to save the lives of infants too young to be vaccinated,
and I personally have participated in a clinical trial for a human H7N9 influenza vaccine in the hopes of helping to avert another pandemic. 

Vaccines are not perfect, but they are safe. They will not save everyone, but shouldn’t we try?