Monthly Archives: July 2014

Exhausted but rejuvenated

We all need to recharge our batteries now and then, although we don’t all like to do it the same way. My wife’s preferred method is to put her feet up on lounge chair and read a good book. For me, something a bit more physical is a preferred choice.   There is nothing quite like going for a jog after a stressful day at work in the cancer center to help me clear my head.

My preference for unwinding on vacation includes being physically active. Indeed, I am doing so this week. For the past eight years I have spent the end of July with a group of friends riding on RAGBRAI. For those of you who are not familiar with this Iowa standard, RAGBRAI is the “Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.”   It is one of the largest recreational bicycle rides in the world. On RAGBRAI, more than 10,000 bicyclists spend a week riding from the west edge of Iowa to the east, with each year taking a different route. RAGBRAI is a rolling folk festival with riders in costumes and the small towns bringing out the town band and selling sports drinks and other high energy foods to bicyclists as they take a break during the ride. You may have heard there is also a beer garden here and there along the way (and no, I am not among the “wilder” RAGBRAI crowd frequenting the beer gardens while riding a bicycle). What I love about a day on RAGBRAI is that it is incredibly different from a day in the cancer center. No discussion of cancer; no deadlines or meetings; everyone is carefree and relaxed. The biggest decision I have to make in the morning is whether I should stop for a breakfast of pancakes or ride two more miles for the French toast. The afternoon dilemma – apple versus cherry pie.

Now, as usual, I thought about turning my time on RAGBRAI into cancer metaphor. How we can help the immune system recover and rejuvenate in order to fight cancer? The relationship between mental and physical well being? Nah … They are both good ideas for future blogs, but not today. After all, I am on vacation …

So, back to the ride. Tuesday’s was the longest ride of the week and included a RAGBRAI tradition called the “century loop” which, for those of us who took this detour, resulted in a ride of about 105 miles.   It was fantastic. I was physically exhausted but mentally rejuvenated.

More specifically, after the long ride, I spent time sitting under a tree with my feet up.   Maybe my wife was on to something after all.



Isn’t that nice!

We have all heard about “Iowa nice.” Iowans tend to work hard and do an outstanding job, but are modest and do not seek recognition or brag. Well … I will try to retain my “Iowa nice” but will cross the line slightly when it comes to modesty.

An annual rite of passage for academic medical centers is the release of national rankings such as the US News and World Report listing of “Best Hospitals.” Leaders of medical centers acknowledge that the formulas used to calculate these ratings are quite arbitrary and don’t directly measure the quality of the care we deliver.   For example, reputation score plays a major role in the rankings, changes slowly over time and can be influenced by creative approaches to marketing.

Nevertheless, despite these limitations, we look carefully to see how our ratings change from year to year, and think about how we can improve them.

This year, the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center was ranked No. 27 nationally among cancer hospitals. We had the highest possible scores in survival, number of high-risk Medicare patients, advanced technologies and patient services as well as recognition for being an NCI-designated cancer center and a Nurse Magnet hospital.   This ranking is particularly notable given that the majority of top-ranked cancer hospitals are in major metropolitan areas.   Indeed, we are the only cancer center ranked in the top 50 in a town as small as Iowa City.

It is gratifying to see the hard work, excellence, team spirit and dedication of our faculty, nurses, and staff get recognized at the national level even if by an imperfect mechanism such as the US News rankings.

Not bad for a hospital in the middle of the corn fields!

As we say in Iowa – “Isn’t that nice!”

So it goes …

In Slaughterhouse-Five, the masterpiece by Kurt Vonnegut (from our own Iowa Writer’s Workshop), the protagonist Billy Pilgrim used the phrase, “So it goes,” repeatedly when considering various traumas including the incredible horrors of war.  Much has been written about what Billy, and hence Mr. Vonnegut, really meant by this phrase.   I will not weigh in on this debate, but instead reflect on what this phrase means to me. Continue reading