Posts

The Thing with Feathers

By Michelle Au ’99
Endnote, Spring 2020

Last spring my family found a bird’s nest in our garage. We noticed it by chance, high on a shelf 10 feet up, a packed swirl of twigs and pine straw about the size and shape of a catcher’s mitt. One of my kids had broken a window in our garage months before (to this day, both the projectile and culprit remain at large) and it must have been through this breach that the bird gained access. It was unclear how long the nest had been there—for all I knew, it could have been months and I’d just never noticed it. We have a way of walking right past things we don’t expect to see.

Though she was rarely sighted, we were further surprised one day to find our mysterious tenant had delivered a clutch of five Instagram-worthy speckled eggs. We cooed and marveled over this development, but when nothing happened after a few weeks, we figured the eggs had either been abandoned, or else were duds.

YOUR SMARTWATCH

High-tech Health Tracker or Talisman?

By Michelle Au and Andrew Bomback 
Spring 2019

Think of the stereotypical representations of medicine, as they might appear on a television show: the crisp white coat, of course, and the stethoscope dangling at the ready. Syringes and intravenous lines, maybe. An X-ray or a CT scan slammed theatrically into a light box.

But any medical scene is incomplete without an electrocardiogram (EKG) machine running in the background, its jagged line tracing across the screen.

The EKG is the backbeat of many hospital scenes on television. Important medical things are happening here, it says.

The wearable EKG offers the comforting weight of medicine itself, worn on the wrist like an amulet warding off evil.

To tap into that potent association, many private medical practices, urgent-care clinics, community hospitals, technology companies, and health care-product designers use EKG imagery in their advertising.

Most of those images bear little resemblance to actual EKG tracings. The spikes and bumps generated for signs or emblems (like the logo of the daytime talk show The Doctors, for example) mostly amount to arbitrary peaks and valleys. They do not reflect the output of a human heart, healthy or diseased.

MEDICAL EXAMINER:
There’s a Proven Public Health Strategy We Could Use to Encourage Vaccination

As we learned with smoking, showing people visceral possible health outcomes effectively scares them into behaving differently.

Images of children with the measles grab more attention than any cheerfully sanitized infographic.*
CDC/NIP/Barbara Rice

By Michelle Au 
March 8, 2019 8:00am EST

In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched “Tips From Former Smokers,” its first-ever paid national anti-tobacco campaign. “Tips” featured real people suffering real medical conditions resulting from their exposure to tobacco smoke. The campaign gave them a direct platform to share their experiences, which the CDC thought would encourage current smokers to quit and dissuade future smokers from ever starting.

What distinguished this public health campaign was its visceral intimacy. In one poster, a former smoker named Shawn is posed with a lathered face, facing the camera as if it were a mirror while shaving his neck with a safety razor. The gaping orifice of his stoma—the breathing hole in his trachea surgically created after his larynx was removed—gapes at the viewer, the rim ragged with radiation scarring, a glistening red plane of muscle clearly visible under the skin. “BE CAREFUL NOT TO CUT YOUR STOMA,” the bold print reads.

SMARTWATCHES ARE CHANGING
THE PURPOSE OF THE EKG

Wearables help cast the medical test as a talisman
of health-care competence. An Object Lesson.

Ralph Orlowski / Reuters
 

By Andrew Bomback and Michelle Au 
February 22, 2019 11:30am ET

Think of the stereotypical representations of medicine, as they might appear on a television show: the crisp white coat, of course, and the stethoscope dangling at the ready. Syringes and intravenous lines, maybe. An X-ray or a CT scan slammed theatrically into a light box.

But any medical scene is incomplete without an electrocardiogram (EKG) machine running in the background, its jagged line tracing across the screen reassuringly, or alarmingly to cue a dramatic threat. The EKG is the backbeat of many hospital scenes on television. Important medical things are happening here, it says.