Archive for January, 2013

What does it take to become a doctor?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You often mention your colleagues at Harvard Medical School. I'm curious, what does it take to become a doctor at Harvard?

DEAR READER: Believe it or not, this is the first time I've been asked that question. Here's how things are organized. We have several hundred medical students. They spend four to five years learning to become doctors. Then they get an M.D. after their names.

What can I do about an overly aggressive boss?

EAR DOCTOR K: I'm the executive assistant to a CEO, a man I've worked with for years. By most measures, he's doing a very good job for the company, but people don't like him. He's aggressive, and that's been good for the company, but he comes across as angry. I think he'll listen to advice from me. How can he channel his aggression more constructively?

DEAR READER: I'm no expert on leadership, but I've seen many leaders in the medical arena. And you're right: An aggressive personality has both advantages and disadvantages in a leader. Aggression can drive a company to compete successfully in a competitive world. The leader can set goals that some on the team think are unrealistic -- but then the skeptics are proven wrong. They discover that they are able to meet their leader's goals. Think what happened to Apple under the leadership of Steve Jobs.

Is yoga a good way to relieve stress?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I know yoga has a lot of physical benefits, but is it true yoga can help reduce stress as well?

DEAR READER: Many people initially come to yoga to become physically fit, but they soon discover the psychological benefits. In addition to being great exercise, yoga is one of the best antidotes to the stress of modern living. I won't go as far as saying it is a fountain of youth, but I will say it can be a fountain of calm and equanimity.

What can I do about a bully in the workplace?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My boss constantly insults me at work. It's subtle, but it's real. What can I do?

DEAR READER: Obviously I have no knowledge of your specific situation, but I surely have seen bullies in the workplace -- including bosses who bully those who report to them.

How does digestion work?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Can you describe how food makes its way through our body, from the mouth to the other end?

DEAR READER: This question is fun to answer, because the gut is a marvel of nature's engineering. It's both a food processor and a garbage disposal. First, it works as a food processor, breaking down food and liquids into chemical components that the body can absorb as nutrients. Then, what's left -- the garbage -- is expelled by an efficient disposal system.

What causes a detached retina and how is it treated?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My father was diagnosed with a detached retina. The doctor said this isn't uncommon in older people, and that he could have gone blind without treatment. What are the symptoms of, and treatments for, this condition, so I can protect myself?

DEAR READER: Detached retinas can indeed lead to permanent blindness if they are not treated promptly. The good news is that, compared to when I was in medical school, today's treatments are much more effective.

How can I prevent ear pain on an airplane?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I fly a lot for work and my ears always hurt during landing. Is there any way to prevent this?

DEAR READER: Yes, there is, and you're not alone. The ear pain you experience -- barotrauma of the ear -- is the most common medical problem reported by air travelers. "Barotrauma" refers to injuries caused by increased air pressure.

What are skin tags?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have skin tags under my armpits. Are they dangerous? How can I remove them? What can I do to keep them from coming back?

DEAR READER: I've had many patients ask me the same question. They've just noticed this little ball of skin sticking out from someplace on their body, and of course they're concerned it could be cancer. Fortunately, it's not, and it never will be.

What happens during aortic valve replacement surgery?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have aortic valve regurgitation and need to have my aortic valve replaced. What will happen during this procedure?

DEAR READER: When it's working properly, your aortic valve opens to allow oxygen-rich blood to flow from your heart into your aorta and out to the rest of your body. The aorta is the body's largest blood vessel.

What type of reading glasses do I need?

DEAR DOCTOR K: It's finally happened -- I need reading glasses! Can you help me sort through the different types of corrective lenses?

DEAR READER: I don't know how old you are, but if you're over 40, there's a good chance you are like me. I have both myopia (difficulty seeing distant objects clearly) and presbyopia, which makes reading difficult. In myopia, objects in the distance do not focus sharply on the retina -- the part of the eye that senses the image and sends it into the brain. Glasses can bend the light entering your eyes from distant objects and focus the light on the retina.