The most productive time of the year

For years I noticed a burst of productivity around the holidays. stuff that had been hanging over my head for months would suddenly get done. New ideas would suddenly pop into my head. 

I attributed it to things like the psychology of the calendar, or just having fewer emails to answer, or more unstructured time... But the recipe is simple:

Eat well. Sleep well. Stay connected to loved ones. Get some exercise.

That's it. That's all it really takes to complete projects, tackle nebulous fears, and poke the box.

Deck the halls (with questionable statistics)

Today's ACEP Member Communication email (entitled Emergency Medicine Today, in affiliation with BulletinHealthcare) had this as its top story: Injuries Linked to Holiday Decorating on the Rise, from a website called HealthDay News. The reported cites a US Consumer Product Safety Commission press release, crafted with help from Underwriter Laboratories (the wire engineers). They claim:

In November and December 2010, more than 13,000 people were treated in U.S. emergency departments for injuries involving holiday decorations, up from 10,000 in 2007, and 12,000 in 2008 and 2009, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
"A well-watered tree, carefully placed candles, and carefully checked holiday light sets will help prevent the joy of the holidays from turning into a trip to the emergency room or the loss of your home," said CPSC chairman Inez Tenenbaum in an agency news release.

Good advice. Though it's been said many times, many ways. So when it came time for CPSC and UL to raise the topic, did we need the very questionable statistics to justify it?

If you're having trouble wrapping your head around the number of decoration-related emergency department visits, consider this similarly bizarre statistic: 8000-10,000 kids are injured each year from falling televisions. So, for perspective: in the November to December period, Americans now endure more holiday-decoration-related trauma than an entire year's worth of falling TVs (though, now that I think about it, there may be some overlap, like if while putting up some Christmas lights, Dad knocks over the TV and it lands on Junior's foot -- that could be one ED visit logged in both categories.)

Without a trace

Heard about an old friend, sharing the stage with Billy Squier at our high school's send-off event (as another alum of some distinction noted, the building is being demolished).

Their performances got me thinking of a lot of the songs we practiced, growing up. And while I did say recently that music is "done" from the perspective that we can hear pretty much any song we'd ever want to hear, on demand, anywhere, the truth is there are some songs that seem lost to time.

If Google can't find a tune, does it really exist? There was some truly strange songs, burned into my head from repetition in middle school orchestra. From time to time, the tune or lyrics pop into my head -- but when I try to pin down that song -- Google's got nothing.

For instance, there was a whole awkward teen coming-of-age musical we put on. I think it was actually called Coming of Age. Songs included, "If I Had A Friend," "On the Outside, Looking In" and "Broken Home on the Range."

I want to know, were other middle schools forced to perform this, as well? Who wrote these songs? I'm not saying I'd be a fan, but I'm driven by a little nostalgia, plus the same kind of curiosity, I think, that drives people to hear Wesley Willis works.

Another example is a musical about singing troubadours -- this is the only reference I can find online. We praticed these songs on professional-looking sheet music, learning them by heart, just a few decades ago. Yet no trace of these songs seems to have made it into the digital era.

I suppose as every bit of trivia and ephemera from our lives makes its way onto the web, and we come to accept that no new experience will go undocumented, these last few holdouts will rankle, out of proportion to their significance.

Powered on

Sometimes, the blogosphere just decides they're going to discuss something in great detail. And now, with holiday travel upon us, we're talking about the inane rules that airlines inflict upon passengers -- especially the "turn off all electronic items that have off switches" rule at the beginning and end of flights. 

This past summer, when the IATA issued a largely anecdotal report on a few dozen incidents with no real bad outcome (spanning a period covering millions of flights), I thought the time for discussion was ripe, and compared some of the rituals of aviation to similar maddening rituals in healthcare

But now James Fallows is covering the topic, and has terrific input from a diverse and smart audience (it helps that he's a pilot, himself, and a terrific writer). Read it all -- just not during takeoff or landing. 

Built for speed

I had a couple of slow shifts in the emergency department recently, around Thanksgiving. And it made me think of Nomar Garciaparra, the old Red Sox shortstop.

Nomar always had to throw off-balance, while running and jumping. You can see his style on display when throwing the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway last year.

In an interview (can't find the reference, sorry) he said he always had to throw this frenzied manner, even for an easy grounder where he'd normally have time to collect himself. If he paused too long to think about it, the throw would come off badly, he said.

I always thought this was a psychological issue -- dubbed "Steve Sax Syndrome" by some.

But on those slow holiday ED shifts, I think it's just a good habit. When you're used to functioning well at a fast pace, slowing it down doesn't necessarily make you any better. Our ED's workflows, our data collection, and our decision-making, all all calibrated to work at a certain speed. Slowing it down sometimes lets us unearth a valuable piece of information -- but more often, it just pushes the signal-to-noise ratio toward more noise.

And hey, it's not like Nomar's quirk kept him from having a stellar career.