Out of Left Field: Wisdom of the crowd and hospitals

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Professor Michael D'Innocenzo will be guest speaker at Emanuel

Perhaps you have had experiences similar to mine. As I grew older and spent time with fellow elders, we often talked about our medical challenges. Indeed, we needed to agree to time limits if we hoped to get to other topics (as ROMEOs strive to do).

Among these old guys, Romeos stood for “Retired Old Men Eating Out.”

I have not checked to see if ROMEOS have regional or national groups. But they were eager to get beyond medical updates to apply their experiences for the betterment of society.

The chance to do a more democratic diagnosis of ailments occurred at monthly programs I led in several libraries. At these mixed-gender gatherings men still did most of the talking. My approach was to apply the premise of “wisdom of the crowd.”

That term has been used in various ways, essentially contending that collective experiences and judgments are better than individual views (some apply this to the jury system, seeing a decision by twelve likely to be more effective than one made by a single judge).

My view was that we older people had extensive and diverse medical experiences, and if we discussed them we could find out what worked and why for some individuals. Then, others could apply that learning, that “wisdom” to improve their own situation.

None of this was intended to minimize the role of doctors (after all, seeking a second or third medical opinion can be considered part of the wisdom of a special crowd). Library program directors cautioned me not to spend too much time on my journeys of democratic diagnosis because, given the age of the patrons, it might take all available time.

I confess that I had a personal stake in asking others if they could relate to one of my problems (they then had turns seeking views from the experiences of others). For a brief time, I felt there was a start-up business potential in this activity (what do you think?)

Shamelessly, I asked a group of nearly 100 folks if any could advise me about how to deal with a persistent problem of peripheral neuropathy (too common among elders, without clear paths to escape).

I can’t take space now to detail that first discussion except to say that a few folks said they would speak with me privately at the end of the program. The most creative suggestion I received was to switch to suspenders instead of using a belt.

The folks who spoke privately with me were more pronounced than those who offered the same view publicly: “There is no cure; you just need to learn to live with it.”

Several folks said the worst aspect of the neuropathy was experiencing nonstop tingling in one’s feet, sometimes the same single foot – making it so hard to fall asleep, that several folks would need to get out of bed, walk around, or just fall asleep in a chair.

I am sorry to say I have no proven remedy to give you if you are part of the neuropathy crowd. My situation has improved (but not due to consultations with a range of medical specialists).

Because of various medical issues, more and more medications have been added to my daily regimen (although nowhere close to the dozens taken by the WNBA basketball star Elena Della Donne; she was recently denied a medical exemption for this season).

My left foot neuropathy is only occasional these days, but I am afraid to change any medications because no one can discern what caused the progress (I am still using a belt instead of suspenders).

I have benefitted in many ways from democratic diagnosis and the wisdom of the crowd. Having recent experiences at NYU Winthrop Emergency Room and as a patient, I appreciated the excellence of the collaboration of doctors, nurses, and staff.

When I left the hospital I was given a printed list of actions and consultations, with time frames. That constituted wisdom of the crowd of Winthrop medical folks. As a bonus for reading this far, I will leave you with a view on a transformative treatment.

Entering the hospital, I could barely hear anything. That got worse in the hospital. When I came home, I was essentially deaf.

Winthrop doctors thought a medication I had taken for 50 years was part of the problem. The medication was halted, and my hearing improved, but it was still inconsistent.

My best development was following the instruction of Winthrop for a visit to an ENT doctor. I saw Dr. Michael Ditkoff in Manhasset.

Now, I feel fortunate to be back as a hearing person (no longer using hearing aids, and, amazingly, hearing better than when I began the aids three years ago.)

Dr. Ditkoff used a motorized instrument I had never encountered before to remove wax from my ears (probably many of you, like me, were told never to poke anything into your ears).

I am enormously grateful to Dr. Ditkoff and the Winthrop advisory crowd for regaining my best hearing in years. At Dr. Ditkoff’s office, I sat facing a wall that was filled with drawings (by youngsters) as well as written tributes

When I complimented Dr. Ditkoff on all those commendations, he smiled gently and said: “I did them all myself.”

I appreciated his modest wit, but the wisdom of the crowd has dramatically affirmed his excellence.

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