Ben dreams of deadly sushi.

Ben Utter, one of the founders of Vital, reflects on how we–doctors, scholars, parents, everyone–can improve each other’s health by listening.


The lark sings loud and glad,
Yet I am not loth
That silence should take the song and the bird
And lose them both.
               —D.H. Lawrence, “Listening”

The doorbell rang in my dream the other night, and I opened our front door to find a food deliveryman. Without a word, he handed me a cooler and walked back toward his car. Inside the Styrofoam container were several slices of fugu, the infamous, highly toxic pufferfish, the kind prepared only by highly-skilled Japanese chefs, lest a residual trace of poison kill a diner. In the dream, I handed these morsels to my young daughter and son and watched—passively, but, as is often the case in dreams, with a suffocating sense of imminent danger—as they slurped them down. I awoke with a gasp, disoriented, still wondering whether or not this dangerous dinner was going to send my children into renal failure (turns out that on this count, at least, I needn’t have worried, since tetrodotoxin kills by paralyzing the lungs—an unsurprising error on the part of my mind’s dream production company, which had no more data to draw on than what I knew about fugu from watching that episode of The Simpsons). Continue reading →

Bicycle Advocacy Improves Public Health

If you’re an avid reader of Vital, you probably know that we like bikes a lot around here. First and foremost, it’s fun to ride a bike. And also, it’s good for your health and the health of the planet. With this in mind, I interviewed Randy LoBasso and Ashley Vogel of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia about what it means to advocate for bikes and their riders. Here’s what I learned. Continue reading →

Dr. P.K. and Vulnerable Me

With the power that inevitably accompanies a professional role like that of physician or teacher comes the responsibility not to take advantage of others’ relative vulnerability.

Infertility problems are not something my life partner and I have had to worry about in our marital and procreative relationship. After giving birth to four of the most wonderful, near perfect children on God’s good earth, we decide that it could only go downhill from here.

So one of us has to do something about it. I draw the short straw and find myself in a family practice doc’s office a few weeks later. I don’t know this physician, nor does he know me. My regular primary care physician has referred me to this man because of a Chinese surgical procedure for vasectomy that his partner has just studied. He has not mastered it, however (I will discover rather too late), and will be trying out his new skills on me. Continue reading →

Overcoming Vaccine Anxiety: The Power of Story

This week, I took my daughter to receive the last of her early childhood vaccines. Two years ago, she was completely unvaccinated.

I was raised by parents who, after some bad experiences with conventional medicine, opted not to immunize my siblings or me, instead pursuing more “natural” healthcare options. When I became a parent myself, I was naturally (no pun intended) inclined to follow in their footsteps. But I wanted to make sure I was doing the best by my daughter. So, acknowledging, but not truly resisting my confirmation bias, I endeavored to do some research.

It wasn’t pretty. Continue reading →

Can improv improve healthcare?

A review of Alan Alda’s If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?

A 2012 study conducted on behalf of Bosch home appliances found that over 40 percent of Americans admitted to having fought with a family member over the correct way to load a dishwasher. This is not one of our prouder national statistics, but according to Alan Alda, it’s one that probably shouldn’t surprise us. As he explains in his new book, “Pretty much everybody misunderstands everybody else. Maybe not all the time, and not totally, but just enough to seriously mess things up.” Continue reading →