Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Physics and Medicine

This was a conversation that occurred during rounds on my GYN-onc rotation:

Attending: "If you have a tumor in the colon, what destroys those tumor cells to keep it from growing?"

Intern: "Uh...."

Attending: "I'm a logical person. I like to think in logical steps. So let's go through this logically."

Intern: "Okay..."

Attending: "What's the strongest force in the world?"

Me: (thinking) "Love?"

Intern: "I was going to say electromagnetism..."

Chief Resident: "Is it gravity?"

Attending: "No..."

Senior Resident: "Is it gas?"

Attending: "No. Look at it this way, if someone dropped a nuclear bomb on Mt. Everest, how much of it would be destroyed?"

Chief: "Maybe half."

Attending: "Yeah, if that much. But if you dropped rain on that mountain continuously for eighty years, would that destroy the mountain?"

Intern: "Yes."

Attending: "Water is a huge destructive force. It might be slower, but it does a lot of damage. And it's the water in the colon that destroys those tumor cells."

Except isn't force a function of time? What's that whole meters per second per second business? Moving something 10 km (the height of Everest) in 80 years isn't that great a force. I think dropping nuclear bombs on Mt. Everest is going to destroy it a hell of a lot faster than some heavy rain.

I hate it when people pontificate on stuff they know nothing about and make me lose all respect for them.


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  2. Yeah, that analogy was just bad. And let's face it... you don't want to take a figurative 80 years to get rid of a tumor.

  3. The science departments at my college were starting to despair about lower enrollment when I started there, so they made their intro courses more like "rocks for jocks" with various social themes embedded in theme. The intro chemistry course became an intro chem/physics/global warming/energy course.

    During the first lecture, our professor (a well-respected chemist) went on about how very soon energy would become the new currency, replacing all other forms of money with the Joule.

    He meant this completely seriously.

    I was a second-year economics major and had to do all I could to suppress my laughter, especially since I was sitting in the third row.

    I love it when people overconfidently pontificate on stuff they know nothing about and make me lose all respect for them. At least that way I know earlier on not to waste my time going to any more lectures.

  4. Fizzy: Pretty sure it's been raining off and on on Everest for a lot more than 80 years. It's really hard to move that volume of rock, even with nukes. My money's on the mountain.

    Max: not all ionizing radiation is EM -- there are particles (alpha, beta, and, in certain contexts, protons and neutrons) to contend with as well. Your path professor was right.

  5. Wow, that's one of the most illogical things I've ever heard from a physician - I hope that attending has their own daytime TV show now..

    Anyway, to approach this logically, one would have to arrive at the conclusion that the strongest force in the world is, indeed, colonoscopies.

    Just ask anyone who's had to drink GoLytely.

  6. According to my dentist, Mountain Dew would do it faster! It's the strongest force for decay in the universe... ok, maybe not.

  7. Kind of like how a medical student told me today that everything spicy has capsaicin in it. We were talking about black pepper at the time and he insisted that black pepper had capsaicin in it because it's spicy. And everything spicy has capsaicin in it (which is found in chilis -- not pepper corns). The capacity for some medical students to be totally and completely confident of whatever it is they are saying, even when they are totally and completely FOS is still baffling to me. (BTW, black pepper has piperine in it, which makes it spicy and no hint of capsaicin.)

  8. That analogy is not entirely useless (continuous water flow over time is a major force) but it is a weak attempt at deep insight and majestic metaphor.

    Nevertheless it is actually a lot of force. You're forgetting the mass part of the equation (meters per second per second is the acceleration, one definition of force is m*a) and eighty years of continuous rain is a LOT of mass.

    I still respect you though since you weren't pontificating and your cartoons are great ;)

  9. I am embarrassed for your attending. 80 YEARS???? Maybe 800,000.....

    My vote is still with the bomb, though as Zach said even that wouldn't do much. Moral of the story: nuke those tumors.

    (There's a reason it's called radiation oncology and not water oncology.)

  10. Actually, given the fact that the temperature on Everest is somewhere south of freezing, dropping water on it should cause it to increase in size.

    Not sure his analogy proves what he thought it would prove.