The Best Of CommonHealth: Our Top Picks From 2012

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Happy new year. As we look back on 2012, we see that CommonHealth’s top posts of the year dealt with topics that have emerged as the emotional core of this blog: taking care of ourselves and our families.

Most Popular:

Flunking The Insanity Workout But Coming Away Wiser
When The Doctor Says It Won’t Hurt And, Incredibly, It Doesn’t
On Being Gay In Medicine: A Leading Harvard Pediatrician’s Story

Carey’s piece (and our number one traffic generator) “Flunking the Insanity Workout But Coming Away Wiser” offered an excellent morsel of fitness insight: even though the wildly popular tough-love exercise program was “wrong, wrong, wrong for me,” as she wrote, “fitness experiments that fail can still add valuable elements to our exercise repertoire….being pushed by somebody else — even an unseeing coach on a DVD — is a helpful reminder that we can probably try harder, if we choose.” (And exercise is not only about hard work, as she writes later in 10 Joys Of Weight Machines: Sex, Anger, Bacon And More.)

Our number two post, traffic-wise, recalled the story of Julia, Rachel’s 7-year-old daughter, who was rushed to the emergency room needing stitches after an accident. But the real story was about the wise, profoundly child-friendly doctor who treated Julia. The piece, “When The Doctor Says It Won’t Hurt And, Incredibly, It Doesn’t,” underscored the extraordinary compassion of Julia’s doctor and the techniques he’s honed over years to minimize children’s pain and ease parents’ anxiety during medical emergencies.

But it’s not just all about us.

Dr. Mark Schuster’s moving essay, On Being Gay In Medicine: A Leading Harvard Pediatrician’s Story, about the homophobia he faced in medical school and beyond was also a huge hit with readers. The comments tended to sound like this: “The compassion and kindness demonstrated in this piece…are proof of nothing less than an elevated soul. Knowing that there are such leaders in a field as important as medicine makes me willing and even eager to live on in this often tragic and ugly world, and continue to fight the good fight.”

Original, Multimedia Reports

Life of Riley: Rare Girl Battles A Rare Disease
Secret Suffering: Teens With Endometriosis And Years Of Baffling Pain
Listening To Patients

What we love most is to do original, multimedia journalism and here’s a great example: Carey’s remarkable story of Riley, a young girl from Maine with an incredibly rare disease, CLOVES, that leaves her with internal and external malformations throughout her body. Only perhaps 100 people in the world suffer from the condition. Carey and multimedia producer Jesse Costa followed the family’s medical and emotional odyssey over the course of the year — in video, pictures and stories. See the full series here.

Nothing beats a tense, medical drama for triggering questions about our health care system and hopefully, figuring out ways to fix it. Rachel’s story about endometriosis tells the tale of a teenager facing overwhelming abdominal pain who endures visits with seven medical specialists before getting a diagnosis. The patient comes from a prominent family — related to J.W. Marriott, the hotel-chain founder, and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch — but still had to search long and hard for a doctor to treat her condition, which often plagues teenagers and young women for years as they suffer in silence.

Dr. Annie Brewster, an internist who has multiple sclerosis, offers unique insight here into the very different ways doctors and patients think: her essay on how she decided to reject her own doctor’s advice underscores this fraught relationship. Her audio interview project for CommonHealth, called Listening To Patients, allows people facing serious problems — bulimia, addiction, a suicidal partner, paralysis — to tell their own stories in a kind of therapeutic sharing. See other examples here.

Policy For Your Life And Soul

What To Know About Massachusetts’ First-In-Nation Health Cost Law
Budgeting Care For One Of America’s Most Expensive Patients
Can My Company’s Wellness Program Really Ask Me To Do That?

We care deeply about health care policy, and one of our central missions is to report on how legislative and other health system decisions will actually impact your life. This post on “What You Need To Know About Mass. First-In-The-Nation Health Cost Law” is just one of many attempting to illuminate health reform.

Here’s another: an in-depth report on one of America’s most expensive patients produced by WBUR’s Martha Bebinger. And Carey resorts to cartoons to make policy more palatable in a new genre, “Wonk Cinema,” from deciphering the mysterious ACO to understanding the Supreme Court Obamacare ruling.

We also are keenly interested in health care innovators, like Rebecca Onie at the nonprofit Health Leads, who writes here about what rich countries can learn from the poor about improving medical care.

More than anything, we want our readers to take control of their own health: Carey’s story on what you should know about company wellness programs is one of the most informative pieces around on the potential benefits — and limitations — of these workplace plans, which are taking hold across the nation. Her overview of “lifestyle medicine” envisions the future of health care, in which diet, exercise, attitude and mental health are a central focus of primary care.

Food, Poverty And How We Die

Five Things You Need To Know About Arsenic In Rice (Before Dinner Time)
Poor, Sick And Cut Off From Dental Care
Let’s Discuss Dying: ‘The Conversation’ About How My Dad Wants To Go

A new emphasis for us, beginning this year, is on food and health. Here we tell you everything you need to know about arsenic in the rice you may be serving for dinner and how you can minimize your exposure.

Public health remains a CommonHealth staple. Pertussis, a preventable bacterial disease that is on the rise nationally, killed two-month-old Brady Alcaide, and we brought you his family’s very sad story. Lyme disease is endemic and growing in Massachusetts and beyond, and we contributed to a WBUR series on the complex topic. Contributor Dianne Finch wrote about the outrageous lack of dental coverage for the poor and mentally ill in this state. And Carey bravely documented “The Conversation” with her 85-year-old father, pressing him on his wishes about his own death as part of a national model for a much-needed conversation about end-of-life care.

Other Stuff We Care About

As always, we’ll continue to share with you great work from other journalists and writers. This beautifully realized video about a little girl who went naked for two months due to a sensory processing disorder shows the power of storytelling. And this piece about a stressed-out MIT undergrad undergoing a meltdown helped to reveal the precarious mental health of young college kids at MIT, but also across the nation.

From the start, some of CommonHealth’s signature reports have been on women and sex, but we do care about men (and sex) too. David Holzman’s provocative story on why female condoms never became popular (OK, it’s kind of about women’s health, but it’s really a guy’s perspective) raises important questions about contraception, marketing and the aging male body. And Carey’s fascinating piece on Peyronie’s disease breaks news on developing research for this condition, marked by a crooked penis.

But let’s end on a lighter note: Here’s wishing all of our readers a New Year filled with health and joy, limited Q-tip exposure and (if it works for you) many downward facing dogs.

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  • Anne DiNoto

    Thanks for this great review of 2012. I’m an (new in 2012) activist with Health Care for All and find your blog invaluable for my education on these issues. I just had an uncle die of AML leukemia, same as Nora Ephron earlier in the year would like to see a piece on this disease. He suffered thru treatment which gave him six months more to live and ended up with only two good weeks during that time; we are left with wondering was it worth it? Also more on tiered networks.

  • KW

    You guys do an amazing job coming up with an endless stream of fascinating stories. Congrats on a fantastic 2012; look forward to reading what you come up with in 2013!