Posted on

The Common Vein: Clarity in Complexity


The Common Vein (TCV) is a learning process that clarifies the complexities of biology and medicine.


Complexity is the prodigy of the world.

Simplicity is the sensation of the universe.

Behind complexity, there is always simplicity to be revealed.

Inside simplicity, there is always complexity to be discovered

                                                                                                                        Gang Yu

The Common Vein is a tree of knowledge that brings simplicity to the complexity of human biology and medicine.  Its arborized organization enables a stepwise, progressive approach to self learning.  Any student who can read, and who is motivated, will advance through this rich network of material. Most principles begin with a simple word or concept, within which resides encyclopedic complexity.  The root elements of that word can be explained in a sentence, which then progresses in volume and complexity to a paragraph, then a chapter, then a book, and beyond.

Imagine a library with all of its books strewn over the floor.  It would be nearly impossible to navigate the available information. Efficient organization of information is the key to understanding it. This concept holds true in any field of education.

Organizing Information


From a Background of Complexity to an Organized Simplicity 

The above art-piece shows a background of extensive, pixellated, and seemingly inaccessible information. As it organizes into the central, conical figure, it begins to make sense. The word at the bottom of the cone becomes defined into its key elements (the 5 different colors of the circle).  A definition follows, which succinctly describes the essence of those principles. These elements advance to greater complexity at the next level: the paragraph.  Each elemental principle is further expanded in a chapter.  The ladder of organized information progresses, while remaining connected to its source. Roots and branches, origins and growth, are recurring themes in The Common Vein.

As we learn, we acquire new knowledge. At the same time, we modify and enhance preexisting knowledge. Education should therefore be viewed as a process, rather than a collection of facts (Learning Wikipedia). TCV’s cumulative approach reinforces previous knowledge as it advances existing knowledge. With the understanding that memory and its application are so key to the learning process, TCV encourages beginning with the roots (basics) and building to the branches (details) in a logical fashion.

The Tree of Knowledge

Below is a diagram of knowledge in its bare form. From the central trunk extends an arborising framework, from roots to branches, which represents advancement, or growth.


Roots and Branches: Sources and Growth


Roots and Branches: Sources and Growth – Advancing Complexity

The trunk reflects a single idea or concept (tree), which is part of a continuum belonging to something beyond it (branches) and something before it (roots).  The tree’s roots and branches again exemplify the concept of building upon previous knowledge.  The trunk’s extensions, in the form of roots and branches, are complex yet logical in their organization. A tree’s growth is multifaceted, yet progressive. The parts work together for the sake of the single element: the tree. In the tree, complexity and simplicity coexist.


A distinct focus on principles, especially as a starting point, provides a useful framework for learning. The Common Vein’s is founded upon principles that grow in complexity, which helps the student navigate the daunting mass of biological and medical information.

Principles of Human Biology

The image below diagrams human biology in its basic parts:


This diagram of human biology is structurally identical to the diagram above. This diagram shows that the roots of human biology lie in both the structural and functional sciences. Combined, those two sciences enable the miracles of the working body and working mind. This simple diagram captures the entirety of human biology. Beyond these base elements lies magical complexity, which we can never fully grasp.

Principles of Medicine

This diagram, again identical in structure to the two above, explains that the roots of human disease originate in the disorder of the structural and functional sciences. The branches of diagnosis and treatment have evolved in response to the need for order and health of the body and mind.


This tree illustrates The Common Vein’s central theme. Each biological part has both a structure and a function.  When they are in order and work cohesively, there is health.  With disorder, conversely, comes disease. The field of medicine attempts to bring order using two major disciplines: diagnosis and treatment.

Because roots and branches remain connected, a change in one element means a consequence in the others. The disciplines of diagnosis and treatment are founded upon the ability to identify and treat disordered structure and function. For example, an obstructed coronary artery causes a heart attack.  The clot in the artery causes a structural problem, with a the functional consequence (damaged heart muscle).   Coronary arteriography diagnoses the structural abnormality, and a cardiac echocardiogram diagnoses the functional consequence (decreased muscle contraction).  The treatment aims to reverse the structural abnormality by dissolving the clot, as it also aims to reverse the functional abnormality.

The Common Vein

The Common Vein finds clarity in complexity. It navigates the learner through complex information in order to understand, remember, and apply the knowledge.  Two major elements are used:

  1. Basic principles, which are connected and advanced through
  2. An arborised organization.

The “common” in the common vein refers to basic principles, while the “vein” represents the arborised connections creating a tree of knowledge.

Learning starts from the most basic element, and with careful progression, advances in detail.  Learning evolves over time, as it builds upon and enhances previous knowledge. The tree’s roots of knowledge reflect the learner’s existing knowledge. They are connected to the branches, which symbolize the paths of growth.

The Common Vein requires requires the ability to read, and passion for the subject material. With those, the whole field of biology and medicine opens up, and eventually, students learn to apply this network of knowledge as thoughtful thinkers and practitioners.

Posted on

Art, Anatomy, and Wisdom of the Kidneys

Art Anatomy and Wisdom of the Kidneys 

March is NATIONAL KIDNEY MONTH and March 14 2016 is WORLD KIDNEY DAY – dedicated to my teachers Dr Edward Smith and the late Dr Harry Mellins and  …. so here goes.

adrenal glands, adrenals, suprarenals, kidneys, anatomy, physiology, renal,

The Kidneys and Their Golden Adrenals

serve to preserve our precious water. The kidneys face each other (eye to eye) in the body as trusting life long partners. When the going gets tough for the one, the other is there to fill the void. How much more can one ask of a life long partner?

The Nephron –  The Little People and the Backbone of the Kidney

nephron, proximal tubule, Bowman's capsule, glomerulus, loop of Henle, arteriole, kidneys, renal, genitourinary tract, genitourinary system,bladder, urethra, Art in Anatomy, Ashley Davidoff MDFilter, Flow Concentrate

The story of urine production is the story of the complex physiology.  The diagram simplifies the steps in the production of urine involved in the production of urine using linear and wavy shapes and showing the connectivity and interdependence of the parts.  Blood (red) is filtered by the Bowman’s capsule(blue). The filtered plasma travels through a series of tubes (yellow) called proximal convolued tubule, loop of Henle, then distal convoluted tubule and with the magic of physiology enables water reabsorption and subsequent concentrated urine production. The urine is collected by collecting tubules, and transported via the calyces, renal pelvis and then ureters (orange) to the bladder (oval orange). The final pathway is out back to the environment via the urethra. The art is a combination of minimalism,  linearity, and spherism .

nephron, proximal tubule, Bowman's capsule, glomerulus, loop of Henle, arteriole, kidneys, renal, genitourinary tract, genitourinary system,bladder, urethra, Art in Anatomy, Ashley Davidoff MD

Filter Flow and and Concentate 

Same story – different way of artistically portraying the structural and functional order of urine production

nephron, proximal tubule, Bowman's capsule, glomerulus, loop of Henle, arteriole, kidneys, renal, genitourinary tract, genitourinary system,bladder, urethra

Parts of the Kidney Using Labels

genitourinary tract, genitourinary system, kidneys, nephron, arteriole, glomerulus, proximal convoluted tubule, Bowman's capsule, loop of Henle, distal convoluted tubules, collecting tubules, papilla, calyx, calyces, fornix, infundibulum, pelvis, renal pelvis, ureter, anatomy, kidneys, kidney, renal, Art in Anatomy, Ashley Davidoff MD

Fish Eye View of a Kidney Nephron 

is a sphere providing a view of the tissues making up the micro-tubular structure of the filtering system of the kidneys.  The connections between the tubular systems, arteries and veins, and the positioning of the loops of Henle are essential to the micro-function and macro-function of the kidney.  The style of spherism provides a sense of wholeness.

 kidneys, anatomy, physiology, renal,

An Ocean View of the Nephron

“Ocean View of a Kidney Nephron with Glomerulus Bowman’s Tubules Henle Arterioles and Venules at Sunset”  shows a an out of context depiction of the nephron.    The art piece has a surreal appearance with the sun at the bottom of the ocean and the tubules of the nephron with shapes reminiscent of Miro.  In addition there is a sense of spherism with the vascular system surrounding the nephron and the round shape of the sun. The water theme and the colors create a quiet and peaceful ambiance.

nephron, proximal tubule, Bowman's capsule, glomerulus, loop of Henle, arteriole, venule, kidneys, renal, genitourinary tract, genitourinary system,

Moods of the Kidney Nephron

“Moods of the Kidney Nephron with Glomerulus Bowman’s Tubules Henle Arterioles and Venules in All Colors” is collage of different colors of the nephron indicating different moods.  The art piece has a surreal appearance with a hint of Miro in the shapes of the structures.  The moods projected by the colors are mostly upbeat.


Kidneys – Macro and Micro

“Kidneys- Macro and Micro” combines the histology of the kidney with its macroscopic image.  The nephron with the arteriole, glomerulus, Bowman’s capsule, proximal and distal convoluted tubules, loop of Henle, and collecting ducts are shown in the their distribution in the cortex and medulla of the kidney.  The collecting ducts enter the papilla, then the calyx and reach the ureters via the infundibulum and renal pelvis.


kidneys, nephron, urine, anatomy, water, Art in Anatomy, Ashley Davidoff MD

Kidneys Water to Water

“Water to Water, Dust to Dust – If you have to Pee, then You Must” is one of the captions that has been used to describe this image. 95% of urine is water and the” dust” is represented by organic and inorganic compounds.  These include urea, chloride, sodium, potassium, organic solutes including urea, creatinine, uric acid.  In addition there are trace amounts of enzymes, carbohydrates, hormones, fatty acids, pigments, and mucins.  The inorganic ions include sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), chloride (Cl), magnesium (Mg2+), calcium (Ca2+), ammonium (NH4+), sulfates (SO42-), and phosphates (e.g., PO43-).

kidneys, renal, calyces, ureters, bladder, genitourinary tract, genitourinary system, abdomen. pelvis, X-ray, radiology, Art in Anatomy, Ashley Davidoff MD

Kidneys Ureters and Bladder in Pink

Kidneys, Ureters, and Bladder in Pink” is abdominal X-ray of the abdomen after contrast injection and shows the kidneys, calyces, renal pelvis, ureters and urinary bladder.  The pink hue softens the classical black and white X-ray, but is in contrast to obvious blackened skeletal structures, including the lumbar spine, and pelvic bones. 

The Dancing Kidneys


The Hora at the Royal Renal Wedding 

“The Kidney Hora at the Royal Renal Wedding” shows the bride and groom in the center of the first hora dance at their wedding. The dancing guests are derived from original CT angiograms showing the renal arteries and kidneys . The bride is derived from a nephrostogram (UPJ traumatic disruption) and the groom was created from a retrograde pyelogram.

kidneys, renal, MRI, MRA, MRV dance, renal arterry, renal vein, genitourinary tract, genitourinary system, Art in Anatomy, Ashley DAvidoff MD

Dancing the Rock ‘N Roll

“Kidneys Doing the Rock and Roll with Arteries and Veins Holding Tight” is the venous phase of an MRI angiogram . The kidneys each in different party colors, with a background of pastel colors gives a feeling or mood of celebration and delight.  The way they are bonded with vein on vein, and artery on artery provides the sense of partners holding tight in a rock and roll dance at the festivity.

kidneys, ureters, dance, flamenco, Fall, bladder, CT scan, art, art in anatomy , Ashley Davidoff

Paso Doble

“Paso Doble of the Kidneys in the Autumn” shows a duet in the Fall.  It portrays the passion of  male and female in a fiery dance.  The image was derived from a CT urogram showing the kidneys, calyces, renal pelves, ureters and bladder.  The mature and mellow colors are reflected in the yellows and oranges but are also characteristic Spanish colors.

kidney, arteries, normal, aorta, CTA, CT scan, radiology, dance, rumba

Renal Arteries Doing the Rumba

“The Renal Arteries Doing the Rumba” shows two fashionable folks pairing in an elegant rumba .  The two images are derived from separate CT angiograms and shows a normal aorta with renal arteries in different projections. The dancer on the left has a sleek twist while the the dancer on the right is in upright position with open arms for his partner.

kidney, arteries, normal, aorta, CTA, CT scan, radiology, dance, hip hop

The Renal Arteries Hip Hopping

“The Renal Arteries Doing the Hip Hop” shows two fashionable folks in a high spirited rippin hot wild Hip Hop dance.  The two images are derived from separate CT angiograms and shows the aging atherosclerotic aorta with the renal arteries in different projections. The dancer on the left has two stents at the origin of the renal arteries that look like part of the dress. The dancer on the right has a small infrarenal aortic aneurysm and an accessory renal artery on the right.  The elongated heads of the dancers give them a funky and wild look.

The Kidney Tree 

genitourinary system, genitourinary tract, kidney, arteries, veins, renal veins, renal arteries, normal, radiology, ultrasound, Doppler, power doppler, trees, branching, , Art in Anatomy, Ashley Davidoff MD.,

Summertime in the Kidney Tree

This art piece shows a color Doppler of the kidney and outlines the renovascular tree .  The black and white has been replaced by a skyblue color, while the red and blue of the Doppler has been replaced by the green, blue and purples of summer color. The image has been given an impressionistic feel with a Seurat pointillism effect.  The result is an image that has a feel of Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”

kidneys, renal, genitourinary tract, genitourinary system, Doppler ultrasound, veins, color Doppler, radiology, Art in Anatomy, Ashley Davidoff MD, trees, forest

Forest of Trees of the Renal Veins

A rendering of a Doppler ultrasound that has been reconstructed in 3D revealing the veins subtending the kidney.  Artistically the tree like structure of the veins has been rendered to create a forest of trees. The work gives a sense that the viewer is deep within the quiet of the forest, since only the base of the tree trunks dominate the view. The color provides a mood of peacefulness, and the magnification of the trunks provides a spirituality and humbles the viewer in the face of the magnificence and grandeur of nature.

kidneys, anatomy, physiology, renal,

Forest of Trees on CT Urogram

The  CT scan has been reconstructed in the coronal plane revealing the bonds between the kidneys, calyces, pelves, ureters, and the bladder.  Artistically the tree like structure of the kidneys has been rendered to create a bunch of flowers or forest of trees depending on the perspective of the viewer.

Lessons from the Kidney Tree 

genitourinary system, genitourinary tract, kidney, arteries, veins, renal veins, renal arteries, normal, radiology, ultrasound, Doppler, power doppler, trees, branching, , Art in Anatomy, Ashley Davidoff MD., winter, summer

Time for the Summer, Time for the Winter

This artpiece teaches us the unpredictability of fate and time .  The power Doppler ultrasound of the kidneys shows a variation of the renal vasculature.  On the left side, the vascular system is abundant, while on the right side, just the skeleton of the veins is demonstrated. The artist saw this image as an opportunity to explore concepts such as opposites, abundance, paucity, situational changes, time, and life lessons.  Relevant quotes include “Make Hay while the Sun Shines” and “There is a Time for Every  Every Season” .  Artistically a sharp line differentiates the left side from the right.  This abrupt change from the one season to the next can also infer unpredictable, and fateful situational change in  life.  In this case -there is a seasonal change, but the situation could just as easily reflect an abrupt change with the arrival of a devastating disease on the doorstep of life.   This image precedes a similar image showing the browns of the fall to the left and the winter to the right (below).

genitourinary system, genitourinary tract, kidney, arteries, veins, renal veins, renal arteries, normal, radiology, ultrasound, Doppler, power doppler, trees, branching, , Art in Anatomy, Ashley Davidoff MD., winter, fall

Time for the Fall, Time for the Winter

This artpiece teaches us the same lesson of unpredictability of fate and time.  Rather than going from summer to winter as time changes, this image goes from the browns of fall to the black and white of winter

Lessons from the Kidneys

kidneys, anatomy, physiology, renal, calyces, pelvis, ureter, urine, Art in Anatomy, Ashley Davidoff MD

The Pair in Purple

The art piece shows the kidneys with calyces, infundibula, renal pelves, and ureters. The pair have a intimate position as they face each other.  They have the same purpose in life -to rid the body of waste and to preserve water.  There is a commitment by the kidneys to each other  The art represents a promise of the kidneys to stay together through thick and thin – till death do them part. Personal ego plays no part in their relationship.  There is a clarity and simplicity in the art piece at the surface with well known underlying extreme complexity of the physiology.

kidneys, anatomy, physiology, renal, calyces, pelvis, ureter, urine, tree

Said the Kidney to the Heart… 

“You allow me to be myself, and do what I do best.  Without you I would be nothing!”  Said the heart to the kidneys “You rid us of waste and toxins, and you recycle our water. Without you, we all would be nothing!”  This profound conversation between the two organs contains the universal wisdom of biology and life .  We all need to do what we do best.  When we do this, the whole society of cells, organs, or people benefit.  The success of the one is the success of all.  The art piece shows the collaborative  form of the two kidneys resulting in a heart shaped tree.  The color of the trunk of golden urine brings the artistic element back to the reality of the kidney function and the gushing forth of urine.


And so ends the story of the Art,  Anatomy and Wisdom of the Kidneys