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199. Fighting Tuberculosis and Embarassment

Listening to a patient for tuberculosis

Near the dawn of the 19th century medicine advanced inwards. Doctors began once more to diagnose problems with the heart and lungs by placing their ears against the bodies of patients and listening intently. This practice had been used since the time of the Greeks but recent advances had returned to frequent usage. This new body of science was in its infancy and doctors had great trouble listening to internal problems and keeping abreast of developments in the understanding of the human interior. Then it was improved by chance and embarrassment.

The Doctor René Theophile-Hyacinthe Laënnec was busy at work in the nineteenth century, doing nineteenth century things when he was presented with a chest problems. It was a young and rather plump lady, who was followed by her family. They lined the room as the young lady told of her suffering. For a decent diagnosis, he needed to listen to her lungs.

Under the watchful gaze of the family and the pressure of nineteenth century sensibilities he felt suddenly aware of how uncomfortably close he would have to place his head to her bosom, so he improvised. He grabbed a nearby piece of paper and rolled it up into a tube and placing the paper purposefully on her skin. To his shock when he listened, the sounds were much clearer. The lazy lungs breathing and the nervous heart beating.

That day, in 1816, the stethoscope was invented. Over time they became less papery and more trumpet-like. So it was until 1851 when a binaural stethoscope, one allowing the use of both ears, was introduced. Designs similar to the ones still used today, or so I hear.

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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Articles

 

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172. The Dead Art of Self-Mummification

Sokushinbutsu is the name, a practice no longer observed or condoned by any Buddhist sect, self-mummification requires patience, dedication and a steely determination. Preparing for and living through your own death is an unpleasant process, truly a suicide slow.

It begins with 1000 days of withering. For just under three years only nuts and seeds are eaten, stripping any person of their body fat. Combined with this was a punishing exercise regime. After the initial thousand days the next stage was employed.

The next thousand days saw a shift, the only permitted solid consumption was a mixture of bark and roots. Then came a new tincture, the sap of the Urushi tree. A substance used to lacquer bowls. When ingested it is poisonous, causing rapid evacuation of their bellies and bowels. This was not the main purpose though, whilst it did test fortitude there was a practical use. Three years of imbibing that deathly sap would spread poison through the whole body, tainting all reaches. The aim was to make the body so poisonous that no maggot or other animal would consume it after death. In turn, preventing any rot or deterioration after death.

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Posted by on July 11, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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147. The Big Bum Coconut

Fruit come in all shapes and sizes, no sizes greater however, than that of the Coco de Mer. This bizarre fruit is both rare and exotic, with more than a passing resemblance to a pair of buttocks, earning it the nickname of the ‘Bum nut’ This curiosity is only found on two islands in the Seychelles, Praslin and Cureuse. Also known as the ‘Seychelles Coconut’ it requires 7 years to mature and then another 2 to germinate.

Once it is finished with all of its growth it reaches phenomenal weights, the heaviest one weighed reached 42kg  the largest weight of any fruit ever recorded. Behind this also lies a small mythology, it’s latin name Lodoicea callipyge means in part ‘beautiful rump’ after sailors who saw the mysterious double coconut thought it resembled a pair of disembodied woman’s buttocks.Until the trees were found to be the source in 1768,  people believed their source to be a mythical tree at the bottom of the sea.                   Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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139. Brainpower

The brain uses electricity, but how much? When measured in terms of Watts the human brain expends 20W of power. That is not much.

In fact you would need 5 human brains together to provide the same energy as an average laptop. So yes, brains are not a brilliant source of power. Back to batteries – for now. On the bright side though, a single human brain expends the same energy used by 18 mobile phones.

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2011 in Trivia

 

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135. Operation Mincemeat

During World War II there was a man, with important documents. Major William Martin he was; also he was dead. April 30, 1943 his body was found well decomposed in the waters off of Huelva in southwest Spain. He was clothed in a black trench coat, uniform and boots. Then there was a most important item indeed, a black attaché case chained to his waist, its contents unknown.

The Spanish fisherman who found his body reported it to the authorities, and so began a most complex series of events. The black attaché case you see, contained secrets which would greatly affect the outcome of that global conflict. Firstly the authorities scanned his wallet, finding that he was indeed the deceased Briton, Major William Martin. In his pockets they found odds and ends such as a picture of his fiancé and the bill for the diamond ring. Also he had what was reported to be high quality woolen underwear as was afforded to those of high rank – high quality underwear being in short supply during times of rationing.

A pathologist investigated the body and confirmed that he had died of a combination of hypothermia and drowning. Then the British got involved. The British vice-consul was a Francis Haselden. In his presence the case was opened revealing the contents to be military envelopes of great importance with the necessary seals. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2011 in Articles

 

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131. No Mean Feet

Attached to the many ends of the many legs, attached to many people are a great many feet. They are vital, marvelous and yet not often considered that interesting, which is a great shame if you ask me. So here are some short form facts to convince you otherwise:

  • The average person walks over 4 times the circumference of the Earth in their lifetime
  • The 250,000 sweat glands in the feet can produce up to half a pint of, moisture, each day
  • Children have more bones than adults, this is because smaller bones in place, like the feet, fuse together in the formative years of life

So appreciate your sweaty, bony and globe-trotting feet. If they are in good health they can support you for a lifetime. When running, those fleshy leg lumps have to withstand forces equivalent to four times your body’s weight with every step. Believe me when I say, that is no mean feet(!).

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2011 in Trivia

 

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126. Phantom Pains

Amputation is a very significant thing, it involves removing some part of you, whether the simplest type which involves removing a tooth up to the amputations of full on limbs such arms and legs. This is significant for how you feel things, there is simply nothing there, sometimes the brain just refuses. It causes the part where the amputated part was to still feel sensations, as if it were still there and moving with the rest of the body. Even though there is nothing there.

This is called having a Phantom Limb, it is when your brain insists that the amputated part is still there. Around 70% of Amputees experience some form of this, feeling sensations in amputated parts of the body. Fortunately the sensations become more infrequent with time and eventually disappear – in most cases. Why is it fortunate? The sensations are almost always painful; people who have teeth removed can feel the non-existent tooth still ache. Phantom Eye syndrome is when you get pain in an eye which has been removed and is another example of this Phantom Pain.

The most famous cases though, are with amputated arms. In these cases the phantom limbs often feel shorter than normal and they feel tense. As though some alien force were pinning the ghostly limb into a single position until it ached and burnt. In some extreme and blissfully rare cases the pain is constant, even staring at the stump remaining does nothing, the brain doesn’t recognise it, just saying ‘Arm is not responding, it must be clenched! It must be painful.’

Herein lies the greatest problem of phantom pains. There is no control, the amputee will obviously know that they don’t have the limb anymore, but regardless of how hard they try, no difference is made, the older parts of the brain respond to neither logic nor reason. Until the primitive brain realises it, the amputees must suffer at its expense. Fortunately for those suf

Tricking the brain and controlling a phantom limb

fering the relentless phantom pains there is a simple solution. A mirror. By showing a reflection of the remaining arm, the primitive part of the brain says ‘Oh look, my arm’ then comes the neat part. When patients clench and relax the remaining arm, the brain says that the phantom limb relaxes, and so the pain is relieved. By using these amazing mirror boxes the phantom pains can be relieved and eventually removed given time and repeated mirror usage.

So we are lucky, these pains can now be removed and amputation is all the better for it. Though the true problem remains, we cannot control the brain nearly as much as we think we can. It controls us. Even enough to make us feel pain in a long lost limb.

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Posted by on May 26, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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