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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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195. Wait and Sea, the Tale of Poon Lim

1942, World War II was raging across the land and the oceans too. At this time Britain sent out a call for help, and many Chinese responded. One of these brave or foolish souls was Poon Lim. He was working as second mess steward on board the SS Benlomond and became quickly accustomed to life on board.

The SS Benlomond was a merchant steamer, unremarkable, and equally unarmed. German U-Boats scoured the seas for their metallic prey. Ready to shoot on sight. On November 23 1942 a German U-Boat sighted the SS Benlomond and contact was made. Contact in the form of two explosive torpedoes. That did not go down well.

SS Benlomond

2 hours after the sinking, Poon Lim happened upon a life raft and flailed in its general direction. I say ‘flailed‘ because during World War II, an ability to swim was not required to be in the Navy. This led to a surprisingly large amount of drownings among Navy staff throughout the war, even when rescue was swift on arrival. Eventually, after much uncoordinated splashing, he reached the side of the raft and hauled his soaking self on board.

Once he had recovered from the physical exertion he examined the raft. It was a ‘Carley Float Life Raft‘ and fairly well stocked. Among the supplies were some biscuit tins (complete with biscuits), a 10 gallon jug of water, flares, an electric torch and a bag of sugar lumps. More than enough for a short trip. Many things could be said about Poon Lim’s ensuing journey, ‘short’ is not one of them. In fact Poon Lim spent 133 days in the Pacific Ocean, a record of epic proportions.

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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Articles

 

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194. The High House

Reachable thanks to the violent and thorough application of nunchuksIn 2004 some developers planned a shopping complex in the Chinese municipality of Chongqing. As per normal they bought the land and swiftly evicted the 280 home owners, however they met resistance in the  form of Wu Ping and her husband, Yang Wu. The ever calm 49-year-old Wu Ping and supporting Yang Wu decided to not leave. Instead they settled down in their two-storey brick house while the land around them was scraped clean.

The developers were impatient and even began to excavate the land around the house; still, Wu Ping and Yang Wu stayed in their house. While the ground fell away from around their humble abode the developers apparently threatened the pair by sending up thugs, presumably thugs of the threatening kind. The oddity of the case and the bravado displayed meant news of the case spread far and wide. The image of a single house on a column of earth became synonymous with the struggle between citizens and property developers in an aggressively modernising China. As Wu Ping said:

“I’m not stubborn or unruly, I’m just trying to protect my personal rights as a citizen.”

Fortunately Wu Ping’s husband was more than able to help. Being a martial arts champion he threatened to beat up any authorities approaching the house. He also happened to be a practical and fairly determined individual. For simpler access to the house he cut stairs winding up the 10 muddy metres to the house. How? With the violent and thorough application of his personal nunchuks to the soft earth.

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Posted by on November 25, 2011 in Articles

 

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184. Deadly Dough

In San Diego the sun beat down mercilessly on every available surface, metal  singed fingers and waves of air rose off of the tarmac. Outside of a small shop there was a car parked, from inside came a muffled bang, no-one outside noticed. The figure inside the car reached up cautiously to the back of its skull then collapsed limply.

Over time the people passing in and out of the shop noticed the slumped figure with her eyes closed and windows rolled up. The figure was one Lisa Burnett, a 23 year-old blonde-haired figure who was now by some contrivance of circumstance inert in the front of a rapidly heating car. Eventually one person who had been in the shop for over an hour became concerned and carefully approached the car.

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Posted by on September 16, 2011 in Articles

 

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182. The Mojave Desert Phone Booth

At the intersection of two dirt roads in the Mojave Desert and 15 miles from the road in the middle of nowhere existed the Mojave telephone booth. From the 1960’s it existed to service remote miners working nearby in all of its hand-cranked glory. In the 1970’s it was upgraded to a touch-tone and then it was left. The miners then left and many mines abandoned. The telephone booth held its position but became ever more infrequently used, on the edge of nowhere. At some point it was shot. After being shot it became rather more interesting.

So it sat there with its broken light by the crossing of two trails of dirt, until it was discovered again. In 1997 when it received a little visit. Anonymous Los Angeles man ‘Mr. N’ was just looking at a map of the nearby area when he discovered a peculiarity — a dot. Beside said dot sat the word, ‘telephone.’ Mr N heard the call and set off, in his Jeep, in pursuit and in a pair of fine pair of Wingtip shoes. After many hours he did find it, and a surprise. He returned home satisfied and wrote a letter to a small, underground magazine which described his findings. Contained were the words ‘it works’ and the number so that anyone curious could call the desert. (760) 733-9969. Despite the chances, the phone company had been remarkably charitable and had let the phone stay connected for an extremely small number of people. Soon the number was to increase.

On the 26th of May Godfrey Daniels read the letter and became mildly obsessed. Calling it every day, leaving notes around the house, ‘Did you remember to call the Mojave Desert today?’ says the one affixed to his mirror. Each call was taped, while it rang he would automatically dictate the time, date and purpose of the call. Every visitor to his house was coerced into also calling the number. He was by his own admission ‘prepared to call for years’. Fortunately for his phone bill and confused house guests he succeeded in contact within a month.

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Posted by on September 2, 2011 in Articles

 

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181. Life Without A Pulse

It is commonly held notion that without a pulse, one cannot survive. In fact before the advent of open-heart surgery a lack of a pulse was, medically speaking, death. The definition has changed of course. Now in fact, it seems that a pulse is not required.

Dr Billy Cohn and Bud Frazier at the Texas Heart Institute believed that trying to copy the heart was a waste of resources, instead they have used an existing device, a VAD which provides blood flow via the means of rotating blades and doubled it. Leaving a final contraption that they believe can fully replace the heart. “What we’ve kind of done is taken two motorcycles, strapped them together, and called it a car,” said Cohn. VADs or vascular assist devices have been around since 1994 and constantly been getting smaller and more efficient, making them the ideal technology to make a heart out of.

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178. Bat Bombs

–This Article comes courtesy of my good friend Jack Evans.–

In 1942,  American dental surgeon Lytle S. Adams was contemplating bats. As World War II raged on around him he looked into bats as a possible weapon, some kind of animal attack that could no doubt be harnessed in the fight, specifically the Empire of Japan. Four potentially useful biological features of bats were noted, each of which was essential to producing one of the least known, yet most deadly products of the war.

Firstly, they could be found in huge numbers in Texas. This would mean they could easily be ‘mass produced’ as a weapon. Secondly, they could carry more than their own weight in-flight – females can even fly whilst carrying twins. Thirdly, bats can hibernate and during this do not need food or indeed any kind of sustenance or maintenance. If this could be harnessed, they could be made dormant and stored for large lengths of time, then awakened and unleashed on an unsuspecting enemy. Lastly, they fly in darkness and seek out buildings in the day time, meaning that they are both a stealth weapon and would home in on vulnerable buildings. Along with this, bats held other natural advantages. They could defy conventional detection systems. They were difficult to destroy using existing air defences and could easily navigate the confines of cities. With these advantages, he came up with the perfect way to weaponise bats; and so he created the bat-bomb.

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Posted by on August 5, 2011 in Articles

 

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