Tag Archives: Health

Motley Microfiction: Days of Rain

When the wind smelled savory and the clouds looked like burnished gold, Mom would send us outside with all the pots and pans, buckets and basins in the house, which we’d tuck beneath the rain gutters.

We’d barely sleep from anticipation, the rumbles above echoing ones in our tummies. At dawn, if school was out, Mom would let us play in the chicken soup that poured down in warm sheets. For hours, we’d splash in fragrant puddles swirling with noodles and earthworms. Mom always called us in too soon.

All winter, we’d sip mugs of rain and feel warm again.

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Chicken soup is a common classic comfort food ...
Chicken soup is a common classic comfort food that might be found across cultures. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here in the Jones house, we’ve been taking turns being sick all week. I was, unfortunately, Patient Zero, developing one of those nasty viruses that runs the whole gamut of autumn misery: sore throat, fever, and all kinds of crud in the sinuses. So you can imagine I’ve spent some time this week indulging in self-pity over the tragedy of adult life: that when you’re sick, you’ve got to carry on with your responsibilities in spite of it.

Still, don’t we all long for the days when we were children, and someone would come take care of us when we were sick? When your mom or dad, or grandmother or grandfather would offer you orange juice every couple of hours, make special soup, let you watch Wheel of Fortune in your pajamas instead of going to school? That’s what today’s story is about. I wanted to evoke that warm, nostalgic feeling of what it means to be a kid, and the healing powers of chicken soup. I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope my cold is not catching through the internet nowadays.

Stay safe and healthy, my friends!

Medical Microfiction: Diaphragmatic Aponeurosis

Making New Friends

Nolan had friends. Nolan had loads of friends. 1,224, to be exact.

Whenever he threw parties, he invited all 1,224 of them and received 1,224 RSVPs.

Of course, this always meant one hell of a grocery run. It took Nolan three trips to schlep all the 2-liters of Shasta, cocktail wieners, and pizza bites home in his hatchback.

8PM came and went, but nobody showed.

Later, Nolan brooded over his Facebook list of 1,224 disappointments.

Oh, well. Time to make new friends.

He clicked the “new account” button and got to work on Friend# 1,225. Maybe this one wouldn’t disappoint.

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I’m very excited about today’s medical term, because it’s an anatomical feature I learned about in my Anatomy of Speech class fairly recently. The diaphragmatic aponeurosis, also known as the central tendon, is a strong band of material located in the center of the diaphragm muscle. Together with the rest of the diaphragm, it forms a floor upon which your lungs and heart sit inside your rib cage, and plays a major role in pumping air into and out of your lungs.

The diaphragm. Under surface. Quadratus lumbor...
The diaphragm. The white part’s the aponeurosis. Not pictured: Nolan’s 1,224 friends. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While most other tendons in the body connect muscle to bone, the diaphragmatic is unique in that it connects a muscle (the diaphragm) to itself, allowing it to form a roundish shape while still allowing for several large passageways through the middle, so that you can both eat and breathe without the two interfering with one another.

Have you figured out how Nolan factors into this picture?

Much like the diaphragmatic aponeurosis: he only connects with himself.

*Rimshot*

Get it? Get it…? Hey, why aren’t you laughing?!

I hope this finds you better connected than the central tendon, and without a car filled with Shasta. Later this week I’m hoping to have another “Anatomy of a Sentence” feature out, so keep your eyes peeled!

Medical Microfiction: Pleura

Tar Pit: A Love Story

This is a love story about a tree and its hole.

From the beginning they seemed made for each other. They hugged each other’s curves, matching bend for bend — a union which grew more perfect with each passing year.

It came to a sudden end one day when a ravenous Apatosaurus tore up the whole tree by its roots and devoured it.

The hole doesn’t forget, though. Far from it. Nursing its vendetta, it gapes wide, deepens, and fills its heart with black tar. It waits for that murderous, leaf-stuffed bastard to return.

Given time, it can devour things too.

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Apatosaurus Louisae, Carnegie Museum.
Apatosaurus: the longest murderer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The pleura are two very thin membranes that shrink-wrap your lungs, walling them off from the rest of your body. The visceral pleura wraps the lungs directly, while the parietal pleura lines your chest cavity. Between them is a small amount of fluid that keeps them from sticking to each other.

English: Left-sided pneumothorax (right side o...
The arrow points to the pleural cavity, in this case formed by air trapped between the layers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now here’s where it gets interesting: in anatomy, we refer to the space between the two membranes as the pleural cavity, but it’s a bit of a misnomer because normally, no such cavity exists. If you’re healthy, those two layers stick close together like a pair of sheets on a well-made bed. The term “pleural cavity” refers to a potential space: it only exists when something’s gone wrong: when air or fluid has leaked between the layers and caused them to separate.

I’m fascinated by this idea of potential spaces, and that in some situations, an absence of something can be a presence. The relationship between the pleura and the pleural cavity is much like the relationship between tree roots and the space they create as they burrow into the soil. The tree’s hole doesn’t really exist until the roots are no longer there, but when the tree is gone, its absence leaves a presence: a hole that remembers embracing a tree once upon a time.

Apatosaurus by Yamada Katsuhisa
Apatosaurus by Yamada Katsuhisa (Photo credit: dcbaok)

In many ways, presences as absences are also a metaphor for grief. The death of something or someone we love, be it a person, animal, relationship, or even an object, can leave a void that feels like its own presence. Like a stab wound, we feel it. It makes itself known by its wrongness. In my story today, I wanted to explore how grief itself might seek to rectify the injustice caused by the void left when love is gone.

I also wanted to write about dinosaurs. Sue me.

I owe some special thanks to Drabblecast forum member The-hest-of-hale for helping me polish up the language choices in this story. Thank you, friend! Constructive criticism is hard to come by, especially on a story this short, and for your help I am very grateful

Medical Microfiction: Hypothyroidism

Recess on the Moon

At noon, the teacher summoned her students to dress for their daily run across the moon’s surface. They piled into the locker room and pulled on their jumpsuits, gravity boots, helmets and oxygen tanks. Lori lagged behind.

In her absence, the other girls huddled around Lori’s boots. “Who’s got the screwdriver?” asked Violet. They made the usual adjustments.

“Slow Lori!” the children chanted as they lapped her around the crater again. Lori choked back sobs. Every day, she ran a little harder. Every day, she clocked a slower time. Lori ran with the weight of another world on her shoulders.

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English: Moon view from earth In Belgium (Hamo...
Would you go for a run on the moon? I know I would! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hypothyroidism is an insidious and frustrating medical condition for those who suffer from it. It famously causes weight gain, lethargy, and a host of other symptoms that start out faint and grow increasingly more severe with time. Because the symptoms come on so gradually, it’s also an extremely underdiagnosed condition: many people whose thyroids are producing abnormally quantities of hormone won’t know it for years until the symptoms grow more pronounced and troublesome.

Since thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) govern metabolism and energy levels, a person whose body is deficient experiences life much like Lori does with her gravity boots. To perform at the same level as the other children, Lori has to in exponentially more effort, and the problem only escalates over time. She has an unfair disadvantage that is entirely invisible from the outside but is very, very real on the inside.

What causes hypothyroidism? The single biggest culprit is iodine deficiency, which is especially a problem in countries where iodine is not abundant in the local diet. It can also be caused by stress, radiation, certain medicines, and complications related to pregnancy.

Fortunately, the fix for hypothyroidism is very simple. Sufferers simply take a daily dose of synthetic thyroid hormones to bring their bodies back to normal. From what I’ve heard, it often takes some experimentation to hit upon the right dosage for the individual, but once the balance is struck, a person’s energy will return and the symptoms will abate.

In other words, just recalibrate the dang gravity boots!

English: Slow Loris in Sabah, Borneo
A clue about today’s hidden pun. Hover over this photo for the answer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Conditions like hypothyroidism demonstrate why, in a world where obesity is increasingly a problem, it’s important to exercise kindness toward people who struggle with their weight. We never know what level someone’s gravity boots are set to, or how they’d perform if the boots were calibrated to be in line with a person’s peers. Besides, recent research demonstrates what common sense told us all along: that cruelty causes people to gain more weight, not lose it.

Bonus points if you caught the hidden zoology pun in this story. Let me know in the comments below if you found it!

Medical Microfiction: Phantom Limb Syndrome

Redrawing the Map

He had a full tank, a thousand in the bank, and a newly acquired degree in psychology. With nothing to lose, Arnold hit the road for Canada. He dreamed of an expatriate lifestyle: getting drunk abroad, meeting exotic women, and other Hemingwayesque fantasies.

But when he reached the border between Montana and Saskatchewan, he found a steep cliff abutting an endless ocean. Where had Canada gone? He sped up and down the unknown coastline looking for a clue. As the sun set, Arnold found a solitary billboard overlooking the place where Canada had been:

Dear America,

Sawed off!

Cheers,

Canada

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Canadian flag.
Canadian flag. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s a terrible, terrible pun at the end. I apologize for its sheer awfulness. Or is it awesomeness? I’ll leave it for you to decide.

Phantom limb syndrome is a perception of feeling in a limb that has been amputated. A person experiencing this syndrome may feel as if the missing limb is still there and functioning normally. Most commonly, the person will experience pain, often severe.

English: Author: btarski Date: 6/23/06
The sensory homunculus shows how the brain organizes input from your body parts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It happens because the brain rewires itself after an amputation to make up for the lack of nerve signals that usually come in from a particular body region. Unfortunately, the regions of the postcentral gyrus responsible for collecting signals from the limbs are located near the regions for the face. That means for people with phantom limb syndrome, touching different areas of your face can make you feel sensations on your phantom limb.

Today’s story is an illustration of phantom limb syndrome from the brain’s perspective. Arnold has never been to Canada, but he’s certain it’s right where it should be. After all, he’s still getting signals from the region. It’s not until he drives all the way to the border that he realizes the truth: that Canada has been gone for a long time, and somehow he never got the memo. In the same way, a person who has experienced amputation will receive nerve signals that make the limb seem like it’s present, but in reality it’s gone.

Moral of the story: if you’re going to Canada, call ahead first.

Medical Microfiction: Coremorphosis

Apt Pupil

“Mommy, the doll in my eye hurts me.” Cora rubbed her tearful eye.

Amanda knelt and examined the little girl. “What do you mean, sweetie? You don’t have a doll in your eye.”

“Yes I do. You have one, too. Everyone does.”

Amanda opened her makeup compact and gazed at her pupils. Her reflection in miniature stared back. “Don’t worry, Cora. It’s just your reflection”

But the child rubbed her eye. “It’s hurting me!”

Amanda checked again. In Cora’s left eye, a dark figure oozed from the pupil. It seized the miniature Amanda and held a knife to her throat.

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English: Kewpie doll.
It’s cute until you get one in your eye. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Coremorphosis is the surgical formation of a second pupil in the eye. The Greek root for “pupil” is core-, which means “doll” or “girl”. The ancient Romans applied this word to the eye because they thought the little reflection you see when you look in another person’s eye resembled a tiny doll.

Incidentally, the name “Cora” comes from the same root.

So this is a story about a natural doll and an artificial one. Cora’s eye contains a double image: the true reflection of her mother, and an unnatural figure whose intentions must surely be bad. I for one don’t trust any reflections in my eye that don’t belong there!

Ever wonder what causes red-eye in your photographs? It’s your pupil’s fault .The pupil of the eye is actually an absence. It is the hole in your iris that allows light to enter, which through an astonishing process gets converted into nervous impulses that your brain translates as sight.

English: Glaring Red Eye
Red Eye, or vampire? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I used to think the pupil was an actual object that made up your eye. After all, it’s solid black! In reality, its dark appearance results from the fact that all the light entering it has been absorbed or reflected inside the eyeball itself. Red-eye happens when a sudden flash of light bounces off the back of your eyes too quickly to be absorbed. The camera captures the color of your blood coursing through the choroid behind your retina.

There are some conditions that will make your pupil change color. Leukocoria gives the pupil a whitish appearance, sort of like an animal’s eyes in the dark. Leukocoria is usually a symptom that something is malfunctioning in your eyes, so if you notice this symptom, make sure to get it checked by a doctor.

Happy Friday, everyone! What was your best accomplishment this week? What’re you looking forward to this weekend?

Medical Microfiction: Autonomic

AutoNoggin3000

Thank you for installing AutoNoggin3000. Your personalized brain optimization report is now loading.

Franklin clicked on the report’s Background Processes tab. Breathing.exe, digestion.exe… OldTaxReturns91.exe?! It took up 25% of his working memory. Franklin closed the program.

The clarity of his thought increased instantly. Curious, he reloaded OldTaxReturns91.exe. His processes dulled again as the ongoing sex tape in his head came back online.

Excited by this discovery, Franklin skimmed the report for other unnecessary processes. Like this one with a turntable icon: DemBeats.exe. That must turn off the earworms. He terminated it.

The coroner’s report called his death a heart attack.

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A Turntable!
Crank up DemBeats.exe!

The autonomic nervous system is the part of your nervous system responsible for the things your body does automatically. These are processes that happen regardless of whether you consciously think about them or not. Things like breathing, digestion, salivating, heart rate, and yes, sexual arousal.

Heart rate’s an interesting one. Heart muscle, also called cardiac muscle, is the only muscle in the body that produces its own electrical signals allowing it to contract. To put it anther way, your heart is a completely closed system. If given a continuous supply of nutrition and oxygen, your heart will go on beating without you. Past experiments have kept animal heart cells alive in the lab for years without bodies. More recently, there’s research in the works that allows you to drop a “dead” heart into a chemical cocktail that’ll start it right back up. That’s why in the medical world, life and death aren’t defined by heartbeat alone (it’s a combination of things, but that’s a topic for another day).

If the heart’s a closed system, then what does DemBeats.exe do? The autonomic nervous system controls your heart rate. It’s a natural pacemaker. So if you were to shut down that program, the heart itself decides how fast it beats, which means Franklin’s gonna have a heart attack.

The information technology sector was a signif...
Ever wanted to overclock your brain? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What would happen if we could optimize our brains like we do our computers? I for one would love to turn off background processes at will that were distracting or inconvenient. And what if we could clean out and organize all those old files we’ve been collecting? You could forget bad memories and clear out room for new ones. You could rescue those old files you wish you’d taken better care of, like my terrible Italian language skills.

Hey, where did all these old episodes of Pokemon come from?

If you could optimize your brain, would you want to change anything, and if so, what?

Medical Microfiction: Remission

The Plague Cicadas

They came flying over the sea: horse-sized insects in battle armor. Eyes like red coals and hungry jaws. They chewed through our trees, our homes, our bodies. Anything the touched, they consumed, heedless of our misery.

But we drove them back in the end.

Victory! We have stacked and burned the bodies of the strange invaders. We have buried our dead and made songs for our heroes.

It’s time to put these dark days behind us. Tonight we celebrate victory.

Apart from the rest of us, one old warrior stands at the ocean’s edge, scanning the horizon with doubtful eyes.

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Cicada
Cicada (Photo credit: plounsbury)

You’ve heard the word remission before, probably in association with cancer. Remission means the subsiding or diminishing of a disease. Full remission is distinct from a cure because while the disease is no longer detectable, there’s always a chance it could reoccur. This is true of many types of cancer, and of some types of bowel disease. Still, even with that distinction, in cases of chronic or incurable diseases remission is great news indeed.

Today I’m happy to report that my wonderful friend, who has been battling acute leukemia since November, got news a few days ago that the leukemia’s completely undetectable in her body for the first time since the battle began. Full remission! And the timing couldn’t be better. Today she’s entering the hospital to begin prepping for her bone marrow transplant next week. There is no better time to do a transplant than when the disease has been so thoroughly beaten into the ground.

The cool thing about bone marrow transplants? When successful, they can actually cure leukemia. Not just put it into full remission; cure it. That’s why I’m so enthusiastic about the bone marrow registry and highly encourage you to consider joining it, or the branch in the country you live in.

I think cicadas make for a good metaphor for remission. Cicadas have a unique life cycle. They spend years and years living underground and only emerge to mate, lay eggs, and die. Then their grubs go underground for up to 17 years before they emerge again. As with any incurable disease, they’re likely to reappear after being completely gone for years and years.

This year marked the return of one cicada brood up and down the East Coast of the United States. They’re remarkable insects, cicadas. Check out this gorgeous video for a real treat. Make it big, and set it to HD for best enjoyment:

Beautiful. Have you ever witnessed a brood of cicadas emerge? I wanted to drive around and look for one this year, but just barely missed the window!

Medical Microfiction: Prosopagnosia

Brain Damage You Can Believe In

It’d been over a year since my racist grandma made one of her trademark comments about “those people” bringing down the neighborhood. Indeed, all our family get-togethers had seemed unusually civil lately. Great-Uncle Ernie hadn’t cracked a sammich joke in ages, and my horrible Aunt Louise actually complimented a rabbi yesterday.

Concerned, we took Grandma in for a full workup.

“I’ve been seeing lots of similar cases,” said the neurologist. “They can’t tell a stranger’s face from their own anymore. Damage to the fusiform gyrus in the brain. Turns out radiation from cell phone use isn’t so harmless after all.”

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Perception: Prosopagnosia
Do you see one face, or many faces? (Photo credit: sbpoet)

Remember pareidolia, the human tendency to see faces in pretty much anything? Today’s word, prosopagnosia, is what happens when the portion of the brain responsible for pareidolia goes bad. Prosopagnosia, or face blindness, is the inability to tell one face from another, usually because of damage to the ventral fusiform gyrus. A person with this condition will not be able to tell one face from another. Your racist grandma won’t be able to tell “her people” apart from the “wrong sort”. She won’t even be able to recognize herself if she looks in the mirror! Prosopagnosiacs rely on clothing, voices, and other cues in order to recognize friends, family, and acquaintances.

I started composing this story several weeks ago, and in that time I’ve seen this rather obscure medical word pop up everywhere. First, Brad Pitt decides he’s got face blindness. It may very well be the case, but call me skeptical. Prosopagnosia is more than just being bad with faces and names. Honestly, I’m bad with faces and names. Terrible, in fact. I’ve been known to answer the door and cheerfully introduce myself to old friends I haven’t seen in years. But I can still recognize my own face in the mirror. I can tell my husband apart from my brother. People with true prosopagnosia can’t do that. I would want to ask Brad if he routinely mistakes his wife for other women, or has trouble telling his own face apart from his coworkers’ faces in promotional shots of his movies.

Otherwise, he’s just bad with faces. No shame in that, but it’s not face blindness.

A shaken Clark Kent, unconcerned about his sec...
Either everyone in Metropolis has prosopagnosia, or they’re a bunch of morons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In other prosopagnosia-related news, I found this hilarious article speculating whether Superman induces face blindness in the people around him, which would explain why no one seems to see through his terrible Clark Kent disguise.

Finally, living at the intersection of face blindness and microfiction, the award-winning sci-fi author Ken Liu wrote his own 100-word story for the Drabblecast this week entitled “Prosopagnosia”. Go listen to the episode! The story’s unbelievably good, especially for its length, and best of all, it’s medically accurate! With the Brad Pitts of the world muddying up the definitions for the public, I always appreciate it when writers give a little TLC to scientific precision.

As an added bonus, listen for my 100-character story at the end of the episode. It’s under my forum name, Varda, but we’re the same person. Really.

Brad Pitt, if you’re reading this, I’m not the same person as Clark Kent. Sorry for the confusion.

Are you good or terrible with names and faces? Do you know someone or do you personally experience medical prosopagnosia? What’s it like?

Medical Microfiction: Angiogenesis

At dawn, Walter listened close for a lost little girl’s sobs in the woods. Months since she’d vanished into the wild, yet he still rose early each day to search for her in the acres of dense thickets that spread out from their small cabin.

Eaten by bears, they said. Likely enough. But what’s a father to do but hope until hope extinguishes?

He pulled on heavy boots and tramped into the trees again. This much he could do: step by step, he’d lay new trails in the wilderness — life-bearing arteries — so that someday she might find her way home.

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Blood_Vessels
Blood vessels (Photo credit: shoebappa)

Angiogenesis is a word so beautiful that this story has no other title. This lovely bodily process describes how blood vessels recolonize an area after it’s been wounded and cut off from contact.

Let’s pretend you cut your finger. If the wound is deep enough, you may have severed blood vessels and nerves in the process, which means the region may no longer have full sensation or nutrition.

Angiogenesis to the rescue!

First your body seals the wound by flooding it with blood, which washes out the foreign particles and invasive bacteria. Next, a blood clot and then a  scab forms over the area to seal out the environment. The wound begins to heal from inside out. Granulation tissue — that is, scar tissue — fills the gaps. Finally, angiogenesis occurs, reconnecting the blood vessels and nerves to reestablish communication with the finger.

Isn’t that lovely ? It speaks to me of hope: hope that what was lost can be found in the wilderness. After all, when the nerves in an area are cut off, it’s complete radio silence to your nervous system. The telegraph’s silenced. The TV’s dead. The internet’s gone out. It’s possible that the finger’s not even attached anymore.

But the body doesn’t give up. It sends out the search-and-rescue party. It lays paths in the wilderness until the little girl finds her way home.

Dandelion wind
Hope springs eternal. (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Angiogenesis has a dark side, too. In the world of cancer, it has a pathological form which may make this word much less lovely to some ears. We’ll talk about pathological angiogenesis sometime in the future. For today, let’s dwell on the life-giving hope that branches eternally in our veins.

I recently finished John Haught’s book, God After Darwin, which explores the intersection of the topics of evolution and theology. Haught posits that in the fabric of the universe and even in nonliving matter, there’s a calling and a pull toward beauty and hope. When I learn about things like angiogenesis, I can’t help but think he’s onto something.

I hope you have a good week, friends. Blaze some trails in the wilderness today.