Tag Archives: Science

Medical Microfiction: Glottis

Guardians

When the sunset is slanting, what keeps the ones who prowl at bay?

The guardians do.

There, just beyond that stand of pines, they’re waiting like a pair of hands to spring upon the spider, a noose to choke off hot breath.

Children linger in the fields. The sunset slants in, and the prowlers come running with quick little legs, their great big jaws a-gaping.

And just beyond the stand of pines, the guardians spring upon them, saying, This far you may go, and no further.

They do not relish their work. They hold the line and pray for mercy.

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Coronal section of larynx and upper part of tr...
A view of the larynx, or the voicebox. Can you spot the two “guardians”? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I always get excited when I write a blog post about something related to my happy little corner of science (namely, Speech Science). Today we’re talking about the glottis, which is found in your larynx, or voice box. It produces the buzzing sound that gives you a voice. If you place your hand on your throat and hum, you can feel it vibrating.

The glottis is made up of your two vocal folds (also called vocal cords) and the space between them. This area is the gateway to your lungs. Its responsibility is to make sure we don’t let anything liquid or solid down the wrong pipe. Think of them as the guardians in your throat, ready to snap closed and hold the line against bad things that want to enter.

Why might they be unwilling at the end of my story? This is to illustrate how they work when we’re speaking. While they can seal the throat during eating, the vocal folds don’t shut all the way when speaking. They’re in a state of flux, tensed just enough that the air pressure from your lungs can break through their seal, thus producing vibration and speech.

Of course, on another level, I think the reluctance of the guardians in today’s story is an illustration of profound goodness. Even when fighting something we all agree is evil, the best among us may feel a little sadness and regret that the evil exists to begin with. The best soldier may long for a day when war is unnecessary. The best doctor may hope to work herself out of a job by curing diseases.

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: Terminologia Anatomica

Dr. Howell tapped twice on a white band of ligament, directing his students’ attention to the cadaver’s belly. “The abdominal aponeurosis. Covers the rectus abdominis and compresses the viscera.”

Pencils scribbled. Heads bobbed.

“Moving on… Larry, switch to a deep view, please.”

“Sure thing, Doc!” With both hands the cadaver wrenched back another layer of muscle, exposing his innards.

“Note the positions of the internal viscera,” Dr. Howell continued. “The large intestine is especially good eating on a live human. People make a big deal out of the brains, but I say go straight for the guts. Less competition.’

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Steaks on a grill
Your organs from a zombie’s perspective.

I think lots of people could benefit from learning more about human anatomy – I’m writing this blog, after all! – but no one could benefit more than our friends the zombies. I mean, if you’re going to spend your days hunting down tasty, tasty humans, you could save yourself a lot of time and effort on the eating if you know how to bypass that pesky ribcage to get to the tasty bits within.

Terminologia Anatomica, which literally means “Anatomical Terminology,” is the book that sets the international standards for medical terminology. It’s where many of the definitions on this blog came from. This illustrious volume was published in 1998, and has allowed countless students, medical professionals, and amateur writers to confuse the general public when we say things like, “Serratus anterior’s assisting the external intercostals in respiration by forcing air through the larynx and causing the vocal folds to oscillate, producing phonation.”

Yeah. We talk real good.

Happy Friday, wherever and whenever this finds you! It’s been a good week here in the Jones household, as my mother-in-law received a long-awaited kidney transplant just two days ago and is recovering nicely. Organ donation saves lives, folks, and if you’re not already a donor, I’d encourage you to join up.

Otherwise, the zombies’ll get you.

Medical Microfiction: Ecdysis

Dear John

By the time you read this, you will have found my body.

Don’t grieve. I’m not dead. I’ve just moved out.

It’s not anything you did. It was the right time.

I’m worried about you, though. You don’t have many friends apart from me. So someday I’ll visit. I’ll knock, you’ll invite me in for coffee, and after a long chat, I’ll explain everything and we’ll laugh.

But you won’t recognize me in my new skin. I could be old or young, male or female, Greek or Israeli or Japanese. Better offer coffee to anyone who knocks. Just in case.

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molting (moulting) dragonfly
Is she dead, or has she just moved out? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ecdysis is a word to describe the molting of an exoskeleton in certain species, particularly insects. Usually this shedding of the old skin happens at a time of developmental transition, when you’re moving from one stage to the next.

People don’t molt, of course. Not like insects do. So it’s interesting to think what this process might look like to us if someone we loved underwent ecdysis. My heart is with poor John, who has found a note and a body and must make up his own mind what to believe. Is his loved one dead, or merely transformed?

This story came from a personal place, after several late-night talks with my husband following the sudden death of one of his young students last week.

What might happen to us after we die? Is death a final end, or is it a sort of ecdysis, a shedding of one body as we move to a new stage of development? Like John, we have no way of knowing. We can only make a choice on how to live, given the possibilities. John can live in hope, and treat strangers with the utmost love, or he can live in despair, and ignore the door.

And if he’s wrong? I guess he’ll hand out a lot of free coffee for no reason other than human kindness. But I can think of worse ways to spend my life.

I’ve shared this video before, but it is such a great illustration of ecdysis that I hope you won’t mind me resharing it: the incredible life cycle of cicadas! Set the video to HD and make it big for best results!

I hope your weekend is wonderful, and full of coffee shared with friends and strangers alike, my friends!

Medical Microfiction: Stromatolites

The architects that built the world are long gone. Many aeons ago, they lived, labored, and died in mats in the shallows. Their offspring, architects also, plied the family trade atop the graves of their forebears, until they too passed. And so one biofilm atop the next, strange, striped stones emerged.

We remember them for the rocks, but the architects left something greater still. Together those venerable microbes spun sunlight into atmosphere, shaping the very air into the element which gives voice to speech and song.

We stand not on the backs of giants, but on the bones of bacteria.

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English: Stromatolites growing in Hamelin Pool...
Stromatolites: they’re rocks, but they deserve a little respect. They oxygenated the atmosphere! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stromatolites are not technically “medical”, but they’re certainly a nifty piece of science, and one I was dying to share with you! First, let’s dissect the word. “Stroma” comes from a Greek word meaning mattress  or bed. “Lite” comes from the Greek for stone. As the story describes, stromatolites are fossilized stones that were formed by thin layers of bacteria dying off atop one another over a huge period of time. Think of them as something like coral reefs, but far older.

One of the most important ancient sources of stromatolites were the cyanobacteria responsible for transforming much of the methane in Earth’s atmosphere into oxygen, thus allowing creatures like ourselves to live, love, and breathe. We owe a lot to these little guys, and I wanted to take a moment to remember their inestimable contribution to our lush, green Earth. Those of you who have been reading my blog from the very beginning may recall that I’ve mentioned the Great Oxygenation Event once before, but I thought they were interesting enough to bring up again. I think it’s important to remember that while human beings dominate the planet now, all our accomplishments rest on the shoulders of those that did the work before us. Even the air we breathe is something to be grateful for; it came from somewhere.

What other parts of the natural world deserve our gratitude? What tends to get overlooked in our day-to-day shuffle?

Medical Microfiction: Cardiometer

Measure the Immeasurable

It was a problematic calculation, to be sure. Some might say impossible. But the real headache lay in finding an appropriate unit of measurement. Amperes, Kelvins, parsecs — inadequate alone, but each needed for the answer.

To the books, then. He dredged up old science and new, eventually delving into sources that some might call pseudoscientific.

What of it? The point was to build the device, and he did.

He called up the one who’d first posed him the question, invited her to his lab, and knelt on one knee.

“I love you this much,” he said, and pushed the button.

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I love you
This candy loves you, but how much? (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

A nice, sweet little story for you guys today. A cardiometer, as its name implies is a device used to measure heart activity. There are several devices that fall into this general category, and mostly they use electrical impulses to make their readings. Heart-measuring devices include electrocardiographs (ECGs), cardiac monitors, and Holter monitors, to name a few.

Of course, on a more general level, this story’s about the formidable task of measuring things. Measuring gives us a way to make sense of the world. We measure oceans, and they lose their limitlessness. We measure mountains and depths and the distance between stars. We calculate the speed in which we’re all hurling through space, and estimate the age of our happy green rock.

But how do you measure something like love? I have no idea, but that hasn’t stopped me or anyone else throughout human history from asking that impossible question: “How much do you love me?”

Happy Monday, friends, and while you may never know the measure in which you’re loved, may that love always feel endless.

Link Roundup 8-12-13

A multicolored Perseid meteor striking the sky...
A multicolored Perseid meteor striking the sky just to the right from Milky Way. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve conquered my first day of the semester with no problems, so I’m taking the suggestion of a reader and writing a little nightcap article. That means it’s time for a link roundup! Here’s some interesting reads that caught my eye around the interwebs this week. What’s happening on your blog? What fun or thought-provoking articles did you run across?

Writing

When you hire that poet on Craigslist to mock you, good things happen. I want to hire this guy for my birthday!

Author Cat Rambo shares some advice on the topic of wordy prose. When can you get away with it, and when should you just say no? It’s a longish read, but trust me it’s well worth your time.

I discovered a tool called Submissions Grinder this week that has been a treasure trove of information. It lets you search for fiction markets by word count, genre, and style, and additionally provides some interesting data on response time and percent rejections. I’m a bit of a data junkie, so this kind of thing sucks me in.

Science

Cool things afoot in the world of epidemiology as scientists test out a vaccine against malaria. My other favorite anti-malaria solution involves weedkiller.

This chemist writes an excellent rebuttal to a fear-mongering list that made its way around the ‘net about allegedly dangerous food additives. I love this article because it puts into words both our fear of all things “artificial” and “chemical” while showing why there’s no need to be so afraid.

Tiger cubs! Tiger cubs! Tiger cam!

One Awesome Video

Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy brings us time-lapse footage of the sky over Australia during an eclipse.

Podcasts I liked:

 Drabblecast #97 – “Daydream Nation”: Ever wondered what the dating scene would be like if we could share our dreams when we met each other? This episode notably had one of my favorite pieces of 100-word flash fiction I’ve ever heard. It made me want to stand and applaud, and stayed with me for days afterward.

Drabblecast #99 – “Sarah’s Window”: a haunting little tale that explores the difference between how parents love their children and how, in turn, children love their parents. Reminded me of this E.M. Forster quote: “A wonderful physical tie binds the parents to the children; and — by some sad, strange irony — it does not bind us children to our parents. For if it did, if we could answer their love not with gratitude but with equal love, life would lose much of its pathos and much of its squalor, and we might be wonderfully happy.”

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!

Link Roundup 8-5-13

It’s been a couple of weeks since our last link roundup! Here’s a few things that caught my eye around the interwebs recently:

Coffee and Sunshine
Coffee might bring the sunshine! (Photo credit: Frank Gruber)

Science

Toilet technology is getting a bump as scientists work to perfect a loo that can be sterilized by solar-powered steam. This is a big, big deal for those parts of the world that still lack sanitary facilities.

Research says both good and bad things about drinking coffee, but I’m all for looking at the positive. It might not do much for your hypertension, but coffee drinkers have a decreased risk of suicide compared to their decaffeinated peers. I’d love to hear what happens when you deprive those coffee drinkers from their beverage in the mornings though!

Writing

Tor has released a FREE speculative fiction anthology e-book of 151 stories published over the last 5 years. The list of authors is top-notch, but Tor is only leaving up the download for a few more days, so grab it NOW!

Speaking of lists of great authors, check out this list of 100 Great Science Fiction Stories written by women since the inception of the genre, busting the myth once and for all that women haven’t always been into sci-fi. A lot of these stories are also available online for free, so check it out if you’re looking to brush up your reader creds.

Also from I09, a discussion of the 7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding. I have personally broken at least four of these in my longer pieces of fiction. How about you?

Self-promotion without being a jerk, particularly relevant to writers, bloggers, and other creatives. I love his tips because he recognizes the whole awkward “I don’t want to annoy people” wall that keeps so many of us creatives from telling the world that we might have something it would enjoy seeing. 🙂

Podcasts I Liked

Drabblecast #83: “Floating Over Time” – My archive-crawl landed me on a tearjerker this time. A story about two lives in conjunction set against the size of the universe and the desperate need in each of us for someone to hear our story. Warning: it’ll make you cry in public. Take precautions.

Drabblecast #91: “Gifting Bliss” – another poignant episode, but also funny. This story is a parody/tribute to Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain in a fictionalized setting. It explores the symbiotic and often parasitic relationship between a creative person and his fans. Norm Sherman wrote a ton of original music for this episode, which takes a great story to a whole new level. If you’re not into podcasts yet, this one would be a great place to start.

Escape Pod #405: “Vestigial Girl” – Medical microfiction alert! This one’s got a speech-language pathology theme that warms the cockles of my SLP heart. It’s the story of a toddler who just wants to communicate with her parents, and takes it upon herself to perform surgery on her own throat to make it happen.

What’s happening on your blogs right now? See anything interesting around the interwebs this week?