Monday, April 30, 2007

Medical Science: From Hippocrates to Prozac

Some sciences are exact. It can be proven and repeated over and over that certain materials are combustible when they reach a certain temperature Fahrenheit. The temperature paper must reach before it will burn is 451 degrees. The temperature gasoline must reach before it will burn is 495 degrees. I do not know what the temperature has to be before a person’s hand will burn. However, I do know if you leave your car windows up on an August afternoon the steering wheel gets to that Fahrenheit level in the time it takes to run into the store and buy milk.
Unfortunately medicine is not one of those exact sciences. Over the last few months entirely too many members of my family have visited doctors for entirely too many reasons. I am not denigrating the doctors we have seen. I just wish these medical professionals had a magic book which allowed them to listen to the symptoms, diagnose the problem, and dispense a cure. While I’m wishing, why not have the cure be something simple like burying a potato in the backyard during a full moon to get rid of a sinus infection instead of paying $47 for a prescription which cures you nearly as fast as burying a potato in the backyard during a full moon would.
As I was wandering around the waiting room of one doctor’s office I picked up a pamphlet describing the symptoms of depression. I don’t think I’m depressed. What is there to be depressed about? The world is a safe and caring place full of sympathetic people who all wish to help one another lead a meaningful and productive life. Well, maybe that’s an overstatement. But, the country we live in is a shining beacon of truth and justice with a government devoid of greed and corruption led by men and women of unquestionable integrity. Oh, my. My house no longer has a basement which leaks whenever there is a rain shower of more than seven one hundredths of inch. Bingo! That one is true. Oh, I give up. Pass the Prozac.
That same pamphlet said depression is caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Here we are in the early 21st century and they trot this out. Hippocrates, one of those Greek guys from like 400 BC, said human behaviors were caused by bodily fluids called humors. These fluids were blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm. Other then being somewhat gross (anything which talks about phlegm falls into the somewhat gross category) this was wrong. It was disproved by doctor type scientists, which was good because the idea led to doctor type barbers opening veins left and right to “balance the humors.” So here is this pamphlet in a reputable doctor’s office saying the chemicals might be out of balance in my head. Maybe Theodoric of York from the old Saturday Night Live sketch was right when he said: “You know, medicine is not an exact science, but we are learning all the time. Why, just fifty years ago, they thought a disease like your daughter's was caused by demonic possession or witchcraft. But nowadays we know that Isabelle is suffering from an imbalance of bodily humors, perhaps caused by a toad or a small dwarf living in her stomach.” I need an MRI to check for toads and dwarves.
Recently my wife and I took our oldest daughter to see a couple of different doctors in one day. This by itself is not a bother. The issue is the amount of paperwork and bureaucratic-like red tape one must wade through. I realize with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (aka HIPAA) the government intended to protect the public from people prying into our personal medical business. However, I suspect the medical establishment is taking it too seriously. Every receptionist, nurse, and doctor asked us the same questions. I know they are supposed to treat the information as a secret but I really don’t mind if they tell each other. That just makes sense.
As I get older the doctors get younger. This makes it harder to take them seriously. A doctor should be balding with gray hair around his temples and a sympathetic face made more caring by the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth. Two of the doctors we dealt with this day looked more like refugees from the Disney Channel. When they came into the examination room I expected them to give us the test results using pom-poms and high kicks.
“Ready? Hit it. Your EKG was A-OK and we think you’re just swell.
We promise that in 30 days you’ll get the bill from H-E-A-R-T.
Goooo, heart!”

Christopher Pyle’s daughter is just fine, but he does still have the concern there is a toad in his stomach eating his Prozac. This knocks his humors out of whack. He may be a quart or two low on phlegm.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Remote locations on the TV dial

For many years of my life I watched a lot of television. As a kid Saturday mornings was the jackpot. Does anybody else remember Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp or “Up at at ‘em Atom Ant!”? As a youth I was always looking for laughs. Bob Newhart, Mary Tyler Moore, and Carol Burnett offered humor which was not hurtful or hedonistic. When cable came into my life I spent more and more time with movies. I will watch Gunga Din no matter what time of day it comes on and Michael Caine was in some really awful movies. Sports have been the constant ingredient in my television viewing recipe. I know where I was when Ed Podolak had 350 all-purpose yards against the Dolphins in ’71, when Danny Manning squeezed the final rebound in ’88, and when Bill Buckner watched a five ounce white sphere roll between his feet changing his life forever and giving hero status to a man with the less than epic name of Mookie.
Over the last few years I have dropped television from my days. There are some good programs on, but there is entirely too much stuff being sent into our homes through that box. Some of the programs remind me of the old nature shows. Marlon Perkins would venture out in the wilds of Africa and show us the behavior of animals whose only concerns were fulfilling the basest of needs and following self-serving instincts. Now Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom is replaced by MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 which goes to deepest, darkest Beverly Hills and shows us the same thing only with designer dresses and out of control egos replacing dying gazelles and angry alpha males.
A little while back I spent more time in front of a television than I’m used to. The NCAA basketball tournament still draws me to the flickering blue light like a moth to one of those bug zappers. Fortunately, I do not get so close I experience a jolt of voltage making it so my wings will never caress the wind again. OK, I know I don’t have wings and “caress the wind” is an awfully girly phrase, but I found myself in the middle of a metaphor and I didn’t have another way out…gimme a break.
In my younger days I had the fastest mute button in the west, so I seldom heard commercials (and I was able to get Billy Packer to shut up once in a while). This was not possible for this tournament. No, I haven’t passed my prime. My trigger finger is just as spry as ever. The issue is the mute button itself. Ever since I started living in a house with three walking and talking children it has become much harder to keep track of things. People who do not have children believe the remote control is “remote” because it is used to control something from a distance. People with children know it is “remote” because it is inexplicably transported to remote locations. Locations like the crisper drawer of the refrigerator, under the sofa of the house three and half blocks south of your house, or the backpack of a scientist traipsing along the Amazon River studying Pink River Dolphins. That name is confusing. Is the river it lives in pink or the dolphin itself?
Watching and listening to the commercials brought to mind some questions. First is the color yellow some sort of visual signal for stupid? Remember those two guys who discussed cell phone service throughout the tournament? The dumb one always wore yellow. A German line of cars has an incredibly British guy describing how great they are. Is this just because Americans think all foreigners are the same? I mean we bought Sean Connery (a guy from Scotland) as Mulay Achmed Mohammed in one movie and as Khalil Abdul-Muhsen in another.
The thing I truly do not understand is big time stars doing the voice-overs for commercials. I get why products would want George Clooney to appear in their ad, but if you can’t see him how many people recognize his voice. It is his voice talking about beer. Is there some sort of subliminal message forcing the nameless rabble to follow the voice of a star? Gene Hackman tells us we can build things together with Lowe’s. Somehow I do not expect to see him with a crescent wrench fixing the dripping faucet in my bathroom anytime soon. But the absolute best has to be that Latin sex symbol Antonio Banderas, the heartthrob from Desperado and The Mask of Zorro. He is making house payments by supplying the voice of a sexy bumblebee in an allergy medicine ad. I know when I think of relief from nasal congestion the first thing that comes to mind is a Bombus distinguendus with an Andalusian accent.

Friday, April 06, 2007

There is too much to learn. I can't keep up.

A conversation amongst second graders at recess:
“Okay, today I’m going to be Apollo and you are Artemis, right? Who are you going to be?”
“I think I’m going to be Demeter.”
This is not what most people expect when imagining the imaginative play of eight year olds. One would expect Power Rangers, not the twelve tasks of Hercules. However, it is one of the games my son and his friends are playing at Northwest School. This makes my brother very happy.
My brother, Eric, believes there are things a person needs to know in order to be considered educated and Greek myths are on that list. He is one of those guys who actually did all the reading in college, not just the Cliff Notes or renting the movie. (My problem was I went to get The Grapes of Wrath and ended up with The Wrath of Khan, “Wherever there’s a Klingon crushing a tribble, I’ll be there.”) Eric reads more books in a month than the average person reads in, well, in…okay, ever. When he found out my son had an interest in Greek myths Eric sent him a book entitled: Flammarion Iconographic Guide: Gods and Heroes of Classical Antiquity. When I was eight years old my reading material did not revolve around Hephaestus and Tartarus, but rather, Archie and Jughead.
The pop culture version of smart people is on display every weekday afternoon on the quiz show Jeopardy. I competed on that show a few years back. I lost. I was smart when it came to the category titled “S”- oterica, which meant every answer would start with the letter “S”. So I got things like “southpaw,” “Seattle Seahawks,” and “Scared Straight”. The guy who went on to win ran the category titled Vietnam. Which is more indicative of intelligence? At one point in the game he correctly identified a yurt. A yurt is a circular tent of felt or skins on a collapsible framework, used by nomads in Mongolia, something I had not heard of before, or for that matter, since. Which one of us was smarter? I do not know. I do know which one of us ended up richer, and it wasn’t me.
The other day I saw a short video talking about just how much information is being generated these days. Here is one statement from the video: It is estimated 1.5 exabytes (1.5 times 10 to the eighteenth power) of unique new information will be generated worldwide this year. One of those unique and new pieces of information must have been the word “exabyte” because my computer doesn’t recognize it. What the video failed to say was probably eight-tenths of that unique new information will revolve around Britney Spears going in and out of rehab, hairstyles on American Idol, and indispensable information for guys who play fantasy baseball like Zach Greinke’s earned run average with runners in scoring position and less than two outs, on odd numbered Wednesday afternoons.
Another factoid from the video said: It is estimated a week’s worth of the New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th Century. Average citizens of the 18th Century were still required to focus more on things that kept them alive (those Frenchmen hiding behind that hill would like to shoot any Englishman coming this way) as opposed to information about Edward “Lumpy” Stevens the first great bowler in the history of English Cricket. (I did not make that up. It is an actual unique piece of new information generated sometime during the 18th Century.) I wonder what his earned run average with runners in scoring position and less than two outs, on odd numbered Wednesdays was.
What information people really ought to know is the crux of the matter. (I am showing off what I think is important by using words like crux.) The phrase thrown around education circles is essential information. What do people truly have to know? Who gets to decide what people have to know? With the legislation of No Child Left Behind the government gets to decide what kids have to know.
Does this frighten anyone else? The arbiter of intellect is the same group of people who decided Kansas needed not just an Official State Bird and an Official State Song but also an Official State Soil.