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Those Good Old Time Diseases

August 25, 2017

I was a first-grader at Van Nuys Elementary School the first time I came into contact with the medical system. As a healthy child, the only thing that slowed me down was the occasional off-color weenie on “Hot Dog Friday.” None of the hair-netted ladies behind the steam table thought for a minute that I could have something as serious as Ptomaine Poisoning and wouldn’t have been able to recognize it even if I had. Instead, one of them took off her apron and marched me downstairs to the nurse’s office where she laid me down on an old army cot that smelled of other 6-year-old kids.

Nurse Blumenthal looked like every other grammar school nurse – a clinical version of the Pillsbury Doughboy with a red cross centered squarely on the front of her hat. She was probably a cracker-jack clinician at some point in her career. But, you could sense that 30 years of working nights at the V.A. hospital had eroded her diagnostic skills to the point where she was grateful just to have a place to spend the twilight years of her career. read more

All Entries Family Health Home Life Humor Life and Death Medicine

Watching Grandma Circle the Drain

July 26, 2017

There’s only so many ways you can get rid of a dead body. Regardless of how it got that way – stabbed, shot, bludgeoned, run over by a truck, pummeled, poisoned, choked, tossed off a building or just withered from old age – its final demise has to be handled with care.

Up until recently, you only had two choices. You could bury Grandma in a casket or cremate her. Both cost a lot of money and take weeks of planning. Or, if money’s tight, you could always drive into the middle of the desert in the dead of night, dig a hole by the glow of your car’s headlights and toss Grammy in – sort of the Home Depot approach to traditional funeral services. It’s done all the time – at least in gangster movies.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, funerals can cost between $6,500 and $10,000. Cremations can be significantly cheaper, at $800. But then, there’s that nagging question of what to do with those messy ashes. Do I keep them in an urn on top of the mantel or do I put them in a box out in the shed? And, who gets to keep them? What if I lose them? read more

All Entries Health Hygiene Life and Death Medicine

Life on the Body Farm

April 20, 2017

When Mary Scarborough wrote the lyrics to “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” in 1923, she probably didn’t have a research facility in mind. She wouldn’t find cows, chickens or pigs at “The Body Farm” – just scores of rotting human bodies, covered in maggots.

The Body Farm (officially known as the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Facility) was the brainchild of Dr. William Bass, a Forensic Anthropologist from Kansas who helps law enforcement agencies estimate how long a person has been dead. Determining the time of death is crucial in confirming alibis and establishing timelines for violent crimes.

After 11 years of watching human decomposition, Bass realized how little was known about what happens to the human body after death. So, he approached the University of Tennessee Medical Center and asked for a small plot of land where he could control what happens to a body, post-mortem.

Bass’s Body Farm drew the attention of readers in 1994 when popular crime novelist Patricia Cornwell featured it in her book of the same name. In her book, Cornwell describes a research facility that stages human corpses in various states of decay, in a variety of locations like a wooded area, the trunk of a car, under water or under a pile of leaves – all to determine how human bodies decay under varying circumstances. read more

All Entries Crime and Justice Health Humor Medicine Technology

Great Achievements in Medical Fraud

April 20, 2017

If you were diagnosed at the turn of the century with lumbago, puking fever, black vomit, consumption, decrepitude, falling sickness, milk leg, ship fever, softening of the brain, St. Vitas dance, trench mouth, dropsy or heaven forbid, dyscrasy then chances are you were in big trouble. Not only did the “modern” medical community misunderstand most of these diseases, they were also clueless as to how to treat them.

To the Rescue

Facing a life of interminable pain and suffering, many sufferers of these diseases resorted to hundreds of unfounded medical treatments – sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn’t. Here’s a brief list of some of the more popular medical treatments and the claims by their originators:

  • The Magnetic Mug – Magnetic forces have long been used to cure everything from fatigue to lower back pain. A Colorado firm stated in their 1998 catalogue of products that their Magnetic Mug stores material between the stainless steel exterior and porcelain interior that magnetizes any beverage contained in it. By magnetizing the liquid, space is created between the beverage’s molecules, adding alkalinity to it. The alkalinity in beverages was refuted to facilitate absorption, minimizing dehydration and flushing out body toxins.
  • The Battle Creek Vibratory Chair – Many people who enjoy a bowl of Corn Flakes in the morning are familiar with their inventor, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg of Battle Creek, Michigan. Dr. Kellogg also designed a number of therapeutic devices, including The Battle Creek Vibratory Chair. After strapping the patient into the chair, it would shake violently and “stimulate intestinal peristalsis” that was beneficial to digestive disorders. Prolonged treatments were also used to cure a variety of maladies from headaches to back pain.
  • The Toftness Radiation Detector – If the Toftness Radiation Detector looks suspiciously like the PVC piping and couplings you bought last summer at the Home Depot, it’s because it is. By passing PVC tubing outfitted with inexpensive lenses over the patient’s back, Chiropractors listened for a high-pitched “squeak” that meant that the device had detected areas of neurological stress, characterized by high levels of radiation. The device was widely used until 1984 when it was deemed worthless by the Food and Drug Administration.
  • The Foot Operated Breast Enlarger – In the mid-1970’s, silicone breast implants were still in their infancy so, many women pining for larger breasts spent $9.95 for a foot-operated, vacuum pump and a series of cups that promised “larger, firmer and more shapely breasts in only 8 weeks”. As it turned out, over 4 million women were duped into buying a device that produced nothing more than bruising – even if they bought the entire kit that included a 1-ounce bottle of “Cleavage 6 Breast Enhancement” capsules.
  • The Crystaldyne Pain Reliever – One of the most popular pain relievers on the market in 1996 was nothing more than a gas grill igniter. When the sufferer pushed on the plunger, the device sent a short burst of sparks and electric shocks through the skin to cure headaches, stress, arthritis, menstrual cramps, earaches, flu and nosebleeds. After being subjected to FDA regulations for medical equipment, the company disappeared with thousands of dollars, telling their consumers that “their device was in the mail”.
  • The Prostrate Gland Warmer and The Recto Rotor – Even someone without the slightest imagination would cringe at the idea of inserting a 4 and a half inch probe into their rectum while connected to a blue light bulb and a 9-foot electrical cord. However, for thousands of adventurous consumers the gland warmer and recto rotor (that’s not rooter) promised the latest in quick relief from prostate problems, constipation and the piles.
  • The Radium Ore Revigator – In 1925, thousand of unknowing consumers plunked down their hard-earned cash for a clay jar whose walls were impregnated with low-grade, radioactive ore. With no more radioactive material than that found on the dial of an inexpensive wristwatch, the Revigator promised to invigorate “tired” or “wilted” water – “…the cause of illness in one hundred and nine million out of the hundred and ten million people of the United States”.
  • The Relaxacisor – For anyone who hated to exercise but still wanted a lithe, athletic body, the Relaxacisor was the answer. Produced in the early 1970’s, the Relaxacisor came with four adhesive pads that were applied to the body and connected by electrodes to a control panel. The device would deliver a series of electrical jolts to the body, taking the place of regular exercise – while reclining on a sofa. All 400,000 devices were recalled for putting the consumer at risk for miscarriages, hernias, ulcers varicose veins, epilepsy and exacerbating pre-existing medical conditions.
  • The Timely Warning – In 1888, one of the most embarrassing and debilitating experiences a man could endure was an “amorous dream” or “night emission”. Fortunately, Dr. E.B. Foote came up with the “Timely Warning”, a circular, aluminum ring that was worn to prevent “…the loss of the most vital fluids of the system – those secreted by the testicular glands…”. For better or for worse, no diagrams have been found to support exactly how the device was worn.
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    All Entries Family Health Home Life Humor Medicine Technology

    The Adrian X-ray Shoe Fitting Machine

    April 20, 2017

    During the 1940s, people were concerned about their feet. Mothers, fathers – even the U.S. Army. As a result, the guardian of modern foot care was born – the “Adrian X-ray Shoe Fitting Machine.”

    A Star is Born

    Although there are a number of conflicting stories about its origin, the first x-ray shoe fitting machine has generally been attributed to Dr. Jacob Lowe, a Boston physician who was looking for a fast and efficient way to analyze soldiers’ feet during World War I. Dr. Lowe was concerned with the number of poorly fitting boots worn by military recruits and was interested in a way to cut down on their foot-related injuries.  In addition to providing the good doctor with a superior view of the foot, the x-ray shoe fitting machine allowed Dr. Lowe to speed up production by not requiring soldiers to remove their boots.

    The x-ray shoe fitting machine was a simple design. A fluoroscope was mounted on the base of a wooden platform and sent x-rays upward toward a florescent screen. The client would place their foot between the two and the image would be directed up to a reflector, where three viewing scopes displayed the foot’s image to the customer. The entire area was sealed within a lead-shielded area for protection of the client. Unlike x-rays that are captured on film, the machine displayed a real time image of the client’s foot – shoes and all. read more

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