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19 Curiosities of Medicine


While I don't carry the immeasurable responsibility of a doctor or surgeon, 2018 was an incredibly hectic year filled with exhilarating achievements, community-impact and, clearly not enough humor, wine, or exercise.

To mix things up, let's kick into 2019 with 19 bite-sized facts that are at times a bit kitschy, mostly ingenious, and mixed with a pinch of folklore.

  1. Why does room temperature coffee taste so bad? Certain taste bud receptors are most sensitive to food molecules that are at or just above room temperature. So hot coffee may seem less bitter because our bitter-detecting taste buds aren't as sensitive (and at hot temperatures the aroma of coffee is at its peak which engages our nasal sensory cells). By the age of 60, most people will have lost about half their taste buds which may explain why my mom seems to enjoy her cup of joe at room temp!
  2. Scientific research confirmed that love is as potent as medicine when it is present and has an equally dramatic effect when it is withdrawn. A study of male patients in hospital cardiac units who, when asked "Do you feel loved?" are more likely to recover if their answer was positive over those patients who responded negatively.
  3. Speaking of love, way back in 1859, the founder of nursing, Florence Nightingale, spoke of the positive effects of pet therapy, stating that a small animal "is often an excellent companion for the sick, for long chronic cases especially."
  4. At Stanford, one study demonstrated that women with breast cancer survived longer if they participated in group therapy sessions in conjunction with their chemical and surgical treatments.
  5. An fMRI study revealed that for long-term couples there is an increased activation in the part of the brain that controls pain. A CDC report found in a study of more than 127,000 adults, that married people are less likely to complain of headaches and back pain. (Maybe it's because the complaint falls on deaf ears? The study didn't say for sure.)
  6. In 1960, the per capita cost of health care was $147 per person in America; adjusted for inflation, it would be $1,082 today; that means the US's current per capita cost has grown over 660 percent above and beyond normal inflation.
  7. Let's fatten this up a bit more...75 percent of today's healthcare spending is on patients with one or more mostly preventable chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes. Back in 1987, Steven Gortmaker, a Harvard Chan researcher and study co-author, found that between 1963 and 1980, in children ages 6 to 11, there was a 54 percent increase in the prevalence of obesity and a 98 percent increase in what was then called super-obesity. TVs, computers, and the "modern" food era has made the USA the ultra-heavyweight contender to beat dollars per pound.
  8. Physicians keep their patients waiting for an average of 38 minutes, according to a paper published in The American Journal of Managed Care. Maybe we should change waiting rooms to workout-while-you-wait rooms?
  9. A recent Journal of Neuroscience study on laughter shows that laughing with others releases potent endorphins in the brain via opioid receptors. The more opioid receptors someone's brain has, the more powerful the effect. Opioid drugs, such as heroin, bind to those same receptors which suggests that laughing induces a similar euphoria sans the negative side effects. :D
  10. A Harvard dentist, Dr. George Franklin Grant, joined the Department of Mechanical Dentistry in 1871 and became the university's first black faculty member. By 1899, he invented and patented the wooden golf tee which replaced the need for golfers to carry sand buckets and place "their balls" on little sand piles.
  11. A doctor from Brazil, who was fed up with the burglars climbing over her property's metal fence and stealing her belongings, reportedly taped HIV-infected syringes to the fence along with the warning, "Wall with HIV positive blood. NO Trespassing."
  12. Born twice...pediatric surgeons Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye and Dr. Darrell Cass, removed a baby from the womb at 23-weeks to cut out a sacrococcygeal teratoma tumor then placed the baby back inside the womb until its healthy delivery at 36 weeks.
  13. Surgeons wear green or blue-colored scrubs because they are complementary colors to red (yes, think blood). The color combination allows surgeons and their teams to better visualize the patient's inside, lessens eye strain, loss of concentration and what's known as the 'after effect' illusion.
  14. Among Native American traditions, the word "medicine" does not equate to pharmacological pills or tonics to treat or cure disease but rather to anything that has spiritual, physical, and emotional power. Healers recognize, however, a difference in "the diseases of civilization," which often need what's referred to as "white man's medicine."
  15. A July 2006 report from the National Academies of Science's Institute of Medicine claimed that doctors' illegible handwriting killed more than 7,000 people each year. Many errors were the result of - u n c l e a r - abbreviations and dosages. Hopefully that problem has been cleared up with EMRs and common sense.
  16. According to the biography of Chinese surgeon, Hua Tuo, Tuo created an anesthetic liquor which was a concoction of "cannabis boiling powder" dissolved in wine. Unfortunately, his prescription recipe was lost or destroyed, along with all of his medical writings after he was executed by a warlord, a patient whom Tuo no longer wished to treat.
  17. Diabetes was first identified as early as 1500 BC, and in 600 BC when physicians recorded that ants were attracted to sugar in patients' urine. During the Middle Ages doctors created a "Urine Flavor" chart which enabled physicians to accurately "taste test" a patient's pee for diabetes. Um, no thanks. I'll pass.
  18. At Carnegie Mellon University, researchers found that people with positive emotions are less likely to get sick after exposure to cold or flu viruses. The study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, compared people who were happy and calm with those who appeared anxious, hostile, or depressed. I'm happy as can be! No flu shot for me!
  19. Words are strong medicine. "A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves," writes the Nigerian novelist Ben Okri. He adds, "Sick storytellers can make nations sick." Given our country's sensationalized and negative news, going on a media-free sabbatical may just be what the doctor ordered, eh?

Cheers to a positive, balanced, and loving 2019 with a twist of humor for good health!

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