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Ask Dr. Salvo

February 7, 1995

Ask Dr. Salvo

Dear Dr. Salvo,

First, I want to thank you for the Civil War poetry. I used to read those poems to my anatomy and physiology classes at Indiana Univ-Purdue Univ in Fort Wayne, IN, as an introduction to the section of renal physiology. I always thought they were very apropos.

Second, the enclosed material is a photocopy of some info I down-loaded from one the internet discussion groups to which I belong. Because of your background and interests, I thought this would be of interest to you. Perhaps you would want to share it with your readers. After reading the report I finally realized what the problem is with many of my students.

What about an update on the trials and tribulations associated with PC?

Sheldon F. Gottlieb, Ph.D.
Mobile, AL

Dear Shelly,

Your kind letter was most welcome. One never knows how one's most prized collector's item will be received, first by the ruthless editor (E.T. stands for Execrable Tamurlane) and next by the reader. But happily many of our readers are scientists or going to be, and these people are relatively shock proof. Besides no one reading your letter could imagine there being a prurient interest on your part. "Urient," perhaps. Most good scientists would agree that a filthy mind is a perpetual feast, and would tend to recall the dirty stories, poems, and songs that illuminated some point they were making in a lecture.

I recall a delightful fellow who taught us microanatomy, and endeared himself to each new class by sharing his scurrilous views on the micro-universe and man's destiny. When he came to the microscopic study of connective tissues, he would focus on his slide and say, "Now I want you to come and look at this preparation -- these are the "chondrin balls" of the older anatomists."

He was a gentle man and resembled an elderly sea turtle with the expression of a puzzled elf. He was, however, far from defenseless. One morning he was in the barber's chair being sprayed with macassar oil when his arch-enemy Wilbur the Bull rumbled in. Wilbur was a gross anatomy instructor doubling as line coach for the immortal Green Wave of Tulane. "Harold," he roared, "if my wife smelled that stuff on me she'd say I'd been in a whore house!" Harold smiled softly, remarking, "Wilbur, my wife has never been in a whore house."

S.G., you might want to look him up (Harold Cummins) sometime -- he was a pioneer in dermatoglyphics. You and he would be kindred spirits.

I am still virginal as to having "down loaded from one of the internet discussion groups," but my family is at it all the time. We have already witnessed the extinction of the long-hand letter, typewritten letter, telephone call chat, etc. Now the phone is resurrected via some hybrid called the FAX, as well as the E-MAIL, which seems fated to replace the long distance call. There is somewhere some indecent miscegenation implicating the phone, radio, typewriter, camera and printer. They are melding and merging and will soon, I predict, talk back. I neglected to include in this unholy family the Answering Machine, perhaps the most humanoid in its action and attributes. One of my sons has one that can charitably be called a blabber-mouth: Recently my wife called him at his room in the dorm (CO-ED of course!) and was obliged by his answering machine with a full recital of all the calls he had had since classes began. She was of course delighted with this windfall and was especially charmed by one little voice fluting the message, "This is Cecilie -- I'm, I'm one of your secret admirers." The rest of the messages seemed to be variations on that theme.

Here is your E-MAIL letter:

This arrived from Sandy Rothenberg who graduated from the BEN program before going on to graduate school at MIT. It is evident that MIT requires people to read high quality journals and contemplate the explosive issues of science and society.

A new challenge for Bio-engineers...or - the real reason not to study too much!

Subject: Oh my god...I've BURST my BRAIN

From the Weekly World News, May 24, 1994.

Moscow --

Doctors are blaming a rare electrical imbalance in the brain for the bizarre death of a chess player whose head literally exploded in the middle of a championship game!

No one else was hurt in the fatal explosion but four players and three officials at the Moscow Candidate Masters' Chess Championships were sprayed with blood and brain matter when Nikolai Titov's head suddenly blew apart. Experts say he suffered from a condition called Hyper-Cerebral Electrosis or HCE.

"He was deep in concentration with his eyes focused on the board," says Titov's opponent, Vladimir Dobrynin. "All of a sudden his hands flew to his temples and he screamed in pain. Everyone looked up from their games, startled by the noise. Then, as if someone had put a bomb in his cranium, his head popped like a firecracker."

Incredibly, Titiov's is not the first case in which a person's head has spontaneously exploded. Five people are known to have died of HCE in the last 25 years. The most recent death occurred just three years ago in 1991, when European psychic Barbara Nicole's skull burst. Miss Nicole's story was reported by newspapers worldwide, including WWN. "HCE is an extremely rare physical imbalance," said Dr. Anatoly Martinenko, famed neurologist and expert on the human brain who did the autopsy on the brilliant chess expert. "It is a condition in which the circuits of the brain become overloaded by the body's own electricity. The explosions happen during periods of intense mental activity when lots of current is surging through the brain. Victims are highly intelligent people with great powers of concentration. Both Miss Nicole and Mr. Titov were intense people who tended to keep those cerebral circuits overloaded. In a way it could be said they were literally too smart for their own good."

Although Dr. Martinenko says there are probably many undiagnosed cases, he hastens to add that very few people will die from HCE. "Most people who have it will never know. At this point, medical science still doesn't understand it...It will be years before research money becomes available."

In the meantime, the doctor urges people to take it easy and not think too hard for long periods of time. "Take frequent relaxation breaks when you're doing things that take lots of mental focus," he recommends. (As a public service, WWN added a sidebar titled HOW TO TELL IF YOUR HEAD'S ABOUT TO BLOW UP:

Although HCE is very rare, it can kill. Dr. Martinenko says knowing you have the condition can greatly improve your odds of surviving it. A "yes" answer to any three of the following seven questions could mean that you have HCE:

1. Does your head sometimes ache when you think too hard? (Head pain can indicate overloaded brain circuits.)

2. Do you ever hear a faint ringing or humming sound in your ears? (It could be the sound of electricity in the skull cavity.)

3. Do you sometimes find yourself unable to get a thought out of your head? (This is a possible sign of too much electrical activity in the cerebral cortex.)

4. Do you spend more than five hours a day reading, balancing your checkbook, or other thoughtful activity? (A common symptom of HCE is a tendency to over-use the brain.)

5. When you get angry or frustrated do you feel pressure in your temples? (Friends of people who died of HCE say the victims often complained of head pressure in times of strong emotion.)

6. Do you ever overeat on ice cream, doughnuts and other sweets? (A craving for sugar is typical of people with too much electrical pressure in the cranium.)

7. Do you tend to analyze yourself too much? (HCE sufferers are often introspective, "over-thinking" their lives.)

Dear Shelly Gr.:

I am so excited, my obscenely large brain is pulsing away like an escaped bull-fiddle. The reason for this cerebral excitement? Why, Sandy R is the first investigator to come up with the neurophysiological substrate in that long- storied disease, Wortilesky's Disorder. Up to now merely a descriptive diagnosis for a most distressing disease.

The victim of this malady awakens early in the morning with three fully formed lectures in his mind. His wife says he's been lecturing half the night, and she seems to be wearing waxen ear plugs. The professor (victim is usually a teacher) knows from bitter experience that he must deliver all three lectures before midnight, else be penalized by having them added to the next three he will prepare that night.

Thus he wins a reputation of fluency he really hasn't earned, and the unfortunate one he is buttonholing, awash in the flood of scholarly observations, notices the speaker's restless gaze seems to focus far away over his, the listener's shoulder. This poor patient is looking for his next captive audience, and is already preparing his opening remarks for that lecture as he grinds out the coda on this one.

It is horrible, exhausting, the lecturer's version of The Flying Dutchman, who as you recall, could never reach port. Please relay, or Email, my thanks to Sandy -- his work (her work?) has enabled us to resume our attack on Wartyloskis Disease wth renewed vigor. Who is the P.C.??



P.S. Later on it occurred to me that P.C. might be related to PRN. If someone in that stellar gang would write to Salvo he'd be glad to reply. He would explain how the cow et the cabbage.

Even better some letters-in-a-bottle laundried by the dessicated crew of the S.S. Caduceus -- these would receive reply by Pelican Post.

It's the most.


P.S. We have several moles in the caduceus, and they tell us that our tainted leader, Gerry, is now placing in Caduceus all sorts of psychotic people. in a word he is forming a new Mental Health Department, strictly paralegal and extralegal. Excelsier!

-- February 7, 1995

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