A new gadget, the VISSEIRO Smart Chair Pad, promises to allow people to remotely monitor the health of loved ones via a seat cushion. When someone (a grandmother, for example) sits on the cushion, it's able to record various vital signs through her buttocks. It can then send this info to an app on the phone of the granddaughter, offering reassurance that grandma is still alive and doing well.
My question is: if the vital signs flatline, how do you know if grandma is dead, or has simply stood up?
During World War II, millions of men served their country by fighting in the military. Hundreds of thousands of others worked in hospitals or factories. And thirty-two men did their part by wearing lice-infested underwear.
Model of a body louse, National Museum of Health and Medicine.
It began with the recognition of the serious public-health problem posed by body lice (Pediculus humanis corporis). Being infested by these tiny insects is not only unpleasant, but also potentially deadly, since they're carriers of typhus. During World War II, medical authorities feared that the spread of lice among civilian refugees could trigger a widespread typhus epidemic, leading to millions of deaths, as had happened in World War I.
In an attempt to prevent this, the Rockefeller Foundation, in collaboration with the federal government, funded the creation in 1942 of a Louse Lab whose purpose was to study the biology of the louse and to find an effective means of preventing infestation. The Lab, located in New York City, was headed by Dr. William A. Davis, a public health researcher, and Charles M. Wheeler, an entomologist.
The first task for the Louse Lab was to obtain a supply of lice. They achieved this by collecting lice off a patient in the alcoholic ward of Bellevue Hospital. Then they kept the lice alive by allowing them to feed on the arms of medical students (who had volunteered for the job). In this way, the lab soon had a colony of thousands of lice. They determined that the lice were free of disease since the med students didn't get sick.
Next they had to find human hosts willing to serve as subjects in experiments involving infestation in real-world conditions. For this they initially turned to homeless people living in the surrounding city, whom they paid $7 each in return for agreeing first to be infected by lice and next to test experimental anti-louse powders. Unfortunately, the homeless people proved to be uncooperative subjects who often didn't follow the instructions given to them. Frustrated, Davis and Wheeler began to search for other, more reliable subjects.
Eventually Davis and Wheeler hit upon conscientious objectors (COs) as potential guinea pigs. The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 allowed young men with religious objections to fighting to serve their country in alternative, nonviolent ways. At first they were put to work domestically at jobs such as building roads, harvesting timber, and fighting forest fires. But in 1942, inspired by the example of the British government, it occurred to U.S. officials that these young men were also a potential pool of experimental subjects for research, and they began to be made available to scientists for this purpose.
The Vancouver Sun - Feb 3, 1943
In theory, the COs were always given a choice about whether or not to serve as guinea pigs. In practice, it wasn't that simple. Controversy lingers about how voluntary their choice really was since their options were rather limited: be a guinea pig for science, or do back-breaking manual labor. But for their part, the COs have reported that they were often eager to volunteer for experiments. Sensitive to accusations that they were cowardly and unpatriotic, serving as a test subject offered the young men a chance to do something that seemed more heroic than manual labor.
Eventually COs participated in a wide variety of experiments, but Davis and Wheeler were the very first researchers to use American COs as experimental subjects. And they planned to infest these volunteers with lice.
It provided the title for Chuck’s classic 1996 collection of weird news (and if you don't have Chuck's book you really should do yourself a favor and get it. It deserves to be in every home library). However, we’ve never posted about the incident itself here on WU. So I thought I'd remedy that oversight.
In 1987, two doctors reported an unusual case in The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. It involved a 20-year-old man who had shown up at an emergency room complaining of rectal pain. Examination of his rectum revealed a “hard stony mass,” and eventually the patient disclosed how the mass had gotten there:
The patient said that approximately 4 h earlier he and his boyfriend had been “fooling around.” After stirring a batch of concrete mix, the patient laid on his back with his feet against the wall at a 45° angle while his boyfriend poured the mixture through a funnel into his rectum. After the concrete mass hardened, it became so painful that he sought medical care.
Remarkably, the doctors were able to remove the concrete mass without any damage to the patient's rectum. It had formed a perfect cast of the interior of the rectum, even showing “grooves produced by mucosal folds.”
Removal revealed another unusual detail: a ping-pong ball mixed in with the concrete. Apparently the patient didn’t explain what the ball was doing there. The doctors hypothesized that it had been "inserted after the enema as a plug to promote retention… Instead, peristaltic contractions forced the air-filled plastic ball deeper into the hardening concrete, accounting for its location in the upper end of the mass."
After resting overnight, the patient was able to leave the hospital the following morning, no worse for wear. One can only hope that he had learned a valuable life lesson: that it's really not a good idea to use concrete as an enema.
I wonder what became of the concrete enema. Was it thrown away in the trash? This seems most likely. Or perhaps it's sitting in a box in a medical archive. Or, and this is my favorite idea, perhaps one of the doctors saved it to use as a paperweight. Whatever the case may be, if it still survives it definitely would be a great exhibit to include in a museum of the weird.
The company Vaev claims to be selling tissues that have already been sneezed into. For about $80 it seems that you get a box containing one infected tissue. The idea apparently is that you can infect yourself with a cold, and this will somehow strengthen your immune system, thereby protecting you from further colds or the flu. Although the company's website is very vague on details, offering only this:
We believe that when flu season comes around, you should be able to get sick on your terms. We’re not about chemicals or prescription drugs here at Væv. We believe using a tissue that carries a human sneeze is safer than needles or pills. This isn’t like any tissue you’ve used before, but we love using them, and you will too.
The idea is so odd that I wonder if it isn't some kind of hoax. Note that it isn't actually possible to buy these things because the company's online store claims to be sold out.
Norman Lake's cure for the common cold. Otherwise known as the "IND".
the temperature in the nose normally is around 91 degrees, making it an ideal breeding ground for the rhinoviruses, he said. Lake contends that this is where his idea has merit. By clamping the nose for up to an hour, the temperature inside rises to around 98 degrees and the cold never gets a chance to take root.
Artist Ben Taylor drew a painting that featured “psychedelic colors and wormlike patterns inside a perfectly round circle.” Only later did he realize that he had parasitic worms in his eye, and he thinks they might have subconsciously inspired him. From The Durango Herald:
"I definitely believe that the worms had a hand in that painting,” he said, adding later: “When you kind of look into the nitty-gritty of how much of the human body actually contains your DNA versus the billions of different bacteria that live within us, you start realizing that you’re an ecology of beings that live within us.
He later adapted his painting to make it more obviously an eye infected by parasitic worms, and as a result it’s been chosen as the cover art for this month’s issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.