In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Scott Tissues ran an advertising campaign that sought to convince the American public that there was such a thing as 'Toilet Tissue Illness,' and that it was one of the great public health crises of the time. Toilet Tissue Illness was caused by using cheap toilet paper. It could lead to serious complications, possibly requiring rectal surgery to fix. So the ads suggested.
The most notorious ad in the campaign was the 'black glove' ad below.
Here's some background info about the Scott Tissue campaign from Richard Smyth's Bum Fodder: An Absorbing History of Toilet Paper
The image is stark: a clinically white sheet, an array of gleaming surgical instruments, and a hand, clad in a glove of thick black rubber. 'Often the only relief from toilet tissue illness,' the slogan reads (managing to suggest that 'toilet tissue illness' is a recognised medical condition). Consumers who managed to get past the photo and slogan without dropping everything and running for the high hills were then subjected to another lecture from the haemorrhoid-fixated Scott ad-men. It's the usual litany: 'Astonishing percentage of rectal cases ... traceable to inferior toilet paper ... protect your family's health ... eliminate a needless risk.' The words are so much prattle — but the image of the black rubber glove lingers in the mind. Following criticism from the American Medical Association, Scott eventually back-tracked on its doom-laden claims — but pledged to undertake trials in order to prove beyond dispute that 'improperly made toilet tissue is a menace to health'.
And a few of the other ads featured in the campaign:
Sgt. Joseph Mitlof of the NYPD realized that the 30 cups of coffee a day he was drinking might have been contributing to his anxiety problems. In fact, he was suffering from "caffeinism."
Tallahassee Democrat - Mar 20, 1985
I had never heard of such a thing as "caffeinism," but it turns out the term is over 100 years old. A 1979 article in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis
offered the following definition:
Caffeinism describes a set of behavioral and physiological symptoms caused by the excessive consumption of caffeine-containing substances. The symptoms include nervous irritability, tremulousness, occasional muscle twitchings, insomnia, sensory disturbances, tachypnea (an abnormally rapid rate of breathing), palpitations, flushing, arrhythmias (an alteration or abnormality of normal cardiac rhythm), diureses, and gastrointestinal disturbances. Individuals suffering from caffeinism are sometimes misdiagnosed as anxiety neurotics because of the similarity of the symptoms. The deleterious effects of caffeine on humans also may include increasing the possibility of coronary heart disease in susceptible persons, promoting the progress of atherosclerosis and affecting chromosomal structure or action.
Burlington Daily Times - Mar 5, 1968
I only drink one cup of coffee a day, first thing in the morning. I think I'm good.
After suffering from asthma for 15 years, Sigurd Lindh learned that he was allergic to his wife, Greta. He moved into a cabin 600 yards from their home, and his asthma cleared up.
It's pretty rare for spouses to be allergic to each other (as in, actually having a physical reaction to the other's presence, not just hating each other's guts). But it's doubly rare for a husband to be allergic to a wife. So Lindh was pretty unique. For whatever reason, the overwhelming majority of these spousal allergy cases involve wives allergic to their husbands. See here
Detroit Free Press - June 2, 1966
Akron Beacon Journal - Sep 12, 1966
Emergency medical technicians often have to figure out if a patient is really unconscious, or if they're faking it. One of the techniques they use to do this is the "hand drop" test. Steve Whitehead of theemtspot.com describes it:
Without warning, we gently pick up the patients hand and hold it above their face. Without delay, we drop it. If the patient were truely unconsious, the hand would fall and strike them in the face. Most likely on the mouth or chin. We’re not going to let that happen, but the patient doesn’t know that.
Steve notes that the test is remarkably reliable, and the reason this is so is because:
Patients don’t know what their hands are supposed to do when dropped over their face and the idea of striking themselves is instantly unappealing. But what to do instead? The resulting dilemma is both revealing and, often, hilarious. The amusing nature of watching a conscious patient decide what to do with their falling hand is certainly part of the popularity of this exam.
However, he warns that there are patients who have "played the game before" and may be able to fake a convincing response even to the hand drop test. In an article on "Faking Unconsciousness"
in the journal Anaesthesia
(April 2000), the author noted:
During a ‘hand drop’ test, to my astonishment, I have caught the glimmer of a smile and realised that this patient knew too much. She had indeed read the literature.
Jean Haynes was almost deaf since birth, but then an allergic reaction triggered a bout of sneezing. Seems that she sneezed quite a bit. But finally, she gave one big sneeze, and suddenly she could hear again.
This falls into the recurring weird news theme of accidental cures (such as people who get hit in the head and are cured of blindness).
But I'm also reminded of the cases of people who blew their nose and had an eye fell out
La Crosse Tribune - Jan 9, 1973
reports on the case of Johanna Watkins who has a rare disorder (Mast Cell Activation Syndrome) that has caused her to become allergic to a whole bunch of stuff, including the scent of her husband. The allergy only developed after they got married.
At this point, they live in the same house but can no longer get close to each other. Instead they communicate via phone. Their "date night" involves watching a show together: "he will be three floors below me in a room on his laptop and I will be on mine and we'll watch the show at the same time and then text about it as we're watching it."
Scott and Johanna Watkins
This reminds me of the 1949 case of Joyce Holdridge, aka the "Allergic Bride,"
who broke out in a rash every time she was near her husband. She was the first reported case of a wife who developed an allergy to her husband. (I wrote a fairly long article about her for about.com, but it looks like about.com has since deleted it.)
After the Holdridge case, quite a few women came forward claiming to be allergic to their husband. So allergic wives are definitely a recurring theme in weird news. For whatever reason, cases of husbands who are allergic to their wives are much rarer (although not nonexistent).
In September 1942, a young miner, Ronald Cutler, had finished his shift, so he blew his nose to get the coal dust out. His eye fell out onto his cheek. A superintendent was able to pop it back in, and Cutler appeared "little the worse for the occurrence."
News of the World - Sep 20, 1942
Kingston Daily Freeman - Oct 29, 1942
In April 1899, a similar case was reported in the Southern California Practitioner
(which in turn got the story from a German-language paper, the Illinois Staatz Zitung
). A glass blower blew his nose violently, and his right eyeball came out of its socket. A colleague was able to put it back in, but on the way to the doctor's office the same thing happened again... and then a third time at the doctor's office.
There's an old legend that if you sneeze with your eyes open, your eyeballs will come out. Mythbusters says that's not true
, noting, "although a sneeze can erupt from your nose at an explosive 200 miles per hour, it can't transfer this pressure into your eye sockets to dethrone your eyeballs. Plus, there's no muscle directly behind the eye to violently contract and push the orbs outward."
How then do we explain these odd cases of eyeballs coming out when people blow their nose?
I just found a third case of eyeball dislocation following nose blowing, reported by Dr. John Tyler of Kansas City in 1888
. His patient, upon waking in the morning, "felt the need of a good, hard blow, and said he really was making an extra effort, when to his horror and amazement he felt his left eye pop right out between the lids, and stick!" His wife popped the eye back in, and the man suffered no apparent damage from the incident.
In 1977, the head of the National Peach Council, Robert K. Phillips, sent the following letter to the U.S. Department of Labor protesting their proposed ban on the pesticide DBCP, which had been found to cause sterility among male agricultural workers who handled it. Phillips noted that some men might actually want to become sterile, so for them infertility would be a welcome benefit of the job.
To: Dr. Eula Bingham, Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health
Recently we received the interesting DOL news release concerning worker exposure to DBCP.
It appears to us that you and Secretary Marshall may have overreacted, or at least that is your public posture.
While involuntary sterility caused by a manufactured chemical may be bad, it is not necessarily so. After all, there are many people who are now paying to have themselves sterilized to assure they will no longer be able to become parents.
How many of the workers who have become sterile were of an age that they would have been likely to have children anyway? How many were past the age when they would want to have children? These, too, are important questions.
If possible sterility is the main problem, couldn't workers who were old enough that they no longer wanted to have children accept such positions voluntarily? They could know the situation, and it wouldn't matter. Or could workers be advised of the situation, and some might volunteer for such work posts as an alternative to planned surgery for a vasectomy or tubal ligation, or as a means of getting around religious bans on birth control when they want no more children.
We do believe in safety in the work place, Dr. Bingham, but there can be good as well as bad sides to a situation.
Above all, please don't try to get a ban on the manufacture and sale of the chemical DBCP, because that would cause some losses of agricultural production which would be serious.
Robert K. Phillips
Executive Secretary, National Peach Council
Despite Phillips's appeal, DBCP got banned anyway, because in addition to the sterility it was linked to various cancers. More info: NY Times
, Multinational Monitor
Mother Jones - Apr 1978