The Body

The Body by Bill Bryson

I was inspired to read this after having been sick for what seemed like half of last year. Then I saw his Notes from a Small Island and thought it would be a good opportunity to knock out my book for England. Unfortunately, I had to stop after two chapters. I didn’t like his writing style, and the book was more geared towards people already familiar with the English ways, not those trying to learn more. So in the end, I went back to The Body, which sadly read like a biology textbook for elementary schoolers.

1) Humans don’t have wetness receptors, which explains why sometimes it’s hard to tell if something is wet or just cold.

Or maybe we haven’t found them yet?

2) The average adult touches his/her face 16 times an hour.

Even before coronavirus hit, I had made it a 2020 resolution to stop touching my face. Some people say masks are useless, but I think just the fact that I can’t touch my face makes them useful.

3) Penicillin was discovered when spores of mold came through the window and landed on a petri dish at St Mary’s Hospital in London.

Alexander Fleming was on holiday and thus there was enough time for penicillin to act. The WW2 follow up to this penicillin story involved a cantaloupe.

4) In a phenomenon known as blue sky sprites, you can sometimes see your own white blood cells moving through a capillary in front of the retina.

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this, but I also rarely ever look directly at a blue sky. It’s either too sunny or not blue.

5) A Tokyo chemist named Ikeda tried to replicate the flavor of dashi using glutamate.

He founded Ajinomoto, which produces a third of the world’s MSG.

6) Heart attack is not the same as cardiac arrest.

Heart attack is when oxygenated blood can’t get to heart muscle due to an artery blockage. Cardiac arrest is when the heart stops pumping.

7) When George Washington got a throat infection, 40% of his blood was bled out, and he died shortly afterwards.

Having read about radical mastectomy and now bleeding, I wonder what medical practice today will be considered outrageous in the future.

8) The mneumoic for spleen is 1,3,5,7,9,11 – referring to the spleen being 1x3x5in in size, 7oz in weight, and lying between the 9th and 11th ribs.

I have to confirm with my med school friends.

9) Jeremy Morris studied the effects of walking by comparing drivers and conductors on double decker buses.

It’s always a delight to read about smart ways of finding control and treatment groups.

10) Condensation is partially responsible for runny noses in cold weather.

The warm air from our lungs meets the cold air from outside and turns into drip.

It’s remarkable how little we know about our bodies. Often times, we figure something out, only to have it proven wrong later. There is always a study out there for you to cite, no matter what your hypothesis is. The default response from doctors is to drink more water and sleep more. It’s no wonder that this pandemic has caused hysteria. You most fear what you don’t know.


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