Posted in Psychology & Medicine

The Man With The Golden Arm

In 1954, an 18-year-old Australian man by the name of James Harrison began donating blood. This is certainly not an unusual fact – over 100 million units of blood are donated worldwide each year. Harrison required massive amounts of blood transfusion during a major chest surgery he required 4 years prior. Knowing that he owed his life to the generous gift of blood from others, he pledged to donate blood as soon as he met the required age for it.

Soon after the first few donations, it was discovered that his blood had a peculiar property. Harrison’s blood contained unusually strong, long-lasting antibodies against a protein called the D Rh group antigen, or Rh(D).

Why was this such an important discovery?

In blood transfusion, blood types are crucial as transfusing the wrong type of blood can trigger an immune reaction in the donor’s body, potentially killing them. This is because red blood cells (that carry oxygen in the blood) are coated with different proteins called antigens. Your body ignores antigens that it is used to, but if it detects any new protein, it will create antibodies and viciously attack the cell as it thinks it is an infection.

Most people know their blood type as A, B, AB or O. A and B are the two most prominent antigens for red cells. If you are type A, you have A antigens. Type B have B antigens. Type AB have both antigens, while type O have neither antigens.

So, for example, if you transfuse type AB blood into a type B person, the donor’s immune system ignores the B antigen, but since it has never seen A antigens, it attacks the new blood and can make the donor very sick (or die).

The second most prominent antigen is Rh(D) (previously Rhesus factor). If you have it, you get a “+” next to the ABO typing (e.g. B+); if you don’t, you get a “” (e.g. O-, the “universal donor” blood).

Rh(D) was a huge issue in medicine because it resulted in many babies dying or suffering brain damage due to haemolytic disease of the newborn (HDN) – a transfusion reaction where the mother’s immune system attacks the fetus due to different blood typing.

The so-called “anti-D” antibodies that were discovered in Harrison’s blood provided scientists with a weapon to fight against HDN.

HDN happens when a Rh negative woman develops antibodies to Rh(D), then has a baby with Rh positive blood. For example, if a Rh- woman has a Rh+ baby in the first pregnancy, the body detects the baby’s blood during birth, senses the Rh(D), then develops antibodies so it can fight it next time.

If you give the woman anti-D before the body has a chance to detect the antigen, the anti-D will immediately attach to all the Rh(D) antigens, shielding it from the body. Therefore, the woman never becomes sensitised to the antigen and doesn’t make antibodies. No antibodies, no HDN.

James Harrison was well aware of the power of his blood, so he proceeded to donate blood every two weeks for 57 years – over a 1000 donations. It is estimated that his blood helped save the lives of 2.4 million babies worldwide, including his own grandchild. Hence, he is known as The Man With The Golden Arm.

+1
Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Baby Talk

Why do we talk differently to babies? Baby talk, also called motherese, parentese and infant-directed speech, is an almost universal behaviour where adults will talk in a special way with very young children. It is characterised by sing-songy, high-pitched voices and the use of simplified words with slow, accentuated vowels. It is seen across various cultures and languages across the globe, with some studies showing that babies show preference to baby talk over “adult talk” from as young as 7 weeks old.

As instinctive and silly as it may sound, baby talk actually serves many important purposes. Language acquisition is a complex developmental process. Language is not something we are born with, but something we learn. Baby talk happens to be an effective tool to help teach babies how language works.

There are many features of baby talk that makes it so effective.

First, there is the tonal element. High-pitched cooing voices are comforting for babies, as they associate it with positive emotions. This contrasts to grumbling, low tones and yelling, which would upset them. The musical element also attracts their attention.

Second, by slowing your speech and lengthening the vowels, babies can identify individual words easier, amongst what would sound like a “sound soup” to them. This also gives them a chance to try to imitate you and practise speaking.

Third, by using more adjectives in front of nouns, such as “big red car” or “choo choo train”, we help babies associate objects with their names, while giving them qualities to make it more memorable. The process not only helps them build vocabulary, but trains them in the art of forming associations in their head.

Fourth, we tend to state the obvious and give more of a running commentary, filling in the gaps with more descriptions. This lets the baby know what is happening and helps them be more aware of their surroundings.

Lastly, there is the social element, where by using a special voice, we mentally switch ourselves into “baby mode”. This lets us focus our attention on the baby, while conveying that we care and love for the child.

We tend to use baby talk when talking with pets and other animals as well, but there is research to suggest that in the case of dogs, it does not make much difference other than for puppies and dogs react no differently compared to “adult talk”. It is also commonly used as part of flirtation as part of acting “cute”.

Baby talk is not something that is explicitly taught, yet most people instinctively use it when interacting with a baby. It is an example of how our desire to do best for the next generation is ingrained into us – both naturally and socially.

0
Posted in Simple Pleasures of Life

Simple Pleasures of Life #3

Seeing a mother hold her newborn baby for the first time

Okay so this one isn’t really “simple” to come across, but when you do, it’s one of the most touching moments you’ll see. There’s something in the mum’s (and dad’s) smile that cannot be described by words. Definitely one of the (few) perks of OBGYN run. Man I can’t wait to have kids some day (I’ll regret saying this in the future).

0
Posted in History & Literature

Judgement of Solomon

The Bible tells many stories of a King Solomon, son of David. King Solomon is most famous for his wisdom, of which there are many accounts of in the Bible. The following is an example of the wisdom of Solomon.

There once lived two women living under the same roof who both gave birth to a son at similar times. One of the mothers accidentally smothered her own son while sleeping, and decided to switch the two infants, claiming the living one to be her own. The other woman instantly noticed that the dead baby was not hers and confronted the culprit, asking for her baby back. She refused, leading to a very heated argument that ultimately ended up in the court of King Solomon. The two women pleaded him to make the decision of who the real mother was. After much deliberation, King Solomon called for a sword to be brought before him. He stated that since both women were claiming the boy to be their own, there was only one solution: to split the baby in two and give each person a half of the baby. The lying woman, in bitter jealousy, urged King Solomon to cut the baby. She thought that if she could not have the baby, then no one shall. The true mother, mortified by what King Solomon planned on doing, pleaded him to just give the baby to the other women and not to kill the baby. The king then judged that she must be the true mother and gave the baby back to her, while punishing the other for her sins.

The story shows how the wisdom of King Solomon led to justice and reuniting the mother and baby by method of creating a fake situation that would instantly distinguish the actual mother from the liar. The expression “splitting the baby” is still used in legal professions to describe the act of coming to a simple compromise between two parties.

The intended moral of the story is probably to teach people that wisdom can defeat even the greatest of challenges. But perhaps the real moral of the story is: if you are insane enough to steal a baby, at least have enough acting skills to follow through with it instead of telling someone to kill the baby.

0
Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Child Prodigy

At the age of 6, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart toured Europe to astound audiences with his mastery of the violin, organ and keyboard. At the age of 11, Judit Polgár defeated a Grandmaster in chess, later becoming a Grandmaster herself at the age of 15. By the time he finished elementary school, Saul Kripke had taught himself ancient Hebrew, finished the works of Shakespeare and mastered the works of Descartes and complex mathematical problems.

Each of these people is considered a child prodigy – person who develops and shows extreme talent in a skill at a level far beyond the norm for their age. The term wunderkind (German for “wonder child”) is also used. For some unexplained reason, these people are far beyond the average level of children at their age in terms of intelligence or a certain talent.

Prodigies are actually a subset of a condition known as precocity, where a young child shows unusually early development or maturity, especially in mental aptitude. For example, a German child called Christian Friedrich Heinecken is known to have talked within a few hours after his birth, learnt the key events of the first five books of the Torah within a year, mastered the Bible at age 2 and had a working knowledge of universal history and geography, Latin and French at age 3. Unfortunately, he was struck ill at the age of 4, and shortly after predicting his death, passed away. Heinecken’s case is an extreme example of precocity, but nonetheless most precocious children show at least an outstandingly advanced level of mental maturity compared to other children. Along with prodigies, savants and children with extraordinarily high IQ (over 160) are also considered precocious.

Although precocious children enjoy their extreme talent (for which they usually have deep passion for) and may even become famous for it like Mozart, they are almost always at risk of certain problems. One common issue is that they tend to be placed on pedestals as people constantly praise their ability. This can quickly evolve into narcissism, setting a major expectation that the child battles with throughout his or her life. Children with advanced intellect are often unable to fit in to society as they are far more intelligent than their peers. Not only do other children shy away from them, but they feel too bored and unstimulated by other children and choose to alienate themselves. Furthermore, although they may have the intelligence and maturity to comprehend philosophical concepts, they still have the emotions of a child, meaning they are tormented by the dissonance between the rational mind and their emotions. All of these factors combined lead to a great increase in risk of depression in precocious children.

Essentially, the main conundrum for child prodigies is trying to balance their amazing talent with a happy life in a “normal” society. This could be achieved by parents keeping things real and not placing excessive expectations on the child, and giving the child a way to vent their genius in some way. For example, chess has been a classic way of keeping children with high intellect engaged. Having this kind of vent allows the child to still engage with other members of his or her society (other children), while honing their great skills for an even brighter future. The child must stay engaged and passionately practise and advance their skill so that they do not stay in a perpetual rut all their life.

With great power, comes great responsibility.

0
Posted in Science & Nature

Virgin Birth

Although the concept of virgin birth (i.e. conception without intercourse) is common in many religions, there is no conclusive evidence of actual human virgin birth in recorded history. Except in one medical article written in 1874 by a Dr Capers.

In this article, Dr Capers describes a case study of a miraculous conception during the Battle of Raymond during the US Civil War. A soldier was shot in the testicles and the musket ball carried the non-musket ball (read: testicle) into the uterus of a girl working in a nearby field. The doctor attended to the girl who was shot and treated the wound in her abdomen. The bullet was not found.

Over the following nine months, the doctor realised the girl was pregnant, although she claimed to be a virgin. After nine months, a healthy boy was born. Stranger yet, the doctor realised the boy’s scrotum was unusually swollen and upon examination, found that he was carrying the musket ball that impregnated the girl in the first place. He thus concluded that the testicle that was carried by the musket ball was lodged inside her uterus and sperm leaked out. The soldier was eventually found and was told about this bizarre story and the two were married.

This case study has become a famous story told by doctors around the world. Unfortunately, it is completely false and the doctor who wrote the article admitted to faking it to amuse himself. Ergo, there are still no recorded cases of a virgin birth in humans.

The closest to a virgin birth that was recorded is a case study of a young woman who was performing oral sex on a man. She was found by her boyfriend during the act and the boyfriend stabbed her and her lover with a knife. The knife injured her oesophagus, causing the sperm in it to track down the abdomen and down to her reproductive organs. By a stroke of luck, an egg was misplaced during ovulation, causing it to drift into the abdomen instead of the fallopian tube (ectopic pregnancy), and met with the sperm. The egg was then fertilised and the girl presented to the hospital three months later with excruciating abdominal pain. The ectopic fetus was removed.

0
Posted in Science & Nature

Caesarean Section

(To read about how babies are made and born, read the From Cell to Birth miniseries! https://jineralknowledge.com/tag/arkrepro/?order=asc)

Most animals give birth through a female’s vagina. Of course humans are the same when it comes to natural birth, but nowadays, it is not uncommon to find women wanting a caesarean instead of the traditional method. A caesarean (also called C-section) is a surgical procedure where the fetus is taken out by cutting through the lower abdomen into the uterus. The history of caesareans is quite dark. Back in the old days when medicine was not advanced, caesareans were mostly used to rescue fetuses from mothers who had died during childbirth. The first record of a successful caesarean where the mother survived dates back to the 1500s. Many people believe the word “caesarean” came from the Roman emperor Julius Caesar, who was allegedly born via a caesarean. However, it was rare for caesareans to be performed in Roman times and even if they were, the mothers almost certainly died in the process. Given that his mother was alive and healthy well into his adulthood, it is highly unlikely that Caesar was born by caesarean (there are no concrete records of it either).

There is much debate to whether a caesarean is better or worse than natural birth (except in emergency situations where a caesarean is required). According to research (in cases without known risks to the fetus), the mortality rate is definitely higher in babies born by caesarean compared to those born naturally. This is most likely due to a caesarean bypassing some of the physiological changes that occur during vaginal birth.

Another debate is about the use of general versus regional anaesthesia (spinal block) when doing a caesarean. A fascinating fact about childbirth is that when a baby is born, it cries to expand its lungs but then quietens down for about an hour (unless it is in pain or there is some stimuli). This is possibly a mechanism to allow bonding between the mother and baby. New mothers often remember the moments following the birth of the child as extremely emotional and blissful. Contrastingly, mothers who are under general anaesthesia and not awake when their child is born bond less with the baby initially (some mothers do not even recognise the baby as their own). Thus, unless it is an emergency caesarean, a spinal block (which allows the mother to be awake and painless) is preferable over general anaesthesia.

Lastly, it is common tradition to cut the umbilical cord straight after the child is born. But is this okay? When the fetus is in the uterus, it shares its cardiovascular system with the placenta. The umbilical cord connects the two and carries blood to and fro. At any given point, the placenta contains 30~50% of the fetal blood. If the umbilical cord is suddenly cut, the fetus essentially loses this blood, being born in a state of low blood volume. If you look at the umbilical cord, you can see that it is about 1m in length, which is enough for the baby to be put next to the mother’s breasts for breastfeeding and bonding. Perhaps we are cutting the cord too soon, not letting the blood flow back from the placenta to the fetus.

If you think about it, humanity has been giving birth without too many problems to survive generation after generation for 200,000 years (otherwise we would not exist). Although the mortality rate was high, Mother Nature has optimised childbirth over time through evolution. Ergo, it is possible that modern medicine is intervening too much in a natural process. We must always consider whether medical advances are helpful or harmful to us.

image

0
Posted in History & Literature

Honeymoon

It is customary for a newlywed couple to embark on a romantic vacation to celebrate their marriage. This is known as a honeymoon. The word originates from the Scandinavian region – the home of the Vikings. The Vikings had a tradition (as did many other European cultures) where a newlywed couple would drink mead for a whole month. The reason being, it was believed that mead was good for stamina and would facilitate fertilisation. Ergo, the honeymoon’s original purpose was to provide a time for the couple to make a child. Ironically, alcohol has the effect of inhibiting not only the cerebral cortex (causing sexual disinhibition), but also testosterone, leading to erectile dysfunction. Thus, drinking like the Vikings on your honeymoon would be very counterintuitive if you are thinking of making a child (or just love). Furthermore, it may endanger your marriage right from the start.

Whatever the origin of the word, a honeymoon is indubitably the sweetest time for a couple as they celebrate their promise for eternal love and look forward to a future they will build together. Perhaps the true meaning of “honeymoon” is a metaphor for the sweetness of a newly developing romance.

0
Posted in Science & Nature

Mother Horse

Female horses (mares) exhibit a very strange behaviour after they mate with a male. A mare will mate with every other male in the stable, almost immediately after mating with the first one. This strange post-coital promiscuity does not appear to make any sense from an evolutionary perspective, as one would think that pregnancy would lead to a decrease in libido so the mother can focus on caring for her embryo. However, this promiscuity is part of a strategy that helps protect the baby horses.

It is common behaviour in the animal kingdom for a male to kill a female’s young so that he can mate with her and produce babies with his own genetic material. This also happens in horses, where stallions engage in infanticide, kicking a foal to death if it is not his. For a mother horse, this is not only heartbreaking, but also a tremendous waste of the energy she put into pregnancy. So to protect her offspring and conserve energy, she ensures that no male knows who the father of her baby is. It has been shown that males who mated with a female who gave birth will not attack the foal, as there is a chance that it is his. Thus, a mother horse guarantees the protection of her child by prostituting herself to all of the males around.

Although the story of a mother willing to sacrifice everything, even her dignity, for the safety of her offspring may be inspiring, it has also been observed that if a mare cannot mate with all of the males in the stable, she will instead abort the pregnancy. For example, if a new horse is brought into the herd after the mare becomes pregnant, the mare senses the danger to her eventual foal and proceeds to abort it. In a study involving zebras, it was found that bringing in a new male made the foal’s chances of survival fall to less than 5 percent.

0
Posted in History & Literature

Flash Fiction

A short story of very small word count is known as a flash fiction. However, most flash fictions are between 300 and 1000 words. There are shorter examples such as nanofictions, which are flash fictions exactly 55 words long. But due to the criteria that a story must have a beginning, middle, ending, protagonist etcetera, it is quite difficult to write a story any shorter than that.

Ernest Hemingway once made a bet with a friend that he could write a short story which would have just six words. Of course, Hemingway being Hemingway, he easily completed the challenge. Like any other story, Hemingway’s short story had a beginning, middle and an end. It had a protagonist, a conflict and a resolution. Even within such a small word count, he filled the story with a variety of themes such as hope, joy, tragedy and agony. However, as so much content has been compressed to the extreme, the story may take a few reads to completely understand it. Hemingway’s story is as follows:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

0