Tag: book research

Finding the Perfect Disease: 20 facts and thoughts on human diseases

mustard in field

I spent more than 5 hours reading about infectious diseases yesterday because syphilis just might not be the disease I need for my novel.  Or it might not be the only one my character has.  I was looking for the following qualities: urgent symptoms, curable, fatal if not cured in time.  The problem with syphilis is that in the first two phases (when it’s still treatable) the symptoms tend to be so mild that people often don’t even know they’re really sick.  Each phase also has the potential to last from a few weeks to years and years.  So there’s no urgency for fictitious purposes.  For people like me, who are slightly possibly a little bit prone to catastrophizing absolutely every physical pang or headache into a brain tumor, doing medical research can be dangerous.  The thing is, I find medical research irresistible.  My curiosity is insatiable.  I want to know ALL THE BAD CREEPY STUFF THAT CAN HAPPEN TO HUMAN BEINGS!!!

Here are some things I learned yesterday

1.  Typhoid Mary was a real person named Mary who spread typhoid to a ton of people because she was a carrier that didn’t ever get sick and was also a cook who didn’t believe in washing her hands.

2.  Only 1 in 10 people infected with tuberculosis ever have an active infection.  It is believed that 1/3 of the world’s population is infected with M. Tuberculosis.  That’s 1 in 3 people who have latent tuberculosis.  Could YOU be harboring the bacteria in your tissue?*

3.  If you read about a lot of diseases and their symptoms it becomes impossible not to see that the job doctors have of diagnosing is a lot more complicated than people in distress will ever admit.  You think it should be obvious to people with really extensive and expensive educations but the symptoms of HIV are a lot like the symptoms of TB which are a lot like the symptoms of syphilis.  So don’t be an asshole to doctors because they don’t know EVERYTHING.

4.  Smallpox was a badass health villain.  I mean – it is a nasty nasty virus.  I knew it was a nasty virus but I didn’t realize what a pandemic it was and the word “vaccination” was coined because of the improved inoculation against smallpox that came about by a doctor discovering that cows get a smallpox humans can’t get but that introducing the cow’s smallpox virus to humans would protect against the human smallpox virus with a high rate of immunity.  The root of the word “vaccination” is cow.  I never knew that.

5.  Smallpox vaccinations were made mandatory in many developed countries and it was because of this that smallpox was eradicated and all vaccination programs for it were deemed no longer necessary by 1976 with the US being the last to discontinue it.  When you think of vaccinations being evil – you just read the statistics on rate of the smallpox vaccination killing patients compared to the rate at which smallpox kills people who aren’t vaccinated.  If you still think they’re evil then I think you haven’t read enough about smallpox and how likely it is to kill everyone you know.

6.  I saw pictures of people infected with smallpox.  They should show these pictures to people in school when learning about plagues that have killed off large populations of people.  It really hits home.  This is no little “rash” as I always thought.  It’s gnarly.  I mean, you don’t have any regular skin left while infected.  I was shocked and also – no “rash” looks like that that I’ve ever seen before.

7.  Pandemics aren’t funny and they aren’t a government conspiracy and vaccines against them are one the most significant contributions scientists have made to human health.

8.  It’s incredible what a difference just washing our hands after going to the bathroom can make on keeping disease from spreading.  Such a simple thing.  So easy.  Soap, it does us all good!  No need for antibacterial soaps either.  Just plain soap and water.  Do it today.

9.  Humans are disgusting.

10.  I like to claim that I’m not germaphobic but this is not strictly true as reading about STD’s and other infectious diseases reminds me.  I don’t think mouths and genitals should ever get together.  I know it’s like the ultimate in sexual pleasure for many people but the thought of how many mouths and genitals are mixing it up all over the world makes me so uncomfortable that the thought makes me pretty sick and makes me want to come back as a cockroach.

11.  I also don’t think mouths should be doing a lot of other things they do.

12.  I have now told you something very private about myself and I’m going to have to kill you to keep you quiet.

13.  Humans are worse than ticks and mosquitoes with regards to spreading disease.

14.  If the Black Plague is going to kill you it’s going to do it within 4 days.

15.  If you think getting TB in these modern days is no big deal, you’re a fool.  If you’re prone to anxiety and fear of diseases like I am, don’t read about why it’s still a really bad-ass problem for humans with a respectable fatality rate.

16.  Sex is really dangerous.

17.  Scarlet fever seems like a mere cold compared to smallpox.

18.  The Chinese were recorded inoculating against smallpox as early as the 10th century.  Though inoculation techniques may have been used by Egyptians as early as 1000BC by making a powder of the dried scabs of smallpox sores to be snorted.  Yum.  How’s THAT for natural medicine?!

19.  Nature has some pretty fierce moves.

20.  Maybe these anti-vaccine and anti-modern medicine people have the right of it.  Maybe it IS better if half or all of the human population is killed off by smallpox and the Bubonic Plague and Tuberculosis and Typhoid.  I’m not a real fan of humans and nature has very distinct ways of controlling overpopulation amongst animals which includes starvation, disease, and fights over territory resulting in culling down of packs and cutting off defeated males from access to females.  Tell me this hasn’t been happening with humans for thousands of years now?  Unlike other animals we’re too stupid to scale back our reproduction activities

This cheerful post is brought to you by RESEARCH and EDUCATION.

*As you have probably already guessed, the bacteria is not spread evenly throughout the world’s population.  In the United States the number of people infected are much lower than in Asian and African populations.

When Research Looks Like Pornography

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(special note: do NOT investigate the links I’ve shared if you don’t want to see graphic images of syphilis rashes on dead people, live people, and genitals.  I provide my research links for those who are curious to see them but some of them are GNARLY and if you get nightmares or PTSD from looking at them you can’t hold me responsible for it!)

This morning I have looked at pictures of syphilitic penises and vaginas and feet and hands and lips and backs and anuses.  Not really breakfast fare.  It occurs to me that if I went to med school I would get very thin very fast.  There was one image of a syphilitic vagina being held open by a woman’s hands with long bright red nails which I found so disturbing that I can’t shake it from my brain now.  I keep wondering if the hands belong to the vagina or to a doctor or nurse assisting in showing off the sores for the camera.  Hard flash and clinical exposure.  Medical porn.  I was doing this syphilis research while Max was getting ready for school and I thought that if he were to walk by  my office and see what was on my computer screen it might scar him for life.  To think he caught his mother looking at porn at 8 in the morning over a cup of coffee.  And if he were to look up close he would never eat again when he saw the luetic lesions* I was really studying.

Pornography and syphilis are not unconnected.  I’m enjoying the irony of looking at syphilis images that look like super-sick porn and realizing that the pornography field has probably led to thousands of cases of syphilis.  I’m not sure it says anything good about me that I’m enjoying such a depressing kind of irony.

I saw the image of a dead man in the tertiary stage of syphilis.  He had a white head covering like a nun wears under her habit.  The two macro-genital images above it are very hard to look at so I don’t recommend you open that link.  Only the very curious and impervious need see what I’ve seen.

I now know how to create dark field microscopy using a dissecting microscope AND a lab microscope.

If I don’t know what syphilitic rashes look like in all their forms and what all the symptoms are – and then I write about it – you better believe readers will be able to tell that I have never looked at a luetic lesion or learned what other rashes can be confused with syphilis.  It would be ideal if I could go to a lab and have someone show me how to use dark field microscopy to test for syphilis in person.  Where could I learn that in person?  I’m reading all about it but I would rather get to do it in real life.  If any of you have ideas on how I might acquire this experience, please tell me.

Soundtrack today is “Wolves” by Broken Records.  On repeat.

Yesterday I asked Philip and Max if I have to work on the second Cricket and Grey next or if I can work on a different book first and they both said I have to work on Cricket and Grey.  I said I was struggling to really get swept up in the story right now.  The writing is going so slowly.  I’m excited about my two new characters and I’m excited about a couple of chapters I’ll be writing but it’s really stilted at the moment.  I know it’s the first draft but this is the time when I should be really excited writing it.  this is when I should be in a rush to get it all written down.  Then I do the careful cutting and rewriting.  Right?

Max suggested I write a little bit about each character to get into the writing.  I thought that was a great suggestion.

I know the writing process is different for everyone so there are no rules or universal answers to writing challenges.  I can’t seem to tap into the place I draw poetry from – not on purpose.  That’s what I need to be able to do professionally.  I need to learn how to trigger it because waiting around for inspiration to hit is too haphazard and passive.  Like waiting for life to make you happy.  Half of happiness is finding it for yourself.  It doesn’t just randomly drop into your life.  At least that’s what I believe.  I want all my prose to be sensory rich the way poetry is.  I know how I feel when I’m in that flow, when I’m tapping into that creativity that is inimitably mine, it’s like being .  I know when I’ve hit it and I haven’t been doing it at all lately.  I’m starting to wonder if it’s because I’ve gotten too far away from writing poetry.  I rarely ever share poetry but I used to write it often in my journals.  My brain thinks in pungent shorthand.

When I can tap into that creativity on purpose I will have reached a new level with my writing.

*New word of the day!  Found in a paper written in 1924 about the rashes commonly mistaken for syphilis.

 

Job Hunting and Moonshine Go Together Like Bubbles and Blood

gardenia from our garden

Last week I applied for four jobs.  I have heard nothing from any of them yet.  I’m told I have to be patient but the last time I heard that was two weeks ago when I applied to three jobs and I still haven’t heard back from those companies either.  It means they aren’t interested.  It means I’m bombing out.

So what do you do when faced with a looming deadline for getting work?

You buy some 153 proof moonshine, that’s what you do.

Then you guzzle it until it peels off the inside of your stomach and intestines and apply for 40 more jobs wearing the stench of despira-

OR you make liqueur out of the grain alcohol and the amazing home grown plums your friend brings you.  You wait a respectable two months before straining and sipping.  I usually work with 100 proof so I’m going to have to dilute this liqueur with something.  My first thought was to just water it the hell down.  But – water – ?  Doesn’t sound right.  So then I figured maybe I could water it down with some added juice?  maybe something flavorless like white grape juice?  I will commence experiments and write about it on Stitch for the scientifically minded booze-hounds.

So.  There doesn’t seem to be anything to apply to today so I think it’s time to clean up my office and get some sewing done because I have the pyjama pant project to work on and I have pants to make myself so I don’t look homeless when going for job interviews.  Surely someone at some point is going to see what an awesome prospect I am as an employee and want to talk to me in person, right?

RIGHT?!

I have got three paragraphs of Cricket and Grey Spring written.  Then I got sidetracked by researching third degree burns.  I’m going to have to make plot changes since I injured my MC more than I intended to.  I mean – they say to make bad stuff happen to your characters but I might have gone a little too far.  Philip reminds me that I can change the severity of the wounds in the first book.  I suppose he’s technically correct but I feel it would be cheating at this point – I’ve already published it on my blog.  Even though that isn’t a traditional method of publishing – my book is still out there and I think it lives on its own now.  I set it free and can’t take it back.

It’s a fine day out there.  Not too hot.  A breeze is blowing.  It’s already 1pm and I’ve gotten very little done.  I guess it’s time to do something productive.