Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Knock 'em dead: The origin of modern anesthesia

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Vintage cartoon depicting Gill making it big after taking the plunge and moving to Ecuador

Vintage cartoon depicting Gill making it big after taking the plunge and moving to Ecuador

Knock me out!

Do you prefer a shot of Novocain with that root canal? Most of us who visit the dentist for anything outside a checkup do. Same goes for having a dash of anesthesia with that hip replacement or open-heart surgery.

No sense pining over days gone by when such luxuries didn’t exist. Bring on the modern age.

But many forget that what we have today owes greatly to what’s come before. In the case of anesthesia, we’re talking some ancient equipment – poison darts, also known as the Flying Death. Take a peek at the roots of our modern marvels:

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Way back in 1930, American med-school dropout Richard Gill discovered the life-altering potential of the Amazonian tar-like substance applied to hunting darts used to stun prey. Curare, as we now know it, is a deep-muscle relaxant. Technically victims of the Flying Death could be kept alive via artificial respiration (not necessary if one plans on dining on the victim). It’s also not toxic if swallowed, which worked great for Amazonians who likely got more than a taste when preparing dinner.

Homemade muscle relaxants, anyone?

Homemade muscle relaxants, anyone?

Laid off of his rubber sales position in the crash of 1929, Gill and his wife (likely an equal match to her husband in the risk-taking department) bought a place in Ecuador … just what any out-of-work Americans might do (not!). But Gill’s decision bore some strange fruit when, after a fall from his horse, he developed spasticity – a condition that causes a tightness of muscles, interfering with normal bodily function.

“After being told about curare by his neurologist, Gill sought out and befriended a tribe who used the arrow poison,” according to UCSF Library. “The indigenous people then showed him how to procure and use it, and Gill eventually returned to the U.S. with approximately 25 pounds of curare paste.”

And thus the adventure toward modern anesthesia began: “Medical experiments with curare began as early as the 19th century, but its use in anesthesia didn’t start until the mid-20th century, after Gill had introduced it in the U.S.”

But – and this is a biggie – while curare deeply relaxes muscles, making it easier to keep patients pliant (whoops!), it proved to have zero pain-relief qualities. Patients subjected to procedures while under its effects reported they were so immobilized as to be deprived of the power to say “Ouch!”

Good thing medical experts discovered that – and moved forward to develop those lovelies that alleviate pain.

British-born singer and songwriter Seal

British-born singer and songwriter Seal

Woman power or women pouting?

If you missed Seal (“Kiss from a Rose” and “Love’s Divine” crooner) hitting Oprah Winfrey up (for being the hypocrite she is in riding the Harvey Weinstein lecher express to gain the accolades of the left) at last month’s Golden Globes, here goes. We’ll begin at the beginning. Check out Winfrey’s gut-wrenching message to women about the strength required to tell their truth – not the truth – to those men. Get your hanky ready:

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Did you notice the affirming nod of Meryl Streep, the seasoned Hollywood Her who apparently had no power, no power at all, while she was calling Harvey Weinstein a god and starring in Woody Allen movies where a 16-year-old virginal Mariel Hemmingway was forced to endure disgusting overtures. (WND’s Judith Reisman has the damning details.)

But pursuing dreams comes first! Oprah says so. And a woman’s dream to rise in the ranks no matter the cost – virtue, principles, and the suffering of women – is far and away more goal-worthy than a man intent on getting what he may want at the same price.

Are your lips trembling yet? Are you dabbing those misted eyes and prepping to berate the men in your life with her truth? No? Good. (Globbing all instances of sexual exchanges into the category of unwanted or not-offered-in-trade takes away from the reality of true sexual harassment and violence against women.)

In comes Seal; or more importantly, his reaction to Oprah on Instagram. A picture and a few choice lines say it all:

Oprah meme

Tracey Birdsall, the 54-year-old ingénue, just didn’t know what to do

Tracey Birdsall, the 54-year-old ingénue, just didn’t know what to do

But #SanctimoniousHollywood won’t have it. Backlash against that traitorous man who spoke his truth – the truth? – was swift and severe. That is, if the #metoo story of wide-eyed “Rogue Warrior” actress Tracey Birdsall – 54 years old – is to be taken seriously.

Empowered by Oprah, or rather Seal’s speaking out against the farce of it all, this victim is fighting back. At the time, Birdsall – purportedly kissed and groped against her will when seeking the return of a loaned salad spinner – didn’t know what to do. “The ‘Doomsday’ actress told TMZ she sat down next to Seal on a couch,” Fox News tells us. (Exactly what a 54-year-old would do after being on the receiving end of gross unwanted sexual advances.) “And he (Seal) tried to grope her again. Birdsall said she left soon after and never spoke to him again.”

That’s Birdsall admitting she was kissed, groped, and then stayed of her own free will at the perp’s house to sit next to him on the couch. Golly, what a horror tale.

But this aging ingénue who – since the summer of 2016 – was willing to let this travesty go, now feels compelled to press charges against the former neighbor with whom she shared a close relationship. God bless Oprah Winfrey, the new Moses of #MeToo. Don’t ask what “close” means in this instance. Don’t ask why it took Seal’s calling out Oprah’s powerful powerlessness in this whole Weinsteinorama. Shifting sands and B-grade performance is all you’ll get. Everyone knows an adult female can’t go to police until Oprah gives the word.

Sanctimonious Hollywood isn’t the half of it.

Oprah, contemplating gray but not embracing it

Oprah, contemplating gray but not embracing it

Ageism warriors

Lemmings, ducks, and many human beings tend to follow the crowd, or whoever is in front of them. Vanity is part of the human condition, thanks to our fallen nature. And whereas the crowd used to promote the primping necessity of pretending to be anything but what’s real – a phenomenon that has sold a heck of a lot of hair dye over the years even in ancient Rome – the trend has turned. Embracing one’s gray is now in – at least for now.

And, as per the exalted Oprah quoted here in HuffPo, the current mood is as follows:

So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say “Me too” again.

Women across America are being called to defy ageism and welcome their gray hair. The woman herself – Oprah – doesn’t let her gray show, but her spirit of magnificence is catching fire. She did call some men pretty phenomenal, after all. That should be good enough.

But HuffPo rightfully asks, “Where are all the grey haired female role models in Hollywood?” Where, indeed? “The number of celebrities and high profile women who have embraced grey hair are in the minority.” And they’re right. The majority of celebrities, even those powerful movie mavens like Meryl Streep and Oprah herself dye their hair – just like they keep quiet when it suits their career.

Vanity is costly and sometimes stinky

Vanity is costly and sometimes stinky

But the really big day will come when all those at the Golden Globes and Oscars, etc, show up with their gray hair, no makeup, and sober clothes that don’t play on the weaknesses of others. And it’s coming. Oprah.com has columns encouraging others to stop dyeing their hair. “Do as I say, not as I do” is the new hope. But leadership must stand apart, right, so long as it’s female and can strike an emotive pose with slightly flared nostrils, quivering lips, and a well-timed clap of the hand to where a beating heart is supposed to be.

Meanwhile, people will choose to dye or not to dye. It’s not a big deal. Do what suits you. And stop following the crowd, unless it’s that crowd of one staring you back in the mirror.