Category: Biology

Charity Phlegm

Bacteria under microscope illustration for "Charity Phlegm" blog entry by Emily Moon about the Ice Bucket Challenge, ALS, and Pete Frates.

This is a gross understatement, but there are a lot of Ice Bucket Challenges circulating the internet right now. From innumerable athletes enduring the cold, to celebrities like Chris Pratt taking multiple buckets from their laughing wives, to that girl from elementary school you forgot you were Facebook friends with until you saw her screaming and racing circles around a yard for charity. The Ice Bucket Challenge is a veritable epidemic of good Samaritanism, and while I applaud these brave souls drenching themselves to support ALS patients, some critics note that because the trending sensation focuses primarily on the dousing and successive nominations, many participants may not know much about the cause they’re freezing for.

That’s why, when my mom sent a nomination my way, I decided that in order to steer clear of the desensitization taking place for many internet acolytes who merely scroll past the deluge of watery videos filling their newsfeeds, I’d have to conduct my own IBC very differently. With a humanitarian fire lit beneath me, I set to work learning all I could about the cause itself, researching ALS on various medical forums, catching up on Pete Frates biopics, and looking into the history of chilling challenges in general. It was and continues to be important to me that both those happy to take a bucket to the head and those quick to roll their eyes at “yet another viral campaign” understand why it’s important to keep spreading the word about ALS.

Also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease for the New York Yankees’ Iron Horse whose career ended with his diagnosis in 1939, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease that impedes the brain’s motor neurons from sending impulses through the spinal cord to the subject’s muscle fibers. This neurological disease gradually atrophies, or decreases the size and in turn strength of the muscles that engender limb movement, swallowing, speech, and even breathing. There is not yet a cure for ALS, but aids and therapies exist to maintain degrees of independence and prolong survival.

As for the Ice Bucket Challenge itself, its inspiration Pete Frates began his crusade against ALS by calling for more attention and action on the Food and Drug Administration’s behalf in the ongoing search for a cure. Once team captain and outfielder for Boston College, Frates’ recession into immobility has necessitated the aid of a full time nurse, a feeding tube, and a computer for communication.

While the Team Frate Train helped skyrocket the Ice Bucket Challenge to this year’s biggest viral sensation and catalyzed a hugely successful fundraiser for ALS research, shivering for charity has been an altruistic tool for numerous awareness campaigns. Since 1904, people have been plunging into icy waters for polar bears, dousing themselves for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, laying in freezing tubs to garner fundraising for Madi Rogers, a victim of severe juvenile diabetes, and participating in Cold Water Challenges to induce philanthropic action for clean water, hospitals, and housing in Liberia.

Armed with this new knowledge, I set about dusting off my speech writing skills and spent an entire day crafting and then trying to memorize a four minute soliloquy that I hoped might educate viewers on ALS and the challenge taken in support of its victims. As the light of day waned into early evening, I tore around the house looking for ways to actualize my message. The only place I could conduct the challenge without damaging the downstairs neighbors’ ceiling was in the shower; I no longer have a tripod so I’d have to stack packing boxes on top of a mini fridge to support the video camera; I’d need not one but two buckets to achieve my vision; and in case I forgot anything from my speech, I needed my laptop to serve as an amateur teleprompter and my boyfriend’s assistance to operate it.

Finally ready, I called action, started my speech, and began to pour. What I hadn’t anticipated was that four straight minutes of slowly dousing your skull with ice negatively impacts your memory the way the pretty lifeguard affected Squints in The Sandlot. Not to mention the fact that ice in your eyes makes it impossible to recover your forgotten material from the faux teleprompter that wavers between blurriness and brief clarity in the distance. I was able to get a lot of my speech out, but the moments where I had to stop and start over or spit out a watery word resulted in an editors nightmare, and I would never subject my Final Cut-savvy boyfriend to that torture. So I ended up having to scrap the project and conceptualize anew, devising a different approach to filming my speech that I looked forward to completing in a couple days’ time.

Two days later, I woke up with the fingers of the common cold drumming at my throat. No stranger to sore esophagi after enduring them for eight years before realizing I was allergic to my mom’s cats, I spent the rest of the day self-medicating with colloidal silver, cup after cup of tea, and day-long parades to bathroom. Regardless of my efforts, I drove to work the next morning sick as a dog, and despite my boss’ repeated instructions to keep drinking water, I left unable to ingest anything without feeling like I was going to keel over and face plant my already fragile laptop. It was official: I had the flu.

I spent 48 hours being sicker than I’d been since last Valentine’s Day when ol’ influenza decided it wanted to attend the surprise getaway my boyfriend had planned. This time around, I ended up missing a day of work and had to conduct the next from home to keep my contagions to myself. DayQuil and NyQuil became my new best friends and the food I usually admire for its incredible versatility and piquancy was deemed an enemy. The heat of the Los Angeles summer made sleeping in bed with a high fever akin to sleeping in a muggy, half-filled kiddy pool. And bed-time became an ambiguous, all day affair.

When the flu finally began to subside and the virus returned to my throat–bringing along an inflatable bouncy house based on the scale of my swollen glands–I thought the end was in sight. Usually, my ailments start in the throat, escalate according to the virus I’ve contracted, and culminate in a day’s worth of coughing. That’s why when the coughing began and I traded my various Quils for Halls and vitamin C, I could have praised Allah: finally I’d be myself again in one last 24 hour cycle of hell!

But the weekend saw to it that I wouldn’t get off the hook that easy, and as the days passed the cough increased until I was hacking up phlegm in a performance art homage to my fifteen year old do-si-do with pneumonia. At fifteen I held out against a trip to the doctor until I’d been afflicted with the illness for three months simply because my family believed more in vitamins and orange juice than professional care and pharmaceuticals. This time around I kept naysaying my boyfriend’s wise suggestions that a medical opinion was warranted because I knew my Obama-ordered Oregon health insurance wasn’t applicable in my new state of residence and copays are steep enough as it is.

On the morning when my coughs tried suffocating me awake, blood poured faucet-like from my nose, a very bizarre rash broke out all around my neck, and I’d somehow contracted pink eye on top of everything else, I gave in: it was absolutely time to visit Dr. Stranger. Per usual, the doctor was incredibly nonchalant about all of my symptoms, causing unnerving flashbacks to the time my consistently incompetent pediatrician misdiagnosed my bout of flesh eating bacteria as a temporary skin irritation (thank God for the Urgent Care doctor who thought to actually perform a biopsy). According to Dr. Stranger, my illness had started out as a run-of-the-mill viral infection contracted when a good friend’s cold and my boss’ fever of a week before combined to create my Super Flu. With my immune system weakened, bronchial bacteria had easily hopped on board to join the party and now I’d have to fill an antibacterial prescription to rid myself of bronchitis by the end of yet another week. The rash, he said, was totally unrelated and most likely an allergic reaction to… something. For this he prescribed Benadryl and Hydrocortisone and sent me off with the promise that I could come back for a real checkup should the rash persist or spread.

So here I sit three days after diagnosis and almost two weeks after those precursory inklings of a sore throat, my bedside table weighed down by a water-filled Tervis Tumbler, tissues, cough drops, multiple Vicks cold and flu remedies, Sovereign Silver, allergy medicine, anti-rash cream, Azithromycin that I pray will kick in soon, and floss. I myself am weighed down by phlegm and the regret that by failing miserably at my attempt to complete an educational version of the Ice Bucket Challenge, I’m letting down my mother, Pete Frates, and Chris Pratt.

That’s why I’m glad there are still hundreds of people out there bolstering the internet’s incredible ability to spread awareness and simultaneously proving that philanthropy is alive and well. While my personal icy contribution has been delayed, I hope that other participants go beyond the bucket to educate themselves and others about both the fight against ALS and all the charitable movements that people have been freezing for over the decades. Spreading not only nominations but new knowledge will add a whole new element of significance to the thousands of pounds of ice that have been dumped since Frates’ recently deceased friend Corey Griffin first took up the challenge in Pete’s name. Even if bronchitis or another ailment is keeping you from joining the soaking phenomenon, take a minute to find a new, creative way to support the research for ALS and other diseases that have yet to behold a cure.

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Invader Pilgrim

Scary Shower Drain Insects House Centipedes Emily Moon Blog

When I wake up in the morning, my eyesight is equivalent to that of a right hook recipient when they blearily come to in an animated TV show. In other words, I haven’t yet reached blindness on a bat’s scale, but I’m getting there. This myopia results in lots of hilarious mishaps like putting tights on backwards, scrunching my face in a not-so-cute Renée Zellweger impression, and witnessing blurry somethings out of the corner of my eye that should not be there.

This morning, for instance, I ventured into the bathroom and immediately saw a big, dark shape moving like discolored lightning on the far side of the room. Being ballsy (or stupid, as many a horror film casualty has proven), I edged slowly up to my mystery beast to avoid instigating a predatory attack akin to the physics-defying dorm room spider that once leapt three feet from a wall to my face. Still unable to see the perp, I leaned down to the floor as close as I dared and adopted my habitual squint, prompting the question: What the hell is that thing?

Quick as a spooked whippet, I turned and darted for glasses to figure out whether my David would be up against a Goliath of a roach (I know I’m technically the Goliath in this situation but we’re going by phobic proportions here), or if I’d merely trespassed on a butterfly mating ritual. While Hollywood proper is renowned for its household roaches, I’d had yet to encounter one in our current apartment, and my familiarity with the gargantuan palmetto bugs of Savannah and the millions of tiny brown roaches that hosted raves in the cupboards of my former downtown LA apartment still hasn’t honed my mom’s warrior woman ability to slap cockroaches to smithereens with her bare hands. Plus, I’ve always had a faux Buddhist sympathy for creepy crawlies that prevents me from crushing them unless they’re presently engaged in sapping my veins dry or look like they’re thinking about it (my hand is poised and ready for you, mosquitoes). So as I fled the bathroom in search of vision, my rationale was, “Let’s take a real look at what I’m about to try and catch.”

When I returned to the bathroom, four-eyed and ready to behold miniaturized Satan himself, horror ensued. The thing was now racing up the door that adjoined our roommate’s bedroom to our shared bathroom, and damn was this bugger mobile. Long, jointed legs seemingly sprouting from every millimeter of its wriggling body, it looked like a spider that had been stretched by some sociopathic scientist bent on terrorizing domestic comfort. It was nothing like I’d ever seen before, and as such I had no name or knowledge of its toxicity. I’d need a good trap and possibly a shot of adrenaline to the heart to brave the act of catching this sucker.

So I hurried back to the bedroom knowing that my time was limited to the speed of Dash Incredible plus 30 legs, and proceeded to hunt for trapping tools. Because the law of situational necessity requires that the tools you need in a desperate moment must go into hiding, no handy cans or boxes made themselves apparent to me, and I was forced to sacrifice an Urban Outfitters candle that happened to have a lid. As I grabbed my cucumber-melon scented snare and swiveled back toward my hunting ground, I heard the unmistakable click of the door locking: someone was in there, unknowingly holed up with a monster.

I waited until a second click affirmed my reentry, and lo and behold, the fiend was nowhere to be seen…

Terrified that my latency might have unleashed a deadly pathogen-wielding demon into the house, I pulled on sneakers and practically flew over the gap between the bathroom and our bed, tucking my limbs up as far away from the floor as possible and wrenching open my laptop to devote myself to an hour of Google research. With no certain place to start, I used child logic to guess at the insect’s species and plugged “Types of Centipedes” into the search engine. With a little digging through images of thick red, multi-legged, pincered behemoths, I came across my culprit, and thanks to the blog of biological science writer Madeline McCurry-Schmidt, I learned that my centipede went by the forename House.

According to McCurry-Schmidt and Kate Conway’s similar xoJane article, the house centipede is actually a helpful arthropod in the business of eating other household pests, like cockroaches, silverfish, and poor, poor spiders (don’t you know you could team up and hunt vermin together!?). House centipedes bleed purple (a good incentive not to squash them on that prized Van Gogh print), meticulously groom themselves (that there’s a clean varmint), can reach speeds up to 16 inches per second, live from three to seven years, and lay up to 150 eggs at a time. 150 x 7 (assuming they’re weird enough to reach reproductive maturity upon birth) equals 1050, so within the time it takes a puppy to turn 49, you could have a whole colony of house centipedes patrolling your hallways at night.

Fortunately, you won’t have to worry about disgusting infections the likes of which nobody wants to see while scrolling through Google Images, because your new cohabitational battalion is harmless to humans. With fangs tailor made to gobble up the tiny insects their hind legs have lassoed into submission (because yes, that’s how these bizarre creatures wrangle up their cockroach supper), their jaws are simply too small to penetrate human skin and the most damage they could inflict on our tough epidermises is a slight bee sting sensation or a brief allergic reaction. In fact, house centipedes are so nonthreatening when you inhabit our realm of giants that some Japanese people have taken to domesticating them for pest control purposes. Regionally known as “geji,” house centipedes are even available for purchase beside your hackneyed song birds and passé kittens in Japanese pet stores. That means, if I ever catch my newest roommate, big bucks may ensue.    

Armed with all my new knowledge, I felt a little better about returning to the bathroom once the heebie-jeebies started to dissipate–that is until I stepped into the shower and noticed the drain was completely uncovered, indicating the intruder’s entryway. So we may have an infestation on our hands if 150 eggs just happened to be unloaded beneath our bathroom sink, but at least our new friends will continue to prevent our nonexistent cockroach problem. I’ll just have to endure these phantom crawling sensations while little Mr. HC browses for comfortable real estate somewhere in the dark corners of my house.