Category: Science

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.

“Shake it a-baby!”

Shake it a-baby!

As a species, humans have a baffling obduracy to live wherever we darn well please on God’s green earth as long as Antarctic estates aren’t included in the realtor’s docket. From nomadic tribes to big business promulgators, we seem determined to plant our roots in every plot that fills both this planet and extraterrestrial acreage beyond–just as soon as lunar engineering is up to mass-developmental snuff. To top off our hunger for property, we play this game of land seizure with little regard for the progenitors of mythology: natural cataclysms that the cosmos allotted to each region of this planet long before we staked our mortgage claims.

In this country alone, the North bears the brunt of inhuming ice storms, the East is pummeled by hurricanes, tornadoes ramshackle the Midwest as they bypass the amicable route to Oz, the Northwest lives in the shadow of eight active volcanoes, tsunami-watch spans each coast, and here in California earthquakes reign supreme. Quite frankly, the United States is a veritable smörgåsbord of Mama Nature’s paroxysms.

In a country so tempestuous–even when we eschew the hailstorm that is bipartisan politics–finding invulnerable settlement means betting on a game of renter’s roulette. If someone ends up sowing their seeds in Tornado Alley, I understand that uprooting their entire life and relocating to milder climes when the cyclones amass is no cheap feat, but I can’t help wondering what convinced our nation’s migratory predecessors to hunker down in different disaster zones in the first place. I suppose when you contend with 23-foot long Ripper Lizards and giant sloths scrambling all over Pangea, the occasional lava flow is a small price to pay for a plot of arable land.

Personally, I took up residence in Los Angeles knowing that its toothy, clawed remnants of the Holocene epoch reside in the Page Museum and the only risky natural business I’d be facing was the fact that this be earthquake country. Besides the slight desk tremors that occasionally pique the excitement of Oregon school children, the first bona fide earthquake I ever experienced occurred at 6:30a.m. Hollywood time when our bed staged its own Evening with Fred Astaire and my boyfriend awoke with an inhuman, deep-sleep yell that aided the tectonic plates in rattling me to the core. This wake up call only reached a magnitude of 4.7 on the Richter Scale, but watching my Las Vegas memorabilia topple from the shelves and feeling the wall sway behind me was enough to instill an utter terror of bigger things to come.

And rumor has it in the scientific community that we SoCal residents ain’t seen nothing yet. Based on the geophysical research of Stanford seismologists, apocalyptic tidings of a massive earthquake hitting Los Angeles sometime in the next 30 years have swept across the internet via scientific forums and volatile comment sections alike. Expected to exceed 8.0 on the Richter Scale, this prophetically minacious tremor is fanning the already voracious flames of Godzilla-esque destruction hypotheses–that is, if his latest film depiction hadn’t been more aptly titled Hundreds of Humans and Their Tribulations, Two M.U.T.O.s, and Fleeting, Incessantly Interrupted Glimpses of Godzilla.

Some of the more imaginative voices of the online peanut gallery have taken these whisperings of catastrophic tectonics and ran with them until they’ve woven cautionary tales befitting Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Commenting on Tech Times’ review of Ker Than’s (associate director of communications for Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences) take on the impending LA quake, one such doomsayer predicted that, “[a]fter only a few days the Los Angeles area will be like a war zone. Eventually it will become uninhabitable. Thousands will die not from the quake but from the aftermath… I have had a dream over and over of a very long mass of weary looking people walking east on the interstate up the grade toward Barstow and the refugee camps set up there by the government. When you look back to the west all one can see to the horizon is smoke rising up from what was once a modern civilization now destroyed by mother nature. It will happen. My dreams always come true.”

Whether or not this commenter was film director Roland Emmerich posting under an alias is yet to be verified.

Unfortunately for us Angelinos, the aptly denoted “Big One” bodes more substantiated probability than the portentous theories that mankind will perish at the hands of bath salt zombies. According to Ker Than’s article for Stanford News, scientists have found a way to predict a future quake’s ground movement and shaking hazards by examining the ambient seismic field, or pressure pulses generated and projected through the earth’s crust by colliding ocean waves. While these ambient waves are notably “billions of times weaker than the seismic waves generated by earthquakes,” scientists like Marine Denolle have now learned how to mathematically compare these surface measurements to the temblor waves that occur deep within the earth.

By examining these “virtual earthquakes,” scientists verified a supercomputer’s prediction from 2006 concerning the San Andreas Fault in the Carrizo Plain, northwest of Los Angeles. This prediction suggested that if said fault should rupture, the seismic waves produced by an earthquake would be “funneled toward Los Angeles along a 60-mile [sedimentary] conduit that connects the city with the San Bernardino Valley.” To make matters worse, Los Angeles is a sitting duck atop a large sedimentary basin that study coauthor Eric Dunham compared to a jiggly dollop of gelatin in the midst of a plastic foam bowl. This means that if you’re lucky enough to have set up shop in the plastic foam terrain that circumvents Los Angeles, you might not have to hold on as tight as we Gelatinites strike vogue poses in our doorways to fend off falling furniture. Other cities unfortunate enough to have been founded upon these suicidal basins of sediment include Tokyo, Seattle, and parts of the Bay area, all of which simultaneously stand on the tectonically fruitful circum-Pacific seismic belt. Home to 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes and 81% of the world’s largest earthquakes, this horseshoe-shaped calamity hotbed is a natural exemplar for a sequel to Pacific Rim: Pacific Ring of Fire.

I guess the moral to this disastrously consequential story is hire some scientists to dig in your dirt before inspiring 10 million people to come inhabit your city, you technologically ill-adept Chumash, Tataviam, and Tongva tribes, Spanish explorers, and gold prospectors of yesteryear. That, or just relax all you internet harbingers of doom. For no matter how many Essential Survival Kits-in-a-Can we accrue from California Surplus Mart, Mother Nature is going to do her thing, and because we’ll be a part of that natural ebb and flow no matter where we reside, there’s little point in toiling our lives away in premature fear. After all, a major quake hasn’t occurred along the San Andreas Fault in more than 150 years, and if that’s not enough to smooth out your apprehensive gooseflesh, we still have a supposed grace period of three decades to decide whether volcano, blizzard, tornado, or hurricane territory would be a more suitable habitat for relocation.

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