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Matt Damon Kicks Ass

You're the man, Matt! (

You’re the man, Matt! (

Given all the celebrities completing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and donating thousands of dollars to ALS research—which at last count surpassed $80 million in total contributions—I thought one particular celebrity deserved some extra attention: award-winning actor Matt Damon.

Damon was nominated by his close friend and Good Will Hunting screenwriting partner, Ben Affleck, as well as television host and comedian Jimmy Kimmel.

Unfortunately, dumping a bucket of freezing—yet clean—water over his head wasn’t an option. California is currently experiencing a drought—which makes wasting water almost a cardinal sin—but Damon had another reason for being wary of this challenge: he co-founded, a non-profit organization whose goal is to provide clean water and sanitation to developing and underserved countries around the world.

As you can see, it simply wouldn’t be prudent for Damon to dump clean water over his head, so he took a different approach: he used water collected from toilets around his home.

Check out his unique take on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by going HERE.

Like many of you, I have watched endless videos of famous and not-so-famous people completing this challenge—as well as some hilarious failed attempts—but none of them even comes close to the heartfelt, considerate approach taken by Damon, one of my favorite actors.

So kudos to you, Matt. And thanks for showing us that fame and fortune don’t always change what lies deep within a person’s heart.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge for Dummies

How NOT to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (Gawker/YouTube)

How NOT to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (Gawker/YouTube)

Since my father passed away from ALS—also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease—I absolutely love all the attention being paid to this terrible and incurable affliction. As I understand it, more than $14 million has been raised for ALS research, which I hope will translate to a cure in the coming years. Granted, it’s too late to save my father, but there are plenty of others who could be saved. And thanks to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, there is more hope of this happening than ever before.

Of course, not everyone who chooses to complete the challenge does so successfully. Do a quick search online and you will find all sorts of “ice bucket fails,” most of which are hilarious.

Unfortunately, not everyone who fails at the challenge does so gracefully. Case in point: the Confederate-flag waving jackass in this VIDEO. For some reason, this guy thinks it might be a good idea to “kick things up a notch”… and it doesn’t end well.

Check it out and remember this: if you choose to complete the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, it’s probably best to stick with ice and water. Anything else could lead to the same disaster this poor bastard experienced!

Flashback: Living through ALS

I wrote this article a number of years ago as my father was wasting away from ALS. Given all the attention on this disease recently—as well as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenges appearing on Facebook and other social networking sites—I thought it might be nice to re-post this. Unfortunately, my father lost his battle and passed away in 2008—roughly a year after my son was born. It is too late to help my dad, but I hope we can find a way to save the lives of other ALS patients before they suffer the same fate. I love and miss you, Dad. This is for you.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease—is a degenerative motor neuron disorder that generally affects the muscles, but later spreads into almost every system in the body. Those unfortunate enough to develop the disease experience “rapidly progressive weakness, muscle atrophy and fasciculations, muscle spasticity, difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing and decline in breathing ability” (Wikipedia). And the mortality rate for ALS is 100%. There is no cure and the outlook is always grim.

I know this because my father passed away in 2008 from ALS.

My father in the early days

Although I’ve come to accept the fact that he is gone, I often find myself wondering how someone like my father could develop such a horrible disease in the first place. And even though it isn’t genetic—he was the first in our family to suffer from ALS—I worry that eventually, I could be next. Of course, my father and I were almost polar opposites in many respects, so I am optimistic and feel confident something else will likely get me.

This fact doesn’t make me feel much better, though. After all, we’ll all die from something eventually and none of us can escape it.

What bothers me most about my father dying from ALS is the way he lived his life and the eventual irony of it all. You see, my father was an orthopedic surgeon who exercised all the time. In fact, some of the equipment at our local YMCA had been donated by my father and uncle, both of them surgeons and partners who endorsed exercise and physical activity at every turn. When my brother and I were young, my father forced us to accompany him to work out, hoping we would follow his example and start exercising more on our own someday. Granted, we both stayed active through sports and other pursuits, but pumping iron wasn’t really our focus. And he was hoping to change that.

For years, the three of us would visit the YMCA, work out to the point of exhaustion and then repeat the process several times each week. Dad even hired personal trainers to set us up with exercise routines tailored to our specific needs. Combined with his exercise tips, we learned everything we needed to know and worked hard to get in shape, at least in the beginning.

Unfortunately, my brother and I responded to being forced to exercise in very different ways. He continued long after we were free to choose for ourselves and still exercises regularly today. I went the opposite way, choosing to exercise indirectly through work or other activities like sports. Oddly enough, the same thing happened with church. Being forced to go anywhere didn’t really agree with me, but my brother could find all sorts of value in it and, as a result, is a more religious person than me. And in this respect, I was more like my father.

Diet and nutrition were also important factors in my father’s life. To this day, I have never seen anyone consume as much fruit as him, sometimes two or three different fruits in one sitting. As for drinking, he would occasionally have some Vermouth with dinner, or the rare glass of wine or cold beer, but generally abstained. Smoking was never his vice, either. Instead, he would lecture me for hours about its dangers once he discovered that I had taken up smoking cigarettes. And no matter what ailed me, he always claimed it was the result of my smoking.

My dad was also a man of adventure and always took us on trips full of excitement and thrill-seeking, as evidenced in my earlier post “Ketchum If You Can”. Over the years, we traveled all over the world to go white-water rafting, skiing, hiking and sightseeing. We ended up at one time or another in Colorado,Costa Rica, Hawaii, Argentina and dozens of other wonderful locales. And even when he was unable to accompany us, my father would still finance our trips to places like Brazil and the US Virgin Islands.

It was during a family trip to Costa Rica that I first noticed some of his physical limitations.

During most of our previous hikes, my father was front-and-center, leading us through the woods or jungles with a Devil-may-care attitude and almost unlimited energy. This trip into the rain forest was much different. Instead of maintaining his footing and trudging along, my dad would often slip or have to keep himself from falling down an embankment that normally would not have fazed him. My siblings and I expressed concern, but he always blamed it on being a little older or unfamiliar with the terrain. We had our doubts, though.

Dad before the symptoms began

Later, I noticed that my father had started limping. When I asked what the problem was, he would simply qualify it as some minor nerve damage that would eventually correct itself. Only it never did. In fact, it started to get worse, but he insisted it was nothing. And since he was always the tough, macho man from South America, we never questioned it.

Then came the phone call that changed everything.

I was dining out in Raleigh with my fiancé and her family, walking back to the car after a delicious meal at the Macaroni Grill. The call from home seemed a little strange since I had spoken with my mother earlier, but I really started to worry when I heard my father’s voice instead. He was never much for phone calling and our conversations were always short and sweet.

This conversation was much different.

He told me he had been diagnosed with ALS almost a year before, but didn’t want us to worry so he kept it a secret during that time. Knowing next to nothing about the disease at the time, I asked about his prognosis and he told me he wasn’t sure, but things wouldn’t end well once the disease progressed. Of course, I was crushed and immediately thought the worst. He comforted me and assured me that he would be around for a long time. We both knew that wouldn’t be the case, but remaining optimistic seemed like the best approach at the time.

Over the next year, I watched helplessly as a man who was always strong, muscular and mentally sharp deteriorated into a mere shadow of the father I once knew. One by one, his muscular systems started to shut down and, towards the end, he even needed help using the bathroom. We bought him an electric wheelchair to allow him greater mobility, but he hated using it because he was so proud. About the only time he would ride it was when I brought my newborn son to visit. They only spent a year together, but my son still remembers cruising around the house with him.

The last time I saw my father, we talked about the life he helped me create for myself and the new family I had just formed, which brought him a great deal of pleasure. He just wanted to know that his own life had made a difference to someone else, which it certainly had. In fact, he had impacted nearly every person he came into contact with, including his family, friends and the hundreds of patients he served during his successful career in medicine. Everyone who knew him loved him. And I made sure he knew just how much I loved him, too.

The next morning, my mother called to tell me he had passed away in the middle of the night and that I should come over immediately to see him one last time. My sister had spent the night on the couch near his favorite chair in our living room. She woke up in the middle of the night and gave him a kiss before heading to bed. Little did she know, but that would be the last kiss he would ever receive.

I found my father lying in the same chair, only now he was perfectly still and cold. Grief took hold of us all as we wept beside his body, holding his hand or gently stroking his head. Then his body was removed and cremated, leaving me with only a small urn containing remains that were split between my mother, my siblings and me. Today, it sits on my mantle with his picture, a constant reminder of the man who spent his life for his family, and who made me the man I am today.

ALS is a terrible disease that affects roughly 30,000 people at any given time. And as I mentioned before, there is no known cure for it either, but there is hope. The ALS Association is working hard to find ways to treat and eventually cure this degenerative disease, and they are making progress. I encourage everyone to support their efforts because, believe me, you don’t want this to happen to you or someone you know and love.

And if you are living with ALS, please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you.

True Snake Salvation

Haven’t serpents done enough damage? (Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel 1508-12)

I have always been amazed and dumbfounded by Pentecostal preachers who handle poisonous snakes during religious services, even though this practice has been outlawed nearly everywhere you go. Apparently, these individuals and their followers believe that God will protect them and that no venom can harm a true believer who has been anointed by the Man Upstairs. To justify this belief, they often turn to several passages in the Bible, including the following:

  • Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you (Luke 10:19).
  • They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover (Mark 16:17-18).

Of course, I am always reminded of the Book of Genesis and how it was a serpent who misled Adam and Eve and ultimately destroyed Paradise—an act that pretty much screwed the rest of humankind… if you believe in that sort of thing, which I don’t. No offense to Christians, of course.

George Went Hensley... not to be confused with Norm (George Wendt) from "Cheers" or George (Sherman Hemsley) from "The Jeffersons" (Getty Images)

George Went Hensley… not to be confused with Norm (George Wendt) from “Cheers” or George (Sherman Hemsley) from “The Jeffersons” (Getty Images)

So when it comes to involving these slithering sinners in religious rituals—most of which seem to occur in rural, mountainous areas, for some reason—it’s easy to see why the merest mention of snake handling raises an eyebrow for me. And I struggle to this day to understand why a creature cursed by God is being included in services and prayers designed to worship Him.

I mean, even the founder of snake handling practices in America—George Went Hensley—died of a snakebite in 1955. I don’t know about you, but that certainly raises a red flag for me. Yet the practice continues, albeit on a much smaller scale. And yes, a lot of people have died as a result.

The latest victim is Kentucky pastor Jamie Coots, a third-generation snake handler at Middlesboro’s Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name and star of the National Geographic Channel reality show Snake Salvation. He died Saturday night after being bitten by a poisonous snake and refusing treatment.

I don’t mean to sound too cynical or mean, but if you follow the “snake handling rationale,” wouldn’t this mean that Coots was not a true believer, despite being a church pastor? Better yet, could this kind of thing prove that there really is no God watching over us?

Jamie Coots handling the same species that would eventually kill him (National Geographic)

I’m sure most Christians would agree with the first question—and who could blame them for supporting their faith—but some may see it the other way, too. I know something like this would be enough to make me question my own beliefs—if I were a religious man, which I’m obviously not.

Fortunately, you could argue that Coots has been heading for disaster for some time now. In 2008, he was arrested for having nearly 80 venomous snakes in his home. Five years later, he got busted at a Tennessee license check with two copperheads and three rattlesnakes in his car—a move than ended with citations for illegally possessing and transporting venomous snakes across state lines and one year of probation.

I’m not sure whether Coots completed his probation or not, but it was due to end this month. Rather than gaining his freedom, though, he ended up with a death sentence—and a self-inflicted death sentence at that!

Sorry, but I can’t help quoting Canadian singer Alanis Morissette and the question she asked in her Grammy-nominated hit from the late 1990s—a question that provides me with the perfect ending to this unusual tale of religious fervor and questioned faith:

Isn’t it ironic?

The Broken Record

The broken record is ME! (CheeseLord)

Dark times have befallen Gnostic Bent, I’m sorry to say.

After taking a “maintenance day” on Saturday to deal with a sick child—followed by a very limited blogging day Sunday since that’s when I started to feel bad—I now run the risk of sounding like a broken record when I say, “With any luck, GB will return in full force tomorrow.”

You see, I am currently dealing with a perfect storm of illnesses that actually have me feeling worse than yesterday. The first to hit was a sinus infection late last week, which started clearing up until it was reinvigorated by—you guessed it—the flu.

This is supposedly a mild case since I did get a flu shot this year, but the difference is arguable when you tack allergy-related sinus funk onto it.

Needless to say, this crazy combination of crappiness has knocked me out of commission for at least another day, so hopefully I’ll be back then with something a little more substantial for you, dear reader. In the meantime, though, it’s back to medicine, bed rest, hot and cold flashes, endless rivers of mucus and a cough that would make a tuberculosis patient proud.

Oh joy!

Bad Medicine

If you can't trust your doctor, who can you trust? (Brain and Spine Institute of California)

If you can’t trust your doctor, who can you trust? (Brain and Spine Institute of California)

Despite choosing a career in higher education, most of my family members opted for professions in the healthcare industry. My dad was a surgeon and had a practice with my uncle, who is still operating today; my mother and aunt are both registered nurses; my sister works in health information; and my brother is a physical therapist.

Some might label me as the black sheep of the family for choosing a field other than medicine, but what can you do? We aren’t all cut out to be doctors, dentists and nurses, after all. Given my medical “background,” though, I have always been a strong supporter of modern medicine. Granted, it isn’t perfect—and don’t get me started about the Obamacare debacle—but it’s the best system we have.

Holistic healers and health-food gurus might disagree, but you can’t please everyone.

Of course, some recent health news has me very concerned, especially since I have a six-year-old son (who is currently battling the flu, I’m sorry to say). Consider the well-publicized case of 13-year-old Jahi McMath, for instance.

On December 9th, Jahi was admitted to the Children’s Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, California for what should have been routine surgery. She was scheduled to have her tonsils and adenoids removed, along with some additional sinus tissue. Everything seemed to go according to plan and Jahi even awoke from surgery to ask her mother for a popsicle. A short time later, though, things took a disturbing turn.

Jahi McMath (McMath family)

Jahi McMath (McMath family)

Without warning, Jahi began bleeding from her nose and mouth before going into full cardiac arrest. She was rushed to the hospital, but doctors soon declared her brain-dead, which set off a legal struggle that continues today—doctors want Jahi removed from life support, but her family wants her cared for since they truly believe she will recover. It’s a huge mess, and one that likely began when a surgeon nicked one of Jahi’s arteries and caused extensive brain damage.

How horrible this must be for her poor family. And though they may have a bad taste in their mouths with regard to modern medicine, the sad fact is that they will have to rely on it for as long as Jahi is alive. I certainly hope things work out for them.

Sadly, another family is dealing with a heartbreaking situation resulting from common medical procedures, this time performed by a dentist. Unlike Jahi’s family, though, they have no hope because their child is already gone.

Finley Boyle—a 3-year-old girl from Hawaii—passed away Friday night following a dental procedure last month. Ashley Boyle—the girl’s mother—took Finley to Island Dentistry for Children in November and was told she needed extensive dental work: four root canals and six fillings. Boyle returned in December to begin the root canals, but little did she know that a month later, Finley would be dead.

Apparently, the dentist performing the procedures administered the wrong dosages of drugs to Finley and even left her sedated and unmonitored for nearly 30 minutes. As a result, she went into cardiac arrest and was rushed to the hospital, where pediatric neurologist Dr. Gregory Yen performed an MRI and discovered severe brain damage—what he called a “persistent vegetative state.”

Finley Boyle (Facebook)

Finley Boyle (Facebook)

Finley’s family has filed a lawsuit against Island Dentistry alleging dangerous conduct and negligence, but the only outcome so far is that the practice has been permanently closed. I’m sure this provides little relief to Finley’s family, but at least no other children will be harmed by this deranged dentist… at least I hope they won’t.

Modern medicine is great and can work wonders, to be sure. Unfortunately, though, the individuals practicing medicine aren’t always reliable or even safe. And this fact will undoubtedly worry me every time I take my son to the doctor’s office.

Beware the Zombie Drug!

Just because you like zombies doesn't mean you need to become one! (The Independent UK)

Just because you like zombies doesn’t mean you need to become one! (The Independent UK)

As if Americans didn’t have enough problems already—from the government shutdown to the debt ceiling debate and everything in between—it now looks as if we have a new headache to worry about: krokodil or desomorphine… otherwise known as the “zombie drug.”

Krokodil is an injectable opiate derived from morphine that is cheaper and easier to produce than heroin, a drug for which it is sometimes substituted, often without users’ knowledge. It first appeared in Russia and the Ukraine several years ago and has since addicted more than 120,000 people, according to a recent study published by the International Journal of Drug Policy. And the consequences of using this highly addictive drug are pretty serious, believe me.

A krokodil user cooking up (The Independent UK)

A krokodil user cooking up (The Independent UK)

“It’s a zombie drug—it literally kills you from the inside out,” Dr. Abhin Singla from the Presence St. Joseph Medical Center in Illinois said recently. “If you want a way to die, this is a way to die.”

The drug—which is produced by combining things like codeine, paint thinner, iodine, lighter fluid and even gasoline—is highly impure and can be contaminated by all sorts of toxic chemicals—much like another drug that’s destroying our nation, crystal meth. Users experience a high similar to heroin after using krokodil and the withdrawal symptoms are equally intense, but check out some of the side effects: black or green scaled skin; vein and soft tissue damage; gangrene and necrosis; severe mutilations; decaying bone structure; sores and ulcers; rotting extremities, like ears and noses; liver and kidney problems; irrational thought and behavior; sleep deprivation and exhaustion; memory loss; speech problems; and quite a few more.

In other words, it isn’t a drug anyone should consider doing… at least not anyone who wants to live.

Unfortunately, it now looks as if this “zombie drug” has reached America. This past weekend alone, five people in Joliet, Illinois were hospitalized with symptoms similar to recent cases in Arizona, Oklahoma and Utah. Of course, a woman in Oklahoma City recently told a local television station about a friend who died from krokodil use last year.

Nice stems, for a rotting corpse (OASAS NY)

Nice stems, for a rotting corpse (OASAS NY)

“The doctors say it ate him from the inside out,” Chelle Fancher recounted. “It wasn’t until the next day that they told us that it was krokodil.”

Dr. Robert Geller of the Georgia Poison Center is aware of the drug—as are many doctors around the country— and fears this may only be the beginning of another drug epidemic.

“It’s not clear how widely used it is in the U.S.,” Geller said. “This may be an inexpensive high compared to other drugs, according to its reputation, but it is more likely to cause withdrawal symptoms and be a real problem for users. My advice to would-be users is ‘don’t.’ This is a risky way to try and get high.”

Foot massage, anyone? (OASAS NY)

Foot massage, anyone? (OASAS NY)

Of course, warnings like this have done little to prevent the use of other dangerous substances in the past, so I fully expect to see more about this zombie drug in the news, preferably later rather than sooner. Not seeing it at all would be ideal, though.

I only hope no one tries to blame The Walking Dead for increasing the popularity of zombies and, by association, the zombie drug! Sometimes it’s simply weak human beings who are to blame, for goodness sake!

Weeding Out the Lies

Dr. Gupta has changed his tune on medical weed (Animal New York)

Dr. Gupta has changed his tune on medical weed (Animal New York)

The other day as I was cruising through cyberspace, I came across an article written by Dr. Sanjay Gupta earlier this month that explained why his opinion of medicinal marijuana changed so dramatically in the last several years. For those of you unfamiliar with Gupta, he is the Chief Medical Correspondent for CNN and has always been against the idea of pot being used as treatment for medical conditions.

Recently, though, Gupta is singing a different tune, and this one supports medical marijuana wholeheartedly. In fact, the good doctor is currently working on a documentary called “Weed” that further explains his 180-degree turn on this controversial topic. And I, for one, can’t wait to see it.

For decades, I have heard the same thing most of you have likely heard: marijuana is a terrible drug that provides no real benefit and instead serves as a gateway to other, harder drugs. Since 1970—and at the bequest of the Assistant Secretary of Health at the time, Dr. Roger Egeberg—marijuana has been classified as a schedule I substance. Here’s how these types of drugs are described by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA):

“Schedule I drugs, substances or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”

Believe it or not, but the DEA ranks cannabis along with heroin, LSD, peyote and ecstasy! It’s even considered to be more dangerous than cocaine, simply because coke has been used for medicinal reasons (mostly as an anesthetic)!

Clearly, there is something wrong with this picture. Thanks to Dr. Gupta, though, I now feel as if I know much more about the conspiracy to demonize marijuana in America. Consider the man who first suggested it be classified as schedule I drug, Dr. Egeberg.

In his letter recommending the status change for weed—the same letter that resulted in this status remaining for 45 years—Dr. Egeberg stated his reasoning as follows—I underlined the most pertinent words or phrases:

“Since there is still a considerable void in our knowledge of the plant and effects of the active drug contained in it, our recommendation is that marijuana be retained within schedule 1 at least until the completion of certain studies now underway to resolve the issue.”

The root... er, weed... of all evil (Tulsa World)

The root… er, weed… of all evil (Tulsa World)

In other words, he wasn’t recommending that marijuana remain a schedule I substance. He just thought more research needed to be conducted before a truly informed decision could be made.

Unfortunately, this never happened because none of the “studies now underway” were ever completed. As disturbing as this half-ass approach was, the truth of the matter is that there existed a plethora of information on marijuana at the time, some of it dating back several decades. For instance, former New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia commissioned a study in 1944 that found no evidence of marijuana being addictive or leading to harder drug use. More recent studies have even estimated marijuana’s dependence rate at roughly 9-10% (meaning this percentage of people who use the drug actually become dependent on it, at least in terms of psychological dependence). Compare this to dependence rates for cocaine (20%)—a schedule II drug, by the way—heroin (25%) and tobacco (30%) and it should be obvious that marijuana simply isn’t being treated fairly… and hasn’t been treated fairly for almost half a century.

But there’s more.

Consider for a moment the schedule I classification that claims marijuana has no inherent medical use. Gupta contradicted this and referred to the case of Charlotte Figi, a child in Colorado who started having unexplained seizures just after she was born. Every week, Charlotte would have roughly 300 seizures and despite being on numerous medications, nothing seemed to help. Out of desperation, her physicians recommended the use of cannabis to see what effect it might have on calming Charlotte’s brain and, consequently, reducing the rate of her seizures. Ironically enough—and after only a short time—the cannabis helped. Now Charlotte experiences only 2-3 seizures each month and no longer suffers from the cognitive impairment her more frequent seizures caused. By most respects, she is a happy and healthy child who can now enjoy a life that once seemed grim and dismal.

Charlotte Figi needs cannabis to control her seizures (Nurses Labs)

Charlotte Figi needs cannabis to control her seizures (Nurses Labs)

Am I to believe these kinds of benefits should be ignored simply because someone in the 1970s suggested marijuana be classified as illegal and dangerous? Is it possible the large tobacco companies helped fuel the fear that pushed consumers away from marijuana and back to their leafy product instead?

I’m likely getting a little ahead of myself. And it should be obvious that this subject gets me fired up—not because I think we should all become potheads, but because there are people suffering who could be helped once we get our collective heads out of our asses.

During his research, Gupta also examined the medical literature regarding marijuana and went back as far as the 19th century. What he found was astonishing and convinced me even more that we are missing an opportunity here. Between 1840 and 1930, the majority of marijuana-related papers and journal articles focused on the many benefits of this plant. Ever since, however, the majority of the research has focused instead on marijuana’s dangers and adverse effects—a quick search of the U.S. National Library of Medicine brought up more than 20,000 results for Gupta, most of which examined the drug’s harmful qualities. This means that of all the American studies into marijuana, only 6% examine its positive traits.

Does this really paint a clear picture of the drug? I think not.

Like Gupta, I agree that more research should be done on marijuana and a more informed decision should be made, especially with regard to its medicinal qualities. Researchers all over the world have been studying it for years and continue to do so. Some are even making serious progress. For example, scientists in Israel and Spain are trying to determine if cannabis could be used to fight cancer, while others are looking into it as a potential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, a growing problem among our military personnel.

The problem is that to study marijuana in the United States, you have to either break the law—marijuana is illegal, after all—or go through the proper government channels, which can be equally challenging. You also have to get approval and, sadly, this process is skewed as well. Approval for an anti-cancer drug study may need the approval of the National Cancer Institute, for instance, but the same is not true for marijuana. Instead of passing through some kind of legitimate medical board or organization, marijuana studies must seek the approval of the National Institute on Drug Abuse—the very organization whose mission it is to help demonize weed!

A medical marijuana card for California (Contra Costa Health)

A medical marijuana card for California (Contra Costa Health)

Again, there is something seriously wrong with this picture.

The good news is that as of this moment, residents of 20 states—and the District of Columbia—have voted to approve medical marijuana use, and a number of additional states will vote on it soon. Washington State even made recreational marijuana use legal and it seems as if Colorado could be next in line. In other words—and undoubtedly to the delight of Dr. Gupta—the times they are a changing.

They just need to change much, much faster… and without all the government paranoia, fear-mongering and—most of all—bullshit. Only then can we help the people who truly need it. And only then can we finally end their suffering.

Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut, Sometimes You Don’t

Wesley Warren carries a heavy burden (TLC)

Wesley Warren carries a heavy burden (TLC)

I don’t mean to make light of a terrible situation—or to pillage an old Mounds-Almond Joy slogan in my title—but 49-year-old Wesley Warren of Las Vegas has a problem. Actually, he has two problems.

His testicles.

You see, Warren suffers from a rare medical condition known as scrotal lymphedema, a.k.a. scrotal elephantiasis—massive enlargement of the scrotum.

Some might call it hugeballsackitis, but I don’t run with that crowd. Instead, I sympathize with this poor guy. Can you imagine?

While the rest of us are going about our days, Warren remains imprisoned in his small apartment, unable to move very much or to do even the most routine chores because of the 200-pound weight hanging between his legs. Fortunately, his best friend Monique helps him quite a bit, while his live-in caregiver handles most of the chores. Warren is surviving, but it certainly isn’t pleasant.

Scrotal lymphedema is pretty rare in North America and normally results from some kind of parasite spread by mosquitoes. In Warren’s case, however, doctors suspect some kind of blockage in his lymphatic system—most likely the result of some past scrotal trauma.

From balls to biohazard: Warren's scrotal mass  (PinIt)

From balls to biohazard: Warren’s scrotal mass (PinIt)

You have to protect the family jewels at all time, gentlemen. That’s Testosterone 101, for goodness sake.

According to the experts, Warren’s scrotum began to grow and a mass began to form around his genitalia in 2008, around the time he reported feeling a shooting pain in his testicles. The tissue around his penis then started to grow at a rate of roughly three pounds per month, up to thirty pounds per year. And you can see for yourself where Warren ended up.

Oddly enough, I have no idea why Warren waited so long to seek treatment. I once knew a guy who experienced a swollen nut—and who swore up and down it would correct itself—but even he went to see a doctor once his ball reached grapefruit size. What the hell was Warren doing?

Some say he enjoys being in the spotlight and loves all the attention he’s been getting—including a TLC special entitled “The Man with the 132-Pound Scrotum” (which I’m actually watching as I type this)—but I find that hard to believe. Watch Warren trying to walk down the street or climb into a van and then tell me this is something he enjoys.

The guy has to lean over the bathroom sink and shit in a small bucket, for goodness sake. And since his penis is now buried under his skin—a small tunnel running from its tip to daylight (gross)—Warren has to lean over the toilet, lift his tremendous scrotum and let the urine trickle down like a waterfall into the porcelain receptacle below… and likely all over it, too.

Glamorous, isn’t it?

Despite Warren’s reasons for allowing his balls to grow so immense, he did seek medical help eventually—even if he did enjoy all the attention, I’m sure it gets old after a while. A number of doctors refused to discuss surgery—citing the fact that Warren likely would not survive the procedure—and one specialist even claimed that castration was the only solution.

Fortunately for Warren, though, another option soon presented itself. After appearing on Howard Stern’s radio show and pleading for help, another man suffering from the same freakish condition referred Warren to Dr. Joel Gelman, who offered to perform the surgery for free. Gelman is director of the Center for Reconstructive Urology at the University of California-Irvine and says that his clinic does pro-bono work like this every so often—especially when the patient’s need is so great.

Warren without the extra baggage (Las Vegas Review Journal)

Warren without the extra baggage (Las Vegas Review Journal)

And I think we can all see Warren’s great need staring us right in the face.

Warren actually went under the knife recently with Dr. Gelman at the helm. First, a T-shape was cut into the scrotum mass so Warren’s penis and testicles could be uncovered—they were and all seemed in decent shape. Second, Dr. Gelman and his team removed the mass carefully and weighed it—Warren’s was obviously 132 pounds (roughly the same size as a small Asian man). Finally, doctors reconstructed Warren’s penis and, at last report, he was “walking again and enjoying life.”

It’s as if a huge weight has been lifted off his shoulders… um, groin… whatever…

Want to see scrotal lymphedema for yourself? Check out the information and images at the Center for Reconstructive Urology available HERE. Brace yourself, though. It is not for the weak at heart or—more importantly—the weak of stomach.

The Birds Strike Back

These may not be the only angry birds out there! (Rovio)

Humans have been eating birds for tens of thousands of years—perhaps as early as 3000 B.C. when the first chickens were likely domesticated. And in that span of millennia, we have consumed more birds and eggs than even the most powerful supercomputer would care to count.

In the United States last year alone, poultry production—which includes eggs, turkeys, chickens and broilers (basically chickens bred solely for human consumption)—topped $38 billion in sales, representing an annual gain of roughly 8%.

Thanks to the people at The Poultry Site for that information, by the way.

I’m not sure how this figure breaks down, but $38 billion seems like a lot of fried chicken, turkey sandwiches and Eggs Benedict, don’t you think?

Birds have certainly suffered at the hands of humans for a long, long time. And as much as I hate to say it, I fear the time for their revenge is upon us.

No sooner had I published an article about a New York salon that uses bird poop in one of its facial treatments—“Beauty for the Birds“—than our feathered friends popped up in the news again, only for something much more sinister.

According to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, a woman in the Chinese city of Wuxi may have contracted the H7N9 virus—better known as bird flu—from her dying father while caring for him during his final months. She herself died a short time later.

The deadly H7N9 influenza virus (Yahoo)

If this actually happened, then it represents the first case of human-to-human transmission this year because the Chinese woman never came into contact with poultry; her father was the only possible source of infection. Fortunately, researchers concluded that the virus’ transmission between people was “limited and non-sustainable,” but they also reminded us that this could change.

And if the bird flu is like every other virus out there, it likely will change and adapt—maybe even resulting in some kind of global pandemic in the near future. The capability of being transmitted between humans on a limited basis shows H7N9 has already started to learn from its mistakes, so to speak.

In April, the World Health Organization called the H7N9 virus “an unusually dangerous virus for humans” and “one of the most lethal influenza viruses [they] have seen so far.” They also mentioned how complex the virus is and how we “are at the beginning of our understanding” of H7N9.

I don’t know about you, but this scares the hell out of me. If the bird flu continues to evolve—and all signs point to that happening—then we could be facing on of the biggest health crises in recent history. And I, for one, would prefer to make history for something more uplifting and less fatal, if you know what I mean.

Looks like it’s time to start eating more fish, people!

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