Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Monday, January 27, 2014


As I was waiting to get my car washed a few days ago, I sneezed, which prompted the common response, "God Bless you!"  Which prompted my thoughts to remember that phrase came from the days of the Black Death when a sneeze was an indicator that you had only a few days before you would meet your maker.

My second thought, if I have time and the attention of the commentator is to ask them, "Do you know why the sun can initiate a sneeze?"  Which often, and in this case elicits, "No.  Why?"  And I'm off to tell my story.

When I was in graduate school at Bethesda, having been out of Dental School for eight years, I was much more receptive to the lectures than when I was at Marquette.  Our Anatomy professor, from Georgetown Faculty, was a great storyteller, to a point where after yet another anecdote about how during a surgical procedure he was involved in, the sheath of the throat being breached and blood spurting out so fast the patient died from a tonsillectomy.  One of my classmates asked, "Do you consider your presence during surgery to be bad luck?"

The story I remember was in response to my long-held and unresolved question as to why I could trigger a sneeze by looking at light and my wife could not.

Turns out that when we all were walking like Neanderthals; hunched over and shuffling around, wary of dangers around us, our olfactory senses needed to be at high alert and if our eyes watered, the moisture just dripped on the ground.  As we evolved and began to stand erect an anatomical deviation became of more consequence: about half of us have the tear duct above the nerve that triggers a sneeze and about half below. Those above would have tears pass the nerve and stimulate a sneeze.  Those with the opening below, just pass the tear into the mouth.

Interesting but as the classic joke about the stutterer who learned to say, "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers", it is hard to work into a conversation.

I'm sure there are many other examples of questions which haunt us, and one example of one recently was debunked by Snopes: Why are railroad tracks the same width apart? Turns out it is not because of the width of Roman Chariot wheels.

The Knight's Dream
Two that remain unanswered in my mind are: Why do some people remember dreams and others not?  And the related: Are dreams in color or black and white? The second is: Do we learn language from different parts of the brain as we age?

Those questions need someone like my Anatomy Professor to answer because even current research seems divided as to the answers. Perhaps some of you know the truth.  If so, please Comment.

Phil Everly recently passed away, which probably didn't hurt the sales of Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong's new album Foreverly.  In my next Post I'll discuss why the Everly Brothers were so special.  Please join me.

Monday, January 20, 2014

T-Shirt Party

Saturday Wash
A long, long time ago Mary and I were visiting her sister and somehow I noticed that my brother-in-law was wearing cotton flannel athletic shorts and a tee-shirt as bedtime wear.  That shouldn't have surprised me as Dave played quarterback in college, albeit at a relatively small school, and we routinely participated in pick-up volleyball, touch football, and basketball when visiting.

I made an instant decision to change from wearing my underwear to sleep in to mimicking Dave, no matter that my fighter-pilot friends would think I had given up any pretense to a macho self-image. The decision has done me well over the years.  I think I am on my third set of shorts and recently had to bow to wifely pressure to choose a new tee-shirt from amongst those without holes under the arms.

This was not an easy choice.

Before I had my hip operation a few months ago, I was a runner for almost fifty years.  I ran in some 5-k and 10-k races and, if I didn't collect all that many trophies, I did have a goodly supply of tee-shirts, some of which still fit.  And, in my second career as a Dental Insurance Director, I went to many conferences and gathered event tees.
Red Dress Run

Oh, did I mention I have run with the Hash House Harriers in several states and countries with commemorative tee-shirts at almost every one, most of which cannot be worn in polite society.

So, it wasn't a matter of not having choices, it was more a matter of choosing the correct replacement for my 1997 "WellPoint Olympics" shirt with the underarm ventilation.

Hash Boy Archive
I really have two outfits, and sometimes three sets of shorts, based on how hot or cold the weather is where I travel.  The second set is just for that...travelling. The tee-shirt for that is from the same brother-in-law, who used to have a business promoting Canadian tourism: The All-Canada Show.  Its Spartan front contains only a small logo, but the back proudly announces the Show and the year I received it: 2011.  It has been dutifully packed in the lower left corner of my bag on almost a monthly basis since that time.

In the end my choice came down to either the fire-engine red Angry Bird shirt my grandchildren gave me on our annual family trip to Wisconsin, which I think was their way of parodying my fixation with the game I learned on that trip, or a very quiet white tee, that was less likely to frighten Mary, should she awaken in the night, staring at my chest.

I chose the white, and one of the reasons was that it came from a Las Vegas event put on by the America's Health Insurance Plans organization on a year filled with insurance foreboding: 2000; when all the computers were supposed to crash.

Of course that never happened and I suppose the incredible amount of money and manpower that went into the efforts to avoid it might have had something to do with it.  But I have a sense of irony in my choice of tee shirts because the Affordable Care Act has been touted as almost an equal danger.

Perhaps it too, will prove to be less a doomsday threat.

My next post should be fun to write and hopefully equally fun to read.  I am intrigued by the lengths we go to explain common states that surround us: like the gauge of railway tracks and why some people can trigger a sneeze by looking at the sun.  The facts may surprise you.

Monday, January 13, 2014

O Christmas Tree

Although we have had a Christmas Tree in our house every year since we married some fifty years ago, I believe this year’s tree was the finest.  What made it so, made me reflect on what part the tree plays in our family celebration.

Mary and I grew up in similar traditional homes in the Midwest; her father a physician and mine a dentist, both practicing in towns populated by about 30,000 trusting people. Both of us found our early lives interrupted by moves, caused by those fathers going off to war.  The holiday traditions became even more valuable with the changes in location.

In my case my adolescent years were affected by the fact that my uncle was named a Bishop in the Catholic Church and Christmas meant travelling to Cresco, Dubuque, or Winona, MN for Midnight Mass.

When we married our traditions mingled: Mary bringing the decoration of Christmas cookies, me bringing Tom and Jerry decorating parties.  Children brought personalized ornaments, some made as school projects, and all needing to be displayed.  The children were placed in the background when we invited our Navy friends in for drinks and tree-trimming, although they always got to hang their own ornaments.  An unexpected serendipity from the parties was the numerous ornaments brought as gifts, many of which are still annual items to remind us of friends and times gone by.

Even the years we spent on foreign shore duty, both times in the Philippine Islands, we had trees, courtesy of the Navy Commissary system.  The first year we decorated the tree in popcorn: little realizing that the morning would leave only string since the ants had better use for the decoration than we did.

Our foolishness over popcorn followed only two years after our episode in San Diego, where we took advantage of the closeness of the beach to use a bucket of sand to support our smallish tree.  There, in the morning we found that dry sand doesn’t support much and we had to quickly buy a conventional stand.

Our present home is one of about 26 on a street that ends in a common green belt.  In typical California developer fashion little was made of lot size and much of high ceilings.  Our living room ceiling literally extends to the fourth level or about 50 feet.  We are original owners and the neighborhood included nine families who moved en masse from Huntington Beach.  They chose their lots first and consequently our house is on the smallest lot of the street, but the interiors are all similar.  One of the nine knew of a tree lot where you could cut your own tall tree and all of us went there on that first Christmas, only 10 weeks from when we all moved it.  Everyone wanted a tree at least 15 feet tall.

Our tree this year is about twelve feet and two things made for that special feeling at the beginning; first, we netted it so it came through the doorway with ease, and second, a stand I ordered after a catastrophic experience last year, worked as advertised, allowing us to set the tree precisely where we wanted in less than five minutes.  Removal would prove equally as easy.

There were no bare spots and ample space for the ornaments and ease of placing lights.  Ornaments of note included: a Jeepney, reminiscent of the Philippine, a Moon Child, give us by my mother, gone now for sixteen years, the flannel Santa Clause, which has topped our tree for more than twenty years, several with the boys names or handiwork on them, some from Taiwan, where I shopped while Mary had the family tree in Evanston and I shared mine with the Marines in Okinawa, many remembrances of duty stations, sports, activities, or groups we belonged to, and finally, one I gave Mary two years ago, which has the phrase, “She has read too many books and it has addled her mind.”

Beneath the tree is a handmade flannel skirt made fifty years ago by a dear friend, now living with her daughter in Texas. I pause, remembering the many presents it has held for anxious hands to open.

I probably could not tell you a dozen of those presents, but I could easily tell you a story about each and every one of the hundred or more ornaments, adorning the tree.  This year I ended up decorating the tree myself, since Mary was involved with other activities during the shortened pre-Christmas season.  It was not work.  It was truly an opportunity to revisit a very full past.

In my next post I will join my voice to those many who are talking about the Tea Party, Tea Party Politics, and the Tea Tax with an explanation of how I was forced into a T-Party choice of my own.  It should be fun.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Bill Cosby
Recently Bill Cosby was interviewed on NPR.  The occasion was a new show he put together for the 50th anniversary of his first public stand-up routine.   The interview is worth listening to, not only because it is full of his natural humor but also because it is sprinkled with much of the philosophy that has recently made him a popular hit on forwarded emails.

One of the things I found interesting was his explanation that his comedy calling started when he was in college.  He cited as a seminal moment a History class lecture when he found himself “drifting” in thought while the lecture was going on: connecting the mention of the Revolutionary War to how a football game starts, with the tossing of a coin, the choice of sides, and an explanation of the rules.  If you decide not to follow the link for the actual interview, the concept was that the Americans won the toss and could wear civilian clothes, hide behind bushes and trees, and use all manner of weaponry while the British had to wear red uniforms, and march in a straight line.

He explains his “drifting” as being AADD, and instead of apologizing claims ADD afflicted are the original multi-taskers.

His interview got me “drifting”.  For instance:

The last war we fought where there were rules of engagement on both sides was WW II, unless you count the Korean War, which is generally conceded to be a Police Action of the UN.  As someone who had a career in the Armed Forces I am acutely aware that Rules of Engagement still exist with U.S. Forces: and they include the wearing of uniforms, including rank and special indications for medical forces.

In contrast, our opponents, beginning in Viet Nam, and essentially including every other opposing force choose not to distinguish themselves so that they can more easily blend into the populace.  It’s not only in the conflicts with the U.S. that uniforms have disappeared, in most of the literally dozens of conflicts around the world” Sunni-Shia, Muslim-Christian, tribe-tribe, Arab-Israeli, whether in Sudan, Syria, Congo, or the mid-East, I am unsure how one side knows who is on the other side?

So, I think we should insist on a return of uniforms.  In addition to making this easier and evening out the fight, it would have the added advantage of creating jobs. 

Someone would have to make them, right?  And someone would have to design them.  Someone would have to make the cloth, make the dye, make the medals (you have to wear something on a uniform), and size them.  We have now resurrected several occupations that are endangered in today’s service-oriented economy.

I have an old-world tailor who I jealously guard, making him feel he needs only me to support him.  Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear about a need for higher wages in garment-making countries like Bangladesh.  Since cloth and even garments are made in areas away from conflict, we would likely increase trade, and trade demands some sort of political stability, so we might actually reduce conflicts by requiring uniforms.

I know what you are saying, “Who would enforce this and what would be the penalty for non-compliance?”

While I have not completely figured that out, I do have some initial thoughts:

·         Establish qualifications for a “Uniform Referee”, one of which would be impartiality.

·         Make the occupation highly salaried, supported by a required pool of any nations or groups currently in conflict.

·         Automatically disenfranchise any qualified referee whose country or group enters into a conflict

·         Require approval of the Referee Association for any uniform changes, empowering them to ensure contrast in style and color of opposing forces.

While these are only preliminary suggestions, they would serve as a springboard for a Social Media call to arms for the concept.  A political decision would take too long and become too burdensome.  This is an Action Plan made for the Millennial

Now where did I put my Twitter, Facebook, Plaxo and LinkedIn addresses?

This year I think we had the nicest looking Christmas tree ever.  In my next Post I’ll share some of my Christmas tree stories.  I would invite comments on some of yours.