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In sickness and in health…

While having an interesting discussion with a friend this holiday season I learned there is a new television show gaining a lot of attention.  A reality show that combines two great American traditions, marriage and plastic surgery, is now being featured on E!  The new show titled “Bridalplasty” features a group of brides to be that are actually competing to go under the knife in order to perfect themselves before exchanging their sacred vows.  Click here to see the show’s ridiculous trailer.

I will admit to watching a healthy dose of reality television.  For example, puppet master Bret Michales provided my friends and I with endless entertainment as we watched him search for his “rock of love” by narrowing down a mixture of ex-strippers and strung-out groupies.   I watched Snookie get punched in the face, and have seen plenty of “The Situation’s” abs.  Still, after learning about this reflection of our culture (as expressed by reality T.V.) I find myself giving the wag of the finger to modern medicine.

Plastic surgery has evolved into something that extends far past its original purpose.  No longer used for patients dealing with life altering deformities, plastic surgery has become the money-maker of the surgical world.  At first, women just wanted a good pair of fake tits and a Paris Hilton nose.  Now, it is literally anything and everything possible to make sure these women look exactly as their twisted minds think they are supposed to.   Skilled surgeons are whoring themselves out to anyone who has the slightest case of low self-esteem.  This “practice” is actually breeding a new form of addiction and finds itself entering people’s personal delusions (Heidi Montag comes to mind.)

“Bridalplasty” is not only demonstrative of a corrupted form of medical enhancement, but also shows an odd intersection of medicine and love.  To take someone in sickness and in health used to mean that no matter the circumstances we will love each other until we die.  These brides that are undergoing painful, expensive, and just plain petty surgeries are already sick!  Their concept of love is based entirely on the way they look and plastic surgeons allows this skewed ideology to manifest. What sort of groom, television station, or society allows this to take place? In protest, I will never watch this show- even if I find myself perversely fascinated. Congratulations to science…for  literally creating Brides of Frankenstein.

Can somebody page the Robot?

Computer engineers believe their robot assistants can be of service in an emergency room near you!  A few weeks ago, Vanderbilt University posted an article on their Facebook page about how their trauma unit might be ready to accept this new technology.  The new “TriageBot” was invented to provide a kind of relief for the often busy and chaotic atmosphere of the unit for both patients and employees.   Those who do not come through the doors of the emergency room with an immediate or life threatening condition can be serviced by this handy new robot, cutting down on time. The robot can check your blood pressure and pulse-making sure you are indeed alive at the time of entry.  It can ask questions about age and height, or any other protocol type information that needs to be gathered from an incoming patient.    TriageBot may also become mobile and be given the responsibility to check in on patients, checking for consciousness and asking patients to gauge pain levels.  The bot will be programmed to report potential problems to the emergency room staff. Of course, the machines will not be left on their own- they will have a human supervisor.  Still, will patients have the same sort of trust for these time-saving machines that they would for a human?

People often enter trauma units in a state of chaos.  An unforeseen event has taken away a person’s health, making them fragile and in need of a professional.  Whether someone has a baby that will not stop coughing, or has been mangled in a car accident, human attention is deserved.  How will the trauma unit make the decision of who is worthy of a human and who is not?  Kazuhiko Kawamura, a professor of engineering and computer science who was quoted in the article admits that the robot’s success will be determined by the patient’s reaction.  I wonder if he would be surprised to find that patients might not warm up to the idea of having a robot asking them questions about how they feel.

ROBOT: What is your pain level on a scale of 1-10?

PATIENT: I’ve hit my head.  I feel like I have a migraine and I don’t understand why I can’t see straight.  This is the worst head pain I’ve ever had.

ROBOT: What is your pain level on a scale of 1-10?

How is a robot to understand pain, tears, or urgency?  How are patients to understand and be comfortable with the care they are getting if they are speaking with a machine? A hospital employee might begin by asking a patient to explain their pain level using numbers, but then be able to better understand the situation based on how the patient responds- maybe even taking knowledge of how to help from a previous experience.

Kawamura also seems to be under the impression that the emergency room is the “perfect way to test” a new type of cognitive architecture within the machines- attempting to develop a working memory for better and faster robot decision-making.  Perhaps computer engineers should spend more time with the patients and employees to understand what sort of space these robots would be entering.  Maybe they would find that the emergency room is no place to be testing anything.  People are rushed through these doors in need of help, not a quick fix.   Will the robots offer a warm touch to the man with the confusing head wound?  Would it be able to understand a mother desperately trying to explain that something is wrong with her baby…something she might know instinctively? 

There is a lot of potential for computer technology in the world of medicine, but we need to express caution in how we use it.  A robot used to check a patient in might save on time, but also might disregard the very fragile state this person is experiencing.  Overall, the field of medicine needs to keep asking: What kind of healers are we becoming?

If Rod Serling were alive to see this…

The field of medicine is evolving faster than any of us could know.  Society is only aware of the little information they have learned through media, or perhaps an illness/disability that has affected them personally.  Survival of the fittest means something much different when technology is involved.  We want to cure cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer, prevent autism, look better, move better, think better, live longer, etc…

We have to wonder…What else is the human race capable of?  Modern medicine has been essential for many of us.  I myself would have not ever existed if my mother was not introduced to Artificial Reproduction Technology (ART).  In fact my mother herself may have not existed if a new procedure had not helped complications in her own mother’s pregnancy. Recently, I had a metal plate and three screws inserted into my ankle so that I could walk again.  My father would not have survived cancer if it had not been for a new breakthrough in treatment.  That said, the evolution of medicine has been a necessity for many of us, our existence possibly dependent on it.  Breakthroughs in medicine happen every day.  Researchers work endless hours in labs to find out what else is possible.  We have already cloned a sheep (Dolly,who is now dead) and are now tinkering with the idea of growing replacement organs for transplants. What is stopping medicine from spinning out of control?  We are now entering the Twilight Zone.

Athletes are given human growth hormones to enhance performance. Women insert bags of silicone under the muscles in their breasts.  Entire faces are altered by the skillful slice and dice of a willing surgeon (Michael Jackson anyone?)  All of these things would seem entirely outrageous, even frightening fifty years ago.  Let your imagination run wild to visualize the human being of 2060.

A new field is starting to infiltrate medicine.  Some like to call it “Bioethics”, others “Clinical Philosophy.” Either way the point is that Doctors, Philosophers, and other people in general are starting to wonder if our ever enhancing capabilities can be controlled by our morality.  Culture over Biology or Biology over culture?

Goldilocks Zone

Astronomers found a new planet 20 light years away, one that is 3x the size of Earth, and one that can possibly have water, which is real good for life.

Discover Magazine reports:

If you’re too close to a star, it’s too hot to support liquid water. If you’re too far, it freezes. This defines a rough region from the star — the Goldilocks Zone, for obvious reasons — where liquid water can exist on the surface of a planet. This depends on the star, of course, but also on other factors like the planet’s atmosphere; Venus could have liquid water, but its super-thick atmosphere produces a runaway greenhouse effect which has heated it to 460° C (900° F). If Mars had a thick atmosphere, it might support liquid water! So the planet itself matters here too.

Gliese 581g, as the new planet is called, is in the zone where the temperature is just right. And with a mass of just three times that of the Earth, it’s unlikely to be a gas giant.

Due to the nature of science and evidence based experimentation, the scientists that published their discovery warn that more has to be done. This is not conclusive evidence of a habitable planet only 20 light years away.

From the journal article ms_press-1 [PDF]

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that, though all 6 planets presented here are

well-supported by the calculated reduced chi-squared statistics and also by several different

variants of FAP statistics, and the entire 6-planet system is consistent with the combined

data set from both teams, caution is warranted as most of the signals are small. And there

may yet be unknown systematic errors in either or both data sets.

This is the good news, and not only because it is easier to read: (again from Discover Magazine)

But perhaps the most interesting and exciting aspect of all this is what it implies. The Milky Way galaxy is composed of about 200 billion stars, and is 100,000 light years across. The fact that we found a planet that is even anything like the Earth at all orbiting another star only 20 light years away makes meextremely optimistic that earthlike planets are everywhere in our galaxy. 20 light years is practically in our lap compared to the vast size of our galaxy, so statistically speaking, it seems very likely it’s not unique. I don’t want to extrapolate from a data set of two (us and them), but if this is typical, there could be millions of such planets in the galaxy. Millions.