News of the Weird

Lead Stories
*The Times of London reported in March that a convicted rapist in his thirties has been recommended for British government-provided Viagra to treat the depression he has been suffering since his release from prison a year ago. Doctors at St. George's Hospital in south London say his main problem now is the lack of a girlfriend.

Frontiers of Medicine
*Authorities at the National Women's Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand, began an inquiry in February into an unusual treatment of premature babies during 1993 and 1994 that might have resulted in five deaths and eight cases of brain damage. The practice involved removing congestion from the babies' lungs by striking them on the chest for hours at a time (up to 200 blows per treatment).

*In January Baxter International in Chicago defended a 1998 patient study in which nearly half the patients receiving artificial blood died after treatment. Although a relatively high death rate was expected (artificial blood was only to be given to patients in critical condition), Baxter revealed that no patient had given consent to the treatment and instead the company had relied on a Food and Drug Administration rule requiring "community notification" rather than individual patient consent.

*In November Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City was fined $30,000 for permitting a medical-equipment salesman assist in a 1997 surgery by operating a new machine in the OR. The patient had been admitted for a routine operation (removal of a benign tumor in her uterus), but died when a surgeon was unable to detect high levels of saline in her body.

*According to a January Chicago Sun-Times report, a 1998 National Institute of Health surgery trial at the University of Colorado experimented with forty Parkinson's disease patients: twenty received fetal tissue implants in their brains, and twenty had four holes drilled in their heads without implants. Some medical ethicists draw a distinction between giving patients placebo sugar pills and drilling holes in their heads, but apparently none of the twenty was adversely affected. The trial was delayed when a couple of the patients who received implants died.

Latest Breastfeeding News
*World women's chess champion Zsuzsa Polgar, age 29, was scheduled to give birth this month in New York City and so had been permitted to reschedule her required title defense from April to June. Polgar, however, said she might have to breastfeed her baby during the match, though she thought it would be more of a distraction to her than to her opponent. And a Hamilton, Ontario, lifeguard ordered Shannon Wray, age 25, out of a municipal pool in February when she began to breastfeed her nine-month-old daughter. Wray assumed it was because she was offending swimmers, but the lifeguard pointed to the "no food in the pool" rule.

Even Malfunctioning Airbags Save Lives
*Deputy Sheriff Elbert Fuller of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, shot and killed prisoner Clyde McShan in February after McShan pulled a knife on him in a squad car, causing Fuller to lose control, run up an embankment, and flip over. Fuller, who was hanging upside down in the car while seat-belted in, managed to reach his gun and shoot McShan before McShan could stab him. Fuller was able to do so only because the car's airbag failed to inflate.

-- By Chuck Shepherd

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Chuck Shepherd