Thursday, July 23, 2009


To me, nearly all science is magical. Not in the sense that I am endlessly fascinated by it, but more in that way most people regard watching someone get sawed in half. It's a "how did they DO that?" feeling. In school up until college, I took all the requisite classes - biology, chemistry, earth science, etc. My college transcript is less than stellar in that category, boasting a single class called "Natural Disasters." So I still regard scientific achievement with a certain degree of mystification. In this way I supposed I'm not that different than people from the Middle Ages or those of a very superstitious culture/religion.

Yesterday was the longest solar eclipse since 1991. It cut a swath across Asia and the Pacific, lasting for up to six minutes and 39 seconds in places. Indian astrologers were making predictions of widespread violence and evil according to their beliefs that what happened during a solar eclipse was that a dragon swallowed the sun. Fortunately for us (and the sun) neither mass panic and crime nor the sun being swallowed actually happened. Instead people had something really cool to look at, while some very confused cows in Japan decided it was dinner time and went to their troughs. 

The Seattle Times had a story a few days ago on something that may be neither science nor magic. This one struck my attention because of my interest in animal behavior. Mary Phillips, a hospice nurse in the state of Washington, credits her co-worker's Maltese Poodle, Jacque Pierre, with saving her life. She arrived at work one day and was struck by a crippling headache. While lying on the floor resting, Jacque Pierre came in and, despite the fact Phillips and Jacque Pierre weren't buddies, licked the size of her head exactly where the pain was the most excruciating. That unlikely gesture convinced Phillips to go to the ER where they found a walnut-sized aneurysm in her head. Phillips had recalled times when hospice patients' pets refused to leave their dying owners' sides at the exact moment of death, and she stated those experiences were what made her finally seek help.

What might quite possibly be magic in the sue-happy American society of today is University of Michigan Health System doctors have found that admitting mistakes and offering compensation up front has actually saved them from malpractice suits. According to Google News, after implementing this "common decency" approach malpractice claims dropped by half from 2001-07, the time to process claims dropped from 20 to eight months and costs per claim were halved. Patients who have been on the receiving end of medical mistakes in the system but who received an immediate apology and compensation have stated their satisfaction with not feeling abandoned. I guess nice guys don't always finish last. 

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