ScienceSkepticism

Back from the Dead

Well, I’ve just returned from my death bed, and thought I’d comment on a couple of skeptical issues that came up while I was suffering.

Yep. Last week I went down hard with the bird flu, or super pneumonia, or SARS, or mega-emphysema, or lung cancer, or something. And I was at Death’s door.

Actually Death doesn’t have a door. He’s kind of into New Age mysticism these days and says he doesn’t like to “impose boundaries”. Death’s door is more like a bunch of those hanging hippie beads. He’s actually got a pretty cool pad, if you can stand the incense and sitar music, and the not living anymore.

But I was really in a bad way. I had one of those chills and fever, coughing, runny nose, stuffy head, headache, sweating, miserable, can’t get out of bed for three days kind of plagues. The kind where you’re burning up, but shaking from the chills at the same time. The kind where, when you do get out of bed, you stagger about in a NyQuil haze, eating aspirin like Pez, wondering how much prison time you’d have to serve for murdering the son of a bitch who passed the virus on to you.

Anyway, I spent a good portion of the time I was incapacitated moaning and watching daytime TV. Did you know daytime TV really sucks? It does, and that only led to more, very protracted moaning. I also got to watch more of the taped portions of the Olympic games than I ever cared to see (events are aired live in the US in late and overnight broadcasts).

One day I emerged from a stupor long enough to complete my last will and testament, and I noticed a good number of Olympic athletes using kinesiology tape. Gold medalist in Athens and contender for another beach volleyball gold in Beijing, Kerri Walsh, is one of the most visible athletes sporting the tape. She wears it on her right shoulder, which underwent surgery this past off-season.

Now, this was not new to me, but some people had questions about the tape and whether it does what it’s supposed to. If you’re not familiar, kinesio taping actually refers to a method of taping and not the tape itself. In fact, there are several different manufacturers using similar composites in the actual tape. But this type of taping was developed by Dr Kenzo Kase in the late 1970’s in an attempt to optimize treatment of injuries and acute and chronic illnesses.

Basically, the kinesio taping method involves taping over and around muscles, which is supposed to assist and give support or to prevent over-contraction. There is no wrapping or “encasing” as is found in conventional taping methods. Taping for lower back pain, for example, involves two vertical strips on each side of the spine and one horizontal strip over the strained area. The tape never circles back over itself to immobilize anything.

But why this method? The product description on one manufacture’s website says:

Muscles constantly extend and contract within a normal range; however, when muscles over-extend and over contract, such as when lifting an excessive amount of weight, muscles cannot recover and become inflamed. When a muscle is inflamed, swollen or stiff due to fatigue, the space between the skin and muscle is compressed, resulting in constriction to the flow of lymphatic fluid. This compression also applies pressure to the pain receptors beneath the skin, which in turn communicates, “discomfort signals” to the brain; the person experiences pain.

The method is supposed to improve the flow of lymphatic fluid in problem areas by relieving pressure.

So is there good, sound science behind this taping method or is it the acupuncture of sports medicine?

Fortunately, I managed to find the strength and lucidity to search the web for answers, which greatly reduced the amount of daytime TV I had to watch, and in turn, greatly reduced the amount of moaning my neighbors had to endure. The information I found was mostly positive, in that there weren’t many trainers or even doctors denying the efficacy of the method. There is little if any published literature debunking it. In addition to that, there are tons of testamonials hailing the method as revolutionary, including quotes from Lance Armstrong, who claimed it helped his team in the 2003 Tour de France.

But after delving into it as much as I could while ill, all I am willing to say for certain is that kinesio taping lets muscles and joints move, providing support without restricting blood flow. For now, I am satisfied with that, but will publish any further updates should I come across more information.

Unfortunately, after putting kinesio taping aside, I still had the demon flu I had contracted with which to contend.

Now, I’ve often heard the “death rattle” described by doctors and in books. It’s a biological phenomenon that we only get to experience once; unlike other forms of gas expulsion that some of us experience far too often – in social settings.

But to placate my personal fear of mortality, I always pictured the death rattle as a harmless child’s toy. You know, the kind you might find in a baby’s crib; maybe painted black with a cartoon picture of the Grim Reaper on the side. That was my idea of the death rattle. I never wanted to face the fact that it is actually an audible clattering in the chest cavity, announcing one’s final breath.

That is until I was forced to stare that reality in the face by virtue of the eight gallons of fluid that gurgled in my lungs for the better part of 4 days. I just knew that the noise associated with the wet, hacking cough, the sputum I expelled into countless tissues, and onto my walls, and onto the people who happened to be walking by was a precursor, a teaser if you will, to the death rattle that was only a busted blood vessel in my brain away.

It really had me worried.

But ultimately I endured, and after a couple days, the buzzards that were circling my house finally went away, and I started to feel better again.

That is until I heard about the latest Big Foot fiasco/hoax.

I hesitate to even call this latest incident a hoax. It was more just a waste of everyone’s time. It served no scientific or journalistic purpose. It was just plain stupid.

I’m actually pissed that the two yokels behind the “costume in a freezer” stunt have served only to perpetuate a stereotype that southern people are ignorant, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing hicks. They’ve done a disservice to science, skepticism, and everyone south of the Mason-Dixon line. My plague on both their houses.

At any rate, that’s about as much as my skeptical sense was tingling while in the death throes. I still have what feels like a beach towel stuffed into my sinus cavity, and everything sounds muffled and far away, but I am definitely on the mend. Indeed I’m back at work, and hope to be back to full speed in a day or two.

So stay tuned.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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20 Comments

  1. Thanks Sam! Glad to hear there’s at least some science behind that stuff. When I first saw it, I thought it was a big funky tattoo!

    And I agree with you about those Bigfoot bastards. It’s happening in my neighborhood and I’m sorry Georgia has enough stereotypes to deal with.

  2. Thanks Sam, glad you’re alive! Now, once you’re back on your feet (and on the beach volleyball court . . . you do know you’re allowed to remind readers of your unique expertise, right?), you totally need to go out and test the tape.

    I laughed at your description of the bigfoot “yokels.” Steve called them “hicks” on the SGU this week and I knew we’d have trouble. Sure enough, one person already complained that we were maligning Southerners. I think you and Maria can get away with it, but not so much a Connecticut Yankee doctor.

  3. . . . you do know you’re allowed to remind readers of your unique expertise, right?

    Well, it’s true that I have played competetive beach volleyball for years. I was never an Olympian, but I played at a high level, including in qualifying events for the national pro circuit (AVP). One could compare me to a triple A minor league baseball player. That’s about the highest level I acheived.

    . . . you totally need to go out and test the tape.

    I suppose so. The truth is, even though I have seen the kinesio taping method before, I have never tried it myself. But I’m indeed going to ask around among my trainer type friends to get more info, and perhaps give it a test run on my knees, shoulder, or lower back. (Those are the areas that began hurting me once I became covered with old.)

  4. Sam-
    Sorry that you were under the weather. Rest assured that the reason everything sounds muffled and far away is that everything is muffled and far away.

    On Bigfoot (on Dancer, on Vixen): 1) Two guys claim to have a dead body that they found in the woods. 2) They sent away the DNA and one of their samples came back human….s0…ummm…shouldn’t someone official be asking them if they’ve got a dead person in a freezer?

  5. 1) Two guys claim to have a dead body that they found in the woods. 2) They sent away the DNA and one of their samples came back human….s0…ummm…shouldn’t someone official be asking them if they’ve got a dead person in a freezer?

    I didn’t think of that, but you’re right!

    Hell, if there is any way whatsoever we can have these two jag offs locked up, we should explore it.

  6. So, here’s a copy of the email I sent to the police chief of Clayton County, GA. I am sure that one lone email won’t change anything, but a dozen or so from different parts of the country…

    Dear Chief Turner-

    It has been widely reported that two residents of Clayton County Georgia – Mark Whitton and Rick Dyer – claim to have found a dead body in remote woods in your county. The CBS news report can be found here: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/08/15/ap/national/main4353336.shtml?source=search_story. In a followup, it was reported that the two men had the DNA tested and that it came back human, according to Curt Nelson, a scientist at the University of Minnesota who performed the DNA analysis. (see news article here: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=bigfoot-fails-dna-test).

    Has anyone checked to make sure that the two men don’t have the body of some vagrant or hiker stuffed a freezer somewhere?

    -Jairus Durnett
    Memphis, TN

  7. I’m sure I saw a death rattle being used in that Voodoo scene in “Live and Let Die” back in the 70’s.

    And speaking of movies in the 70’s, perhaps that hairy old dead guy in Georgia heard banjos and was running down hill faster-n-he should-a-been.

  8. Geez, Sam, want a little cheese with that whine? We’re supposed to “cowboy up” in front of the ‘chicks! ;)

    I work nights so I have long been aware that daytime tv sucks with a big whoosh! I was actually fortunate enough to see the LIVE press conference about the bigfoot find. The news woman was trying to be impartial, but I could tell she thought it was a bunch of hooey.

    I watched in disbelief because this very Skepchicks site had called it a hoax days prior.

  9. Geez, Sam, want a little cheese with that whine? We’re supposed to “cowboy up” in front of the ‘chicks!

    I know. And that’s my usual M.O. I’m usually ready to wrestle an alligator or fight the entire state of Texas to impress the girls. But when I get sick, I just want my mommy.

  10. Actually Death doesn’t have a door. He’s kind of into New Age mysticism these days and says he doesn’t like to “impose boundaries”.

    Did he have a lava lamp?

    “When Death had a lava lamp” would, imho, be a pretty sweet book title.

  11. Totally not related, but when I initially jumped to your full post and saw the picture of the beach volleyball girls, I thought you were going to talk about the skimpiness of the uniforms. That is a lot of skin… I’m assuming they don’t choose to wear these? I, for one, would love having to play an Olympic sport in front of millions of viewers, all the while worrying about the wedgie my shorts were giving me!

  12. I’m assuming they don’t choose to wear these? I, for one, would love having to play an Olympic sport in front of millions of viewers, all the while worrying about the wedgie my shorts were giving me!

    This is part of the reason the beach volleyball venue has been the most popular in Beijing. It was also the most popular in Athens.

    On the AVP tour (pro circuit in the US), the players actually have a dress code. The women are required to wear bikinis and the men are required to wear trunks and play without shirts. And there is a very obvious reason for that. Sex sells. And when you have tall, beautiful, fit athletes in your arsenal, sex really sells.

    The FIVB (international beach volleyball organization) has adopted many of the AVP’s practices and incorporated them into the beach volleyball competition at the Olympics, including the bikinis. (Look for the men to be shirtless soon enough.)

    I’ve spoken with many of the female athletes, and it’s remarkable how many of them actually prefer the skimpy bikinis. They are very well designed. They apparently provide enough support for those ladies who may be a little more endowed upstairs, and allows for unencumbered motion, which is an added benefit if you’re already trudging through the sand.

    Of course there are some women who do have body image issues, and they are uncomfortable in the suits, but as I said, it’s amazing how many women prefer to play in the athletic bikinis.

  13. Well, Misty May and Kerri Walsh won the gold yesterday, while Kerri was sporting black kinesio tape. NBC analyst Karch Kiraly, commenting on the tape said, “It works for her, even if it only works in her mind.”

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