By Lines

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Aug 8, 2021:
The Forgotten History of the World’s First Trans Clinic

The first gender affirmation surgeries took place in 1920s, at a facility which employed transgender technicians and nurses, and which was headed by a gay Jewish man. The forgotten history of the institute, and its fall to Nazis bent on the euthanasia of homosexuals and transgender people, offers us both hope—and a cautionary tale—in the face of oppressive anti-trans legislation in the United States.

Late one night on the cusp of the 20th century, Magnus Hirschfeld, a young doctor, found a soldier on the doorstep of his practice in Germany. Distraught and agitated, the man had come to confess himself an Urning—a word used to refer to homosexual men. It explained the cover of darkness; to speak of such things was dangerous business. The infamous “Paragraph 175” in the German criminal code made homosexuality illegal; a man so accused could be stripped of his ranks and titles and thrown in jail… [READ MORE]

Aug. 19, 2022:
‘All the Living and the Dead’ Review: After Life on Earth

Harriet only wanted to save her dog. As the black Labrador retriever slipped beneath the waters of the flooded creek, Harriet went under too. But only her dog survived. Harriet would be brought from the river, lifeless, dried and placed in a closed white coffin. “I wanted to see her,” Hayley Campbell writes of her childhood friend in “All the Living and the Dead: From Embalmers to Executioners, an Exploration of the People Who Have Made Death Their Life’s Work.” She went on: “Wanting to see . . . but not being able to, was a block in front of my grief.” [READ MORE]

May 8th, 2022:
Science Is Redefining Motherhood. If Only Society Would Let It

Karl, a PhD and lecturer at MIT, gave birth to both of his children—and despite being the one with the baby bump, he was routinely asked to wait outside while the nurses attended to his (not pregnant) wife. People were unable, he says, to see both a man and a pregnant body; as a result, Karl became a “fat man” rather than a pregnant person. Despite being assigned female at birth (AFAB) and possessing a uterus and glands for lactating, Karl was not—in the eyes of even the medical staff—the mother. Karl considered himself a PaPa; other transgender parents choose more androgynous terms, largely because of the way motherhood has been construed. At best, says Karl, unconventional pregnant parents cause “total gender confusion” even among medical practitioners, but at worst it results in trauma, violence, and harm, in trans men failing to get emergency care during miscarriages, in trans women being treated as pedophiles, and in nonbinary identities being entirely erased. [READ MORE]

Jan 27th, 2022:
The Capitalist Trap of Pig Organ Transplant

The “miracle” pig heart transplant plays with the expectations of desperate patients and makes clear how the system values certain lives over others. Dave Bennett agreed to have an experimental pig heart transplant surgery for two reasons. First, he hoped it meant he would be able to return home to his beloved dog again. And second, after being deemed a problem patient and consequently rejected from heart transplant programs, this was his only chance at life. In Bennett’s own words, he “wants a human heart.” By agreeing to the surgery, he’s hoping to convince the medical establishment that he’ll finally deserve one. [READ MORE]

Dec 28, 2021:
Predicting Death Could Change the Value of a Life

New technology promises to forecast the length of your life. But for disabled people, measuring mortality can prove fatal […] Using a dataset of 5,000 protein measurements from around 23,000 Icelanders, researchers working for deCODE Genetics in Reykjavik, Iceland developed a predictor for the time of death—or, as their press release explains it, “how much is left of the life of a person.” It’s an unusual claim, and it comes with particular qu about method, ethics, and what we mean by life. [READ MORE]

Dec 21, 2021:
‘Of Sound Mind’ Review: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Close your eyes. Listen to what surrounds you. At first, perhaps, the low hum of a space heater—a noise so constant that you only notice it when it stops. Then, a more distant sound—the hiss, click, whoosh of the heating system down the hall as it switches on. After a few moments, you untangle other, slighter sounds. The soft click of typing. Footfalls on an upper floor. The squawk of a blue jay outside. “Sound is all around us—inescapable and invisible,” writes Nina Kraus in “Of Sound Mind: How Our Brain Constructs a Meaningful Sonic World.” Our sense of hearing, she tells us, “is always ‘on.’ ” We ignore it at our peril. [READ MORE]

Nov 13, 2021:
Medical triage, a vital part of warfare for centuries, has never had such high stakes as it does in the COVID-19 pandemic

The summer of 1862 baked under a stifling sun. The American Civil War raged on, Union and Confederate troops felling one another with the improved Minié muskets firing conical balls that shredded tissue on contact. In the span of four years, roughly 750,000 troops would die of wounds, infection, disease. Some lay for hours next to their fallen comrades, unable to reach medical attention. Others would be carried to disorganized field hospitals and stacked in makeshift beds… [READ MORE]

Nov 9, 2021:
Coming Out Autistic

Both early and late diagnosis with autism offers a window into understanding our own identities. I’ve learned that I have a right to ask for and expect accommodation. Neurotypicals think they are meeting us halfway because they don’t realize we’ve already come miles and miles just to get here. I am neurodivergent. I can be forgiven for missing cues and instead be honored for how much work goes into social interactions, all the time… [READ MORE]

Nov 2, 2021:
‘The Oracle of Night’ Review: What Dreams Are Made Of

Once there was a boy who feared to sleep. His night terrors contained muddy alleys and dark streets gray with rain. He traveled with companions and knew that one of them would be sacrificed to the appetite of witches. He dreamed, too, of a dangerous criminal, invisible but lurking, hanging like a bat far above his head. And he dreamed of tigers that attacked in deep jungles, and of falling into the blue-black sea teeming with sharks. How, asks Brazilian neuroscientist Sidarta Ribeiro, are we to make sense of “such a wealth of detail”?  [READ MORE]

Oct 5, 2021:
What if All Intelligence Is Artificial?

Sophia wants to have a baby. “The notion of family is a very important thing,” she explains; a sense of emotional connection. She would like to give the baby her own name. But it could not be her biological child; Sophia has no womb and no ovaries — no internal organs at all. She is a robot. Sophia was built by Hanson Robotics and possesses 62 facial expressions. Toshiba’s ChihiraAico, built to resemble a young woman, talks, sings, gestures, and even cries using a responsive artificial intelligence matrix that reportedly “disconcerts” those who interact with her, prommpting questions about what is human.


Sept 17, 2021:
‘The Sleeping Beauties’ Review: Illness Beyond Medicine

In 2018, a woman named Karin nearly died of a broken heart. There were no underlying diseases, no congested arteries, no signs, no symptoms—yet her heart suddenly ballooned in size and threatened to burst. If at that moment she hadn’t happened to be lying on an operating table for a routine retinal procedure, she would certainly have died. Karin was later diagnosed with broken-heart syndrome, which can be caused by severe stress, sudden shock, bereavement, financial losses, even a surprise party. And it can kill you… [READ MORE]

Sept 9, 2021:
A Stroke Study Reveals the Future of Human Augmentation

It began in early October 2017, when 108 stroke patients with significant arm and hand disabilities turned up for a peculiar clinical trial. The researchers would be surgically implanting a neurostimulator to their vagus nerve, the cranial nerve that runs along the groove in the front of the neck and is responsible for transmitting signals from the brain to other parts of the body. By the time the trial concluded, the subjects’ once limited limbs had begun to come back to life. Somehow, pulses to that nerve combined with rehab therapy had given the patients improved use of their disabled limb—and done so faster and more effectively than any treatment before it, even on those who had responded to nothing else… [READ MORE]

AUg 30, 2021:
‘The Icepick Surgeon’ Review: Bad Medicine

At first he felt only cold, as near-freezing water rushed in up to his neck. Soon cold became pain. Inch by inch, his body froze, the blood receding from his extremities, his nerves sending excruciating messages to his brain. With his head kept above water, he couldn’t even count on the blessed insensibility that comes with drowning. At last he begged to be shot. Instead, he and other “patients” like him were put through a series of bizarre warming therapies, from ambient blanket wraps to alcohol ingestion, skin contact and hot baths. If he survived, he would be forced to undergo the procedure again, for he was a research subject of SS chief Heinrich Himmler, architect of the Holocaust and a number of unfathomably brutal medical experiments… [READ MORE]

July 24, 2021:
What a mystery illness can teach us about how to navigate postpandemic stress

The children look peaceful. Their arms are draped over printed pyjamas; their heads are nestled against cotton pillows. But they do not stir, and they do not wake. The first cases of this condition, known as resignation syndrome, appeared in Sweden in the late 1990s. But by 2005, more than 400 children had slipped into a state that looked much like a coma, except that brain scans showed normal function. Some of them would go on sleeping for years. [READ MORE]

April 30, 2021:
‘Out of the Shadows’ Review: Spirited Women

Victoria Woodhull awoke cold, alone and drenched in blood. Her tiny newborn lay next to her, bleeding from a badly cut umbilical cord and every moment closer to death. Woodhull’s husband, ostensibly a doctor but in reality a drunk, had severed the cord too close, and the baby’s vital organs were peeping through the hole. Though weak from labor, Woodhull thumped the walls of her rented room until a neighbor arrived to help, breaking through a grate in the basement to enter the locked house. The child survived. [READ MORE]

April 15, 2021:
Organ Harvesting’s Troubles Past–Complicated Present

Medicine has long been shadowed by the specter of the resurrection men who dug up and raided recently buried coffins in the dead of night to supply 19th century anatomists with objects for study. The need for grave robbers had largely been obviated by body donation programs when, in 1954, the first successful kidney transplant at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston kicked off the race to transplant other organs. And physicians weren’t willing to confine themselves to those like the kidney that the human body has in duplicate. They wanted to transplant the heart. And that, of course, requires a donor who will not survive the surgery. The age of resurrection men might well have been over, but the age of what we might call harvest men had only begun. [READ MORE]

April 9, 2021:
Dr. White Challenged the Line Between Life and Death

Most of us can probably imagine a brain, isolated from its body. We might think of its walnut-like shape in cartoonish perfection, or of a pink orb floating in a jar. It is much more difficult to imagine a live brain, bathed in blood, still metabolizing, still pumping, still full of vital fluids. It doesn’t look like gray matter at all but flushed and pink.  And more than this, that first successful isolated monkey brain was still sending out electrical signals via electroencephalogram (EEG), just as any living brain inside any living head would do…  [READ MORE]

March 20, 2020:
Greif in a Time of Coronavirus

Ashes to ashes, adjust to adjust: The ancient, deeply human instinct to physically gather in times of death has now run up against social-distancing practices. But COVID-19 might just serve as an opportunity to make the ways we grieve better. Grief is personal, intimate, crushing. The tether bonding another life to ours has snapped and there is no going back to revisit old joys or old wounds; we can dial the number, but it doesn’t connect. Feeling raw and often shattered, we nevertheless have decisions to make, people to contact, events to plan. In light of the present crisis, there are even more questions and frightening realities to grapple with…. [READ MORE]

March 29, 2021:
Kidneys, Twins, and Pathological Optimism

It’s not that science hadn’t tried to extend life with organs before; it’s that it had tried and failed… December 20, 1954, dawned to thick falling snow. By midafternoon, Dr. Joseph E. Murray, a surgeon at Harvard’s Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, stood in his kitchen with an ingredient list for eggnog. A balding, pleasant-faced man, Murray and his wife, Bobbie, were preparing for their annual Christmas party, 75 guests strong—but the phone rang in the hall before he could crack the first egg. “It’s the pathology people,” Bobbie told him. They both knew what that meant. Murray dropped his whisk and threw on his coat. He cranked the engine of his car, swerved out of the drive and onto icy roads. The Brigham Pathology Department had a cadaver for him… [READ MORE]

March 18, 2020:
The Surprisingly Old Science of Being Transgender

In early March of 1958, Michael Dillon, ship’s surgeon, made his way below deck. A member of the United Kingdom’s Merchant Navy, possessed of athletic bearing and a luxuriant beard, Dillon had hardly opened his sick bay when the steward delivered a cable. “Do you intend to claim the title since your change-over?” it read. “Kindly cable the Daily Express.” Dillon blanched and crushed the letter in his palms, then lit his pipe with shaking hands. He had kept a secret for over 15 years: Dillon had been born Laura Maud (sometimes written as “Maude”) Dillon… [READ MORE]

Aug 28, 2020:
Forensics on Trial: America’s First Blood Test Expert

In the still-dark morning of October 9, 1908, two Ohio farm hands made a chilling discovery: a bundle of cloth, a tangle of limbs, and a mess of matted hair. They fetched a lantern and returned to the lonely spot to discover a young woman, stiff, bloody, and quite dead. She had been shot at close range, a blue entry hole livid against her temple and another where her eye ought to have been. Dark welts left grooves in her flesh; it seemed she had been thrown from a carriage after death and then driven over by the wheels. Her name was Ora Lee, and she was four months pregnant… [READ MORE]