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Only Human Podcast by Mary Harris

Only Human Podcast

by Mary Harris

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Only Human is a podcast about making the most of our health, whether we’re training for a marathon, overcoming an illness, or trying not to go broke paying for healthcare. Hosted by Mary Harris, Only Human is a show where we’re not afraid to have uncomfortable conversations, and experiment with possible solutions. Only Human. Because every body has a story. WNYC Studios is the producer of leading podcasts including Radiolab, Death, Sex & Money, Freakonomics Radio, On the Media and many others.


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“I Got Indian in My Family”: An Another Round Takeover

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 19, 2017


Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, Tracy Clayton always heard that her ancestors were, in her mother's words, "black, white and American Indian." Like many black Americans, her immediate family didn't have exact information on their roots — that heritage is difficult to trace through ancestors forced into the American slave trade. What little information Tracy's family might have had was lost in a courthouse fire.

Tracy says she didn't think about her ancestry very often until she moved to New York City, where she's the co-host, with Heben Nigatu, of the BuzzFeed podcast Another Round. New Yorkers, Tracy noticed, take pride in their ethnic identity. A number of her friends hang flags in their window, or march in pride parades based on their country of origin.

"Which parade do I go to? What flag do I put in my window?" she wondered. She enlisted Only Human to help her figure it out.

With the help of DNA ancestry tests and experts on DNA and race, Tracy explores her own ethnic background. She accidentally upends her family lore — it turns out her she has very little Native American ancestry — and she also discovers why the mix of "black, white and American Indian" is such a common heritage myth among black Americans.

In the end, Tracy finds her flag, and discovers that her ethnic identity is more complex than she originally thought. The data revealed by DNA ancestry tests complicates the way she thinks about herself and her family's history, but she also realizes that these tests don't hold all the secrets to understanding ourselves and our heritage. The stories passed down over generations can be just as integral to the way we think about ourselves in the modern world.



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Trans Kids Update: Dating, PMS, And, Yeah, Bathrooms

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Apr 05, 2017


Last year, North Carolina passed HB2, the so-called "bathroom bill,” banning anyone from using a public restroom that didn’t match up with his or her biological sex.  

After the law passed, we went to North Carolina to visit one of the few gender clinics for kids in the South, at Duke University's Children's Hospital. We spent a day-in-the-life there, learning how patients and doctors juggle big physical changes and political changes too.

Since our story last August, things have not calmed down. President Trump has canceled some key protections for trans students. This year, sixteen more states including Texas have introduced their own bathroom bills. And in a controversial decision last week, North Carolina lawmakers revoked HB2 — though trans activists called their replacement bill a bad deal.

So with all this happening, we decided to catch up with the three kids we met last summer — Drew, Martin, and Jaye — and see how their lives and their bodies have changed. We start by going back to our first episode, when each of them was just beginning hormone therapy prescribed by Dr. Deanna Adkins, the pediatric endocrinologist who started Duke’s transgender clinic two years ago.

Then, we reconnect with Drew, Jaye, and Martin one more time. We talk about the joys (and pitfalls) of dating online, how their bodies are changing, and how they’re doing under President Trump.

 



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Flu-dunnit?

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 22, 2017


Last fall, a bunch of us got sick at the same time, and it seemed likely that the virus spread at the workplace. The question came up: who came to work sick? Or to put it another way: who was to blame for this office outbreak?

To find out, we partnered with NYU Tandon School of Engineering Assistant Professor, Rumi Chunara, who runs the goVIRAL research project, and Jeffrey Shaman, an expert in flu forecasting at Columbia University. His group is currently working on an extensive respiratory virus sampling project in New York entitled "The Virome of Manhattan" with the American Museum of Natural History.

They helped us design a project looking at how respiratory illnesses spread in our workplace community. Once a week for ten weeks we swabbed our noses and sent the samples to a lab at Columbia where they could determine (if we were sick) what kind of respiratory infection we had caught.

We also filled in bi-weekly symptom reports. Some of the questions were benign: do you have a fever? Others were more accusatory: who do you think got you sick?  

The entire experiment was a whodunnit. Or, perhaps more accurately, it was a flu-dunnit. But sometimes messing with what usually lies below the surface can have unexpected side effects. Flu-dunnit changed our office dynamic. Accusations started to fly, as our scientist sleuths discovered who were the victims -- and who was the perpetrator.



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Just Put Some Vicks On It

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Mar 08, 2017


When scientist Rachel Herz decided to study the connection between smell and memory, she chose five products emblematic of childhood: Coppertone suntan lotion, Crayola crayons, Play-Doh, Johnson & Johnson baby powder and Vicks Vaporub.

She studies the science of what’s called the Proustian phenomenon. The French novelist Marcel Proust writes about dipping a madeleine cookie into a cup of linden tea and the aroma immediately bringing him back to a long-lost memory.

Producer Julia Longoria has always had that relationship with Vicks Vaporub — the scent transports her right back to childhood, to days in bed with the flu at her grandmother’s house in South Florida. Julia and her cousins all knew not to tell grandma when they were sick, or they’d risk being slathered with "Vickicito".

Julia never had a reason to wonder why grandma loved Vicks so much, but this week’s episode reveals grandma’s love for the product is deeper than Julia imagined. And while investigating grandma’s (and the world’s) Vicks obsession, Julia is pulled into her family’s past, back to Cuba, before the Revolution.



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A Three Year-Old Girl, a Colony of Dogs, and One Very Rare Side Effect

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 22, 2017


When Mathilda Crisp was about three years-old, she stopped sleeping through the night. But during the day, she would fall asleep without warning — during a swim lesson, in the middle of her cereal bowl at breakfast.

Then other, stranger symptoms started materializing: when she got happy or emotional, she would suddenly collapse. (Her brother and sister started carrying her around the house on a chair so she could keep playing in their games.) She would thrust her tongue around her mouth. She couldn’t seem to walk in a straight line.

At first her doctors were sure she had a brain tumor. But her scans were negative. They tested her for leukemia, Lyme disease. Nothing. But when one doctor finally did diagnose Mathilda, it turned out to be just the beginning of an even bigger mystery: of why this little girl — and a handful of other kids in Northern Europe — had suddenly been struck ill. Trying to solve it has become one doctor’s life’s work.

Also check out:

  • Mathilda’s mom has written a book about her experience. You can read an exclusive excerpt from it, or check it out on Kindle.
  • Dr. Emmanuel Mignot is a key player in this story. He first got media attention for his colony of narcoleptic dogs. Check them out.
  • While researching this story, Mary learned a lot about the flu vaccine. Here are her top five takeaways


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The Woman Behind a Secret Grey's Anatomy Experiment

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Feb 08, 2017


About nine years ago, 17.5 million people tuned into an episode of Grey’s Anatomy that, on the surface, appeared like any other — high-stakes surgery, high-drama love triangles. What those millions of Grey’s viewers didn’t know was that they were guinea pigs for a massive, secret experiment.

That experiment was arguably a referendum about a single woman: Jennifer Jako, and her decision to become a mother.

In 1991, at the age of 18, Jako had a one night stand with a high-school friend. It was the only time she’d ever had sex without a condom. She contracted HIV and spent years trying to debunk misconceptions: producing a documentary that aired on MTV, speaking at college campuses and on talk shows.

Over time, the country’s view of HIV evolved. As people started living longer, stigma decreased. People generally understood that the infection wasn’t a death sentence any longer.

But there was one area people couldn’t seem to understand: Pregnancy. Studies showed the general public simply didn’t know — or didn’t believe — that an HIV-positive woman, with the right treatment, had a tremendously low chance of passing the virus onto her baby — less than 2-percent at the time.

Jennifer Jako got a cruel lesson in where the public stood when she appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine, six months pregnant.

Later, as an experiment, the Kaiser Family Foundation decided to see if they could move the needle by trying something totally different: product placement of medical information in a Grey’s Anatomy episode.

In this episode of Only Human we tell the epic story of Jennifer Jako and how she managed to sneak into our livings rooms and, possibly, change public opinion forever.



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The Crowd Made You Do It

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Jan 25, 2017


*** Check out the results from our Group Think survey here ***

Who knew counting a crowd would be so… political? If the election felt contentious, the inauguration seemed to make the country even more divided, between "us" and "them."

After crowds gathered on the Washington Mall for President Trump's inauguration and the Women’s March the following day, Only Human looks at what happens to us as individuals when we become part of a crowd. We look at the crowd psychology behind Donald Trump’s rallies, the crowd dynamics in anti-Trump protests, and ways to stay safe in a crowd.

Here's a video of tips from a crowd management expert we spoke to, Paul Wertheimer.

 

 Animation by Nate Milton



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Video: Meet Crowd Safety Expert, Paul Wertheimer

Author: WNYC Studios
Thu, Jan 19, 2017


In reporting our story about crowds and the inauguration, we met crowd safety expert Paul Wertheimer. He was one of the few experts willing to testify against Walmart for a 2008 Black Friday crush.

And part of his training took place in an unusual place: 18 years of research in mosh pits. 

 


Music Credits:

Sleep (Instrumental)
No Fair Fights
Courtesy of Audiosocket

Hipster Blues
Martin Sebastian Holm
Courtesy of Audiosocket

Melting
Mark Ullrich
Courtesy of Audiosocket



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We're Back!

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Jan 17, 2017


Only Human is working on an episode about the psychology of crowds. We're looking at what happens to us as individuals when we join a rally, a ceremony or a protest -- such as inauguration, or the Women’s March on Washington.

And we need your help!

This survey will help us understand what kind of effect these events might have on us, whether you're attending in person or watching from home. It should just take a couple minutes. Thank you!



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Please Spit in This Tube: An Election Experiment

Author: WNYC Studios
Fri, Nov 04, 2016


Every day another article comes out about how voters are stressed by this election. But we wanted to know: what is the election doing to our biology?

The American Psychological Association recently found that more than half of all Americans — 52 percent — say this year’s presidential election is a “somewhat” or “very significant” source of stress in their lives. The survey was self-reported, meaning respondents answered a few questions online and the APA took their self-assessments at face value. Anecdotally, those assessments probably ring true for many of us, but it turns out there’s a way to measure the physiological effects of election stress.  

Over the last few years, a group of neuroscientists and political scientists have pioneered a new field called biopolitics, the study of biology and political behavior. Professor Kevin Smith is a political scientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a co-author of the book, "Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences.” He often collaborates with Dr. Jeffrey French, who runs a lab at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and studies cortisol, a hormone we release when we’re stressed.  

One of Smith and French’s recent studies looked at stress and voting. They wanted to know if cortisol levels influence whether people vote. The easiest way to test cortisol is through saliva, so they collected spit samples from a bunch of participants and got their official voting records for the past six elections.

The researchers found that people with higher cortisol levels vote less. And that finding correlates with another one of their studies, which found that people who voted absentee experienced less stress than people who went to the polls.

So we asked French and Smith to help us design an experiment of sorts. We’d use the presidential debates as a proxy for the election. Our team would go to debate watch parties and collect saliva samples from viewers to measure their cortisol levels. We’d also ask the participants to fill out a survey about themselves: their party affiliation, age and self-reported stress level. And we’d see who had the biggest changes in their cortisol over the course of the debate.

During the first two presidential debates, we went to watch parties in Times Square, Midtown Manhattan and Northern New Jersey. Participants spat three times into tiny tubes: before the debate, to get a baseline sample, midway through the debate and after the debate.

We over-nighted the samples to Omaha, where Dr. French processed them in his lab. A few weeks later, he had the results.

We all agreed that the debate watch parties seemed stressful. At a bar in Times Square, we talked to young Republicans unhappy with their nominee and worried about their party’s future. Others were terrified at the prospect of a Clinton presidency. In Midtown, a group of Democrats had gathered to watch at the Roosevelt Institute, a left-leaning think tank. A few of them brought their own alcohol, to temper their anxiety (French and Smith took alcohol and caffeine intake into account in their analysis) and a number of them worried about Trump’s popularity.

But the results surprised us: cortisol levels stayed close to normal levels throughout the debates. Clinton supporters had a small spike at the midway point, but not by much. Overall, the stress levels for liberals and conservatives didn’t really change — with one exception.

The researchers looked at cortisol levels based on whether participants had someone close to them who planned to vote for the opposing candidate. And for Trump supporters who had a conflict with a person close to them — a parent, a sibling, a spouse — cortisol levels actually went up after the debate. They probably found the debate more stressful.

French and Smith warned us that this wasn’t a pristine study. In fact, both professors laughed when we asked if they’d submit our work to a peer-reviewed journal. But they agreed that this finding was statistically significant. And they didn’t find it for Clinton supporters, or voters who supported a third party candidate.

The other significant finding related to baseline cortisol levels — the participants’ stress level before the debate. The researchers found that Trump supporters had much higher baseline levels compared to Clinton voters.

Smith, the political scientist, couldn’t tell us why Trump voters had two times as much cortisol in their saliva compared to Clinton supporters. But he did say that our experiment served as an interesting pilot study — one that made him think differently about what he hopes to study next: tolerance.

Here, Smith made a comparison to same-sex marriage. Opposition to it shifted when researchers found some biological or genetic basis for being gay — when it started to be considered innate. Smith wonders if the same is true for political difference. As he told one of our reporters, “If you're a liberal and I'm a conservative and I believe you're a liberal because you're genetically predisposed to be, then am I more tolerant of you or less tolerant of you?”

In other words, if political difference is related to our biology, maybe we’ll be more tolerant of each other. And therefore less stressed. And therefore more likely to vote. At least, that’s the hope.

In the spirit of encouraging less stressful conversations with the other side, here's a video with some tips for talking politics with your loved one — who's wrong about everything. 

 

Thanks to the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism students who helped out: Vicki Adame, Priscilla Alabi, Gregory Alcala, Christina Dabney, Jesenia De Moya, Robert Exley, Jeremy Ibarra, Meeran Karim, Alix Langone, Pauliina Siniauer, Anuz Thapa, Maritza Villela and Katherine Warren.

And special thanks to the Young Republicans of New York City, The Roosevelt Institute, the Union County Young Republicans and the Montclair Republicans Club for allowing us to attend their debate watch parties!


 

We've been on hiatus, working on some new stories. If you're joining us for the first time, here are some of our favorite past episodes:

Keep the Baby, Get the Chemo

Your Sanity or Your Kidneys

Patients and Doctors Fess Up

Who Are You Calling 'Inspiring'?

Your Brain on Sound

Bacon, Booze and the Search for the Fountain of Youth

How to Stop an Outbreak

A Doctor's Love Affair with Vicodin

The Robot Ate My Pancreas

I'd Rather have a Living Son than a Dead Daughter



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Me and My Therapist

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Aug 09, 2016


We have this idea of what therapy is supposed to look like. There’s a couch. An objective therapist sitting across the room scribbling notes. But of course it’s not that simple.

What happens when your therapist is not really a therapist? Or the therapist is the one in tears? And of course, should you or should you not, try to have sex with your therapist?

In this episode, six short stories, many from our listeners, looking at how the role of patient and therapist can get... complicated.

Our stories are courtesy of:

Thanks to Dr. Jeffrey Younggren for his thoughts and wisdom on ethics in patient/therapist relationships, and to Gary Schoener for his expertise on Dr. Renatus Hartogs.


A therapist's office is usually a private space, a place to share secrets. We don't often get the chance to see inside. So with many New York City therapists taking the month of August off, we invite you inside half a dozen or so therapeutic spaces. Make yourself comfortable, take your time and have a look around.
              - Amy Pearl, WNYC photographer

'Everything in a session has meaning, and the office is no different,' says psychotherapist Blair Casdin.

Blair Casdin, psychotherapist, LCSW-R
New York, NY
Everything in a session has meaning, and the office is no different. The furniture, the lighting, the books, even the flowers. Recently, I purchased a water pitcher. One client joked that the water filter is toxic. Was he suggesting that what I have to offer him is toxic? The next week, however, he allowed himself to take a drink. For another one of my clients, the sight of the pitcher provokes a thirst she cannot quench. She fills her cup throughout the session, and admits that she never feels satiated. Most of all, I think a therapy office should be a place of comfort, opening a space that allows for open and engaged and even new thought, for both of us. Maybe what I am going for is that feeling you have when you get home after a long day and can finally relax and put your feet up. 

'I want my patients to find something in my office that they can connect with,' says clinical psychologist Ali Mattu.

Ali Mattu, clinical psychologist, Ph.D.
New York, NY
I want my patients to find something in my office that they can connect with, something that makes them feel at home. I scatter characters who have faced their fears, grown from their setbacks, and demonstrated resilience in the face of adversity. This stuff doesn't make Cognitive Behavioral Therapy any easier, but it does help the people I work with begin their own hero's journey.

'I am sure it will not surprise you to learn that reactions to the therapist's space are as diverse and varied as the individuals who offer them,' says psychoanalyst Stephanie Newman.

Stephanie Newman, psychoanalyst, psychotherapist and author, Ph.D.
New York, NY
I am sure it will not surprise you to learn that reactions to the therapist's space are as diverse and varied as the individuals who offer them. For some, the chair, consulting room, objects I have displayed have become a sort of touchstone. I will elaborate: I recently moved to a new office after working for many years at another location. Once I was situated in the new place, many people shared their reactions. They noticed that things had been moved around to reflect the new office and layout but were generally glad to have their favorites, their touchstones. One common reaction (I paraphrase): 'The space is larger but the chair is the same as always.' Plus ?a change, plus c'est la m?me chose! Ultimately it is about the alliance, the relationship, and the bond you and the patient form, that which is shaped by the constant presence and steadfast attention over many hours and minutes and seconds, spent in the room with a caring and attentive therapist and hardworking patient. 

'I wanted to try and have my space be as open as possible,' couples therapist Howard Danelowitz

Howard Danelowitz, Imago couples therapist, LCSW
New York, NY
The office was actually built for my colleague and for me and I wanted to try to have it be as open as possible. It’s a little bit unexpected because when you walk into the very small waiting room you might expect something like that but there’s actually a lot of light here and I feel a nice breeze. People feel comfortable with symmetry so you can keep on seeing symmetry in the room with two chairs, two doors, two rows of paintings. Every once and a while, someone will come in and say, 'I noticed your name on the paintings [in the waiting room]' and I will just ask them, 'How is that for you to know that those are my paintings?' I want to get a sense of what it means to them and if we have to talk about it further. I have felt lucky to have this as an office because I’ve seen many offices and a lot of them aren’t special the way this is.

'It's eclectic but comfortable-- kind of like me,' Kate Dvorkin, psychologist

Kate Dvorkin, psychologist, Psy.D.
New York, NY
When people walk in they are comfortable, that’s the main thing. A lot of people find the couch very comfortable, people like at least some of the artwork. They walk in and they feel at ease because there are a lot of things to look at. The art work is varied, but it just has a nice feel; it’s eclectic but comfortable — kind of like me! I created a space that I was comfortable in. A lot of people walk in here and say, 'This is a place I can work in and feel relaxed in.' Just being relaxed and comfortable is what I’m aiming for so people can focus on what they need to focus on. The space shouldn’t distract you, you should be able to focus on yourself and your work.

Psychiatrist Own Muir's office was designed with the help of a psychologist who is also an interior designer.

Owen Muir, psychiatrist, MD
Brooklyn, NY
I practice mentalization-based treatment and Interpersonal Social Rhythms Therapy (for bipolar disorder only). No other modalities by me. Only these two evidence-based treatments. The space is hip, open, has daylight (for IPSRT that is helpful), encourages thinking about music and art (in Williamsburg my patients are artists much of the time) and is a bit more off-kilter and less straight-laced than many other treatment spaces. I also have a prominent whiteboard for learning together. The space was designed with the help of psychologist and interior designer Paula Madrid, who helped with all aspects of the setup: furniture selection, flow of the room. Dr. MacMillan made sure that even the pillows convey the right message. And there are fidget toys for patients with ADHD to fiddle with! The photography is by Angela Cappetta, a New York photographer. 



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I’d Rather Have a Living Son Than a Dead Daughter

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Aug 02, 2016


Earlier this year, North Carolina passed HB2, the so-called "bathroom bill." The law bans anyone from using a public restroom that doesn't match up with his/her biological sex. HB2 put the state in the middle of a national fight about gender. But North Carolina is also home to one of the few gender clinics for kids in the South, at Duke University's Children's Hospital.

This week, we spend a day in that gender clinic, the only one in North Carolina. We wanted to know how a clinic like this one operates in this political climate. And we wanted to find out how these patients are coping.

Dr. Deanna Adkins, a pediatric endocrinologist, started the clinic a year ago. Over the course of our day, we met three of her very different patients. Drew Adams is a 15-year-old trans man who came with his mom, Erica, all the way from Jacksonville, Florida. On the drive up, Drew wore a T-shirt with "This is What Trans Looks Like" printed on it. He told us he decided to change out of it before he stopped for a bathroom break in North Carolina; he used the men's room. When Dr. Adkins told Drew that not only would he get a prescription for testosterone, but that he could give himself his first shot that very day, Drew stood up and cheered.

We also shadowed Dr. Adkins's appointment with Jaye, an 18-year-old African-American trans woman. Jaye's experience has been very different from Drew's; her family has had a harder time accepting her transition. She also worries a lot about her safety, especially in North Carolina, and she can tick off the names of a number of trans women of color who have been killed over the last few years. But, like Drew, Jaye was thrilled when Dr. Adkins handed her a prescription for estrogen. She planned to pick it up that day.

At the end of the day, we met Dr. Adkins's last patient, Martin, and his mom, Karen (we decided to use pseudonyms for them both). Martin was born a girl and came out as trans a year and a half ago, after a long struggle with depression and anxiety. At first, his mom worried that this was one more expression of Martin's unhappiness. But Martin's transition has completely changed his outlook. His mom said he used to be withdrawn; when his depression was at its lowest point, he started cutting himself and had to be hospitalized. Now, she says, "It's more like we've become friends again and we've reconnected. I think it's because he realizes that I accept him for who he is and I'm going to support him."

This fall, Martin plans to present as a boy when he returns to school in Raleigh. When we asked him which bathroom he’ll use, he told us it will depend how brave he’s feeling.



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Growing Up "Ugly"

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Jul 26, 2016


When Robert Hoge was born in Brisbane, Australia, in 1973, his mother immediately knew there was something wrong. Instead of asking the doctors, "Is it a boy or a girl?" she asked, "Is my baby okay?"

He wasn't. He had a tumor the size of his newborn fist smack in the middle of his face. His legs were very short; his feet were missing toes and twisted out of shape.

Robert had surgery to remove the tumor, but it left him with severe deformities. At first, his mother didn't want to take him home from the hospital. She had four older children; she worried about Robert's impact on them. Eventually, she relented. She hoped to give her son a normal life. But Robert's life has been anything but normal.

This week, Only Human spends some time with Robert Hoge. By all accounts, he's been wildly successful: he was the first in his family to go to college. He became a journalist, then a spokesperson for an Australian politician. He even carried the Olympic Torch before the Summer Games in Sydney.

But Robert's also had to get used to people calling him “ugly." And he knows better than anyone that there’s this lie we all tell ourselves: that it’s what on the inside that counts, and looks don’t matter. So what do you do when the way you look forces you to confront that, every day? And even if you can get past it — what about the rest of us?

 



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Yes, Simba, Chimps Laugh

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Jul 19, 2016


You’ve probably heard that laughter is the best medicine. This week, we set out to see if there’s any truth to this idea.

First, our host Mary Harris went with Kurt Andersen, the host of Studio 360, to try something called laughter yoga. Its participants claim that laughing heals all kinds of ailments. It may sound far-fetched, but some scientists think laughter might actually have some measurable health benefits.

Then reporter Amanda Aronczyk looked whether laughter can be good medicine for our doctors — especially when they’re dealing with taboo things like death and sex. To find out, she spoke to a medical ethicist who teaches improv to doctors and nurses.

She discovered that what’s funny when doctors joke may depend on who is listening.

You can listen to Studio 360's episode about the science of laughter here.



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The Prank Your Body Plays On Life

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Jul 12, 2016


Our friend Max Ritvo passed away August 23, 2016. We learned so much from our conversations with him, and we hope that this interview gives you a sense of the beauty — and humor — he saw in the world. 

One of our first guests on the show last fall was the young poet Max Ritvo.

Ritvo, 25, has spent years living with Ewing’s Sarcoma, an incurable cancer. Meanwhile he’s gotten married, taught at Columbia University, and performed in an improv comedy group. His first book of poetry, Four Reincarnations, comes out this fall. One work from that book, “Poem to My Litter,” was just published in the New Yorker.

But Ritvo is more than his accomplishments. He’s someone who reminded us that there are many different ways to look at death, and dying, and some of them make you actually laugh out loud.

He came back to visit us a few weeks ago on what he called his “farewell tour.” Even in his final days, Max says he keeps his sense of humor alive.

“When you laugh at something horrible, you're just illuminating a different side of it that was already there. If you make something sad funny you're much more likely to remember it. It’s a mnemonic device that makes our suffering rhyme with joy.”

We invited an artist, Nate Milton, to animate two of Max’s poems:

Poem to My Litter

 

Afternoon

 



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Your Brain On Sound (Rebroadcast)

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Jul 05, 2016


This week we're revisiting an episode from our series on hearing, listening and sound.

When Rose* was growing up, she knew something wasn’t quite right about how she heard the world. She says it felt like she was isolated by an invisible wall. But when she got typical hearing tests at an audiologist’s office? She aced them, every time.

Rose’s problem was particularly bad in noisy places. “It doesn’t take much,” she says. “It could be five computers in a room and a bunch of shuffling around — you lose me at that point.”

It took Rose years, and plenty of doctors’ visits, to figure out what was happening. And when she did find out, it was thanks to the persistence of Professor Nina Kraus.

Kraus runs an auditory neuroscience laboratory at Northwestern University. For decades, Kraus has been conducting research on Rose and other patients like her to learn just how vital our brains are to understanding sound. And she discovered how hearing difficulties can be a marker for all types of neurological issues — autism, dyslexia, learning delays — that have nothing to do with our ears.

*not her real name



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I Thought the Truth Would Be Enough

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Jun 28, 2016


The engineer who uncovered the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan  where the water was toxic enough to give kids  brain damage  doesn't even live in Michigan.

His name is Marc Edwards, and he teaches engineering at Virginia Tech, more than 500 miles away. Marc started investigating water pollution in Flint last August. But he got his start more than a decade ago, in Washington, DC, when he discovered high levels of lead in that city's water.

In DC no one would listen to him. He lost lucrative contracts and spent thousands of dollars  of his own money  sampling the water to prove it was contaminated even when the government insisted it was safe. In the end, he prevailed and the water was cleaned up. But not before thousands of kids were exposed to dangerously high amounts of lead.

This week, we talk to Edwards about his crusade to make our water safe. Getting the science right turned out to be just the beginning of a fight. The harder part was figuring out how to convince people he was right.



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Vacation Is All I Ever Wanted

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Jun 21, 2016


For many sick people, getting even a temporary break from pain sounds too good to be true. But this week we hear from three people who did get a reprieve from a chronic disease, sometimes in very unconventional ways.

One of our listeners, Allison, struggled with severe, undiagnosed depression in her twenties. She hooked up with a no-good boyfriend who got her into a dangerous habit: heroin. Today, she’s 57 and she knows the guy and the drugs were trouble. But she also says heroin had a surprising side effect.

Sara Benincasa is a stand-up comedian who grapples with agoraphobia, a fear of crowds and busy places. But during a trip to the Netherlands she encountered a place that changed how she faces this fear, and helped her see what life could look like when she wasn’t scared to leave the house.

Hanna wrote into us with a really intimate story about life with ulcerative colitis, an incurable disease with some difficult side effects. When traditional treatments failed, she and her mom tried an experiment that changed how Hanna thinks about her body and her daily life.



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One Doctor’s Mission: Make Abortion Safe in the South (Rebroadcast)

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Jun 14, 2016


As the Supreme Court nears its decision on a major abortion case this month, we're revisiting an episode from earlier this year:

Willie Parker grew up in Alabama without electricity, one of six kids in a single-mother household. He learned to read by the light of a kerosene lamp.

He was also raised in a fundamentalist Christian community that believed abortion was wrong. Single, unwed mothers had to publicly apologize in church.

Today, however, Parker is a obstetrician gynecologist who specializes in providing safe abortions in the Deep South. He travels between states and clinics amid protests and threats, and treats the same demographic of women who might have gone to his church.

Parker credits his change of heart to a sermon he heard by Martin Luther King Jr., where he alludes to the biblical story of the Good Samaritan—a man who acts out of kindness for the greater good.

“The Good Samaritan asks what will happen to this person if I don’t stop to help them,” Parker said.

Women in this region of the United States have few options, Parker says, if they aren’t ready to be mothers. The last abortion clinic in Mississippi was attacked last year, and the state moved to block doctors from being able to admitting patients to hospitals after they received an abortion. Parker says the trend of unsafe, secretive abortions are too dangerous to deny women access to care.  

“Being born in the South, and being reared in abject poverty… if I couldn’t make those women a priority, who will?” he says.

That perspective has fueled his work and helped shape his faith. It’s also the reason he doesn’t shy away from being recorded on film or speaking in public, despite the pressure he gets from the pro-life movements that thrive in the Bible Belt.

And while Parker has lost some friends, and severed relationships, he is at peace with his decision.

“I believe my work is honorable. I believe it is always appropriate to help people,” he says. “And so I’ve made the conscious decision to practice my craft with the dignity and honor that I think it is due.”



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Part 3: A Star With Schizophrenia

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Jun 07, 2016


This is the third and final part of our series with NPR about mental health and generation gaps.

Rachel Star Withers has had hallucinations since she was a kid. She sees store mannequins taking off their hats, or ticking clocks that don’t exist. She’s schizophrenic. And instead of hiding it, she talks about it all the time, in videos she posts on YouTube. 

In our tell-all, share-all culture, more and more people like Rachel are speaking openly about their mental health and challenging the stigma that comes with their diagnoses. And while Withers has to block some naysayers and internet bullies, she says the videos help create a more compassionate community.

“It really made me feel not so alone.”



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Part 2: Be the Doctor Your Mom Wanted You to Marry

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, May 31, 2016


This is the second part of our series with NPR about mental health and generation gaps.

When Giselle applied to medical school she decided to be completely open about her experience with mental health: depression, anxiety and a suicide attempt when she was 16 years old.

She’s not alone—roughly 300 physicians in America commit suicide every year, and a higher percentage of doctors are depressed than the average person. But the intensity and prestige of the medical field doesn’t always lend itself to an open conversation about these issues.

The stakes are high for Giselle. Her mental health makes some people—from her school to future patients—uneasy. And sometimes her anxiety is so bad she can’t take her medical school exams. But as you’ll find out in the episode, these are not challenges that Giselle is about to shy away from. She says her challenges will make her a better doctor, and hopefully encourage other physicians find the help they need, too.



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Part 1: 'You Don't Watch Bollywood With Me Anymore'

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, May 24, 2016


This is the first part of our series with NPR about mental health and generation gaps.

Have you ever had a hard time talking openly about your mental health?

Only Human and NPR recently asked listeners that question. We wanted to know if the generation that lives so much online is any more comfortable talking about psychological problems  in real life  than their parents are.

Hundreds of thoughtful, heart-breaking, deeply charged responses later, we realized that we had stumbled onto a nest of generational rifts and cultural baggage. And we wanted to explore what it means to be open about mental health on Facebook and YouTube when you don’t want to talk about it with people in the real world.

One of these stories came from a young woman named Rose, a Pakistani American in Texas. Rose had never spoken to her parents about her own depression. But she channeled our question into an awkward conversation with her mother  listen to her story here.

We also talked with young adults who worry they spent too much of their childhood in therapy, people who watched family members suffer with depression in silence, and people who sent anti-anxiety prescriptions to the pharmacy across town so their families wouldn’t know. Generational stigma is an issue, many of them said, that we need to talk about publicly.  

With their permission, we’ll be posting some of these stories to our Facebook page at Only Human Podcast. We hope you’ll follow along and join in the conversation there.

If you or someone know is suffering from mental illness, please find helpful resources here.

Special thanks to the Jane and Gerald Katcher and the Katcher Family Foundation for funding our collaboration with NPR.



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Too Ornery to Die

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, May 17, 2016


Until 2012, if you had a rare genetic disorder, there didn’t seem to be much hope for a cure. The science just wasn’t there, and creating drugs for small populations made little financial sense for big pharma.

The story of one cystic fibrosis drug is proof: not only is treating the root cause of a rare genetic disorder possible; it can be profitable.

But the way this new drug was made is causing a stir among some of the very scientists and doctors who helped to create it.

This week: what happens when a charity dips its toe into the risky world of venture capitalism to speed the search for a cure — and the result is a drug with a list price of about $300,000 a year?

Scientist Paul Quinton, 72, who discovered the root problem in cystic fibrosis patients, called the price tag “unconscionable.” He is one of 28 doctors and scientists who wrote a letter to the pharmaceutical company pushing back on the price tag. He said he’s in a difficult position. 

“I’ve had friends tell me that they would shake hands with the devil if it meant that we would get a cure for this disease,” Quinton said.

But in the case of this particular drug, everybody wants to know: who gets to decide how much it costs to save a life?

 

Next month, we’re doing a show about not feeling at home in your own skin.  And we want to hear your stories: when did your body betray you and how did you learn to live with it?  Call and leave a message at 803-820-WNYC or leave a comment below.



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Medicine and Mistrust on Native American Reservations

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, May 10, 2016


Native Americans have some of the highest rates of suicide, alcoholism, diabetes and maternal mortality in the country. And while the federal government passed the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act  back in 1976 to make their care a priority, it spends just $3,000 a year caring for each Native patient. (We spend twice that on health care for every prisoner.)

Dr. Adrienne Laverdure and Dr. Ken Bernard, two Native American doctors, know this firsthand.The mother and son are both Chippewa Indians from North Dakota, and they’re part of the Indian Health Service (IHS), the federal agency that provides health care to all Native people in the U.S.

Laverdure had never left the reservation when she started college at the age of seventeen. She had her son during her sophomore year, and he stayed with his mom as she continued through medical school before taking a job on the Lac de Flambeau Reservation in Northern Wisconsin.

Bernard applied to Yale on a lark; he had never left the Midwest before his mom and his sister drove him to New Haven for his freshman year. He went on to Harvard Medical School, and he now works on the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservation in Northern Arizona. He said many of his patients don’t trust their doctors because the Indian Health Service has a troubled history -- a history he and his mother have seen affect their own family.

In the 1970s, Laverdure’s aunt went to an IHS hospital to give birth to her son. Doctors there sterilized her, without her consent. But she didn’t realize it until she tried to get pregnant a second time.

“I couldn’t believe that had happened,” Bernard said. “And more than that, I couldn’t believe that had happened less than 50 years ago.”  He explained that his great-aunt’s story reminds him what’s at stake in every patient visit to the IHS.

While both mother and son see some of the worst health care scenarios in the country, they remain optimistic. They’re not afraid to talk about the difficult situations they confront on the reservation; in fact, they believe that talking about these difficulties can only improve their patients’ circumstances in the long run.

“The federal government, the Indian Health Service, [and] local tribes have a long history of hiding things that we are embarrassed about in our history,” Bernard said. “But I think the time for that is over.”



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A Deaf Composer Holds Out for Science

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, May 03, 2016


Note: This episode originally aired on November 3, 2015.

Jay Alan Zimmerman discovered he was losing his hearing when he was in his early 20s, trying to make it as a musician on Broadway in New York. As his hearing worsened, Jay considered other professions, but ultimately he couldn't imagine a life without music.

Recently, Jay found out about some experimental medical research that could make it possible for him to get his hearing back. In the late 1980s, researchers discovered that chickens could do something unexpected: if their hearing is damaged, they can regenerate the ability to hear again. Since then, scientists have been trying to figure out how the process works and if the same kind of regeneration might be possible in humans. Now, the very first clinical trials are underway to regenerate the damaged hair cells in people with hearing loss.

Jay has to decide if he wants to be a part of the experimental phase of this new treatment, or if the potential risks are too great. Meanwhile, he's found ways to keep composing with the little bit of hearing he has left.

If you'd like to hear an excerpt from Jay's latest show, Roboticus, you're in luck. Jay will be talking about making new musical instruments that utilize robots, and then performing some of Roboticus in the evening. Details will be posted here soon.



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How a Prenatal Test Is Transforming Modern Medicine

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Apr 26, 2016


When Lee Herzenberg remembers the day her son Michael was born, she laughs and calls it a “cool birth.” Her obstetrician was a friend, and she describes it almost like a party -- “a little bit painful, but that you forget very quickly.” Lee even got a kick out of the fact that a resident learned to do an episiotomy on her.

It was November 1961, and she was at the newly christened Palo Alto-Stanford Hospital Center; her husband Len was a biology professor on campus. Like most fathers at the time, he didn’t attend the birth -- which meant he wasn’t there when their new child, Michael, started turning blue.

The nurses whisked the newborn off to the nursery without telling Lee anything was wrong.

It was then that a doctor noticed the characteristic features of Down syndrome: floppy muscles, eyes that slanted upward. They got Michael breathing again, but doctors thought his prognosis was grim. They gave Michael just a few months to live. A daisy chain of physicians was called, and Lee says it was a pediatrics professor who told her husband what had happened. Then Len was dispatched to tell Lee. She remembers the moment with uncharacteristic emotion.

“We hugged each other, and it was a terrible conversation to realize that you’d lost the baby, but the baby was lost,” Lee says now. “We knew immediately what we’d do – we had already made the decision that it was not a good thing to take the baby home, and so we didn’t.”

In the 1960’s -- an era before neurodiversity movements and early intervention programs -- many people still called people with Down Syndrome “mongoloids.” Playwright Arthur Miller institutionalized his son, Daniel, in 1966; a few years later, an article in The Atlantic Monthly argued that “a Down’s is not a person.”

Lee and Len Herzenberg had seen friends struggle with the birth of a child with Down syndrome and even gone with a colleague to an institution, where he dropped off his own infant daughter.

So, they made a choice: Michael would never come home.

But Michael wasn’t lost. Michael’s birth sparked their search for a blood test that has revolutionized prenatal care in this country.

---

I made the mistake of telling one scientist I was reporting about “Len Herzenberg’s lab.” He corrected me instantly: “Len and Lee’s lab”. Because Lee Herzenberg was “leaning in” decades before Sheryl Sandberg coined the phrase. At 81, Lee, a professor of genetics, is still running the lab she and her husband founded more than 50 years ago. Len died in 2013.

The lab is a quirky place, even by Stanford standards. Lee rarely sits on chairs, preferring cushions on the floor. She’s often accompanied by her bichon frise, Gigi. Researchers can often be found working in this basement office well into the night.

But Lee Herzenberg isn’t just quirky: she’s one of the few -- possibly the only -- professor at Stanford never to have officially graduated from college. Instead, she trained by her husband’s side, auditing courses while he got his Ph.D. at Cal Tech (women weren’t allowed to attend at the time), and working at his labs at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and the NIH.

And the science that’s done here has changed the course of medicine.

The Herzenbergs are best known as the creators of the modern-day fluorescence-activated flow cytometer, or FACS. It was a machine born out of frustration: Len couldn’t stand squinting down a microscope looking at cells.

Before the FACS, a biologist looking at slides could feel like he was playing a really intense round of “Where’s Waldo”, staring at crowds of all kinds of cells, trying to pinpoint the exact one he was looking for. Not only was it annoying, Len Herzenberg worried it wasn’t particularly scientific. He wanted a way to find and describe cells that didn’t rely on his worn out eyes.

The FACS was used to diagnose AIDS - because it can quickly and easily sort out T-cells. The FACS was used to find the first stem cells. When Len Herzenberg died, one colleague told The New York Times that “without Len, tens of thousands of people now alive would not be.”

But in the 1970s, the Herzenbergs were still proving the value of this machine. That’s when they started thinking about using it to create a blood test for Down syndrome.

Len Herzenberg had seen research from Finland claiming it was possible to see a fetus’ cells in a mother’s blood. It was hard to believe. But he knew that the FACS, with its nearly magical sorting capabilities, could figure it out. So he took on a medical student named Diana Bianchi as a research associate and made sorting out these cells her project. If they isolate these cells, he could know a lot about the developing fetus, including whether the fetus had chromosomal abnormalities.

“They had a very personal reason for doing this, because of their son, Michael,” Bianchi says now. “They wanted to have a test that could be offered to any pregnant woman – that would be noninvasive and would allow them to know if child had Down syndrome. The first step, however, was to show that you could pull out fetal cells.”

Scientists now estimate that for every 200 billion cells in a mother’s bloodstream - about 10 of those are fetal cells. Bianchi was one of the first people to see them. The New York Times quoted Len Herzenberg saying it was a “first step” towards a blood test for Down syndrome for all pregnant women. But it would take thirty years for a practical test to become a reality.

As it turned out, Len Herzenberg's FACS wasn't the right tool for prenatal diagnosis. There weren’t very many fetal cells to be sorted, and if a pregnant woman already had children, scientists couldn’t be sure if the cells in her blood came from the current fetus or one of her older kids.

But in 2008, Len helped ensure the right tool was found.

A researcher named Stephen Quake had discovered a way to sequence chunks of fetal DNA floating in expectant mothers' blood. As a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Len made sure the paper was published in the academy's journal. Another researcher, Dennis Lo, confirmed Quake’s findings. Three years later, the tests were on the market.

Now, at just 10 weeks into a pregnancy, a whole range of things can be revealed with this test. Not just Down syndrome, but a host of other chromosomal abnormalities as well as the sex of the child to be.

Until this test, doctors had to rely on amniocentesis, an invasive procedure that involves-- inserting a needle in the womb to sample amniotic fluid, or biopsying the placenta -- to tell them with any reliability whether a fetus had a chromosomal abnormality. These tests aren’t just uncomfortable, they come with a risk of miscarriage. By some estimates, in the last five years the number of these procedures performed in this country have plummeted by more than 50 percent.

To some parents, this knowledge can be alarming. Advocates in Ohio are trying to pass a law preventing abortions if Down syndrome is the reason (North Dakota and Indiana have already passed similar laws).

Lee Herzenberg is honest about what she would have done if she’d known early on in her pregnancy that Michael had Down syndrome.

“I’d say if I had the choice of not pushing Michael into this life – if I at that time would know I was carrying a Down syndrome child -- I would have aborted the child,” she says. “I see no reason Michael has to live the life he leads. The fact that we’ve made it very happy for him or that he’s made it very happy for us -- all of that is adapting to a situation, but I don’t think it’s fair or proper.”

But Lee Herzenberg is alarmed that these tests are now being used to determine the sex of unborn babies. She worries about parents choosing to abort girls.

--

Diana Bianchi, that medical student from the Herzenberg lab, is now a professor at Tufts, where she founded the Mother Infant Research Institute. She’s still working in prenatal testing. In fact, perfecting these tests has become her life’s work.

But her focus has shifted. Now that she can detect Down syndrome so early, she wants to treat it early, too: in the womb. Because finding this chromosomal abnormality at 10 weeks means there’s a window of opportunity: The brain changes associated with Down syndrome don’t occur until a month or so later. Theoretically, you could treat a fetus before some brain changes occur at all.

Bianchi’s work is still early. She’s experimenting with mice, giving them existing drugs in utero to see if she can forestall brain damage.  

There’s an often-quoted statistic, that 90 percent of parents who find out that their fetus has Down syndrome will abort. But that statistic is from a study done in the United Kingdom. In the US, far fewer women terminate.  

“We have to unpack this connection between prenatal testing and abortion,” she says. “We have good data to suggest that approximately 40 plus percent of women who know their fetus has Down syndrome continue their pregnancy. There are many women who speak very highly of the fact that this allows them to prepare.”

--

The Down syndrome baby who kicked off the search for this blood test is now a 54-year-old man. He lives in a squat house in Redwood City, Calif., just a 30 minute drive from his birth mother’s home.

For years, Michael lived with a local woman named Barbara Jennings, who raised a number of children with developmental challenges. The Herzenberg’s pediatrician helped them find her when Michael was a newborn. The Herzenbergs would visit Michael every month or so, but they never felt they should bring him home. When Barbara died, Michael moved to this group home.

It’s hard to know how much Michael understands when I talked to him, though he’s learned to read and use a cell phone. And he’s stubborn. A lot like his mother, actually. “Michael has the hardest head in the whole world,” says Janet Thomas, the caretaker who runs this house. “He does whatever he wants to do. He does not care whatever you say. He’s going to do whatever it is he wants to do -- that’s Michael.”

I asked Lee if she ever regretted not raising Michael, and she said no.  “It was a decision that was selfish if you like, because we had things we wanted to do.  In retrospect, a lot of things would never have gotten done. There would be no FACS had we decided to do this. Because it would have been a very intensive kind of upbringing.”

As for Michael, he clearly loves his mother, no matter what she decided. In Michael’s room, there are photos on almost every surface, with snapshots of his biological and adopted families. In the corner is a huge poster of his father, celebrating when he won the Kyoto Prize for his contributions to biotechnology. And deep in one album, there’s a picture of Len and Lee together. The caption reads “Michael’s other mom + dad.”



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The Robot Vacuum Ate My Pancreas

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Apr 19, 2016


“A Roomba ate my pancreas!” It sounds like the plot of a weird sci-fi comedy. But in Dana Lewis’s life, this is just a normal day.

Lewis is one of the first people in America to create her own mechanical pancreas in an attempt to better manage her type 1 diabetes. (Her robotic vacuum cleaner keeps slurping up and choking on the system’s many cables.)

Type 1 diabetes is, at its simplest, a broken pancreas. Sometimes called juvenile diabetes, the autoimmune disease disables the pancreas from producing insulin, a key component for controlling blood sugar. People with Type 1 diabetes often have to use glucose monitors and insulin pumps to allow their bodies to function.

For years, the Holy Grail of diabetes management has been the so-called artificial pancreas, a system that can measure blood glucose levels and automatically give the appropriate insulin dosage. And while a handful of companies are close to getting the technology to market, tech-savvy patients have grown impatient.

Dana Lewis and her husband Scott Leibrand devised a system to “hack” the usual methods of diabetes management, which they found tiresome for a normal, active person trying to live their life. Their Open Artificial Pancreas System (OpenAPS) rigged Dana’s glucose monitor and insulin pump to automatically understand shifts in blood sugar and adjust insulin rates accordingly.

An early version of the couple’s system caught the attention of the Food and Drug Administration – the government agency that regulates medical devices. The FDA strongly encouraged Scott and Dana to keep their invention to themselves and not distribute do-it-yourself pancreases or the code running them.

But last year the couple decided that OpenAPS was working so well for Dana, that they had a moral obligation to share it with the type 1 diabetes community. In February of 2015 they open-sourced the documents for the artificial pancreas and now, nearly 50 people have been built their own versions.

In this episode of Only Human, we look at how Dana and Scott hacked together one of the first artificial pancreas systems and the complicated ethical questions that come with sharing the technology.

Have you ever hacked your own medical advice? Tell us in the comments below.



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Doctor Stories: The Patient I’ll Never Forget

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Apr 12, 2016


Note: In this week’s episode we asked doctors about the patients who changed their lives. It was a basic question, and an obvious one – so obvious that we weren’t prepared for how good the responses would be. The stories were powerful and intimate, and a peek into the world we don’t always see.

This got us thinking: We have to keep this going. Would you be willing to share this short questionnaire with your networks http://goo.gl/forms/S0940YVFlT? We’d love to hear from anyone who would like to contribute!

A big part of a doctor’s job is listening. They listen to our symptoms, pain and life situations. They listen for what patients aren’t telling them. They listen to heartbeats.

But give them a mic, like the Annals of Internal Medicine did, and you’ll find out they also have plenty to say.

This week we hear from three doctors in what we call a "Doctor Story Slam" – like a poetry slam, except with more stethoscopes and medical degrees. We often hear about how doctors change patients’ lives. We wanted to know: how do patients change their lives?  These are the kind of stories you never hear during your routine check-ups.

Doctor 1: Dr. Richard Weinberg

Dr. Weinberg is a gastroenterologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina. He talked to us about a patient suffering from stomach pain who he found impossible to diagnose, until he brought up some unlikely subjects that got her talking: bakeries and dreams. When he found out his patient’s actual history  a traumatic incident from when she was a teenager  he continued to listen, even though he knew her problem couldn’t be solved by one of his procedures or prescriptions.

Dr. Richard Weinberg

Doctor 2: Dr. Reeta Mani

Dr. Mani is a microbiologist in Bangalore, India. She told us about two patients who came to her with a very strange predicament: they were married, successful,and having problems in their relationship. But there was something even more pressing that she found in their lab results: both had two different kinds of HIV. Dr. Mani said their story surprised her, but not as much as the way they reacted to the news.

This story was first published in Pulse - voices from the heart of medicine.

Doctor 3: Dr. Michael LaCombe

Dr. LaCombe is a cardiologist in Augusta, Maine. His story goes back decades ago, to the beginning of his residency. He had a six week rotation in the psychiatric ward and had a young patient who was schizophrenic and delusional. He would talk to her every day, two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. When his training was done he promised her he would write to her. He did, for decades, but he never heard from her again. Until 50 years later.

Listen to all of their stories in the player above or anywhere you get your podcasts. 



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Real Doctors, Fake Medicine?

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Apr 05, 2016


Dr. David Kallmes’s medical degree is real. But one of his treatments for spinal fractures might not be.

Kallmes performs vertebroplasty, a surgery he has helped to develop and standardize, that involves injecting medical cement into the fractured bone to stabilize the fractured area and relieve pain. He says he gets great results from his patients, and teaches the method to other doctors at conferences.

But here’s the thing: he has no idea why vertebroplasty works. So a few years ago, he decided to test it against a placebo.  Kallmes found that pretending to perform vertebroplasty – making it seem like he was injecting a needle into the spine but without the cement – had similar effects. About 40 percent of both groups experienced immediate relief from pain after the surgery. He published his results in the New England Journal of Medicine.

So even though Kallmes’s research put the procedure into question, the practice continues: more than 14,000 patients received vertebroplasties last year.

Most of us would like to think the medicines and treatments we take – and pay for – are grounded in solid science, that our doctors know exactly what they’re doing when they prescribe them. But there’s consistent proof that placebos work just as well as some medical treatments, and it isn’t just because of a positive attitude.

Until recently, the “placebo effect” wasn’t taken seriously by the medical establishment. But one researcher, Ted Kaptchuk, has decided to make it the focus of his work.  “I kept seeing things that were not explainable by my training,” said Kaptchuk, who directs the Center for Placebo Studies at Harvard Medical School.

Kaptchuk had an unusual trajectory to the medical research field. He was the founder of the Students for Democratic Society at Columbia University, and then quit when he thought it became too radical. He studied and practiced Chinese medicine and acupuncture and lived in Asia for years.

He noticed that patients throughout his practice would get better from their interactions with the medical system, and the belief that they were being helped, even if the medicine’s impact was difficult to track.

He started to study this mechanism – the placebo effect – and the endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, that the body releases when it happens. He had a theory there was more to it than blind faith: a neurological reason, and maybe a genetic reason.

In one of the most revealing studies on this phenomenon, published back in 1978, researchers divided patients into three groups after a dental surgery and gave them each a different treatment: morphine (a painkiller), salt water (a placebo), and naloxone (a chemical that blocks endorphins). That third group didn’t get the placebo effect.

“It was the first time that we [could see] a biology, a neurobiology of placebo effects,” Kaptchuk said. “Patients were not making this up in their heads.”

And while the findings were now backed by evidence, the pain-killing endorphins and response to placebos actually come from a less measured place. Kaptchuk said it’s the ritual of medicine – seeing a doctor, planning a treatment – that triggers the brain into healing itself.

“I’ll be quite simple and say what I think I’m doing is quantifying and making the art of medicine a science,” he said.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE 4/13/16

The text has been edited to clarify Dr. Kallmes’s role in developing the vertebroplasty procedure. He did not single-handedly develop the procedure, as the original text may have implied, nor did he inject the cement himself.

The article also said that that vertebroplasty and placebo patients experienced immediate relief after their surgeries, when, in fact, it was about a 40 percent success rate for patients in both groups. The text has been updated and clarified.



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Every (Dead) Body Has A Story

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Mar 29, 2016


When the first-year medical students at Table 4 met their male cadaver, they weren’t pleased.

The group was in the home stretch of anatomy class at NYU School of Medicine, and the final exam was a couple weeks away. They had dozens of vessels, nerves, and organ components to memorize.

And this cadaver was an interloper. They had grown attached to the first body they were dissecting -- an elderly woman whose chest cavity was nice and neat, but whose intestines were so ravaged by cancer there was no point in working on her anymore.

But this new body on Table 4 proved more challenging, they said.

“Now we can’t see anything in our new body [in the chest], and we can’t refer back to that first work we did,” said student Samantha Ayoub, expressing the frustration of her six-person group.

Medical school instructors often refer to the cadavers as the students’ “first patient.” There are about 20,000 of them donated to U.S. medical schools each year, according to the Harvard Business School.

The schools encourage students to be grateful and respectful to these bodies, but with rare exceptions, schools don’t encourage students to think too hard about the lives of these “patients” prior to the dissection table.

And as it turns out, the body on Table 4 was far more than a collection of vessels and valves. Literally and figuratively, he was an instructor, guide and teacher.

His name was Haig Manoukian, and he and his wife, Michele Piso Manoukian, decided to donate his body to NYU so he could continue being an educator.

“He would become part of someone else’s wisdom,” Michele said.

Haig was a musician – a world-renowned player of the oud, a Middle Eastern stringed instrument, similar to a lute or guitar. People came from far and wide to study with him.

“He was very analytical and very patient,” Michele said. “I can kind of picture him [in anatomy lab], talking to the students about what they’re doing and the equipment they’re using, and saying, ‘Oh, you’re using this one? How interesting!’”

The six students at Table 4 knew none of this. At NYU and most places, cadavers’ identities are kept anonymous. The students found out from our reporter at Only Human, with NYU’s permission.

They were all fascinated, both by Manoukian’s career as “the Jimi Hendrix of the oud” and by the details of his terminal illness and his decision to donate his body to their education.

They were glad they didn’t know too much about Manoukian earlier – so they could dissect without knowing his cause of death in advance, and so they could avoid dealing with death emotionally. But some had mixed feelings.

“I feel bad that we didn’t really think about [his life],” said student Bianca Kapoor. “When you’re in the weeds of things, you don’t really think about that, because you’re just focused on ‘This vein goes to what vein?’”

After their course, Michele invited the students to a tribute to Haig’s life with several dozen friends and family members. There was food and music and reminiscence. Michele was busy playing hostess, but she greeted the group warmly, and they later agreed to get together for tea.

They promised her that his life would live on in their work.

“I hope I do that justice,” Samantha Ayoub said. “And honor his life and be a good doctor.”

 

WATCH: Haig Manoukian (far left) plays the oud at a summer retreat



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The Man Who Cured Everything

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Mar 22, 2016


Here are some things that the legendary bodybuilder Bernarr Macfadden believed in: Fasting to cure cancer. Fasting to cure asthma. Fasting to cure – here’s an interesting one – emaciation.

“I mean, there’s the old idea of starve a fever, feed a cold,” said Mark Adams, who wrote a book about Macfadden called Mr. America. “For Macfadden it was starve a fever, starve a cold, starve a sore throat, starve cancer, starve kleptomania.”

The alternative medicine enthusiast shook up the health scene in the early 1900s with his magazine, “Physical Culture.”  He focused on exercise and cleanses and fasting, sometimes up to seven days, and brushed off modern medicine as “murderous science”.

Macfadden’s ideas had a brief moment of popularity in the 20s and 30s but lost luster around World War II. Around the time penicillin started saving lives, alternative medicine – especially a starvation diet – didn’t seem as appealing a cure.

Almost a century later, updated and repackaged as the “ketogenic diet”, one of Macfadden’s starvation cures is making waves again.

“We know it works,” said Eric Kossoff, a pediatric neurologist at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore.“There are lots of different theories about how it works.”

The ketogenic diet is not the same as fasting – instead it’s an extremely high-fat, low-carbohydrate regimen that essentially tricks the body into thinking it’s starving. And the diet has made inroads into the medical community for treating epilepsy in children.

While Macfadden spent the early 1900s treating virtually everything with a fast, a New York City endocrinologist noticed that some epileptic patients in particular were responding well to Macfadden’s treatment. The doctor presented the treatment to the American Medical Association around 1920 and helped bring fasting for seizures into the medical mainstream.

 The ketogenic diet was eventually created to replicate the effects of fasting. Forcing the body to burn fat creates ketone bodies -- molecules also created while fasting. While it’s still unclear exactly why the diet works, switching the body’s fuel source from glucose to fat has been shown to reduce epileptic seizures for some patients. (Kossoff says he sees around a 50-percent response rate.)

Bernarr Macfadden never broke down the science of ketosis when he talked about fasting, but his treatment -- and the diet he helped inspire -- went out of fashion as modern medicine developed into the 1940s.

“No study really showed the diet not being effective anymore, but I think it got overshadowed by lots of new drugs,” Kossoff said.

Macfadden himself could not be saved by fasting. At 87, he decided to treat a bout of jaundice with his go-to method. He was found unconscious and dehydrated in a Jersey City hotel room in 1955. Whatever the initial cause of the jaundice, Macfadden was too far gone, and died two days later in a hospital. But as a new crop of fasting diets – for both weight loss and disease – gains steam, his doesn’t seem so extreme.

“I don’t know,” said author Mark Adams, “but my guess is just [Macfadden] was a combination of ahead of his time and completely nuts.”

 

Hey Only Human listeners, we're hoping to learn more about what you want to hear and how you listen to shows from WNYC Studios. Please visit this site and take our brief survey. Thanks!



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When Risky Sex Means Jail

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Mar 15, 2016


Last summer, in a Missouri courtroom, a college wrestler named Michael Johnson was sentenced to 30 years in prison for “recklessly infecting a partner with HIV.”

Johnson, who also goes by “Tiger Mandingo”, was accused of knowingly infecting his partners with HIV, although at least one of them said Johnson called to tell him the diagnosis when Johnson tested positive for the virus.

The case shed light on the stigmas surrounding sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, and especially HIV/AIDS. In more than 30 states there is a legal requirement for HIV positive individuals to disclose their status to whomever they’re having sex with. And while most people agree that honest conversation is a good practice, the laws allow people with HIV to be imprisoned for even spitting, biting or oral sex.

“Every person with HIV in the country who knows they have HIV is one accusation away from finding themselves in a courtroom,” said Sean Strub, director of The Sero Project.

Strub was diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s. Since then, treatments for STIs like HIV/AIDS has made significant progress across the globe. But Strub argues that an HIV diagnosis has continued to carry a stigma, perhaps even worse than before. And Strub said forcing people to disclose their status can backfire, and alienate a population that needs support.

While Strub is working to change the policy, New York University sex researcher and educator, Zhana Vrangalova, is focused on challenging society’s perception of risky sex.

“People really fear that STIs are more prevalent than they are…and that once you catch it you may always keep it,” she said.

Vrangalova is on a mission to de-stigmatize safe sexual behavior. Her website, for example, is about casual sex and provides a forum for people to talk about the flings and one-night stands that are usually dismissed in traditional sex education. Students in her class learn how to balance health and protection with redefining normal sexual behavior.

Jake Hernandez, a 23-year-old nursing student taking her class, has had personal experience with the same situation that got Michael Johnson behind bars. His ex-boyfriend called him to tell him he was HIV positive after they had oral sex, and luckily, Hernandez tested negative.

While he felt betrayed by his boyfriend, Hernandez still believes society needs to challenge the stereotypes surrounded STIs and the people who have them, especially gay men. While visiting a sex shop for his class with Vrangalova, he said the assumption is, “that we just walk around having sex all the time.”

“I mean I would probably say I’ve had casual sex once in my life. If I was dating a girl would you be saying all these things?”



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The Science of Turning Her On

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Mar 08, 2016


The only sexual education Nicole Prause had growing up in a small town in Texas was how to practice abstinence.

Then she went to college at Indiana University and started working at a sex laboratory at the famed Kinsey Institute. But the subject was still taboo at home. Prause would start talking about her job and her stepmom would say, “Not at the dinner table.”

That hush-hush attitude only served to convince the sex researcher and neuroscientist that women learn about sexuality the wrong way – with an emphasis on the risk of pregnancy or STIs, never on sexual pleasure or desire.

When a “female Viagra”, called Addyi, was introduced last year to rev up women’s sex drives, it was received with far less enthusiasm than its male counterpart. Mainly it’s because the drug isn’t all that effective: it only helped 10 percent more people than the placebo. The drug also comes with caveats: like not being able to drink alcohol or combine it with other medication.

Addyi wasn’t the first attempt to address female libido through medication, and it probably won’t be the last. But Prause is more interested in an element of desire that the drugs can overlook.

“If you take a Viagra and your partner is still very unattractive to you, or being mean to you, the Viagra will not be effective,” Prause says.

Her mission is not to create a new, more effective drug, but to understand the mechanism of desire. She’s focusing a lot on stimulating the brain to figure out what makes people want to have pleasurable sex.

Prause has used several tools to dissect this misunderstood science – from transcranial magnetic stimulation, a much milder shock therapy, to devices like an anal pressure gauge that she designed herself.

And while the scientist is focused on her laboratory, Liberos, she says the conversation around female sexuality needs to shift, especially in heterosexual relationships. Women often sacrifice their own desire to cater to, or “keep up”, with their partners. And men are not on the same wave length.

“To continually kind of deny that we have an interest in sexuality and make those demands…you really need to slow down [and communicate],” Prause said. “And then we will have better partners.”



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Your Sanity or Your Kidneys

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Mar 01, 2016


This week we're revisiting the story of a woman making a very difficult decision.

Jaime Lowe started taking lithium when she was 17, after a manic episode landed her in a psychiatric ward. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder,and for more than 20 years, the drug has been her near-constant companion. She’s taken it for so long that she can’t say for sure where she ends and lithium begins.  

“It’s hard to know if lithium is actually -- like, if it dampens my personality, or if it normalizes my personality, or if it allows me to just sort of be who I am,” she says.

Jaime tried to go off of lithium only once, in her mid-20s, and the result was not good. She developed grand delusions. She would start an organization to defend the First Amendment. She would marry a friend she only recently met. She would change the world. She sent wild emails to would-be employers, adorned herself with glitter and stacks of necklaces, and barely slept.

When she finally pulled herself back together again, Jaime made a resolution. She’d stick with lithium. And that worked -- until she learned last year that her long-term lithium use has taken a physical toll. It’s damaged her kidneys. Now, she faces a choice that’s not much of choice at all: an eventual kidney transplant, or going off the drug that has kept her sane all these years.



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When Opera Meets Autism

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Feb 23, 2016


Michelle Dunn and Larry Harris make an unlikely team.

Dunn is an autism researcher and Harris was an offensive lineman for the Houston Oilers – and is now an opera singer. They met at a church choir in New York.

Between sessions at the church they got to talking about Dunn’s work at the Montefiore-Einstein Center for Autism and Communication Disorders. She works with patients who are bright and high-functioning, but often struggle to speak and communicate in an effective tone and cadence.

“They speak in a very disfluent way or their voice sounds really unusual and people shut them down right away,” she said.

When Larry Harris heard about Dunn’s struggle with her patients’ speech, he was intrigued, and offered to help – using his opera training and his athlete’s background. Together they created lesson plans for the patients that incorporated training vocal cords and breath, which forces a person to stop and organize their thoughts.

“My brain just kicks into this place where I want to help them,” Harris said. “It’s exciting.”

Dunn had been working for many years with a patient named Devon* who was prone to repeating himself or fixating on a topic while speaking. But she and Harris started to focus on the new technique, and after just five months, they noticed great improvement in Devon’s speech. The quickest improvement Dunn had ever seen.

“I’ve been learning to take calming breaths and breathe pause,” Devon said. “I come across to people more normally.”

It’s been two years now since Dunn and Harris started their new technique, which they’ve chronicled in a guide called The Music of Speech. Autism manifests in people very differently, so Dunn and Harris’s approach may not work for everyone on the autism spectrum. But they’ve worked successfully with ten patients so far.

Dunn says their work is not just about training people to speak a certain way to fit in, it’s about helping them feel comfortable enough to live their lives in society at large. So instead of getting shut down in the first conversation, Devon and others with autism can have a second, third or fourth conversation where they can maybe let go.

“It makes people care about me more, it makes people value what I have to say more,” Devon said.

*Devon’s name was changed to protect his privacy.



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A Doctor’s Love Affair with Vicodin

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Feb 16, 2016


“Medicine is a land of opportunity for a drug addict.”

Take Peter Grinspoon’s word for it. The Harvard-trained physician spent years abusing painkillers, infatuated with the feeling of euphoria that he got from the drugs.

Getting pills as a physician wasn’t hard. Like an alcoholic working at a bar, Grinspoon was surrounded by Vicodin, Oxycodone, Percocet and other opiates on a daily basis. He had easy access to a prescription pad, and he convinced patients who were addicts themselves to share their meds with him.

“I was basically taking advantage of these patients. It’s very upsetting for me to think about,” he said.

Then one day, when Grinspoon was 39, he got caught. By now he was taking up to 12 of 14 pills a day. He’d been writing bogus prescriptions, and eventually, a local pharmacist caught on. She alerted law enforcement and Grinspoon was charged with fraudulently prescribing controlled substances and sent to rehab.

Grinspoon’s painkiller addiction happened in the midst of national opiate epidemic. In 2014 alone, a total of 10.3 million people in America reported using prescription opioids for non-medical reasons, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Grinspoon’s recovery would be difficult. His addiction had broken up his marriage and jeopardized his career. He relapsed more than once after his first three-month stint in a rehabilitation center.

“I was embarrassed of the mess I made of my life,” Grinspoon said. “I think addicts in general suffer from overwhelming guilt and shame. And doctors who’ve been booted from their jobs feel profound guilt and shame.”

With the support of his brothers, and the motivation of being reunited with his children, Grinspoon has been sober for more than a decade. He’s back at work, and doesn’t prescribe pills in the same way he did before. He channeled his journey into a book, “Free Refills,” a memoir of his addiction and recovery.

Grinspoon said he still notices a bottle of Vicodin on the counter, and will always be sensitive to the drugs around him. But he no longer feels the cravings he used to feel.

“I think I burnt out my fascination [with drugs] by engulfing my life in flames,” he said.



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Don't Count on the Calorie

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Feb 09, 2016


Calories are sneaky. For those who have tried counting them to lose weight, you know quite well that they slip through your fingers during that latte and biscotti snack break. But it turns out that regulating our diets strictly through calories, technically just a unit of energy, has recently proved less reliable than we thought.

Take nuts, for example. Nuts are generally regarded as a calorie-dense, energy-dense food group. But David Baer, a researcher at the United States Department of Agriculture, found that our bodies only absorb about 70 percent of the calories in almonds. Same with walnuts and pistachios.

And then there’s the question of what happens when food is changed from its natural state. Richard Wrangam, a Harvard anthropologist, was studying chimpanzees and decided to try and mimic their diet of raw, unprocessed foods. He quickly found this had a much different impact on his body: “I discovered that it left me incredibly hungry.”

His research found that our bodies absorb up to 40 percent more calories from meat, starches and fat when they are cooked. I mean, have you ever seen a chubby chimpanzee?

So if the way we prepare and digest food so strongly affects how many calories we consume, what’s the best way to keep track of what we eat? Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley, the co-hosts of Gastropod, a podcast about food science and history, took a detailed look into the latest research on calories.  And they found it’s hard to make a conclusion when there are so many variables – from the bacteria living in your stomach to how accurate our food labels are.

But wait, wait, don’t put away that fitness tracker yet. We might not know everything about calories, but they are still the closest thing we have for measuring how and what we eat. And Graber says burning more than you take in will always be the way to lose weight.

“It's true – it’s still true,” she said."

Correction: This article initially included a quote by Cynthia Graber that said you should take in more than you burn to lose weight. This was a misspeak, and Graber meant the opposite.



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One Doctor’s Mission: Make Abortion Safe in the South

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Feb 02, 2016


Willie Parker grew up in Alabama without electricity, one of six kids in a single-mother household. He learned to read by the light of a kerosene lamp.

He was also raised in a fundamentalist Christian community that believed abortion was wrong. Single, unwed mothers had to publicly apologize in church.

Today, however, Parker is a obstetrician gynecologist who specializes in providing safe abortions in the Deep South. He travels between states and clinics amid protests and threats, and treats the same demographic of women who might have gone to his church.

Parker credits his change of heart to a sermon he heard by Martin Luther King Jr., where he alludes to the biblical story of the Good Samaritan -- a man who acts out of kindness for the greater good.

“The Good Samaritan asks what will happen to this person if I don’t stop to help them,” Parker said.

Women in this region of the United States have few options, Parker says, if they aren’t ready to be mothers. The last abortion clinic in Mississippi was attacked last year, and the state moved to block doctors from being able to admitting patients to hospitals after they received an abortion. Parker says the trend of unsafe, secretive abortions are too dangerous to deny women access to care.  

“Being born in the South, and being reared in abject poverty…if I couldn’t make those women a priority, who will?” he says.

That perspective has fueled his work and helped shape his faith. It’s also the reason he doesn’t shy away from being recorded on film or speaking in public, despite the pressure he gets from the pro-life movements that thrive in the Bible Belt.

And while Parker has lost some friends, and severed relationships, he is at peace with his decision.

“I believe my work is honorable. I believe it is always appropriate to help people,” he says. “And so I’ve made the conscious decision to practice my craft with the dignity and honor that I think it is due.”



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How to Stop an Outbreak

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Jan 26, 2016


An unwelcomed stranger snuck into the city last summer, and New Yorkers were panicking.

A sudden outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, a type of pneumonia caused by waterborne bacteria, had landed in the city in July. In just over two weeks, there were already 81 cases and seven deaths -- and the source of the deadly bacteria was a mystery.

When the New York City Health Department got the alert, they realized this wasn’t like any outbreaks of the disease they’d seen before.

“We’re incredibly nervous and worried. We don’t know how this started, we don’t know how it’s going to proceed, and we don’t know how it’s going to end,” said Dr. Jay Varma, Deputy Commissioner of Disease Control.

When mapping out the outbreak, however, his team noticed that the disease wasn’t just choosing victims at random. Most of the patients were from a cluster of neighborhoods in the South Bronx, an area historically marked by neglect and poverty. The city needed to track them down, and quickly.

But getting that kind of information from severely ill people would not be easy. One of them, a 31-year-old taxi driver named Daniel Tejada, was heavily medicated and lying face down on a hospital bed with a 104-degree fever. It was challenging for Varma and his team to find out where exactly Tejada and the others had been exposed.

“They didn’t all go to the same hospital, they didn’t go to the same doctor, they didn’t swim in the same pool, or hang out at the same fountains,” he said.

The officials ruled out running water, which would have affected many more people at once. Instead they set their sights higher – on the roofs of large, commercial buildings where cooling towers are installed. The towers (which have nothing to do with drinking water) are meant to cool hot air within buildings, and emit mist. If the water in these systems are not properly treated, they can grow bacteria, including Legionella – which can cause a serious type of pneumonia when that mist is inhaled.

Over the next few days, “disease detectives” climbed up the buildings, testing water from the cooling towers and submitting their specimens to a lab in Albany. They narrowed down the search to five suspect water coolers in the South Bronx, and shared this information with the public.

Varma and his team at the health department still didn’t have all the answers to appease an anxious public. Though they eventually tracked the source to one cooling tower, they couldn’t be sure. They still needed to grow more Legionella in the lab and match it to the bacteria in infected people to confirm that they had indeed cleaned the right unit, which would take weeks.

Annie Minguez, Daniel Tejada’s cousin, spoke at a town hall meeting to share her frustration.

“I cannot sleep at night knowing that possibly he could get this again,” she said. “That’s all I came here for.”

With a nervous city on his hands, Governor Andrew Cuomo got involved, and called in the Centers for Disease Control to start a “massive testing effort.” Hundreds of city workers and scientists were dispatched to find any overlooked cooling towers, and to sample them. New legislation was passed that required building owners in the entire city, not just the Bronx, to clean their cooling towers within two weeks.

In the public’s eyes, this mass effort was something close to heroic. The deaths stopped, new cases weren’t reported. The whole city seemed to be actively fighting this strange disease.

But it was the city health department, quietly waiting for the Legionella to grow in labs, that would truly put an end to the outbreak. Dr. Varma and his team were able to match the bacteria samples to one single water cooler tower on top of a hotel. A tower they had, luckily, cleaned weeks before.

“Every outbreak has something where you just get lucky,” he said. “You’re not just smart but something right happens at the right time.”



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When Life's a Medical Experiment

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Jan 19, 2016


Susannah Ludwig is a self-proclaimed optimist. And it seems to serve her well: she’s a successful movie producer — her film King’s Point was nominated for an Oscar —and mother to an 8-year-old son.

But her true desire has always been something seemingly simple: to be normal.

Ludwig was born with an incomplete esophagus, a rare birth defect that has made it impossible for her to eat and digest normally for the past 44 years.

In the movies, a bunch of heroic doctors might’ve swept in to fix her childhood problem so she could live a normal life. And they tried: When Ludwig was a baby, a team of surgeons tried to reshape her stomach to make a sort of tube where her esophagus should be.

But she would never be able to eat any food she wanted, like her peers, or just forget about her problem. While she joined Girl Scouts and took piano lessons, her life was still, as she describes it, “a major science experiment.”

Fortunately, Ludwig has had a close advisor along the way: her father. Stephen Ludwig is a pediatrician at the University of Pennsylvania, and has been very involved with Susannah’s health decisions. Even though he brought a medical perspective to his daughter’s issues, he says that the family tried to downplay her health problems.

“We tried to raise her with an attitude that she was normal, and that she should live a normal life and do everything that she wanted to do,” he said.

Meanwhile, they knew that at any moment her health could change. And it did – over the next decades, she would undergo several more surgeries – days in the hospital, weeks of recovery.  During one of the worst episodes, she went months without eating to allow her esophagus to heal. Even now, she has to stick to liquid diets a few times a week.

All of this without a guiding light, or blueprint, or textbook definition that states her problem and the solution. “In my darkest hours, it’s horrifying and scary and terrifying,” she says.

But then the optimism kicks in — the same glass-half-full stuff that she has cultivated over years.

“I also have a lot of faith in medicine and in thinking outside the box and I know I’m a fighter. And I try to stay with that.”

 



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Bacon, Booze and the Search for the Fountain of Youth

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Jan 12, 2016


Update: Susannah Mushatt Jones passed away on May 12, 2016. She was 116 years and 311 days old. 

While we sweat it out at spin class in the name of good health, the world’s oldest people drink whiskeyeat bacon, and chug Miller High Lifes with a side of Johnny Walker Blue.

At least those are the life secrets we love to hear when we talk about supercentenarians — the exclusive group of people who live to be at least 110 years old. But the science is not that simple, and the lives of these super-survivors are proof.

The oldest person recorded in history, a French woman named Jeanne Calment, lived to be 122 years old. Calment, who was born in 1875, lived a fairly easy, stress-free existence, according to Jean-Marie Robine, a French demographer who met her and studied the last years of her life.

But the more significant marker of her longevity, he believes, is her direct ancestors who lived, on average, 22 years longer than expected. “So definitely, the gene pool [was] exceptional,” he said.

Tom Perls, a physician and researcher who runs the New England Centenarian Study, has studied about 150 supercentenarians. He agrees: living an extremely long life probably has to do more with your DNA than what you drink.

“It’s many complicated pathways that feed into what determines your rate of aging and your risk for age related diseases,” Perls said.

Today, the oldest known living person in the world is a woman in Brooklyn, New York, and lives a fairly quiet life. At 116 years old, Susannah Mushatt Jones has watched the world go form streetcars to hoverboards; from President William McKinley to President Barack Obama, who is framed in a picture on her wall.

Life At 116

Last July, she celebrated her birthday in style with the Brooklyn Nets, local politicians and a gigantic cake topped with (frosting) bacon, a food she eats every day because her doctor says, “why not?”

But she doesn’t talk as much as she used to, and spends most of her days with caretakers and family in Brooklyn — waking up to a big plate of grits, eggs and bacon every morning.

And she knows better than to credit the bacon for her extraordinary life.

“I have no secret,” she said in a video two years ago. “I just live with my family. My family makes me happy.”

 



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This Is the Year You Stick to It

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Jan 05, 2016


You might know the name Dan Ariely. Maybe you’ve watched one of his very popular TED talks, or read one of his best-selling books about how and why we behave irrationally.  Or maybe you’ve already heard us say on the Only Human podcast that we’re partnering with him on a new project: a study that aims to help all of us stick with our New Year’s resolutions to get more exercise.  

The story of how Ariely became a behavioral economist begins dramatically and terribly. Ariely was a teenager in Israel, just finishing up high school, when an explosion left him with burns covering 70 percent of his body, and hospitalized him for close to three years. One particular part of his treatment — the painful daily removal and replacement of the bandages covering his wounds — led him to question the intuition of his nurses, who insisted that ripping off the bandaging quickly hurt less than carefully peeling them off.

For Ariely, it was an epiphany. “If you think about it, how many times even in a single day we work best on our gut intuition,” Ariely says. “And if our gut intuitions are wrong, maybe there’s another approach to do things that is actually better.”

In this episode, Mary talks to Ariely about why so many New Year’s resolutions don’t lead to healthier habits, but to mid-January guilt — because even when we know better, we make bad decisions. 

 

 



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Why is Healthcare So Expensive? We Ask an Expert

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Dec 29, 2015


When Mary sat down with Zeke Emanuel, one of the main architects of the Affordable Care Act, she basically wanted to know one thing: if the ACA was supposed to revolutionize healthcare, how come she still can’t understand her medical bills?

Even though he’s an oncologist, bioethicist, and healthcare wonk, Dr. Emanuel still struggles to navigate the system. Arcane hospital bills stump him, too. So if patients aren’t to blame for not understanding medical costs, is there anything we can do? Emanuel suggests that we start looking closely at the number of medical tests we sign up for.

Take the PSA blood test for prostate cancer: it prevents a very small number of deaths, and often results in overdiagnosis. Some doctors disagree with him, but Emanuel sees it as a totally unnecessary expense that can lead to even more costs. He has never wanted one for himself, yet he’s been given the test twice — without being aware of it. When a doctor called to give him his results, Dr. Emanuel slammed the phone down before hearing them. He believes the PSA leads to unnecessary worry — and, more importantly, unnecessary treatment for men in this country.

This week, Dr. Emanuel talks about what you can do to be a smarter consumer of healthcare, and the ways the system might be slowly changing to help all of us — doctors, hospitals, insurers, and patients — understand cost better.

 



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Patients and Doctors Fess Up

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Dec 22, 2015


This episode originally aired October 20, 2015.

Back in October, we asked you to share your health confessions with us. The secrets about your health, or the gambles you take. Many of you tweeted your confessions using #OnlyHuman, and you can see them in a gallery we’ve created here.  

It turns out you guys have all kinds of vices. Some of you eat the wrong things, some of you use drugs, and some of you are guilty of sins of omission: details you’d rather not tell your doctor.

Debra told us that she did not tell anyone when she bought a plane ticket to Tijuana to get a gastric sleeve, a weight reduction procedure, because her American doctor refused to do it. Christian (not his real name) called to tell us that he feared losing his driver’s license if he was honest with his doctor about his seizures, which are starting to increase in frequency. When we first aired this episode, some listeners expressed concern that Christian’s secret might put others in harm’s way.

So we asked two neurologists: is it reckless for a person with Christian’s condition to drive? They both suggested that probably not — but he could be putting himself at risk. They told us poorly controlled seizures can increase the risk of memory problems, and of a condition called Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy.

When we hide things from our doctors, are they onto us?

“I wouldn’t call it lying,” said Dr. Henry Lodge, an internist at Columbia University Medical Center. “It’s very hard to share things that we feel uncomfortable about.”  In this episode, we go to that uncomfortable place, and hear stories from patients — as well as doctors — as they discuss the mistakes, mishaps, and near fatal errors that happen between doctor and patients.

This episode features: Dr. David Bell, Dr. Christine Laine, Dr. Henry Lodge, Dr. Owen Muir, and Dr. Danielle Ofri.

 

What are you afraid to tell your doctor? Is there something about your health that you keep from your family and friends? Comment below, send an email to onlyhuman@wnyc.org, or leave us a voicemail at (803) 820-WNYC (9692).

 



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Putting Care Back in the ICU

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Dec 15, 2015


Does a more humane hospital make a safer hospital? That’s a question Johns Hopkins is grappling with — and Dr. Peter Pronovost believes the answer is yes.

Dr. Pronovost is a critical care physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He’s known best for innovating an approach to patient safety a decade ago with something really simple: checklists. Preventable death rates at hospitals are high. Infections from central lines, the catheters inserted into major veins to let doctors administer drugs and draw blood more easily, are estimated to account for more than 60,000 deaths per year — about as many as breast and prostate cancer deaths combined. Dr. Pronovost created a checklist of five simple precautions to follow — such as washing hands, draping the patient in a sterile sheet — and brought the infections rate down to almost zero.

Now, Dr. Pronovost wants to tackle all preventable risks in the hospital, such as ventilator-related infections, blood clots, and delirium. Johns Hopkins is calling this experiment Project Emerge. For the past year and a half, doctors and nurses in an intensive care unit at the hospital have been using a tablet app that automatically runs a patient’s medical records through different electronic checklists — and then flags any risk. The goal is to make it impossible to miss a dangerous mistake.

Project Emerge does something else too — it makes humane care a top priority. The system flags “disrespect of a patient” or a “mismatch of goals” for a patient’s care. Johns Hopkins is testing the theory that safety and empathy go hand in hand — and whether they can engineer more humane care in the hospital.

 



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Let's Talk About Death

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Dec 08, 2015


Bishop Gwendolyn Phillips Coates is on a mission. She’s a preacher in a small church in South Los Angeles, and she’s made it her job to get her congregation prepared for one thing: death.

Bishop Coates has lost two husbands and both parents, so she knows first hand how important it is to tell your loved ones what you want at the end of your life. “Having the conversation is not a death sentence, having a conversation is one of the greatest gifts that you can give to someone,” she says. But getting people to think ahead about end of life care is a tall order. Especially in the African American community, where a history of exploitation by the medical establishment lingers, such as the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment started in the 1930s.

Far fewer African American patients get hospice care or have advance directives than white patients. “The distrust of the medical profession means that I’m not sure that my doctor always has my best interests at heart,” Coates says. And that distrust, she says, makes people push for every last treatment.

“I’ve seen people who have had absolutely excruciating, horrible deaths, who have died on dialysis machines, who have died in so much pain.”  Bishop Coates is convinced that talking about the inevitable from the pulpit can help ease that suffering. And that, she thinks, can make living better too.

 



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Your Brain On Sound

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Dec 01, 2015


When Rose* was growing up, she knew something wasn’t quite right about how she heard the world. She says it felt like she was isolated by an invisible wall. But when she got typical hearing tests at an audiologist’s office? She aced them, every time.

Rose’s problem was particularly bad in noisy places. “It doesn’t take much,” she says. “It could be five computers in a room and a bunch of shuffling around — you lose me at that point.”

It took Rose years, and plenty of doctors’ visits, to figure out what was happening. And when she did find out, it was thanks to the persistence of Professor Nina Kraus.

Kraus runs an auditory neuroscience laboratory at Northwestern University. For decades, Kraus has been conducting research on Rose and other patients like her to learn just how vital our brains are to understanding sound. And she discovered how hearing difficulties can be a marker for all types of neurological issues — autism, dyslexia, learning delays — that have nothing to do with our ears.

*not her real name

How our brain translates sound can have a profound impact on how we understand the world around us. Find out more here. 

 



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Listen Up! The Big Turkey in the Sky

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Nov 24, 2015


It’s not a coincidence that we decided to tackle listening right before a big holiday, when a lot of us are about to spend time with family. After all, sometimes the people we love the most can be the hardest to listen to — and that can make for contentious conversation (unless you’ve got Adele to save you).

So we’re rounding out Only Human’s Listen Up project with some guidance to navigating the dialogue at your Thanksgiving dinner table. Henry Alford, who writes about manners for the New York Times, had heard about so many family trainwrecks during the holidays. And he started wondering, what would people who deal with serious conflict have to say about getting through a challenging family gathering? He called up the experts: crisis negotiators.

Some strategies he heard from the FBI: saying sorry even when you might not be, and acknowledging differing opinions without actually disagreeing. But what these techniques really boil down to is being attentive and thoughtful.

“The person who can come up to me a year later and say, ‘How’s your cat?’ or ‘How did your mother’s surgery go?’ Just any little bit of emotional recall, that’s hugely flattering,” Alford explains. We all want to be listened to, but we’re not great listeners. So this Thanksgiving make sure to offer the mashed potatoes, as well as an attentive ear.

 

Did you use any of our Listen Up! strategies at your Thanksgiving table?  Tell us. Leave a comment here or Tweet us @onlyhuman, using #ListenUp.

 



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Listen Up! Day 5: Yes, And... !

Author: WNYC Studios
Fri, Nov 20, 2015


It’s day five of Only Human’s Listen Up! bootcamp week. You’ve made it to our final challenge, which ties together everything you’ve learned from this past week. If you’re here for the first time, you can catch up on our previous challenges here.

The Challenge: First have a conversation where every response starts with “No.” Then, have another conversation and start every response with “Yes, but.” Finally, have a “Yes, and” conversation.

When you’re in a situation where you have to collaborate with other people, it’s easy to get stuck in a sludge of unproductivity. We all have ideas, suggestions, and strong opinions--and everyone wants the opportunity to voice their own. But the way we respond to the ideas of others — down to the very words we choose — can make all the difference.

So we’re borrowing an exercise from the world of improv comedy, “Yes, And… ,” which is used to keep conversation flowing. Instead of shutting down the other person’s ideas with “no” or “but,” you build upon them. Imagine an improv scene where actors didn’t listen to each other: you would have one person pretending to be an astronaut on Mars, and the other pretending to be a snowman. It would be total chaos.

“Yes, And-ing is more of a concept of life, and being open and free of judgement,” explains Molly Lloyd of improv theatre Upright Citizens Brigade, which was started by Amy Poehler and friends. You might remember Lloyd from the very funny (and sadly true) comedy sketch, “Everyone’s Upstairs Neighbor.” The improv comedienne and teacher, who guides us through this week’s challenge, encourages developing this “muscle of ‘yes, and-ing’” and using it when it’s appropriate. “When you’re building on each other’s ideas,” says Lloyd, “you just never know to what heights you may rise.”

So if you’re collaborating with others on something, say like a podcast, definitely use “Yes, and…” But if all that idea building takes you somewhere completely crazy… you didn’t hear it from us.

Molly Lloyd and Achilles Stamatelaky appear with the improv group Airwolf every Saturday night at the UCB East Village theatre.

 

We’d love to know if this leads to any great or ridiculous conversations! We might include them in our next podcast. Tweet us @onlyhuman or leave us a voicemail at (803) 820-WNYC.



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Listen Up! Day 4: Memorize This!

Author: WNYC Studios
Thu, Nov 19, 2015


It’s Day Four of our Listen Up! bootcamp week. Today we’re putting your memory to the test. And if you’re here for the first time, you can catch up on our previous challenges here.

Today’s Challenge: Listen to our podcast with today's guest Joshua Foer. Then apply Foer's memory trick in our quiz at the bottom of the page. It includes a video, where you’ll be introduced to several people, and questions about them. And if you’ve got an occasion today to meet lots of people, try it out in real life. Let us know how you do!

If you have to make something memorable, you have to make it weird. At least for information lacking much context — like meeting a lot of new people at once. Memory champion and science journalist Joshua Foer is well-acquainted with this common challenge: you’re at an event where you don’t know anyone; introductions are made; you forget their names ten minutes later.

When Foer was a contestant at the US Memory Championship, he had to memorize a whole batch of faces and names. While training for this event, he learned that associating people’s names with an image helped his memory — and the weirder the picture, the more it stuck in his mind. Listen to today’s podcast to find out how he did it.

The good news is that memory can be learned, and it’s a skill you can work on. But Foer also reminds us of the importance of paying attention, and — remember yesterday’s episode? — caring a little more.

How did you do? What was the weirdest mental image you came up with to memorize a name? Tweet us @onlyhuman or leave us a voicemail at (803) 820-WNYC.



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Listen Up! Day 3: Take a Breather

Author: WNYC Studios
Wed, Nov 18, 2015


You’ve made it to Day 3 of our Listen Up! bootcamp week. Thanks for sticking with us. If you’re here for the first time, it’s not too late. Here’s how to participate.

The Challenge: Take three minutes of silence by yourself. Do it before before you head off to work, or before an important conversation. Tune in to your breathing or the layers of sound you hear, like the drip of the coffee maker, or the traffic outside.

Silence gives your ears and your mind a chance to recalibrate. So often we scramble to fill up that space with something, anything. But the best listeners know when others just need to be heard.

It’s something Ken Feinberg relies on to do his job. He’s the lawyer and mediator who oversaw the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. He had a similar role after the massacre at Virginia Tech, the Sandy Hook shootings, and the Boston Marathon bombing.  Feinberg has listened to countless stories from victims' families — stories full of grief, anger, resentment — and then has the difficult task of having to put a dollar amount on that loss.

After one exchange with a man who had lost a son during 9/11, Feinberg learned an important lesson:

"Without thinking, I said to this man, 'Mr. Jones, This is just terrible. I know how you feel.' He looked at me, tears coming down his cheeks. He said, 'Mr. Feinberg, you have a tough job. But I have some friendly advice.  Don’t tell anybody like me that you know how I feel. Mr. Feinberg, you have no idea how I feel.'" 

Truly empathetic listening, Feinberg says, is not just about saying the right thing, but knowing when the other person just needs to be heard. And one thing that helps give people an empathetic ear? A little solitude.

"I think contemplation and silence while you sort out life’s dilemmas is a positive. It certainly is for me," Feinberg says.

So take a breather. Even better take a few. The more often the better.

How hard is it to find your three minutes? Where does your mind go during that time? And most important: does taking three minutes help you in the conversations you’re having today?Tweet us @onlyhuman or leave a voicemail at (803) 820-WNYC.

 



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Listen Up! Day 2: Mirror, Mirror

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Nov 17, 2015


Welcome to day two of Only Human's Listen Up! bootcamp week. If you're here for the first time, here's how to participate.

The Challenge: Find a friend, stand face to face, and reflect the other person like you’re standing in front of a mirror. If they smile, you smile back. If they frown, you frown. Pay attention to your partner and reflect back what you see. Fall in sync, and move together.

Watch Only Human's Mary Harris and Paige Cowett demonstrate "mirroring":

Okay, we know it seems strange to talk about body language for a listening challenge. We don't listen to body movements or facial expressions. But we would be missing a whole lot of information if we ignored them. Plus, your own body language during conversation communicates a lot, even affecting how well someone tells a story to you.

So we took a page from some experts on body language: actors. Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan performs two very different types of characters in the smash hit musical Hamilton. Being able to read and “mirror” the body language of others is one of the keys to Onaodowan’s success on stage — and it also helps him better understand and empathize with people in his everyday life.

Fay Simpson teaches movement at the Tisch School's graduate acting program at NYU. She developed a physical training method for actors called The Lucid Body, and often has her students “mirror” each other as a frequent exercise in the studio. “When you understand body language,” Simpson explains, “you understand the intention of someone, what they want from you.”

 

Do the mirroring exercise with a partner, then tell us what it was like for you. Did you get past the awkwardness? Did you learn something about your partner? Leave us a voicemail at (803) 820-WNYC or send a voice memo to onlyhuman@wnyc.org 

To make sure you hear every challenge, subscribe to the Only Human podcast on iTunes or anywhere else using our RSS feed.



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Listen Up! Day 1: Face-to-Face

Author: WNYC Studios
Mon, Nov 16, 2015


The Challenge: Today, if someone starts an important conversation with you on text or email, respond in person.  In a pinch, make it a phone call. Then tell us how your day went! Call us, of course, and leave a voicemail at (803) 820-WNYC. Or send us a voice memo at onlyhuman@wnyc.org.

To kick off our listening bootcamp week, we first want you to create more opportunities to listen.

We have so many ways to connect digitally that we don't have to use our listening skills as often — and sometimes we prefer it that way. Even just the presence of your phone will affect your in-person interactions. But while we might feel the pull of digital communication when we're offline, we also know that online messages can often be harder to decipher.

Beatrice de Gelder, a professor of neuroscience and psychology, says reading the words of someone's message is easy, but understanding them? That's "a whole different ball game." We miss a lot of crucial information — facial expressions, tone, gestures — when we keep our conversations to text or email.

The comedian and MTV "Decoded" host Franchesca Ramsey has mastered the art of finding humor in serious topics — and getting her audience to listen. But she says our infatuation with the internet can make us poor listeners. "Especially because social media's all like, 'Here's what I'm thinking, here's what I'm eating...'' Ramsey explains, "like every single thing online is about me, me, me, rather than an actual conversation." 

Watch an episode of MTV's "Decoded" below, and be sure to check out Franchesca's weekly podcast "Last Name Basis."

To make sure you hear every challenge, subscribe to the Only Human podcast on iTunes or anywhere else using our RSS feed.



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Dreaming of a Deaf Utopia

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Nov 10, 2015


When Marvin Miller was growing up in small town Michigan, it never occurred to him that his family was the only deaf family in town. If new neighbors moved in, he wondered what was wrong with them if they didn't know sign language. It was only as he got older did he realize that his situation was the exceptional one.

That's when he started to dream of starting an all sign language town; a town where everyone from the mayor to the garbage collector would know how to sign, and being deaf would be the norm.

When he was in his early 30s, he started to realize his dream by optioning 380 acres of farmland in McCook County, South Dakota to establish Laurent, a town named after Laurent Clerc, a 19th century deaf educator.

Not everyone was thrilled with the idea. Some locals were concerned about having a community that spoke a foreign language so close by. But ultimately, the idea of Laurent was embraced.

So what happened?

Tune into Only Human to find out.

Special thanks to KSFY, the ABC affiliate in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Peter Musty; Kaitlin Luna and Professor Patrick Boudreault of Gallaudet University; NPR; WBUR's Curt Nickisch; NYC Municipal Archives and to WNYC archivist Andy Lanset. 



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A Deaf Composer Holds Out for Science

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Nov 03, 2015


Jay Alan Zimmerman discovered he was losing his hearing when he was in his early 20s, trying to make it as a musician on Broadway in New York. As his hearing worsened, Jay considered other professions, but ultimately he couldn't imagine a life without music.

Recently, Jay found out about some experimental medical research that could make it possible for him to get his hearing back. In the late 1980s, researchers discovered that chickens could do something unexpected: if their hearing is damaged, they can regenerate the ability to hear again. Since then, scientists have been trying to figure out how the process works and if the same kind of regeneration might be possible in humans. Now, the very first clinical trials are underway to regenerate the damaged hair cells in people with hearing loss.

Jay has to decide if he wants to be a part of the experimental phase of this new treatment, or if the potential risks are too great. Meanwhile, he's found ways to keep composing with the little bit of hearing he has left.

 

This is the first episode of our series focusing on how we experience the world with and without sound. Have you had your hearing checked lately? Check out our Listen Up! project and join us in our endeavor to become better listeners.



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Who Are You Calling 'Inspiring'?

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Oct 27, 2015


Our friend Max Ritvo passed away August 23, 2016. We learned so much from our conversations with him, and we hope that this interview gives you a sense of the beauty — and humor — he saw in the world. 

At 24, Max Ritvo has a lot going for him. He's a gifted poet with a teaching job at Columbia University and a manuscript that he's shopping to publishers. He's a new husband. He's a comic in a darkly funny experimental improv group. But he's also a cancer patient whose prognosis isn't good.

Max was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma when he was 16. He got the news after going to the hospital with a fever and a pain in his side. The doctors at first thought it was pneumonia — but then Max woke up in the cancer ward.

"I remember thinking, 'This is so terrible! I'm just a young, acrobatic, wiry, handsome bloke of sixteen!'" he says. "'And they must have run out of beds elsewhere, and they're putting this virile healthy young man with a great crop of hair among all these decrepit old people with cancer milling about. And it's so sad for them.'"

Max finds humor not only in the hard story of his diagnosis, but also the way we talk about illness. He jokingly calls himself an "inspiring cancer survivor." It's a genuine effort to make us laugh — and it's a reminder that we should be better and smarter than the usual platitudes.

Watch Max's "guide to health, fitness and fun."

 

Many of you listening have your own experiences with cancer — and the experience is different for everyone. Tell us your story. Leave a comment here or visit our Facebook page.



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Patients and Doctors Fess Up

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Oct 20, 2015


A couple of weeks ago we asked you to share your health confessions with us. The secrets about your health, or the gambles you take. Many of you tweeted your confessions using #OnlyHuman, and you can see them in a gallery we’ve created here.  

It turns out you guys have all kinds of vices. Some of you eat the wrong things, some of you use drugs, and some of you are guilty of sins of omission: details you’d rather not tell your doctor.

Christian (not his real name) called to tell us that he feared losing his driver’s license if he was honest with his doctor about his seizures, which are starting to increase in frequency. Debra told us that she did not tell anyone when she bought a plane ticket to Tijuana to get a gastric sleeve, a weight reduction procedure, because her American doctor refused to do it.

Do doctors know we’re not always telling the truth?

“I wouldn’t call it lying,” said Dr. Henry Lodge, an internist at Columbia University Medical Center. “It’s very hard to share things that we feel uncomfortable about.”

In this episode, we go to that uncomfortable place, and hear stories from patients — as well as doctors — as they discuss the mistakes, mishaps, and near fatal errors that happen between doctor and patients. 

This episode features: Dr. David Bell, Dr. Christine Laine, Dr. Henry Lodge, Dr. Owen Muir, and Dr. Danielle Ofri.

 

What are you afraid to tell your doctor? What do you keep even from your own family and friends? Tell us. Comment below, send an email to health@wnyc.org, or leave us a voicemail at (803) 820-WNYC (9692). 



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Your Sanity or Your Kidneys

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Oct 13, 2015


Jaime Lowe started taking lithium when she was 17, after a manic episode landed her in a psychiatric ward. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and for more than 20 years, the drug has been her near-constant companion. She's taken it for so long that she can't say for sure where she ends and lithium begins.

“It’s hard to know if lithium is actually — like, if it dampens my personality, or if it normalizes my personality, or if it allows me to just sort of be who I am,” she says.

Jaime has tried to go off of lithium only once, in her mid-20s, and the result was not good.

She developed grand delusions. She would start an organization to defend the First Amendment. She would marry a friend she only recently met. She would change the world. She sent wild emails to would-be employers, adorned herself with glitter and stacks of necklaces, and barely slept.

When she finally pulled herself back together again, Jaime made a resolution. She’d stick with lithium. And that worked — until she learned last year that her long-term lithium use has taken a physical toll. It’s damaged her kidneys. Now, she faces a choice that’s not much of choice at all: an eventual kidney transplant, or going off the drug that has kept her sane all these years.

 

Have your mental and physical health ever collided? Tell us. Comment below, send an email to health@wnyc.org, or leave us a voicemail at (803) 820-WNYC (9692). 



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Keep the Baby, Get the Chemo

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Oct 06, 2015


For our first episode of Only Human, our host, Mary Harris, shares her own story of when her health changed her life.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I had just decided to try for a second kid when something really unexpected happened.

Something felt off in my left breast. “Is that a lump?” my husband asked.  

“No way,” I said quickly. I’d just gotten a breast exam at my OB’s office, and I was 35. It seemed impossible that what we’d felt was anything to worry about.

A mammogram, an ultrasound, and a biopsy later, we learned how wrong we were. I had breast cancer.

Then, a few weeks later, as I was getting ready for a lumpectomy, we learned something else. We’d managed to get pregnant.  

It was what we wanted. But the timing? Terrible.

As I went through surgery and got ready for chemo, I taped the conversations I was having — with my husband, Mark, and my five-year-old son, Leo, and with doctors I consulted.

A note about this story: getting a cancer diagnosis during pregnancy is rare, but doctors think there will be more patients like me. Women are having babies later, and cancer is getting diagnosed earlier. More and more, these trendlines intersect.

My hope is that by hearing my story, other women who find themselves in this situation will realize that something that seems impossible might not be.  

Do you have a "health confession" to share with us?  Leave a comment below, email us at health@wnyc.org, or leave us a voicemail at (803) 820-WNYC, and we might use your story on the show.

Special thanks this week to Jad Abumrad, Emily Botein, Theodora Kuslan, Delaney Simmons, Sahar Baharloo, and Lee Hill.



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Welcome to 'Only Human'

Author: WNYC Studios
Tue, Sep 22, 2015


A deaf composer gets a shot at hearing again. A woman with bipolar disorder tries going off her usual medication. Our host finds out she has breast cancer—and is pregnant—at the same time. 

This is Only Human, a new podcast from WNYC Studios. Health is something we often choose to ignore—until it hits us in the face. Only Human is a show that isn’t afraid to have those uncomfortable conversations, or experiment with possible solutions. Hosted by Mary Harris, Only Human tells stories we all can relate to. Because every body has a story.

Join us every week, starting October 6. And subscribe to us on iTunes by clicking here



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