Ivory Towers: Beware Voracious Shredder Syndrome

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The Independent Culture
AMERICANS, to judge from their medical journals, seem to suffer from many more interesting diseases than the English. It was the New England Journal of Medicine that reported, in 1978, a case involving a bad relapse of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (also known as Kwok's Disease) caused by eating a bowl of wonton soup. In 1977, the same journal published 'Coffee, alcohol and risk of coronary heart disease among Japanese men living in Hawaii', and, for those with a taste for softer drinks, gave us 'The effect of 'Coke' on sperm motility' in 1985.

That paper, by S A Umpierre, J A Hill and D J Anderson, gave the results on samples of human sperm of being left in Coca-Cola for a minute. The results showed that while Classic Coke had been a good spermicidal agent, New Coke was considerably less effective, but diet Coke was best of all.

'We do not promote Coca-Cola for medicinal purposes,' a company spokesman was quoted as saying. 'It is a soft drink.'

The Journal of the American Medical Association brought us, in 1972, 'Paroxysmal sneezing following orgasm', a case study for which no physiological explanation could be offered, and, in the May 1993 issue, they try to put us off drink again with 'An outbreak of diarrhoea and haemolytic uremic syndrome from Escherichia coli O157:H7 in fresh- pressed apple cider' (by Besser, Lett, Weber, Doyle, Barrett, Wells and Griffin).

Back in New England in 1992, we have had Kellerman, Rivara, Somes, Reay, Francisco, Banton, Prodzinski, Fligner and Hackman ganging up to demonstrate that Americans with guns in their homes are more likely to commit suicide than those without, while Etzendorfer, Sonneck and Nagel-Kuess, in a separate article, point out that the Viennese are less likely to commit suicide on the subway if newspapers print less lurid and shorter reports of such deaths.

Having put us off soup, soft drinks, sex, cider and shotguns, the New England Journal of Medicine rounds off its killjoy coverage with a case of a trombonist who developed an abscess in his throat and is now considering a switch to percussion instruments, and a terrifying tale of an officer manager whose tie was caught in the shredder ('Voracious Shredder Syndrome', 4 February 1993, letter from M Douglas Brockman, MD) 'Fortunately, he is a rather quick thinker and blindly engaged the 'off' button as his chin contacted the surface of the machine. The patient was extracted by a senior physician using standard office scissors to separate and excise the offending cravat.' The psychological trauma, however, has left him permanently afficted with a need to wear bow ties.

'Of course,' the writer ends, 'a proper tie clasp should theoretically prevent such catastrophes.'