STRANGE BUT TRUE- Dr. Dog: Bowzer helps bid blues bye-bye


Q. Do dogs have a role in psychotherapy? –L. C. Giannini

A. Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, certainly felt they do, and kept a chow-chow Jo-Fi in the room during sessions, says psychologist Stanley Coren in What Do Dogs Know? As a judge of the human state of mind, the dog would lie down nearby relaxed patients but across the room from those who seemed tense. It's been said that Freud put a lot of stock in these reads. 

Another key Jo-Fi function: Sensing a session's hour was up, the dog would unerringly get up and move toward the office door. Maybe Freud was on to something, as recent studies have confirmed the relaxing effect of pets, and one even showed dog owners live longer and require less medical attention.

Q. What common affliction has at various times been cured–or not cured– by pushing on closed eyelids, pulling on or spoon-pressing the tongue, putting fingers in the ears, massaging the rectum or diaphragm, swallowing dry bread crumbs or sugar, eating ice, sucking on a lemon, sipping water, burping, breathing into a paper bag, holding the breath, or being scared by a sudden loud noise– boo? –W. B. Hickock

A. The hic-hic-hiccups (hiccoughs), or involuntary spasms of the diaphragm, triggered by overeating, over-drinking, nerves, or rarely disease. Exact cause is unknown. Hiccups occur singly, or they can repeat for– the Guinness record– 69 years! Most creative cure, tried on a guy who had been going for over an hour: "I'll give you $5 if you hiccup again right now." He didn't hiccup again for two weeks.

Q. If a huge vat were filled somehow with human stomach acid and an automobile dropped in, would it dissolve? Assume the vat doesn't dissolve. –H. Ford

A. The hydrochloric acid of the human digestive process is so strong it will easily eat through a cotton handkerchief and even through the iron of a car body, says Isaac Asimov in his Book of Facts. The stomach walls themselves are protected by a thin film of sticky mucus. In one actual case, says Daybreak magazine of the University of California-San Francisco, a penny swallowed four days earlier by a two-year-old was found riddled with holes, and an ulcer had developed where the coin was lodged. 

Most swallowed coins pass harmlessly, but in some cases the metals react with the acid to form toxic substances that cause inflammation. Curiously, U.S. pennies minted after 1982– of mostly zinc– have been found to cause more stomach damage than earlier ones– 95 percent copper, only 5 percent zinc. Coins made of nickel do little harm in this way.

Q. Let's hear it for amniotic fluid! This little-appreciated intrauterine stuff the embryo floats in is a big part of the fetal bliss and relaxation so popularly envisioned. Detail its remarkable features. –U.G. Turner

A. Floating is the key, secret swimmer in a secret sea, the embryo is lightened by liquid buoyancy and would be able to do nothing if this were not true, for "no newborn, not even the future Arnold Schwartzeneggers of this world, is able to stand or even sit up at birth, let alone do the gymnastics that the mother can so easily feel it carrying out in the womb," says David Bodanis in The Body Book.  

No hot bath, beach or heated Jacuzzi can come close to the sense of gentle surround this fluid affords, for it is swallowed and "breathed" by the embryo, in a way that even scuba divers cannot breathe the water in which they float.

Frequent bladder-emptyings into the fluid pose no problem, as the urine is diluted to non-irritating levels and then carried away, ultimately via the umbilical cord and placenta back to Mom's own blood, kidneys and bladder.

Finally, amniotic fluid is a shock-absorber nonpareil– with experimental mouse fetuses able to withstand up to 3,000 G's– so countless abdomen bangings from falls, carpet slips or car accidents are far more likely to injure Mom than the embryo, "who sits them out, floating peacefully away from the shocks, safe and weightless in its warm womb."

Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at