Mr. Mom: George craves pickles

Q. What might lead a guy to think he's pregnant? ­M. Jackson

 A. Oh, the usual things: abdominal swelling and discomfort, morning nausea, unusual food cravings, breast enlargement– all reported by patient "George" to Deirdre Barrett of the Harvard Medical School, author of The Pregnant Man & Other Cases from a Hypnotherapist's Couch.

Barrett knew of false pregnancies in women, who stop menstruating and show all the outward signs. Even some husbands of pregnant women experience symptoms, such as strong stomach cramps during the wife's labor, but these men don't think they're pregnant.

George was different. Full-blown false male pregnancies are rare, and his seemed to have begun after a stop-smoking session with a hypnotist. "Picture the person you would like to be," the therapist had directed, and for George a pregnant woman popped into mind. From a tabloid, he had gotten the idea about a male possibly carrying a fertilized egg, and had latched onto the hope of somehow being a hermaphrodite with hidden female organs.

George's gay lover had recently died, and now George imagined he was carrying the man's baby. But he was pragmatic enough to accept the outcome of the medical tests: no actual pregnancy.

At this, George's abdomen began to shrink, and a few weeks later he announced to Barrett: "I'm not pregnant anymore." His new guiding imagery was of a woman after childbirth, and this he said was helping him work through missing his lover. "But I kind of wish I had kept the breasts," he said.

 

Q. Heard the latest on vampires? Seems they really existed– sort of. So where does that put Count Dracula? ­B. Stoker

 A. He and the others just may have gone the way of rabies, a disease largely banished by modern medicine, says Dr. Juan Gomez-Alonso in the journal Neurology. Vampire stories may go back many centuries, but their modern form arose after a major rabies outbreak in central Europe in the early 18th century.

Check out this intriguing circumstantial evidence:

* Vampires bite people; so do 25 percent of men with rabies.

* Vampires seduce women; rabies patients are often hypersexual, in some cases having sex 30 times a day.

* Dracula appeared on moonlit balconies; rabies patients often have disturbed sleep cycles, and insomnia.

* Vampires shun mirrors and garlic; rabies patients are hypersensitive to strong stimuli, such as lights, mirrors, garlicky odors. The mirror connection is so strong, says Gomez-Alonso, that in the past, a man was not considered rabid if he could stand to see his reflection.

* Where there are vampires, there are often wolves and bats-two animals that can contract rabies and pass it on through bloody bites.

 

Q. What'd they use for toilet paper in 10,000 B.C.? ­Mr. Whipple

 A. Depends on who they were, says Indiana University anthropologist Della Cook. Chimpanzees will clean up with leaves, so likely that was the first human toilet "paper."

By 12,000 years ago, people were culturally diverse, and hygiene is one of those issues on which people diverge most! Toilet paper is a fairly recent introduction to the Western world. Paper was first invented in China, and in his book Science and Civilization in China, Joseph Needham says paper wipes were already in use by the 6th century A.D., when debate ensued over whether this showed disrespect for any text printed thereon. Needham also cites an Arab traveler to China who found the practice astonishing, and less aesthetic than water.

The Greeks and Romans favored fountain water in public latrines– forerunner of the bidet, says Cook. "So people living around the Mediterranean 12,000 years ago probably used water, while other cultures surely had other customs."

 

Q. The Greek philosopher Aristotle possessed one of the most brilliant minds in history. But he didn't get it right regarding women's teeth, did he? ­J. Roberts

 A. First-fast forward 2,000 years after Aristotle to find Galileo atop the Leaning Tower of Pisa for his famous 16th century object-drop experiment. Everyone at the time believed heavy objects fall faster than light ones, but all it took was a five-minute demo to disprove this, say V.S. Ramachandran et al. in Phantoms in the Brain.

So why didn't anybody think to test this before?

Because while we take science for granted today, the experimental method is basically so foreign to human thinking that many of Galileo's colleagues dismissed his experiments even after seeing them with their own eyes!

Now wind back to Aristotle, one of whose longstanding beliefs was that men have more teeth than women. But "all he would have needed to do to verify or refute this theory was to ask a number of men and women to open their mouths so he could count their teeth," Ramachandran notes.

Send strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at

strangetrue@compuserve.com.