Puffery: One bite and you're half dead

Q. At a restaurant in Japan, what's the most death-defying item on the menu? Would-not-be zombies– beware! ­-Michiko Kogo

 A. You'd have to bet on the Puffer Fish, that same one brought to fame by Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis a few years back when he argued that a poison of this fish was at least partly responsible for the creation of Haitian zombies.

The thesis got some bad reviews in anthropological circles, but Davis certainly did put the Puffer on the Western ethnomap, along with its poison "tetrodotoxin" (TTX), said to be 500 times deadlier than cyanide, fatal except in minuscule doses, causing severely depressed metabolic functions and apparent death.

It had long been on the food map in Japan, where the Puffer Fish is a delicacy known as fugu: The meat is delicious but tough to prepare without contamination by traces of TTX, which causes several deaths there a year, says Jakki Rowlett in the online You Think I Therefore Am? The Ethnobiology and Ethics of the Haitian Zombie: "Very slight traces of TTX cause a tingling in the tongue and lips and this, together with the thrill of danger, may contribute to the popularity of fugu."

Eating the fish, you won't likely turn into a zombie, but don't rule out entering the Dead Zone if the stuff is improperly prepared.


Q. Is the story true of patients undergoing surgery but the anesthetic wears off and they wake up in time to feel the scalpel sinking in, but for some reason they can't cry out to halt the procedure? ­A.M. Woods

 A. It's a half truth, common with certain medical reports these days, say University of Washington anesthesiologist Christopher Bernards and neuroscientist Eric H. Chudler on The Neuroscientist Network. Awareness during surgery, though very rare, does occur. One reason is the patient may not tolerate the drug well, so the anesthesiologist keeps the amount down to avoid depressing the blood pressure to dangerous levels. Or the patient may have a history of alcoholism or abuse of valium or sleeping pills, making the brain resistant to the sedative effect of the anesthetic.

Distressing as such an awakening obviously would be, the patients usually say later that pain was not a problem, just extreme anxiety due to their being unable to move. Thank goodness for the standard muscle relaxant that induces temporary "paralysis," keeping bodily movements in check, say Bernards and Chudler. It also make muscles softer and easier to spread, such as relaxed abdominal muscles easily parted to expose the site of surgical interest.


Q. From a Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, reader: As world population increases, does the weight of the Earth go up? –Atlas

 A. Planetary weight gain is occurring, but not from people proliferation, answers physicist Paul Hewitt in Conceptual Physics: Ninth Edition. The atoms that make up our bodies are the same ones that were here on Earth before we were born– dust we are, and to dust we return.

We only borrow our atoms, taking them in from other things and beings, then passing them along. Atoms that were once a part of Albert Einstein are part of you now, and many that are part of you now "will live on forever in the bodies of all the people who are yet to be."

The atoms that make up a baby forming in its mother's womb come from the food that Mom eats, and long ago these atoms originated in stars, perhaps in distant galaxies. We are star stuff! But we are all recycling our bodily selves (via breathing, etc.) in Earth's neighborhood nowadays, and shall continue to do so for the time being at least.

However, as interplanetary dust "rains down" day after day, Earth's overall weight does increase, by about 40,000 tons annually. That's equivalent to the weight of a couple of loaded freighter ships– mere peanuts, really.

Send strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com