The Pulse: Things that made us go ‘Hmmm…’

    WHYY’s The Pulse celebrates its first birthday this week, capping off a year of the best in health, science and innovation. All this week, we’ve taken a look back at the best of The Pulse’s first year. So far we’ve looked at the science of food, animals, stories that inspired us with the wonder of it all, and everyday things. Today, things that made us go “Hmmm…”

    Science has its share of mysteries — unanswerable questions, unexplaninable phenomena, and things that just make you scratch your head. Today, a look at the stories that stumped us. 

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    1. Understanding the mechanics of anesthesia

    Anesthesia drugs are used in millions of patients every year, but do doctors really know how they work?

    “Surprisingly, even though we use anesthesia drugs with 250 million patients every year worldwide, and have been using it since 1850, we don’t know how they work,” explained Roderick Eckenhoff, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Pennsylvania. “We don’t know which molecular targets they engage, how they are altered, to produce what is really, a miracle; patients go to sleep, they don’t remember things, they don’t feel things, and most importantly, they wake up.”


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    2. ‘Fine’ is a matter of definition. Do surgeons downplay recovery times?

    During her more than two decades of medical practice, seeing patients before and after surgery, one doctor says she learned some important lessons about recovery.

    “It takes lot out of you…even minimally invasive surgery,” she explained. “It sets off a catabolic response, where the body perceives itself has having been attacked.”

    She says that a lot of patients feel very tired, experience pain, become depressed, or experience a loss of appetite for about six weeks. After six weeks, they are usually back to fully feeling like themselves.


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    3. Preserving memories 140 characters at a time after traumatic brain injury

    Twenty-nine year old Thomas Dixon has had a cell phone since middle school and has grown up in a web-connected world of social media and hand-held technology. So when a brain injury caused a serious, ongoing memory deficit, it didn’t take long for him to figure out how to use technology to create his own digital memory.

    He decided to create a private Twitter account that only he could see and access in order to “Tweet my own memory.”  

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