Exhausting Research

Not too long ago, my son needed to do some assignment about plants in his Biology class. He asked me for some input, knowing that I majored in Biology when I was in college. But my stock knowledge and what I remember was not enough, so I told him to look it up.

If that was me doing research in high school, 30 years ago, it would entail going to the library to search for the answers. Since our school’s library may not be complete, so that means I need to make a trip to the National Library in Kalaw near Luneta. It would take me some walking and two jeepney rides from our house in Sampaloc. But with Manila’s traffic, who knows how long would that trip be?

Once I am inside the National Library, I could ask the librarian at the help desk to assist me on the subject matter that I am researching, and she could search the card catalog and give me the list of books I needed to look for. If I feel that I could do it on my own, then I would head to the area where the cabinets of the card catalogs are, and search for the numbers of the books that may contain the subject matter. Usually I would like to list at least 3 books or more.


card catalog

Once I scribble in a small paper all the catalog numbers of the books I would like to get, which usually reads like this: SW 596 .C34 2016, then I would go to the area of the library where these books are located. I would be going up and down rows upon rows of books while looking for the specific numbered books. That may mean one book is located at one end of the library, while the other is on the opposite end, and one in a different floor.

After spending several minutes going aisle after aisle of books, only to find out that the book I am looking for is not available as somebody might be reading it, or have been checked out by another student looking for the same subject. Or worse, the book is available, but some naughty student tore up the pages that I needed to read. What a bummer!

However, if I am lucky and if all the stars align, all the books that I am looking for may all be available. Then I can take all the books, and find a table and read on the subject that I needed to research on. Or if I needed to go home and do the reading later, and if the books are allowed to be borrowed, I can go to the front desk and check out the books for a day or so.


typical library

Then maybe as I am heading out to the font desk to borrow the books, I would realize that I forgot my library card at home. Darn!

But wait, maybe I still can photocopy the pages I needed. So I would head out to the photocopying machine. Lucky enough I have some loose change in my pocket to pay for the xerox copies, though that means no more money for a soft drink and hopia. The photocopier is running out of ink, so the copies are so faint, but still I can read them, so that’s good enough.

All in all, to look for the particular subject in Biology that I needed to research on, it would take me at least half a day to accomplish this. That was my experience back in those days. Of course I could have just copied the assignment of my good classmate, but that’s not being a diligent student.

Back to my son, he went on to do his home work. He sat in front of our home computer and hopped into the internet. After querying  Dr. Google and after a few mouse clicks……voila! He got what he needed. It took him 15 minutes tops.

And they say doing research is hard.

(*photos taken from the web)

Breaking Wind

There was a story last week that broke like a wild-fire. Or more accurately it broke like a wild wind.

It was a story about a Swedish soccer player who was issued a red flag by the referee while he was playing in a football match. His offense? He “broke wind.” In simple terminology, he farted. The player, Adam Lindin Ljungkvist, claims that he had a “bad stomach” but was surprised and annoyed he was penalized for releasing bad air.

I know it may be inappropriate to fart in a public place nor it is prim and proper to do so in a polite company. But could it be an offense? Or a crime? Should we hold it in then?

There was a study not too long ago, published in New Zealand Medical Journal, that stated that you should not hold your fart in while in an airplane, but should “let it go.” No, the release of gas will not generate thrust nor help the buoyancy of the airplane. It has nothing to do with that. The issue is altitude can increase the gas content of the digestive system and it is not healthy to suppress the gas in.

Not healthy for the individual, you may say, but how about the health of the other passengers who would be exposed to the “polluted” air? Should gassy people be on the TSA’s No Fly list?

The authors of that particular study also suggest that airplane seat cushion should contain charcoal to help absorb and neutralize the smell. I would like this recommendation implemented.

What is the science behind fart? By the way, the term fart may not be decent to some, but it comes from the Old English “feortan” meaning “to break wind.”

Flatulence (that’s the medical term), is part of human living. We all fart. A normal person farts an average of more than 10 a day. Yes, women fart as often as men, they just may not be as proud of it. And for those who denies they fart, are either not telling the truth or not human.

Why do humans fart?

When we eat, drink or even when we clear our throat, we swallow tiny amounts of air which accumulates in our gut. When we digest the meal we ate, gas is also released from the breakdown of the food. As the gas builds up, the body may need to get rid of it. This we do by burping or by flatulence.


air release

The chemical makeup of the average fart is: 59% nitrogen, 21% hydrogen, 9% carbon dioxide, 7% methane and 4% oxygen which are all odorless. The gas that gives it a distinctive smell is hydrogen sulfide (sulfur) which is less than 1% of this released gas.

Many times, flatulence occurs and the person is unaware of it – there is no smell, and the amount is tiny. If food has not been digested properly, it starts to decompose or rot, releasing sulfur. Which can make it stinkier.

Foods that can cause flatulence are generally those high in certain polysaccharides. Examples of these are: beans (of course you know that already!), sweet potatoes (kamote), broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, radishes, and cauliflowers. Though we should not particularly avoid these foods for they are healthy and very nutritious.

Other food products that may cause flatulence are artificial sweeteners (sorbitol and mannitol), carbonated drinks, and fiber supplements. Chewing gums can cause flatulence not because of its content, but because you swallow more air when you chew gum.

There are also health conditions that predispose to flatulence, like lactose intolerance, celiac disease (intolerance to gluten), and other more serious chronic conditions like Chron’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Laxatives and antibiotics can also cause flatulence. Antibiotics do so by upsetting the normal intestinal bacterial flora.

How about the sound of a fart? That particular sound that we playfully simulate in a whoopee cushion, is not from the fart itself, but from the noise generated by the flapping of the butt cheeks as the wind passes through.

Apparently we are not the only civilization to appreciate the sounds of flatulence. Roman Emperor Elagabulus was known to trick his royal guests with a primitive version of the whoopee cushion.

What should you do when you “accidentally” broke wind while you’re in a crowd?

One, you can own up to it and ask for pardon, and explain that you had bean burrito for lunch. Most likely they’ll let it pass, for all of us pass gas. Or you can act as if nothing had happened and keep everybody guessing who’s the culprit. Or lastly you can act surprised but annoyed, then look suspiciously to someone beside you, and let others think it’s somebody else not you.

But what can you do if someone beside you farted? Should you run away?

According to a study by AsapScience, using the kinetic theory of gases, it figures that the smell particles of a fart can travel 243 meters per second, which is a lot faster than any human or animal can move. So sorry folks, you cannot outrun a fart!

Do you have more questions on this subject? The answer my friends may be blowing in the wind.

(*photo from the web)




A Stinky Cure

Several days ago, I was called to co-manage a patient that was admitted in the hospital. The patient was quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down, due to a neck injury he sustained several years ago.  Our service was consulted for he had a tracheostomy and has been on a home ventilator.

However, he was hospitalized not for a primary pulmonary issue. He was admitted for a scheduled transplant.

In this day and age of modern science, organ transplantation is almost an ordinary phenomenon. Kidney, liver, pancreas, heart, lung, bone marrow, cornea and skin are among others that are being transplanted. There’s even recent news reports of patients receiving total face transplant.

Not too long from now, brain transplant will be a reality. Do you need one?

But the patient that we were consulted was not scheduled for any of the organ transplant that I mentioned above. Do you care to guess what he was planned to have?

Spinal cord? Spleen? Appendix? Nah.

By the way, maybe someday we will find out what appendix are really for, and not just for the surgeons to operate on.

Back to our patient, what transplant did he need?

He underwent a fecal transplant.

Yes, you read it right. Feces, as in stool or poop. In vulgar term, sh*t.

But why you may ask, anybody needs a fecal transplant. Can’t they make their own poop?

Fecal transplant is now an available treatment for people who are suffering from severe and refractory Clostridium difficile infection. What the poop on earth is that?

Clostridium difficile is a bacteria. It’s infection can happen when a patient has been on antibiotics. The strong antibiotics that we use, kill the “bad” bacteria, but unfortunately, it can also kill the “good” bacteria we have in our colon. Yes, many of the bacteria in our body are considered “good” bacteria, especially in our gut, that keeps us healthy.

So once these good bacteria are killed, this can cause overgrowth of these super evil bugs, the Clostridium difficile, and they wage a coup d’ etat in the gut’s bacterial colony. This cause the problem. The takeover of these rogue bacteria is manifested by severe diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal bloating, fever and sometimes overwhelming sepsis, shock and even death.

Clostridium difficile can be treated with specific antibiotics, but then again, antibiotics are double edge sword as it may cause more problems. So one of the newer method to fight this is providing a new bacterial colony.

Thus the fecal transplant, or also known as fecal microbiota transplant. The good bacteria in the donated stools restores the healthy colony and community of bacteria in the colon.

Currently, there are undergoing studies evaluating this treatment for other gastrointestinal disorder besides Clostridium difficile infection.

How is it done? Do we tell them to eat sh*t? No, it’s more sophisticated than that.

The fecal material from a donor, is inoculated or sprayed directly inside the colon through a colonoscope. However, under development right now is fecal material in pill form. Poop pills! What a stinker.

Where do we get the donor feces? Good question.

The donors are healthy volunteers who out of the goodness of their hearts (or guts?) want to share their…..you know what. No kidding. My gastroenterologist friend told me that most of the donors of the fecal matter available in the US are from college students of a prestigious university in Cambridge.

Maybe you want to be a donor too. They may even pay you for your precious donation. Some people donate blood, and some donate sh*t.

poop in lab

(photo from usnews.com)

Fecal transplantation most of the time is done as an outpatient, and does not need hospitalization. However, since our patient was on a ventilator, it was felt that the rigorous colonic prep plus the conscious sedation during colonoscopy may be too taxing for him, so he was admitted for observation.

I would say he had a successful transplantation. He went home the next day, pooping happily ever after.

Impossible Dream

There was excitement in the room. The anticipation for the announcement of the seven chosen people for the special task was electrifying the mood.

Packing the room were top students from different schools. They were the cream of the crop (not crap), you would say. They have been preparing most of their lives for a chance of a lifetime to be picked for a mission like this.

I was in that room.

Finally the selection committee entered the room. The chattering inside the room suddenly died down. It was so quiet, I can hear my own breathing.

The first name that was called was a boy who was popular and well-respected by all of us. He was even-keeled and well-mannered. He had the traits of a good leader. He always greets me, calling me by my last name, whenever we meet. Him being chosen was not a surprise at all.

Then the second name was called. He came from my school. He was a kind of odd kid, not much of a conformer by the way he thinks. But I would say that he had some gleams of brilliance once in a while.

The third one that was called was someone who I really don’t know, except that she was a girl. She looks geeky to me. But maybe she was really intelligent, and that’s why she deserved to be chosen.

The next thing I heard was my name. My name! I can’t believe it! I was chosen!

Three more names were called after mine, but I was too excited that I did not pay attention to who they were. What was important is, I was among these selected few.

We were then asked to come to the front of the room – the chosen ones. As we stood there and were being introduced to the rest of the group, and the world, my mind was whirling and my thoughts were racing. All my efforts and hard work were paying off. Finally my dream was coming true.

While my eyes were welling up I gave a celebratory hug to the other chosen student standing next to me. It was the geeky girl. I whispered to her, “we are going to the moon.”

Yes, that was what we were chosen for. A mission to the moon……

Suddenly I woke up.

Nooooooo! Don’t tell me it was all a dream!

It was so vivid. I was caught up with all the excitement. The emotions. The euphoria. The feeling of triumph. How could it be a dream? It felt so real!

I was disappointed that it was just a dream.

Dreams they say reflects our pent-up emotions and our unrealized aspirations. It subconsciously shows our inner yearnings. Somehow they project our passions and fantasies.

However, I don’t think I particularly wished to be an astronaut or dreamed to go to the moon when I was a boy growing up in Manila. Besides, the Philippines has no space program like NASA. The closest we can get to are the crater-size potholes in our streets that mimic the moon surface. Though I know that there are Filipinos (past and current) in NASA.

Does my dream had any significance? Do I have dreams that have not been fulfilled yet? Does it mean that my ambitions are unreachable like the moon?


After waking up, it took me a few seconds to figure out where I was and who I am in this “current and real” life: I was in my bed, in my home here in Iowa. My wife was sleeping beside me, and my kids were in the nearby bedrooms.

I looked at the clock. It was 5:30 in the morning. I slowly got out of bed and gazed outside our bedroom window. It was still dark, but the full moon was bright and bathing softly the surrounding with its glow.

As I stare at the moon, I reflected on my childhood dreams. Then I realized, as the truth sank in – I have already gone to the moon.

(*photo from NASA)


My grade school teachers have taught me to mind my spelling. And over the years I would say that I became good at it, and I am particular that I don’t miss any misspelled words in my writings. My grammar may not be perfect (English is a second language to me), but my spelling is exemplary.

However, nowadays we have auto-correct and spell-check built-in in our computer programs, so it is not that hard to have a perfect spelling. Besides we are turned off reading an article if we see any misspelled words, and it is a poor reflection for the writer too.

But I have read a study from Cambridge University a few years ago that perfect spelling may not be that important to get our message across. In fact, according to the study, our brain can read jumbled words as long as the first and last letter are in the right place. Our brain interpret words not letter by letter, but by context. You don’t believe me?

I konw yuo’re cnotiniung to raed tihs aritcle and yuo’re now raednig jmubeld wrods. Preahps you cnanot beleive taht you are scnannig trhough tihs wtih esee, and undrestnading it wihtout mcuh prboelm too. It is qiute amzanig, rihgt?  Our brian can prefcetly decihper the msesage from this pargaraph even if it is a mses.

How can tihs mkae sesne wehn the wrods deos not mkae any sesne? I am not cetrain thoguh if tihs carzy phenmoneon is unviesral to all lagnuages. Waht if the wrtiten lagnuage deos not sepll wrods wtih letetrs, but uses chraatcers, lkie in Chniese? Deos any bdoy konw?


I geuss spelilng may not be taht importnat afetr all. My taechres in elmenetray shcool will be upest wtih me, tleling you taht. But tihs is sceinitfcially porven. And myabe by now, I aslo mdae a beleievr out of you.


I am not syaing taht we sohuld not mnid our seplling anyomre wehn we wirte. I am jsut   prvoing a fcat on how our brian fnuctoin. So nxet time, dno’t feel so bad if you hvae wrods speelld incroretcly, lkie it is the end of the wrold. We can stlil udnersatnd you.

Hvae a graet day!

(*I have to turn off the auto-correct function in my computer to write this article.)

Our Leaning Tree

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a famous structure in Italy for its unintended tilt to one side. It had been leaning for more than 800 years. The cause of the lean was determined to the fact that it was erected in a weak and unstable soil. It was leaning more than 5 degrees before the multimillion dollar restoration and stabilization in the past decade that reduced its lean to less than 4 degrees. Experts claimed that it will be stable for at least another 300 years.

In front of our house is a leaning tree. It has a tilt of about 60 degrees. I am not sure how long it has been leaning. As far as I know, when we moved in to our house seven years ago, it was already been like this. (Good thing is our house is not leaning.) I am not sure also what caused the tree to lean. I could only speculate.

There could be many causes of why a tree would lean. One is a weak root structure causing inadequate anchor. Another is if it is competing with another tree nearby causing it to lean away from the more dominant tree and towards the open sunlight. One more reason is if it was exposed to a natural disaster like a very strong wind or storm in the past that almost uprooted it or pushed it to lean.

After considering the possibilities, I would like to believe that the last reason I mentioned was the cause of why our tree leaned. Maybe years ago, in our tree’s early life, it was subjected to a tornado-like wind gust that almost shoved it down. But it kept its grip to life. It defied the force that almost brought it down. And somehow, it has this innate strength that continues to defy the pull of gravity now. Moreover, it continued to grow and flourish.

my son trying to set our tree upright, or so he thought

I really don’t mind that it is leaning. I have no intention to correct its tilt. There is no reason to. In fact, I like it. It is a constant reminder to us that this tree has weathered a great storm, and its tilt is a testament to its tenacity and resilience.

Are we also weathered and worn-out by the storms? Do we also cling with such steadfastness even if we are almost down to our knees? Borrowing a quote from the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (which is also the inspiration of Kelly Clarkson’s popular song): “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

How many more years will our tree display its lean for all the world to see? Only time will tell.