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X-Rays in the News

How far can cameras go to make the personal into the public? Pretty far, considering how many news stories I've seen in the past year illustrated with x-rays, MRIs, and medical tomography. The idea of seeing inside the human body is strange enough, without seeing the weird things that can happen inside the body of someone on the other side of the world. Some of the images in this story may be disturbing to some people.

77-year-old Jin Guangying suffered from lifelong headaches when she was finally x-rayed at Shuyang Leniency Hospital in China. Doctors were stunned to find a bullet in her head! Jin remembered she had been shot during the Japanese invasion in 1943, but had only used herbal treatments for the wound at the time.
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59-year-old Margaret Wegner had a brain scan in Berlin to find the source of her constant headaches. It was a pencil. She had tripped and embedded the pencil in her skull when she was four years old! The bigger part of the pencil was finally removed, but a smaller part was left, as delicate nerves had grown over the 2cm piece.

More curious cases, after the jump.

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A duck with a broken wing in California was x-rayed and found to have an alien from outer space in its gut. The duck did not survive, and an autopsy found the alien was formed by grain in the bird's digestive system. Still, the x-ray was sold via eBay auction to raise money for the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Fairfield, California. Note: this is the only patient in this story who is deceased.
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31-year-old Luo Cuifen went to a hospital in China complaining of blood in her urine. X-rays showed that she had 26 needles embedded in her body, affecting her lungs, kidneys, brain, and other organs. Doctors believe the needles were inserted when Luo was an infant by grandparents who were disappointed that she was born a girl.
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Then there was a curious case reported in The Lancet last summer of a middle-aged man whose braincase was almost completely filled with fluid. His actual brain was reduced 50 to 75% below normal size, but he held a civil servant's job and was not considered mentally impaired or retarded. This scan shows his brain compared with a typical brain on the right.
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Gavin Docherty was hit by a nail gun in a workplace accident. His co-worker immediately drove him to the hospital, but they were stopped by Canada's finest on the way for speeding. After seeing nails sticking out of Docherty's forehead, the officer allowed them to continue to the hospital, but followed them so he could issue the driver a $167 ticket for not wearing a seatbelt!

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This one isn't exactly an x-ray, but it's a 3D medical image showing how a chair leg went through 19-year-old Shafique el-Fahkri's head during a bar brawl. The Melbourne man survived the incident, and medical intervention saved his eyesight.

Although these images are quite sensational, what struck me about this series of stories was the public nature of these cases. All these were news stories I remembered from the past year or two; I didn't have to search for any of them. Excluding the duck, all but one patient are identified by name, and all are from nations other than the US (with the possible exception of the unidentified patient). In the US, privacy laws allow medical images to be shared with medical personnel, insurance companies, lawyers, law enforcement, and others, but not the press. I don't know what the laws governing such images are in other countries; maybe some of you do. Would you consider allowing pictures of the inside of your body to be published by a news outlet? Or does our concept of privacy only apply to our skin?

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Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images
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Medicine
Bill and Melinda Gates Will Repay Nigeria's $76 Million Polio-Fighting Loan
Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images
Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images

Not long after announcing a $100 million donation to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease, Bill and Melinda Gates have agreed to pay off Japan's $76 million loan to Nigeria to stamp out polio, Quartz reports.

Polio has been eradicated in most countries around the world, but it's still present in Nigeria, as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2008, according to The Conversation, Nigeria accounted for 86 percent of all polio cases in Africa. This high number was thanks in part to low immunization rates and calls from extremists to boycott polio vaccinations out of fear that they were tainted with anti-fertility steroids.

National and international campaigns were launched to lower polio rates in Nigeria, and in 2014 the nation received the loan from Japan to boost disease-fighting efforts. Progress has been made since then, with no new cases of polio reported in Nigeria in 2017. Two children had contracted polio in 2016, two years after Nigeria's last known case.

Nigeria's loan repayments to Japan were slated to begin in 2018. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation agreed to cover the costs after Nigeria met its goal of "achieving more than 80 percent vaccination coverage in at least one round each year in very high risk areas across 80 percent of the country's local government areas," Quartz reports. The loan will be repaid over the next 20 years.

While the Gates Foundation is lending a hand to Nigeria, the Associated Press reports that health officials in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province recently launched a new chapter in the nation's ongoing struggle against the disease. Health workers will engage in a week-long, door-to-door vaccination campaign, though efforts like this are risky due to threats from the Taliban and other militant groups, who view vaccinations as a Western conspiracy and believe they sterilize children. Anti-polio efforts in Pakistan also suffered after the CIA used vaccinations as a cover to get DNA samples from the Bin Laden compound.

[h/t Quartz]

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George Mayerle, U.S. National Library of Medicine // Public Domain
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Design
This 1907 Vision Test Was Designed for People of All Nationalities
George Mayerle, U.S. National Library of Medicine // Public Domain
George Mayerle, U.S. National Library of Medicine // Public Domain

At the turn of the 20th century, San Francisco was a diverse place. In fact, Angel Island Immigration Station, located on an island in the San Francisco Bay, was known as the “Ellis Island of the West,” processing some 300,000 people coming to the U.S. in the early 1900s. George Mayerle, a German optometrist working in the city at the time, encountered this diversity of languages and cultures every day in his practice. So in the 1890s, Mayerle created what was billed as “the only [eye] chart published that can be used by people of any nationality,” as The Public Domain Review alerts us.

Anticipating the difficulty immigrants, like those from China or Russia, would face when trying to read a vision test made solely with Roman letters for English-speaking readers, he designed a test that included multiple scripts. For his patients that were illiterate, he included symbols. It features two different styles of Roman scripts for English-speaking and European readers, and characters in Cyrillic, Hebrew, Japanese, and Chinese scripts as well as drawings of dogs, cats, and eyes designed to test the vision of children and others who couldn't read.

The chart, published in 1907 and measuring 22 inches by 28 inches, was double-sided, featuring black text on a white background on one side and white text on a black background on the other. According to Stephen P. Rice, an American studies professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey, there are other facets of the chart designed to test for a wide range of vision issues, including astigmatism and color vision.

As he explains in the 2012 history of the National Library of Medicine’s collections, Hidden Treasure [PDF], the worldly angle was partly a marketing strategy on Mayerle’s part. (He told fellow optometrists that the design “makes a good impression and convinces the patient of your professional expertness.”)

But that doesn’t make it a less valuable historical object. As Rice writes, “the ‘international’ chart is an artifact of an immigrant nation—produced by a German optician in a polyglot city where West met East (and which was then undergoing massive rebuilding after the 1906 earthquake)—and of a globalizing economy.”

These days, you probably won’t find a doctor who still uses Mayerle’s chart. But some century-old vision tests are still in use today. Shinobu Ishihara’s design for a visual test for colorblindness—those familiar circles filled with colored dots that form numbers in the center—were first sold internationally in 1917, and they remain the most popular way to identify deficiencies in color vision.

[h/t The Public Domain Review]

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