How giraffes stop fighter pilots from blacking out – New book reveals the healing powers of animals
- Are you scared of injections? The mosquito might be coming to your rescue
- READ MORE: This eclectic collection celebrates all things feline in art
One Medicine: How Understanding Animals Can Save Your Life
by Dr Matt Morgan (Simon & Schuster £16.99, 288pp)
Feel this!’ said Matt Morgan’s ex-patient, offering his wrist. The doctor felt for a pulse — and there was none.
The man, who Morgan had treated for a bad heart condition, should by rights have been dead.
Yet there he was, meeting Morgan after a talk the doctor had given. The answer to the mystery was that other medics had later fitted a machine inside his body, which pumped his blood smoothly and continuously, rather than in spurts like the heart.
Did you know that giraffes have helped prevent fighter pilots from blacking out? A new book reveals the healing powers of animals
Hence the lack of a pulse. The machine mimics the way a whale’s heart works. The smooth flow is better for critically ill people.
We have long known the medical benefits of learning from other species. Morgan’s book examines the different ways treatments for humans have been influenced by animals. Did you know that giraffes have helped prevent fighter pilots from blacking out?
The animals’ legs have super-thick skin to push blood back upwards as they run — otherwise the forces sending it downwards would result in too little going to the brain, depriving it of oxygen.
The G-forces in a plane have the same effect on the pilot, meaning they can crash and be killed. So special ‘pneumatic’ trousers have been invented, which use pressure to push blood back up towards the pilot’s brain.
Meanwhile, a crane’s legs contain some very clever plumbing that keeps the bird warm as it stands in freezing cold water. The veins carrying cold blood upwards are right next to arteries carrying warmer blood down from the body, so allowing a heat exchange to take place. What’s more, the process reverses in summer to prevent overheating.
The same principle is now used on patients in intensive care: if their temperature is too high, tubes with cold water flowing through them are attached to their skin. Those recovering from hypothermia get warmer water.
Giraffe’s legs have super-thick skin to push blood back upwards as they run — otherwise the forces sending it downwards would result in too little going to the brain, depriving it of oxygen
Are you scared of injections? The mosquito might be coming to your rescue. When the little so-and-so bites you (only the females do, incidentally), the reason you don’t feel it is because of the mosquito’s curiouslyshaped mouth.
This is an outer tube containing two jagged jaws either side of a central needle. First the tube touches your skin, then the jaws, and only then the needle. The insect repeats this sequence hundreds of times, until the whole structure is under your skin.
This not only spreads out the force needed to bite you, but the mouth vibrates as it goes, so activating your skin sensors rather than your pain sensors.
A team in Japan is working on a syringe that copies this design, opening up the possibility of pain-free injections.
Turtles have a thin membrane in their rectum that lets them breathe through their backsides.
Sex gets its usual coverage. Until the 1960s, human pregnancy tests involved frogs — you injected a urine sample into the animal’s back, and if it laid eggs by the next day, the human concerned was pregnant.
The same principle of giraffes’ legs are now being used on patients. This is the same for other animals such as the crane and kangaroos
Kangaroos have three vaginas — two for conception, each linked to a uterus (this is why the male has a two-pronged penis), and one for giving birth.
Whales, meanwhile, favour the menage a trois: ‘Two males work together, one holding the other upright to aid the insertion of its penis into the female.’
But the most interesting story was that of Chris, a North Sea diver whose oxygen ran out while working on an underwater pipe. Colleagues on board a ship saw on video cameras his body lying on the seabed, twitching and then lying still.
Chris spent 37 minutes without breathing before they reached him and took him to a diving bell. Incredibly, he survived.
‘You do know it’s OK, don’t you?’ he told them afterwards, talking of the death that everyone, Chris included, had assumed would be his fate.
‘It’s just like drifting off to sleep. I was sad for a bit. I was cold and got a bit numb, but then it was just like falling asleep.’
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