Think about all the advances in medicine during recent times. Many diseases have been cured, and some conditions that were automatic death sentences have been mitigated to the point that those that have them can still lead long, productive lives. On the other hand, sometimes what goes on behind a hospital’s smiling, sterile veneer can get downright creepy. Here are a few of the methods used to heal humanity that seem more like something you might stumble upon when walking through the wrong door on your first day working for the Umbrella Corporation:
Horseshoe Crab Blood Farms
Hey, remember that nightmare you had in which you went to the hospital to get a vital operation and walked in on a bunch of masked overseers juicing the lifeblood out of a row of captive aliens? No? Dang it, I guess that was just us. Those are actually horseshoe crabs and we humans are in fact harvesting their blood, which is blue, like the seasonal Mountain Dew flavor sold in Hell’s deli counter.
Actually horseshoe crab blood is blue because it contains a lot of copper. They use that particular mineral to do the job that iron does in human (and other animal) blood, and instead of hemoglobin they have something called hemocyanin, which transports oxygen throughout their bodies. Their blood also deals with infection in a way that’s much different than ours, and clots aggressively around any foreign body to the point where it’s easily seen under a microscope, which makes them absolutely vital to the pharmaceutical industry.
The gel-like substance that surrounds the slightest bacterial infection in horseshoe crabs was co-discovered by the tremendously-named scientist Fred Bang. The chemical that causes it to occur, called coagulogen, allows us to very accurately test medications for contamination, can detect anomalies as small as one part per trillion, and is used on just about every single drug that comes out. And the way to get it is to capture a boatload of crabs, jab a needle in their posteriors, and subject them to a process called “rack & bleed.”
If you’re wondering how one could possibly work in such a facility without experiencing a daily existential horror-crisis, that fact that one quart of this “blue gold” is worth $15,000 might go a long way in explaining it. And although the crabs’ ordeal looks like a nightmarish combination of medieval and futuristic crustacean torture, you’ll be pleased to know that the vast majority survive and are released back into the wild, where they are free to gather in massive groups to nurse their terrible grudge. So don’t be shocked if there’s a crustacean uprising.
Hey, have you ever wanted to be able to see your veins exude a translucent glow the color of the Incredible Hulk’s diarrhea? Behold a new device called the VeinViewer, which uses infrared illuminating technology to let doctors (and those with a very specific and terrible fetish) take a gander at the inner workings of your circulatory gooiness without all the fuss of a Ramsay Bolton-style flaying.
The device, created by Memphis-based Christie Medical Holdings, gives you a front-row seat to your own pumping vasculature. It works by emitting a light that’s absorbed by blood, reflected by surrounding tissue, and then digitally displayed in real time for maximum needle-stabbing accuracy. But what’s important is it looks radical. And besides, now we all can finally experience the queasiness of watching a needle go into our bodies, with the added feature of seeing it plunge straight into a Tron version of our circulatory system.
Should you have the misfortune to lose a limb and require a prosthetic, it can be aggravating when insensitive strangers gawk at the very device that’s supposed to make you feel normal again. And if you’ve lost an appendage, why limit yourself to standard human anatomy? Why not just go all-in and get a squid arm?
Proposed as an alternative to the more traditional variety of artificial limbs, the tentacle prosthetic was designed by industrial design student Kaylene Kau of the U.K. Because not everyone can afford a state of the art cyborg appendage cooked up by DARPA, the goal of Kau’s device was to be simple and affordable, while still being capable of restoring many of the lost abilities brought about by a missing arm, and to look freaking awesome in the process.
The mechanisms that make it work are simple right now, with just a small motor and a couple cables controlled by one switch to curl, and another to release. This is just fine for the purpose it serves, which is not to be a full-blown prehensile limb, but rather an “assistive appendage” for the good arm. However, if you are anything like us, you are already Googling ways to attach several of these things to your back and rule your office with an iron fist.
Electroencephalography (EEG) monitoring devices have been around for years, and are used to measure the spikes and blips in the brain’s electrical activity. Normally used for diagnosing epilepsy, sleep disorders, and a number of other neurological ailments, the devices usually involve a wiry array of scalp-mounted electrodes of the sort that you’ve seen in various movies that want to display “future!” and “scary!”
But recently people have adapted the technology so that you can use brainwaves to do all sorts of things outside the medical arena, like manipulating electronic devices, controlling robots, and bending cockroaches to your will. EEG technology can also be used to manipulate (very expensive) prosthetic limbs, so you could conceivably combine one of these brain helmets with the tentacle arms we talked about earlier and guarantee that no one on the planet ever so much as farts in your presence ever again.
The belief is that one day we’ll eventually be able to use EEG equipment to do things like drive cars. So far the commercially available technology is still mostly in the gimmick stage – it can only really do very basic things (like send a video game a very limited set of commands), and really only works if you shave your head completely bald. That hasn’t stopped them from becoming somewhat trendy, though. Right now there’s a boatload of EEG headsets on the market, and they’re rapidly becoming more affordable. Plus, anyone with a 3D printer can get creative and crank out their own version of a brain-eating cybernetic tarantula.
The options range from the vaguely insectoid versions to the fashionably Borg-like, to something Lobot might wear to a job interview. And did we say they’re getting cheap? Well, not all of them. There’s one that will set you back $24,500 for the privilege of looking like a contestant in the Rollerball arena.
So will the day come when everyone is wearing brain-tickling neuro-hats, or is this just a passing fad that’s generating undue excitement? Only time will tell, but you can sure buy one for your pet in the meantime.
Light Therapy Masks
Should you be among the multitude of unfortunates who’ve been stricken with the tragic curse of pimples, technology has finally come up with an alternative to the pads, ointments, tweezer excavations, and whatnot – a light therapy mask, which in no way makes you look like a serial killer from the distant future.
Light therapy masks have actually been around for a while, and the concept of phototherapy has long been used not just for the treatment of acne vulgaris, but also neonatal jaundice, eczema, and the heartbreak of psoriasis. And best of all, you don’t need a prescription because the FDA thus far hasn’t placed any regulations on sunlight. You can totally buy crazy crap like this at the local drug store, to wage an assault on both acne and the mental stability of your pets.
But does it really work? The folks at Teen Vogue seem to think so, and it’s apparently a legitimate treatment that can work wonders in alleviating the shame of tiny facial pustule insurgencies. The basic principle, according to dermatologist Brian Zelickson, is that “blue light excites chemicals within acne-causing bacteria to the point of death.” So yeah, it’s a death shroud for pimples.
The masks you can pick up at the neighborhood pharmacy/First Order Quartermaster aren’t quite as powerful as the LED lights used by dermatologists, but the at-home technology has gotten to the point where it’s at least close to what you’d receive at a doctor’s office, and may actually be more effective since you don’t have to take your hideous face out in public to visit a clinic. Plus, there are few better ways to terrorize unsuspecting delivery drivers than by greeting them at the door with this freaking thing strapped to your head.