Posts for Category Medical

Heads in jars in the news

A new book tells the stories behind a closet full of brains in jars
Nov 142014
Brains in a jar
Photo by Adam Voorhes via Amazon

Recently I opened my morning newspaper and found this picture, which looked so familiar I had to get up immediately from breakfast to go find Bill’s Head’s jar (which currently houses the remains of a terrarium; sorry if you’re disappointed to learn that it does not actually contain my floating head) and see if it’s the same one. Not quite, but close enough to give me a little tingle.

The picture is from the forthcoming book Malformed: Forgotten Brains of the Texas State Mental Hospital, by photographer Adam Voorhes and journalist Alex Hannaford. The book documents some of the “extremely rare, malformed, or damaged human brains”* that Voorhes discovered packed away in hundreds of jars in a storage closet at the University of Texas State Mental Hospital, including the stories of their former owners and the collection itself.

If you’re looking for something to get me for my birthday or for Secular Winter Gift-Giving Holiday and Bad Music Extravaganza, the book will be published on December 2.


So says the book’s blurb on Amazon. You can also read more at the Washington Post.

Bill takes a spill

In which Bill's Head is dashed violently against the pavement and Bill's Shoulder nearly falls off
Jun 212014
Crashing doughnut bike

Note: I was originally just going to write a quick, humorous piece about Concussion Camp, but then realized that the three of you who hadn’t already heard the backstory might want to be filled in, and if I had written this a month ago I could have just pointed concerned friends, family, neighbors, and strangers here instead of telling the story over and over. I know it’s generally tedious hearing about other people’s minor medical dramas, but I’ve tried to stick to the entertaining highlights.

One Tuesday evening back in May I crashed my bicycle,* landing quite hard on my helmet, face, and shoulder.

Fortunately this happened during a lull in traffic, and I was able to get myself out of the road before I got run over. Two men in an old station wagon, with limited English-language abilities but generous hearts, pulled over and kept asking if I was OK and if I needed a ride home. Naturally I told them I was fine, despite the ripped jersey, big lump under my eye, and assorted other abrasions—never mind the wrecked front wheel of the bike. I’m not sure what I thought my plan was, but I wanted everyone to just go away and let me solve the problem myself (last time, after all, I rode 35 miles to get home on what turned out to be a broken wrist). Maybe I was going to walk three miles home? Or catch a bus? I remember watching all the other cars coming up the road and worrying that one of them was going to rear-end the stopped car and make the whole situation even worse.

They were persistent, though, and eventually I let them tie my bike to the roof of the car and drive me home. I tried to be polite and make small talk, but I’m not great at that in the best of circumstances, and it was more than a little awkward chatting with the driver about his work as a painter/carpenter/electrician/drywall-installer, all while giving driving directions using a lot of hand gestures and trying not to bleed on his seat (or cry). Part of my internal dialogue went something like this:

Hey, I need some drywall work done. I should get his card or phone number so I can call him. Hiring him would be a great way to thank him.

But how do I know if he’s any good at it? What if I hire him out of gratitude and he does a crappy job?

Would that really be the worst thing? Then you hire someone else to come fix it, and the nice man has still gotten a reward for helping you out.

My arm hurts and I want to cry. Stop thinking about drywall.

When I said something about how nice they were to bring me home, the driver said, “It is OK, my friend, because today it was you but tomorrow it could be me.” That’s like what people say in movies! I feel extra-terrible that I didn’t even get their names.

At home I tried to give them some money but they refused to take it. “Please,” I said, “take the money and go buy yourselves a drink on me.” They misunderstood me and thought I was offering them a drink right there. “OK, yes,” one of them said, “some water is good.” Was he really thirsty or was he just accepting my offer to be polite? There wasn’t a good way to sort this out, so I went insideone arm dragging, blood dripping, slightly in shock—and poured out two big glasses of ice water. Then I stood around while they drank the water, thanked me profusely, and prepared to leave. I was pretty sure they weren’t very familiar with the area and had no idea where they were, so I tried to give them directions to where they were headed. The whole time I was feeling guilty that they were going to end up lost and stuck in rush-hour traffic because of me.

No wonder I didn’t want to accept a ride.

After the Nice Men left, my first thought was that I should go find my next-door neighbor, whose bike I recently fixed so he could start riding again, and tell him that this is why he needs to go buy that helmet he keeps telling me he’s planning on buying any day now, even if he’s only tooling around the neighborhood.§

Picture of mangled bike wheel
Dammit, I just bought this wheel three months ago

My second thought was to take some pictures of myself and the bike, in case I wanted to write a blog post about the crash or something.

My third thought was to send one of the less-alarming pictures to E—— to let her know I had had a little accident but was OK.

Whilst taking additional selfies in the bathroom mirror, I realized that the lump on my elbow was nothing but my shoulder was a mess, and decided I should go see a doctor. I pulled on a red shirt that seemed like it wouldn’t be ruined by blood stains and drove myself one-handed to the walk-in clinic at the family practice.

At the clinic they got a little worried when I almost fainted, but decided it was probably due to shock and the fact I hadn’t eaten in six hours rather than to head injury, so they brought me a juice box and some cheese/peanut butter crackers. One of those little kid-size juice boxes. I wish I had a picture to show you of me drinking juice from that tiny box through a tiny straw while three medical professionals stood around with solicitous looks on their faces waiting to see if anything terrible was going to happen. They checked me for obvious major injury, told me to come back in the morning for an x-ray, and to follow up on Friday with a doctor at the practice’s sports medicine clinic.

What they didn’t do (as far as I can recall, and according to the clinical summary they sent me home with) was talk to me about the possibility of concussion, or tell me what to watch out for to make sure I didn’t die from an undiagnosed brain injury. Still, I survived the night even without someone waking me up every two or three hours to make sure I wasn’t dead or confused.

By the time E—— and I had gone back to the doctor’s office Wednesday for x-rays, gone shopping for more bandages for my shoulder, and gone out to lunch, I was physically and mentally exhausted. I tried to get some work done on Wednesday and Thursday, but found I was fighting a brain fog a lot of the time. Thoughts moved slowly, I had trouble maintaining concentration, and when I did concentrate for too long I got a headache.

At first I thought my body was just tired from the trauma, but eventually I consulted with Internet and we decided I had a concussion.

Friday morning I saw a doctor in the sports medicine clinic, who, after another set of x-rays, diagnosed me with a separated shoulder (grade III AC separation, if you’re curious or keeping score). I was advised to “avoid things that hurt you” and to start physical therapy in a week or so.

He also had me follow a stick around with my eyes and head and thereby confirmed that I had a minor concussion (or mild traumatic brain injury, to use a name that makes it sound as serious as it is). He told me to come back in a week to be seen at the practice’s concussion clinic,  which a) I was stunned to learn exists and b) I immediately started calling “Concussion Camp” to make it sound more fun. In the meantime, he suggested, I should “take easy walks with friends for exercise. Avoid long hours of TV or reading. Take frequent breaks at work.” And my favorite: “avoid getting into emotional arguments.”

“Concussion is like shaking up a snow globe,” the doctor said, “and it takes a while for things to settle back down.”

Next time in Bill’s Head: a letter from Concussion Camp!


This was a self-inflicted crash: my chain slipped down a cog while I was standing and leaning forward to accelerate, causing my foot to jerk forward unexpectedly and me to lose balance and pitch forward.
Did I just write “generous hearts”?
I was maybe going to illustrate this dialogue with some Angel Bill’s Head and Devil Bill’s Head graphics and before I abandoned the idea I spent some time looking for angel wing pictures I could use. That took me to all sorts of weird places (what is it with the angel fetish?). The best thing I found was in the comments posted for this pair:

many thanks for these arms in the PSD, really makes me work because I have a case of death and had to place the person who died as angel ak. But other photos that were on site with tired with this vain not thank you very much

I’m not trying to make fun of someone who clearly isn’t a native English speaker; I just love the phrase “I have a case of death.”

I didn’t actually do this, but when I talked to his wife the next day it was her first thought, too.