Your Body is a Microbial Archipelago

When Charles Darwin compared the beaks of his finch specimens from the Galapagos, he saw that each had been shaped differently by evolution, depending on the natural history of the island on which that finch made its home. Many evolutionary biologists see life through this natural history lens, and while they are right to declare […]

Looking Up

About seven years ago, a good friend of mine experienced an unthinkable tragedy. Her 38-year-old cousin—to whom she was extremely close—and the woman’s two young daughters were walking hand in hand to school when a driver, having passed out due to an illness, swerved into them. They were dragged to their deaths. Ever since, my friend […]

Can We Defend Ourselves Against Brain Tumors?

Eleven years ago this week, my 67-year-old mother died from a brain tumor. It was Glioblastoma multiforme, an insidious fourth-stage cancer that, without treatment, usually kills within three months. Treatment options are miserable for the patient and not terribly effective; for those who opt for surgery and radiation/chemo, the cancer almost always returns within a year […]

Hug It Out

There are hugs, and then there are hugs. Am I right? Hugging is not one-size-fits-all. It’s a skill, partly innate, and not everyone has it. We all know people who are huggers, and people who just aren’t. There are also people who like to be hugged and people who curl away as a hugger approaches, even flinching a little […]

Guest Post: Walking With Oliver

In 1974, the neurologist Oliver Sacks was hiking alone on a Norwegian mountain when, coming around a boulder, he stumbled upon a bull sprawled across the trail. The bull didn’t react, but Sacks, no stranger to hallucinations, somehow imagined the animal as “first a monster, and now the Devil.” As he fled downhill in a […]

The Cold Truth

A little while back I needed a gift for a friend, and I came across some pretty hand-knit gloves at a craft fair that I knew she’d like. They were fingerless but still quite warm and they’d go nicely with the wooly shawl I’d gotten her the year before. Never mind that it was the middle of […]

Getting Cultured

Recently, I’ve been making my own yogurt. I’m on one of those annoyingly limited diets, trying to get my messed-up gut to cooperate. I can’t have many of the things I love. Noodles. Huge pieces of bread slathered with butter (and then one more piece even though it’s going to spoil my dinner). Cereal—not even […]

What I Got: Three Gifts from the Recovery Ward

1. The Abscess Probably, when I first heard the doctor say to the patient, “The operating rooms are all booked until late tonight so we can just lance it right here, bedside,” that would have been the right time for me to make a little noise. That would have been an appropriate moment to peel […]