Belt-Tightening Greeks: In October, Greece’s largest health insurance provider announced, in a letter to a diabetes foundation, that it would no longer pay for the special footwear that diabetics need for reducing pain but suggested it would pay instead for amputation, which is less expensive. The decision, which the foundation said is not supported by international scientific literature, was published in the prominent Athens newspaper To Vima (The Tribune) and reported by the U.S. news site DailyCaller.com.
Retail Breakthroughs: (1) A shop in Santa Cruz, Calif., opened in September selling ice cream infused with extract of marijuana. Customers with “medical marijuana” prescriptions can buy Creme De Canna, Bananabis Foster or Straw-Mari Cheesecake, at $15 a half-pint (with one bite supposedly equal to five puffs of “really good” weed, according to the proprietor). (2) Spotted outside subway stations in Nanjing, China, in October: vending machines selling live Shanghai Hairy Crabs, in plastic containers chilled to 5 degrees C (41 degrees F), for the equivalent of $1.50 to $7, depending on size.
Good News for Frisky Married Muslims: (1) Abdelaziz Aouragh’s recently opened Internet site sells Shariah-compliant aids to promote the “sexual health” of married couples, mostly lubricants, lotions and herbal pills, with lingerie coming soon (but no videos or toys). (All products have been cleared by Saudi religious scholars.) He says he aspires to open actual storefronts soon. (2) Ms. Khadija Ahmed, attending to customers while dressed in flowing robe and head scarf, is already open for business in Manama, Bahrain, offering, since 2008, lingerie, orgasm-delaying creams and even some sex toys. (“Vibrators” are “against Islam,” she said, because they are intended as replications of a body part, but “vibration rings” are permitted.) Bahrain, obviously, is among the most liberal countries in the Persian Gulf region, but Ahmed is considering expanding to Dubai and Lebanon.
Surgery That Can’t Possibly Be True Janis Ollson, 31, of Balmoral, Manitoba, is recovering nicely after being almost completely sawed in half in 2007 by Mayo Clinic surgeons, who concluded that they could remove her bone cancer no other way. In experimental surgery that had been tried only on cadavers, doctors split her pelvis in half, removed the left half, her left leg and her lower spine (and the tumor) in a 20-hour, 12-specialist procedure. The real trick, though, was the eight-hour, 240-staple reconstruction in which her remaining leg was reconnected to her spine with pins and screws, leaving her in an arrangement doctors likened to a “pogo stick.” A September Winnipeg Free Press story noted that, except for the missing leg, she is enjoying a normal life with her husband and two kids and enjoys snowmobiling.
• Kyle Johnson shattered his skull so badly in a high-speed longboard accident in June that ordinary “decompressive craniectomy” (temporarily removing half of the skull to relieve pressure) would be inadequate. Instead, doctors at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, Utah, removed both halves, leaving only a thin strip of bone (after placing Johnson in a drug-induced coma) and kept the skull frozen to prevent brittleness. After the swelling subsided, they reattached the skull to his head and woke him up gradually over a week’s time. Johnson admits some memory problems and cognitive dysfunction, most notably his inability to focus on more than one concept at a time — even when they are part of the same scene, such as two crayons on a table. Johnson said he probably won’t go back to the longboard but, curiously like Janis Ollson, looks forward to snowmobiling.
Cutting-Edge Science Obese patients with an array of symptoms known as “prediabetes” have seen their insulin sensitivity improved dramatically via “fecal transplants,” i.e., receiving the stool of a thin, healthy person into the bowel, according to researchers led by a University of North Carolina professor. Researchers said the strangers’ implants were significantly more effective than those of a control group, in which a person’s own feces was implanted. (News of the Weird has previously reported on success in treating certain gastrointestinal infections by stool transplants that contain the bacteria Clostridium difficile.)
• Two University of Sydney researchers reported recently that the food-acquisition “strategy” of the brainless, single-cell slime mold appeared to resemble one of the strategies familiar to us so-called brain-containing humans, specifically, making a selection only after comparing it to readily available alternatives. Furthermore, Japanese researchers who mapped the slime mold’s search for food found that its nuclei are arranged in a pattern that is seemingly just as logically helpful in food procurement as the service arrangements are in Tokyo’s acclaimed railway system. (In October, the Japanese researchers were awarded a satirical “Ig Nobel” prize by the Annals of Improbable Research.)
• In research results announced in June, a team led by a University of Oklahoma professor, studying Mexican molly fish, discovered that females evaluate potential mates on sight, based on the prominence of the moustache-like growths on males’ upper lips. More controversially, the researchers hypothesized that males further enhance their mating prowess by employing the “moustache” to tickle females’ genitals. (Catfish have similar “whiskers” and perhaps use them for similar purposes, said the researchers.)