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Is it true the black doctor who invented blood plasma bled to death in front of a hospital because the white doctors refused to admit him? --Anonymous, Kansas City, Missouri

For the real story on this classic legend Cecil is indebted to Scot Morris of Omni magazine, who wrote about it in his book Omni Games. Here's the dope:

Charles R. Drew was a black surgeon who pioneered techniques for preserving blood plasma that saved countless lives during World War II. Later he became medical director of Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C. In 1950, while driving three other black doctors to a conference in Alabama, Drew fell asleep at the wheel. The car swerved and rolled over, breaking his neck and crushing his chest. According to legend, he desperately needed a blood transfusion, but doctors at a hospital in Burlington, North Carolina, refused to admit him, and he died.

This story is told in several black history books and has been repeated by Dick Gregory, among others. But it isn't true. Morris spoke with Dr. John Ford, one of the passengers in Drew's car. "We all received the very best of care," Ford said. "The doctors started treating us immediately."

Drew didn't receive a transfusion because his injuries wouldn't permit it. "He had a superior vena caval syndrome--blood was blocked getting back to his heart from his brain and upper extremities," Ford said. "To give him a transfusion would have killed him sooner. Even the most heroic efforts couldn't have saved him. I can truthfully say that no efforts were spared in the treatment of Dr. Drew, and, contrary to popular myth, the fact that he was a Negro did not in any way limit the care that was given to him."

The Drew story is strangely similar to one told about blues singer Bessie Smith. She too supposedly bled to death after an auto accident when a white hospital refused to admit her. The alleged incident, which occurred in Mississippi in 1937, was even the subject of a play by Edward Albee. But as Morris notes, "Though the whole truth will probably never be known, it is certain she did not die this way."

Why do these legends still circulate? Because people like to believe the worst, and also because the stories have a ghastly irony that appeals to our sense of drama--you know, blood plasma pioneer bleeds to death. Having been in this business awhile, I can tell you, they'll probably outlive us all.

Do insects sleep? If so, do they dream? --Bugged, Panorama City, California

You'd think with all the money we spend on research in this country the scientific establishment would have an answer on this, but no. "Although sleep occurs in all mammals and birds studied to date," we read, "controversy exists over whether nonmammalian species exhibit sleep." If it was me I'd just skip lunch and settle the sucker, but I can't do all the world's work.

There are two approaches to deciding if a critter is sleeping: behavioral and electrophysiological. Behavioral means the thing looks and acts like it's sleeping--it gets quiet, assumes a characteristic posture, etc. Electrophysiological means certain patterns show up on a brain-wave monitor. Insects exhibit behavioral sleep, as do fish, amphibians, and reptiles. But God only knows what happens electrophysiologically--bugs don't have enough gray matter to hook the electrodes to. My guess is they've got the occasional brain cell firing, but dreams? Forget it.

Why do they call that thing below your jawline an Adam's apple? Relative of yours? --Mike and Dave, Chicago

You heathens, the Adam in question is everybody's relative, the ancestor of humankind. It's called an Adam's apple because of a legend that a piece of the forbidden fruit got stuck in his throat. Eve, alas, didn't know the Heimlich maneuver, and the resultant bulge has been passed down to subsequent generations as a sign of male weakness--like we almost need reminding. Actually the Adam's apple is "the anterior extremity of the thyroid cartilage of the larynx."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.


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