Now that's poetry.
Michael Perry: Class Act.

And people wonder why I don't like doctors.

Yes, I know doctors are there to help you. I know when you need an operation or someone to clear an airway and jam a breathing tube down your throat, you have to go to doctors. That doesn't mean I have to like them.

Normal It probably doesn't help that I keep reading books like Normal at Any Cost: Tall Girls, Short Boys, and the Medical Industry's Quest to Manipulate Height (by Susan Cohen and Christine Cosgrove). The title and subtitle there don't leave a whole lot to the imagination; basically it's a book about how doctors and others in the medical profession have "treated" people whose final heights will fall outside the bounds of what they consider "normal." Told chronologically, the story first focuses on girls whose parents feared they were growing too tall (and would grow themselves right out of the marriage market--this was in the 1940s and 1950s) and who were given hormones to speed up their puberty and stop their growing. It then moves pretty smoothly into the discovery that human growth hormone could be extracted from human pituitary glands, and how that hormone was used to treat all sorts of children who seemed too short.


That's a very quick nutshell synopsis of the book; if you're interested in the subject, you should definitely pick it up, because the authors do a good job of telling a very detailed and complex medical story. (At times it was actually a little too detailed, and because I had been working on the book for a while and just wanted to finish it, I'll admit I did start skipping a few pages here and there.) But I can hit the salient points, and try to give an indication of why I found this book so, so interesting, and why it may be worth some of your reading time:

1. Jesus God, I don't know if they're still this way, but doctors in the 1950s and 60s certainly seemed a bit carefree about just injecting patients with any old thing to see how they'd react. That's how you got girls whose mothers worried they'd be over six feet tall receiving DES, a synthetic hormone with a chemical structure similar to that of DDT, and which was also used to prevent miscarriages (but which may have actually caused miscarriages).

2. When the doctors aren't the problem, parents are. There is much discussion in this book about kids who didn't want treatments--especially girls who weren't in a big hurry for puberty and boys who didn't feel particularly bad about being short--and the parents who pushed their doctors to prescribe "treatments" anyway.

3. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the book is how hormones used to be collected from the pituitary glands of cadavers, and how nobody really thought that was a problem--until, ahem, kids that had been treated with those pituitary hormones started dying from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (also known as the mad cow disease that affects humans). Would that be worth an inch or so of extra height? Nor is this story exclusively about America; the authors also discuss similar cases from Australia, France, and Great Britain.

4. The science of height prediction is unscientific in the extreme. Basically, your doctor has about as good a chance of predicting your kid's eventual height as the weatherperson has of predicting the weather a month from now.

5. Here's a surprise: pharmaceutical companies who are still selling growth hormones keep working to expand their markets, and are trying to make "shortness" a disease that qualifies for insurance coverage.

If you've got the stomach for it, it's a really interesting read. It's not a perfect book; sometimes it's a little dry, but all in all it's an eye-opener. I'll let the authors sum it up; this is what they have to say on the back cover: "In the end, short stature is a multibillion-dollar business that is still growing like a weed."