Friday, December 24, 2010

Esoteric questions can solve practical matters

I've referred to D.P. Lyle, M.D.'s "The Writer's Forensics Blog" before, and since it was a recent reference, I was able to find the past reference easily (sometimes it's not so easy). You'll recall that Dr. Lyle answers questions from fiction writers who want to make their stories more believable.

But a recent post in the blog included a very unusual question. Here's how the question began:

My hero knows the villain, a werewolf, is extremely allergic to silver. He has to introduce a sufficient amount into the villain’s system to put him out of action permanently. He doesn’t have to die but no longer be a threat. A vegetative state would be okay.

They are at a party to raise money to rebuild a church. The villain is a member of the church council so will be greeting the guests. The hero and villain have never met before.

Note to self: when I attend a future council meeting at my church, watch out for the extremely hairy people.

The author presented the scenario, which in the author's case involved silver. Now Dr. Lyle (presumably) has no direct experience with werewolves, so the doctor's response is based upon the human body. And frankly, I learned more about allergies in this werewolf conversation than I've ever learned before in my life.

Here's part of Dr. Lyle's response:

A severe allergy to virtually anything can kill the allergic person. From peanuts to penicillin and everything in between. And yes, sliver, too. Particularly in the world of werewolves and other fantasy situations. If the victim is severely allergic, skin contact of a metal such as silver might very well produce a sudden and deadly allergic reaction. This would be called an anaphylactic reaction or anaphylaxis.

Our immune system is critical to our survival. We are constantly bombarded by potential antigens all the time, usually in the form or bacteria and viruses. The body recognizes the antigen (virus, etc.) as foreign and builds antibodies that will recognize and attach to the virus. This reaction attracts white blood cells (WBCS), which release chemicals that kill or harm the virus, which is then consumed by the WBCs and destroyed. This process is essential for each of us to survive in our bacteria and virus-filled world.

So far, so good.

But, in allergic individuals, this reaction can be rapid and massive and can cause the release of large amounts of the chemicals from the WBCs. This is the reaction we call anaphylaxis.

Read the rest here.

Lesson learned? Don't be afraid to ask the esoteric question. There's a good chance that even if the situation in (the) question doesn't seem to directly apply to you, the answer might still be applicable to your own life.

And what's more, this post gave me an excuse to post this.

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