a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA) 

Week: 517.4 Guest: Joel Achenbach Topic: Fascinating Facts About The Body Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: This is another program on fascinating facts about the body with Washington Post columnist Joel Achenbach, author of Why Things Are and Why Things Aren't.

NEMA: Here's a particularly pertinent subject right now because a lot of people are suffering from conditions related to this and your question as you posed it in the book is - why didn't the old manual typewriters cause repetitive stress injuries the way new computer keyboards do because it seems like new computer keyboards are far less physical effort, therefore it would only seem they would cause fewer problems?

ACHENBACH: It's better to use a manual typewriter or something like that because it's more of a workout for your hands. There are more different types of motions you have to do. Think about feeding the paper into the typewriter, hitting the carriage return, unsticking those little tongs when they get stuck together, you know when the letters get stuck together. The problem with the computer keyboard is you basically move hardly anything at all other than your fingers and your wrists get sort of stuck or locked into a position sometimes a little bit bent and it's the lack of variety of motion that's causing the repetitive stress injury whereas the old manual typewriters, you just did more things with your hands.

NEMA: Did the people that you talked to about this, the researchers or physicians you talked to about repetitive stress syndrome, did they say that they are using that knowledge to try to mitigate some of the problems from that?

ACHENBACH: I didn't mention that. I assume they must be doing that because where I work, I have to have this little wrist rest contraption I put my wrists on so that they don't bend too much and this is such a multi-million dollar problem for corporations out there that are constantly looking at ways to alter this. I mean, my desk goes up and down. I can press a little button - it goes up, it goes down. My chair has all these different controls because I think they're very afraid, not just at the Washington Post where I work, but everywhere that this thing is an epidemic and it's going to result in a lot of liability.

NEMA: All right. Let's get to one of the fundamentals here. Why do we get a runny nose when we get a cold?

ACHENBACH: I always thought that whatever happened with your body was good for you, that your body was making an appropriate response to the disease or illness or injury but I talked to some people who told me that a cold virus is right diabolical. The runny nose is designed to flush out things that get up in your nose or whatever, whether it's pepper or pollen or something. The virus is designed that it can cause inflammation and cause the congestion and the runny nose because it's good for the virus to be able to ride around your head and your chest and to basically invade larger parts of your body. It can sort of surf the mucous, I guess you could say or something like that, and not only that it then can spread to other innocent people because your nose is running and it's sort of disgusting to think about but it's a whole transmission technique for the virus. It's exploiting our body's normal processes for its own diabolical purposes.

NEMA: Viruses are tricky little rascals, that's for sure.