Fish Can Help Us Out of Troubled Waters

A few days ago, I found my goldfish floating dead in my pond. (The white cat and the tabby kitten swear they're innocent.) I was moody all day--but I didn't think the fish's death could be the cause.

Now I'm not so sure.

What am I to think after reading a survey from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Assn. (whose members sell aquariums and other pet paraphernalia) describing the myriad pluses of owning fish? Fish owners, they say, are less depressed and stressed and have lower blood pressure. They fight less with their spouses. They exercise more, drink less, eat better.

I was skeptical. To learn more, I asked colleagues if they'd had any experiences with fish.

"Twice," responded one co-worker. "Bumps on my tongue, alternating chills and temperature. Both at good restaurants."

The question was rephrased.

Another colleague described how fish broke up a love affair after her boyfriend's cat bumped her aquarium thermostat, poaching all her fish.

A third waxed lyrical about sea horses.

"They barely move but they're a blast to watch," she said. "Especially when the boys give birth."

Changing tack, I consulted Lee Zasloff of the Center for Animals in Society at UC Davis, who studies the human-animal bond.

"It's not that far-fetched," she said of the survey. Yes, fish owners might just be healthier to begin with. But studies show that watching fish at the dentist's office can lower blood pressure. And while Zasloff's not a fish gal herself, she knows people who really bond with them--which can be emotionally healthy.

"But it's not magic," she says. "You can't just stick a fish bowl in the middle of your room and expect your life to change."

Women Doctors Held Promising Role in 1899

Flipping through a recent British Medical Journal, we came upon a fun feature called "One Hundred Years Ago," which reprints items from the past. This is brave of the journal, we decided, after reading "The Future of the Woman Physician," from 1899.

It's about a speech by Dr. Frederick Peterson, clinical professor of insanity--great title!--to graduating women doctors.

"Although [Peterson] referred to the sweet girl graduates with curious infelicity as Amazons," says the journal, "he was most gallant in his estimate of their professional accomplishments."

Women doctors, said Peterson, could do more in the future than tend to women and kids (whom they were limited to treating). What about lab work--cutting up and staining tissue, and so on?

"To the delicate manipulations of this kind of work . . . women can bring such deft and skillful fingers that a man's awkward hands seem like the flippers of a seal in comparison"--women having been prepared for these tasks by "centuries of fine needlework, crocheting and embroidery."

Infectious Style Is Multiplying

Boosters was just mailed a catalog, so excuse us while we finish making our selection. What will it be? A Cholera necktie? A Dental Plaque scarf--new this season? Or some Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever boxer shorts?

We're talking "Infectious Awareables," a line of silk and cotton items featuring anatomically correct patterns of bacteria and viruses. Malaria, TB, Staph, Gonorrhea, Ebola, The Plague--they're all here, looking so gorgeous you want to just gather them into your arms and take them home. So to speak.

You won't find these in malls, says Dr. Roger Freeman, president of Health Media International of Encino, the vendor: "You can't just plop a Gonorrhea tie down in the middle of a department store and expect people to get it."

Instead, Freeman sells at health and science trade shows (they were snapping up ties at a 1998 American Public Health Assn. meeting). Scientists, he says, like "wearing" the bugs that they work on. The items are educational: Each carries facts about the disease on the back, and 4% of profits go to research or education.

What's next? Possibly the parasite Giardia--just wait till you see it, enthuses Freeman. "It's a really nasty disease, but everyone who knows Giardia says, 'Oh, that's a cute bug.' It just kind of smiles back at you."

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