What can you do to get rid of hiccups? Must be something....
-- Mary, via e-mail
They've made headlines lately. Too bad for Florida teenager Jennifer Mee; her 15 minutes of fame were wasted on a three-week case of hiccups. Guess anybody can make the news these days. So, if you have a bunion like a potato or a bald spot shaped like Norway, news crews will be on your doorstep shortly. And Team Matthew Alice has messed around with the subject of hiccups at least twice before. But we've finally found a morsel of information that should put an end to the hiccup discussion forever. Be careful what you ask for. You might get it.
Apparently, since the last time we checked, medical science has discovered the secret to getting rid of hiccups. It was such a breakthrough, it actually won a prize. An IgNobel Prize for 2006 from the prestigious and wacky Annals of Improbable Research, a Harvard-based group that puts the fun back in fundamental science. Always on top of the real and really ridiculous from labs around the world.
Two doctors, one in Tennessee and one in Israel, shared the IgNobel Prize in medicine for discovering that the most reliable cure for hiccups is a maneuver called the digital rectal massage ("digital" as in "fingers," not hardware). Did the Tennessee doc look at his twitchy patient and say to himself, "Hmmm, maybe if I stick my fingers up his butt..."? We don't want to know.
Because hiccups are basically out-of-control vagus-nerve signals, anything that interrupts the cascade of overstimulation will put an end to the hicking. Vagus nerve irritating you? Irritate it back. How do you get at your vagus nerve easily? Through your butt. The doctor didn't offer any details on the fine points of technique. Lucky for Jennifer, hers stopped all by themselves. Or maybe she heard what the doctors were planning to do and she freaked herself out of it.
I hope that does it for all future hiccup questions. Grandma's already sealed up the file and is setting it on fire in the barbecue grill. That leaves us a little space to recommend that any of you cube boobs who need some diversion in the afternoon should bookmark improbable.com, the website for the Annals. Otherwise, you'll miss must-read articles about automatic squirrel-ejecting bird feeders; ultrasonic velocity in cheddar cheese; "Mental Decrepitude on the U.S. Supreme Court: The Historical Case for a 28th Amendment" (from the University of Chicago Law Review); a U.S. patent issued last year for a cucumber sandwich; a surprising comparison of apples and oranges from NASA's Ames research center; and a study by Harvard's department of comparative zoology of why so many things taste like chicken.