Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary CanalRating:

Dear Elvis Presley,

I’m so sorry for laughing and judging you based on how I believed you’d died. Living with Hirschsprung’s disease had to be awful, always worrying, always in discomfort. People assuming you were fat when the distended abdomen was a sign you were seriously ill.

Begging your forgiveness,

Amy

At autopsy, his colon was “two to three times normal size … was jam-packed [length-wise]… The impaction had the consistency of clay and seemed to defy Florendo’s efforts with the scissors to cut it out.” The clayey material, he says, was barium, administered to prep Presley for a set of X-rays – taken four months earlier. “That barium was… Just like a rock.” He says the impaction obstructed at least 50 to 60 percent of the diameter of Presley’s colon … [It] had expanded so dramatically [at the end of his career] that it crowded his diaphragm and had begun to compromise his breathing and singing.’ Soiling himself on stage happened regularly, he had no control whatsoever because of the disease. ‘The resulting arrhythmia [from straining to make a bowel movement] can be fatal … especially likely to happen to someone, like Elvis, with a compromised heart.’ It’s a common cause of death but wasn’t well-known or understood at the time of Presley’s death.

‘Stool softeners are administered as a matter of course on coronary-care wards.’


Nasal regurgitation. Fistulated stomachs. Rectal feeding. Holy water enemas. Mythbusting Mary Roach concentrates on the strange, the unethical, and the downright funny aspects of the alimentary canal.

I’ve learned many things:

✺ Eat more liver. Organs are the most nutritious parts of an animal.
✺ Never take alka seltzer / bicarbonate of soda / baking soda after eating too much.
✺ Never light a match or breathe without apparatus near a manure pit.
✺ Never punch someone in the mouth unless I’m willing to lose a finger.
✺ Anal cancer exists and is contracted the same way as cervical cancer.
✺ A human cannot survive being swallowed by a large fish. Jonah lied.
✺ Fire-breathing dragons snakes are possible under the right conditions.
✺’Humans perceive five tastes – sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and umami (brothy) – and an almost infinite number of smells. Eighty to ninety percent of the sensory experience is olfaction [smell].
✺ Never take the ability to smell, taste, or swallow for granted.
✺ ‘brachioproctic eroticism’ = ‘fist-fucking’
✺ To respect the “prison wallet” (rectum). When I need to go, I’m going. I don’t want to be constipated.
✺ Never insert an object rectally unless I’m will to lose it up in there.



That’s an eel eating it’s way through this guy’s colon after rectal insertion.

Well, Roach has covered the three basics of animal biology: feeding, sex, and death. Her witty approach to her subject matter helps the medicine go down, as it were. She makes learning fun by breaking things down into easily digestible bites (puns intended), though there are a few less interesting bits. I wonder what she’ll cover next.

*Many thanks to the publisher for the e-ARC in return for an honest review.

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