Monthly Archives: April 2008

Pompeii, 1986

Twenty-two years ago tomorrow, the worst nuclear disaster in history took place in the Ukraine.

At around 1:00 a.m. on 26 April, 1986, a test of one of the reactors at the Chernobyl nuclear plant failed. The water used to cool the reactors began to get increasingly hot — close to boiling. In spite of the many red flags indicating that the test should be aborted, engineers continued.

Then, at around 1:23 a.m., a huge power surge occurred. Engineers called a shutdown to the test, but it was too late. A buildup of energy, increasing exponentially every few seconds, caused Reactor #4 to explode, spewing untold amounts of nuclear fuel and graphite into the atmosphere. Fires were everywhere; people were incinerated.

The reactor suffered a total meltdown. [Click pictures for larger views.] The main operator in charge was somehow rescued and taken to a Moscow hospital. With the exception of one small spot, his entire body was soaked in radiation. When he died, they buried him in a coffin lined with lead.

The Chernobyl explosion produced more radioactive contamination than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki — combined. The cities of Chernobyl and Priyapat (at one time, a thriving town of 50,000) are still deserted, 20+ years after the explosion.

As you might guess, the aftereffects have been ugly and long lasting, and children are the most affected.

Tumors, deformities, and other maladies plague many of the residents. Thyroid cancer runs rampant.

Although the death toll was officially listed at 50, estimates of the total dead in the Ukraine and Belarus as a result of the Chernobyl disaster could reach another 140,000, according to Greenpeace International. Even more horrifying: the Ukraine is once again planning to build nuclear reactors.


Just found this photo blog – amazing pictures of what is left of the city after 20 years.

Ok, last depressing post until Monday. Promise.

Did you learn this in history class?

In 4 years of high school, none of my history teachers ever brought it up.

Here’s the question:

What 20th century event killed 20-50 million people in one year?

Was it Viet Nam? World War I? World War II? The Korean War? The Holocaust death camps? Nope on all counts. It didn’t have anything to do with guns or bombs or gas chambers.

It was the flu.

The influenza pandemic of 1918 still stands as the single most deadly epidemic in history. And it didn’t start in some remote jungle in South America. It began in Kansas.

A soldier at Fort Riley reported to the infirmary on 11 March, 1918, complaining of a bad cold. By the end of that week, 500 more were in the hospital. Within days, they were all dead.

The next month, similar incidents surfaced in Boston and Philadelphia. By the fall, people in Chicago were dying. And it wasn’t a long, drawn-out thing, either. People died within days of contracting the flu — death by asphyxiation. They simply suffocated trying to draw air into lungs packed with foamy red slime.

Folks were freaked. They made gauze masks, as if that would stop the virus in its tracks. Soon, the dead bodies were everywhere. In the streets, in bedrooms…the dead were piling up so fast, people didn’t know what to do with them.

Theories circulated about what could be causing the sickness, from dirty dishwater to the Germans poisoning air filtration systems and water delivery methods.

In the middle of all this, there was a war going on, so the military had to send boys over to Europe to fight. Only problem: they took the flu virus with them.

Soon, two continents were sick. But it was far from over in the US. It cut a swath from the east coast all the way to San Francisco, where it killed hundreds, but then mysteriously died out. The city blasted the sirens, telling folks that all was well. Within a month, 5,000 new cases were reported.

By November of 1918, it was killing 10,000 people per week. Then, like a deadly tornado being sucked back up into the sky in an instant, it was gone. Done.

In 2004, researchers at National Geographic used some tissue from a flu victim buried in the Alaskan permafrost (fortunate, because there were no freezers to preserve tissue samples in 1918), and concluded that the virus was spread by birds. Bird flu. Sound familiar?

I think I’ll skip the chicken sandwich today.

Photo credit: National Archives

This guy was bizzy

Ok, fiends. Lately, I’ve been reading Philippa Gregory’s series on the wives of Henry VIII, king of England from 1509-1547. I’ve never been much of a fan of historical fiction, but I’m enjoying these books a lot.

How much do you know about Henry Tudor, besides the fact that he had six wives? Here are some Fun Facts for your perusal:

Item: He wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon (his first wife) so he could marry Anne Boleyn. The Pope said nothin’ doin’, so Henry simply broke ties with Rome and appointed himself head of the Church in England so he could have his way. Nice.

Item: Henry was a germophobe, and with good cause. “The sweat,” a flu that killed tens of thousands, scared the willies out of him, so he constantly went “on progress” from one castle to another during the hot summer months, trying to outrun the sickness. He succeeded.

Item: He is depicted as a bloated, nasty curmudgeon, gnawing on a big ol’ turkey leg, ordering people around and having folks beheaded. Actually, he was at his worst only in his later years, due mostly to a nagging leg wound that never healed, and, um…bowel issues. He also had a 52-inch waist, which exacerbated all the other problems. However, as a young man, he was very athletic, fit, ¬†energetic, fun, and handsome. And boy, was he busy in the lady department…

And now, for your pleasure:

The Six Wives of Henry VIII — In Sentence Fragments

Meant to be Read Quite Fast

Catherine of Aragon – Daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Married to Henry’s older brother, Arthur. Arthur croaks. Henry marries Catherine. Married 20-some years. One daughter (Mary) but no sons. Lots of miscarriages. Henry wants out. Wants Anne Boleyn. Petitions Pope for divorce. No go. Tells Rome to take a dive. Divorces Catherine but keeps Mary. Catherine dies alone and penniless, while Henry parties with Anne. Cold.

Anne Boleyn – Strong willed. Argues lots with Henry but gets her way. Too big for her britches. Gives birth to daughter (Elizabeth I), but Henry wants sons. Later miscarries a son. Big mistake. Henry wants out. Wants Jane Seymour. Must get rid of nasty Anne. Trumps up charges (adultery, treason, incest). Off with her head.

Jane Seymour – Cute. Young. Doesn’t argue. Henry likes that. Pregnant at the time of Anne’s execution. Marries Henry directly after. Gives him long-awaited son (Edward VI). Henry ecstatic. Jane dies 12 days later. Henry inconsolable. Mourns for 2 years.

Anne of Cleves – German princess. Not too bright. Ugly, too, apparently. Henry sees her for the first time after marriage deal is made. Freaks. Marriage never consummated. Henry worries she won’t give him a divorce. He’s wrong. And happy. Divorces Anne but bankrolls her for life, treating her like a beloved sister. Maybe she not so dumm after all…

Kathryn Howard – 18 years old. Henry: 50. [Eww.] Nearly illiterate, but pretty. And “experienced.” Henry marries her anyway. Kathryn not satisfied with aging 300-pound ogre with gimpy leg. Has affairs. Gets caught. Convicted of adultery at 21 years old. Chop. Head in basket.

Katherine Parr – Widow. Engaged to Thomas Seymour (Henry’s ex bro-in-law). Henry proposes instead. She accepts. Nurses the old man in his ill health. Henry dies. Katherine is free. Marries Seymour. Dies after delivering a baby girl. Bummer.

And there you have it. Have a delicious Wednesday. That reminds me…I gotta go to the bakery this morning.

Fink out.

Uh-oh. Save your pipes, kids.

I read this morning that American Idol (barf) winner Jordin Sparks is on vocal rest after suffering an acute vocal cord hemorrhage before going on tour with Alicia Keys.

As many of you know, the Fink herself had vocal cord surgery back in ’95. I was an assistant marching band director, and spent 6 weeks in the summer shouting at 130 kids on the field. I was also a singer on the weekends, so that royally bit. The more I yelled, the more the cords bled…the more I sang, the worse everything got.

So I was way past where Miss Sparks is right now. I had to have surgery to remove what are called “vocal nodules” or “singers’ nodes.” Check out the grotesque pictures:

These photos are taken by putting a camera down the patient’s throat, so you’re seeing a bird’s-eye view. Notice the small callouses on both vocal folds. From overuse/misuse and muscle strain, these “nodes” appear, usually one on each fold — and if they get big enough, they don’t go away. This picture is of a person at rest; that is, she is just breathing and not singing.

The next picture is taken as she tries to sing. Notice how the vocal cords — which are supposed to fit perfectly together like a set of closed curtains — are forced apart in places by the nodes. That causes a mammoth air leak, which is where the “hoarse” voice sound comes from. Therein lies the danger, my friends. If you’re ever going to talk or sing correctly again, you need to have them scraped off. That’s what happened to me, and it wasn’t pleasant.

Unfortunately, vocal nodes are more common than you might think. Lots of famous singers have suffered with them, and many had to have surgery to get them removed. Check this list:

  • Natalie Imbruglia
  • Justin Timberlake
  • Whitney Houston
  • Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin)
  • Julie Andrews
  • Bette Midler
  • Joss Stone
  • Luciano Pavarotti (WHAT? Opera singers with nodes? What’s the world coming to…)

So, like I always tell my singers (many of whom are cheerleaders and athletes who scream themselves silly at games): Those nickel-sized pieces of skin are the only means by which you can make sound for the rest of your life. Take care of them.

Peace (and vocal rest),

Dr. Fink

Photo credit:

Don’t know why…

…but all this made me laugh last night.


3. Charles Dickens slept facing North. He thought it improved his writing. [Gotta try that.]

4. The Thriller told me that when he went downstairs to his office yesterday morning, he saw a tiny spider “rappelling” down a fiber of its web. I do not know why, but that just cracked me up.


Mondays. They’re everywhere. Ugh.