I’ve just finished riding my mountain bike through park trails, up and down hills, and return home out of breath and very thirsty. I grab my water bottle craving a quench to my thirst, so I gulp, and gulp as fast as I can… too fast. I completely mess up my body’s breathing rhythm and BAAM! I hiccup…hard! It’s not only uncomfortable, sometimes painful and embarrassing in public, but it takes perhaps 2-3 minutes or more to rid yourself of them, right!? What is this malfunction and why does it even exist?
I want to know!
Later in the evening relaxing on my couch from a fabulous day teaching little Energizer Bunnies followed by that wonderful strenuous bike-ride, with a purpose I’m reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace before bed. About the third paragraph, page 2 I believe, I slip into what I think was Never-never-Land and suddenly jump, snapping out of sinking pure relaxation into a VIOLENT jolt! Ouch! What is this malfunction and why does it even exist!?
I want to know!
Knowing is the First Step to Prevention, Right?
Not so fast. Turns out that what your parents explained or grade school proposed as the menacing ailment and proven cure, may not be the whole story.
The Hiccup — The police Sargeant opens up the Jerkiness File, pulls out a 4×10 magnet and throws it up on the “Open Cases” investigation board. It sticks and reads “Diaphragm, T.” Our first accomplice! The young rookie cop asks, “What’s the T for Sir?” Sargeant takes a pause, “Pyle,” he grunts “it’s so your penile brain doesn’t make its normal sexist associations!” Who is this and what’s its function? Diaphragm…first name Thoracic, is the shifty muscle behind all the business. He sits just below your chest working perfectly and secretly as you breath; the Accountant of the operation, if you will. His function? He pulls down when inhaling to bring in business (air), and he relaxes so business is released when your lungs exhale. It’s a regular respiratory black-market!
But there’s a nastier side to Diaphragm. The room of officers fall silent…what? What could be more sinister? The Sargeant’s voice deepens, “Sometimes Diaphragm gets irritated and when he gets irritated, nobody is happy!” Apparently when he’s pissed, he pulls down hard and fast sucking air down your throat! When that rushing air hits your voice box, your vocal chords slam shut giving that hiccup jerk! “Accounting” just closes business down and everything becomes very uncomfortable until Diaphragm returns to normal.
That’s the school version, maybe your parent’s version too. There is another one; the medical community’s version. Respiratory doctors, gastrointestinal doctors, and gastroenterology call the hiccup Synchronous diaphragmatic flutter, or SDF. It has another alias too: Singultus. The medical community says Singultus is somewhat unpredictable and an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm simultaneously with the contraction of the larynx and complete closure of the glottis…which basically is a shut-off valve for your air intake. Reasons for the “shut-off” are generally believed to be triggered by minor stomach upsets.
Then there is the Other more extensive version of Why the hiccup… the one I find fascinating. But first, all of you will meet our second fiendish criminal and crime-scene, street-name: the Never-never-Land jerk.
My Tolystoy-Leap or Hypnic-Jerk — Sargeant Carter reaches into the Jerkiness File again. He pulls out the second magnet slapping it onto the board. This one reads “Brain, M.” Hah! The scoundrel of sleeplessness! Before Pyle, G. can open his rookie mouth Sargeant Carter nips “Do you have one of those Pyle” he asks. “Why don’t you demonstrate for everyone what the M stands for.” Once again the room falls silent, all ears upon Pyle, G. and his lethargic expression. Seconds turn into longer seconds. “I’ll save you the pleasure Pyle.” Sargeant Carter writes on the board with the marker…Monkey. “Our second felon is Monkey Brain!” exclaims the Sargeant “I want all of you to help Pyle find his so we can close this damn case, preferably this decade!“
QUIET all of you! There’s more. Brain, M. is shifty too. The report is that Brain has a rather diverse personality and a huge creative ego; some say conflicted. He will not be easy to track down so listen up!
The medical experts say Brain’s most common shiftyness while asleep are rapid eye movement while the rest of the body and limbs stay still, making it difficult to know what’s going on in that head. If Brain is watching a fox chase a rabbit, the eyes will follow the chase (in his head) everywhere, but if he’s riding a bike or jogging, you would never know it. Stealthy S.O.B.! Fortunately, we’ve got a deep undercover mole inside the operation. They report that as Brain gives in to watching and listening to business inside and outside the “organization,” Brain begins to entertain himself and relaxation/sleep creeps in. That’s when things get weird. A struggle begins over control of the motor system between nocturnal operations and daytime operations; Brain splits into two different managers while the fight ensues. Both keep intruding on the other’s territory until the dreamy rest personality prevails. These are the preliminary reports from within and our ongoing investigation. However, as mentioned, there are Other developing versions and theories of why Diaphragm, T. and Brain, M. work this way.
“There are those” Sargeant Carter’s voice raises “who might feel Paleontology is bogus, even illegal or demonic.” Carter gets firm, clinching his fist, “But in the field of crime and solving cases NOTHING is ever ignored! If you or I slip-up and miss a clue, that could be the difference between life or death for someone! This is why we call in forensic scientists.” The Sargeant stops, glares at every officer, leans over toward them and says, “You WILL listen to every word, every syllable they utter… especially you Pyle!“
Carter turns on the overhead projector and begins.
Our first top forensic scientist and co-investigator, Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago and Natural History Magazine, says that Diaphragm and the hiccup are “a legacy of our “fishy” ancestry.” Pointing to the back of the room Sargeant Carter introduces, “Mr. Shubin, the floor and our undivided attention is yours.“
“Thank you Sargeant Carter.” Shubin clicks the image-changer, up pops a side-by-side comparison of a shark’s gill area and a human’s jaw area. “Due to 3.5 million years of genetic tweaking and re-engineering, our human flexible throat that has led to our highly developed speech and communication, has also made us susceptible to modern sleep apnea, snoring, choking, and hiccups.” Dr. Shubin continues as he explains a, b, c, and d in the image:
Both shark and human embryos (a, b) have similar gill arches (the brightly colored elements). In sharks, the cells in these arches become bones, nerves, arteries, and muscles that support the gills (c); in humans, they form the jaw, ears, larynx, and parts of the throat (d).
The annoyance of [Diaphragm and] hiccups also has its roots in our fish and amphibian past. If there is any consolation, we share that misery with others. Cats and dogs, like many other mammals, also get hiccups. A small patch of tissue in the brain stem is thought to be the center that controls that complicated reflex.
The hiccup reflex is a stereotyped twitch that involves a number of muscles in the body wall, diaphragm, neck, and throat. A reflexive firing of one or two of the major nerves that control breathing causes those various muscles to contract. This results in a very sharp inspiration of air. Then, about thirty-five milliseconds later, a flap of tissue in the back of the throat (the glottis) closes the top of the airway. The fast inhalation followed by a brief closure of the air tube produces the “hic.”
Our tendency to develop hiccups is another influence of our past. There are two issues to think about. One is what causes the reflexive firing of nerves that initiates the hiccup. The other is what controls that distinctive hic—the abrupt inhalation and the glottis closure. The nerve action is a product of our fish history, while the hic is an outcome of the history we share with tadpoles.
[The theoretical conclusion is this:] The genes that control all of this structure [and restructuring] were originally used to build the bodies of ancient worms, flies, and fish. Every part of us tells this story: our sense organs, our heads, even our entire body plan.
Dr. Shubin stops and turns off the overhead projector. “The rest of my studies, data research, and theories can be found in your individual packets placed in front of you. Sargeant Carter?” Click here for his article.
* * * * * * * * * *
Carter returns to the front, “Our second forensic co-investigator is Dr. Frederick Coolidge from the University of Colorado. He will enlighten all of you of more clues about Brain, M.” The Sargeant looks to the back of the room, “Dr. Coolidge, you have our undivided attention, including Pyle’s.“
Primates from Trees and Monkey Brain
“Thank you Sargeant” as Coolidge flips on the projector again to reveal an image of lemurs sleeping in a tree, he begins “Paleontology, more specifically Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, are suggesting that our ancient primate ancestors, following Dr. Shubin’s tadpoles of course, also had our hypnic jerk. They still do!” Dr. Coolidge changes the image to a fatigued woman asleep over laundry. “As Sargeant Carter spoke about earlier regarding the battle between Brain, his working fatigue, and nocturnal operations, the body slips into a limbo-like state and Brain doesn’t want to give up any control.” He flips to the next image, a man “falling” over his bed, but actually still lying in it.
Primates sleeping in trees also mimic this hypnic jerk which for them is an archaic reflex to the brain’s misinterpreting the muscle relaxation accompanying the onset of sleep as a signal that the sleeping primate is falling out of a tree. The reflex may also have had selective value by having the sleeper readjust or review his or her sleeping position in a nest or on a branch in order to assure that a fall did not occur.
Dr. Coolidge goes on to explain, “Sleep studies done at the University of Bologna in Italy have suggested the jerks are also associated with a rapid heartbeat, quickened breathing, sweat, and sometimes a peculiar sensory feeling of ‘shock’ or ‘falling into the void.’” Coolidge takes a moment, then paces back and forth staring at the floor. “Those behaviors and reactions are not unlike most primates, including ourselves. The behavior in the primate world is closely associated with what scientists call the Fight-or-Flight Response. As law enforcement agents, all of you are too familiar with this innate tendency.“
— The author of this post so desperately wants to go into why some primate behaviors don’t evolve, but due to the fact that this post is already approaching 2,000 words, feels it might be suitable for another later post. Very sad face follows. —
Dr. Coolidge turns off the projector and begins passing out packets of his and his colleague’s study and theory… “Inside these folders you will all find mine and Dr. Thomas Wynn’s alternative theory of Brain, M. and his hypnic jerk behavior. Examine it closely.” Click here for the study.
The Briefing Adjourns
Sargeant Carter returns to the front, “Agents, it would seem that Diaphragm, T and Brain, M. have been at large for a very long time, probably millions of years, causing rampant hiccups and hypnic jerking. That in no way implies we slack-up on the case and concede no arrests when there are obviously leads and clues galore! No, we will not; not on my watch!” The Sargeant walks over to the front board and points at the two names. “I want these two” he yells “understood like the back of your hands… that would be your free-hand Pyle… I want them identified, their accomplices identified, all cuffed and brought in!” He stares at his agents. They stare back. Three seconds later…
“NOW you grunts!” All but one launches out of their chairs immediately…”Pyle, Gomer… damn it, that sure as hell includes YOU!“
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
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