So I’ve been sick for a few days (swine flu?) and have been staying home and going stir crazy. Lack of exercise and the general misery of being sick have meant a lot of late night TV for me. Last night, for the first time, I got a chance to see the new Animal Planet show I’m Alive.
There are actually three incarnations of this show – two are on Discovery networks and one is on the A&E network Biography (survival in general is an extremely popular theme of late). I’m Alive deals mainly with surviving animal attacks. The other two are the original I Shouldn’t be Alive which deals with surviving excursions into the wilderness or onto the ocean, and I Survived, which in general deals with surviving crime, but not always.
One of the benefits of this particular type of show is that it makes evident to people just how dependent they are on a properly functioning civilization. My hope is that at least a few people are making this connection (and making it properly, i.e., not equating civilization with socialism). Nevertheless, the episode I saw last night (actually the first of the series) of I’m Alive serves as a nice reminder.
A teenage boy, Mike Makens, is bitten by a black widow spider that had been hiding in his sock. His family rushes him to the hospital only to discover that there is no FDA approved antivenin available. Mike is having an unusually bad reaction to the spider venom, is in excruciating pain, and is in danger of suffering permanent nerve damage. The only treatment available in the US could kill him.
Mike’s parents are obviously intelligent people and they are unwilling to risk Mike’s life on a dangerous treatment. And they discover, via the internet, that a non-toxic antivenin exists and is available in Mexico. Mike’s step-father makes the decision to go to Mexico and smuggle the three needed vials of antivenin into the US to save Mike’s life. He recounts the harrowing story of smuggling the antivenin vials out of Mexico, carrying them onto the plane despite warnings that no liquids are allowed, and then into the US, where the antivenin is potentially illegal, all the while realizing that his son is only hours away from permanent nerve damage.
As luck would have it, he is not accosted by customs on either side of the border, who simply fail to check the open manila envelope carrying the antivenin vials (oh well, so much for the no liquids on a plane rule). But Mike is not out of the woods. The hospital has refused to treat Mike with the Mexican antivenin, fearing retaliation from the US government for using a non FDA-approved substance. Only after some pleading does Mike’s family manage to convince a doctor to help them administer the antivenin to him.
Throughout this episode, mind you, Mike’s step-father is shown wearing a shirt the same color orange as a typical prison jumpsuit. I don’t think this is a coincidence. But Animal Planet is sure to include a note which points out that a “loophole” in the law would have allowed the importation and administration of the drug, but only because there is no antivenin at all available in the US. How this importation was to have happened legally is another question.
Now, how many of you knew that if you were ever bitten by a black widow spider, a pretty damn ubiquitous spider in the US, that there would be no FDA-approved antivenin for you? This despite the fact that said antivenin exists in the world?
If this story does not sound familiar to you, you should familiarize yourself with the story of laetrile. Now, who wants to argue that antivenin is dangerous?