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Only Human

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Only Human is a podcast about making the most of our health, whether we’re training for a marathon, overcoming an illness, or trying not to go broke paying for healthcare. Hosted by Mary Harris, Only Human is a show where we’re not afraid to have uncomfortable conversations, and experiment with possible solutions. Only Human. Because every body has a story. WNYC Studios is the producer of leading podcasts including Radiolab, Death, Sex & Money, Freakonomics Radio, On the Media and many others.




The Birth of Climate Change Denial

In this special episode of Only Human, we partnered with the folks at WNYC's podcast The United States of Anxiety, hosted by Kai Wright. Starting with the 1925 Scopes Trial — also known as the "trial of the century" — we look at one of the most controversial topics in our time: the debate over evolution versus a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. It started with a substitute teacher in Tennessee who taught evolution in the classroom. What followed was a fiery debate that...

Duration: 00:38:47

Too Ornery to Die

Until 2012, if you had a rare genetic disorder, there didn’t seem to be much hope for a cure. The science just wasn’t there, and creating drugs for small populations made little financial sense for big pharma. The story of one cystic fibrosis drug is proof: not only is treating the root cause of a rare genetic disorder possible; it can be profitable. But the way this new drug was made is causing a stir among some of the very scientists and doctors who helped to create it. This week: what...

Duration: 00:30:16

Medicine and Mistrust on Native American Reservations

Native Americans have some of the highest rates of suicide, alcoholism, diabetes and maternal mortality in the country. And while the federal government passed the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act back in 1976 to make their care a priority, it spends just $3,000 a year caring for each Native patient. (We spend twice that on health care for every prisoner.) Dr. Adrienne Laverdure and Dr. Ken Bernard, two Native American doctors, know this firsthand.The mother and son are both Chippewa...

Duration: 00:25:52

Real Doctors, Fake Medicine?

Dr. Kallmes’ medical degree is real. But one of his treatments for spinal fractures might not be. Kallmes performs vertebroplasty, a surgery he developed that involves injecting medical cement into the fractured bone to stabilize the fractured area and relieve pain. He gets great results from his patients, and teaches the method to other doctors at conferences. But here’s the thing: he has no idea why vertebroplasty works. So a few years ago, he decided to test it against a placebo....

Duration: 00:25:47

The Man Who Cured Everything

Here are some things that the legendary bodybuilder Bernarr Macfadden believed in: Fasting to cure cancer. Fasting to cure asthma. Fasting to cure – here’s an interesting one – emaciation. “I mean, there’s the old idea of starve a fever, feed a cold,” said Mark Adams, who wrote a book about Macfadden called Mr. America. “For Macfadden it was starve a fever, starve a cold, starve a sore throat, starve cancer, starve kleptomania.” The alternative medicine enthusiast shook up the health scene...

Duration: 00:36:27

When Risky Sex Means Jail

Last summer, in a Missouri courtroom, a college wrestler named Michael Johnson was sentenced to 30 years in prison for “recklessly infecting a partner with HIV.” Johnson, who also goes by “Tiger Mandingo”, was accused of knowingly infecting his partners with HIV, although at least one of them said Johnson called to tell him the diagnosis when Johnson tested positive for the virus. The case shed light on the stigmas surrounding sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, and especially...

Duration: 00:24:34

The Science of Turning Her On

The only sexual education Nicole Prause had growing up in a small town in Texas was how to practice abstinence. Then she went to college at Indiana University and started working at a sex laboratory at the famed Kinsey Institute. But the subject was still taboo at home. Prause would start talking about her job and her stepmom would say, “Not at the dinner table.” That hush-hush attitude only served to convince the sex researcher and neuroscientist that women learn about sexuality the wrong...

Duration: 00:24:51

Your Sanity or Your Kidneys

This week we're revisiting the story of a woman making a very difficult decision. Jaime Lowe started taking lithium when she was 17, after a manic episode landed her in a psychiatric ward. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder,and for more than 20 years, the drug has been her near-constant companion. She’s taken it for so long that she can’t say for sure where she ends and lithium begins. “It’s hard to know if lithium is actually -- like, if it dampens my personality, or if it normalizes...

Duration: 00:24:05

When Opera Meets Autism

Michelle Dunn and Larry Harris make an unlikely team. Dunn is an autism researcher and Harris was an offensive lineman for the Houston Oilers – and is now an opera singer. They met at a church choir in New York. Between sessions at the church they got to talking about Dunn’s work at the Montefiore-Einstein Center for Autism and Communication Disorders. She works with patients who are bright and high-functioning, but often struggle to speak and communicate in an effective tone and cadence....

Duration: 00:25:44

A Doctor’s Love Affair with Vicodin

“Medicine is a land of opportunity for a drug addict.” Take Peter Grinspoon’s word for it. The Harvard-trained physician spent years abusing painkillers, infatuated with the feeling of euphoria that he got from the drugs. Getting pills as a physician wasn’t hard. Like an alcoholic working at a bar, Grinspoon was surrounded by Vicodin, Oxycodone, Percocet and other opiates on a daily basis. He had easy access to a prescription pad, and he convinced patients who were addicts themselves to...

Duration: 00:27:49

Don't Count on the Calorie

Calories are sneaky. For those who have tried counting them to lose weight, you know quite well that they slip through your fingers during that latte and biscotti snack break. But it turns out that regulating our diets strictly through calories, technically just a unit of energy, has recently proved less reliable than we thought. Take nuts, for example. Nuts are generally regarded as a calorie-dense, energy-dense food group. But David Baer, a researcher at the United States Department of...

Duration: 00:23:24

One Doctor’s Mission: Make Abortion Safe in the South

Willie Parker grew up in Alabama without electricity, one of six kids in a single-mother household. He learned to read by the light of a kerosene lamp. He was also raised in a fundamentalist Christian community that believed abortion was wrong. Single, unwed mothers had to publicly apologize in church. Today, however, Parker is a obstetrician gynecologist who specializes in providing safe abortions in the Deep South. He travels between states and clinics amid protests and threats, and...

Duration: 00:21:48

How to Stop an Outbreak

An unwelcomed stranger snuck into the city last summer, and New Yorkers were panicking. A sudden outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, a type of pneumonia caused by waterborne bacteria, had landed in the city in July. In just over two weeks, there were already 81 cases and seven deaths -- and the source of the deadly bacteria was a mystery. When the New York City Health Department got the alert, they realized this wasn’t like any outbreaks of the disease they’d seen before. “We’re incredibly...

Duration: 00:30:28

When Life's a Medical Experiment

Susannah Ludwig is a self-proclaimed optimist. And it seems to serve her well: she’s a successfulmovie producer —her film King’s Point was nominated for an Oscar —and mother to an 8-year-old son. (courtesy of Susannah Ludwig) But her true desire has always been something seemingly simple: to be normal. Ludwig was born with an incomplete esophagus, a rare birth defect that has made it impossible for her to eat and digest normally for the past 44 years. In the movies, a bunch of heroic...

Duration: 00:20:22

This is the Year You Stick to It

You might know the name Dan Ariely. Maybe you’ve watched one of his very popular TED talks, or read one of his best-selling books about how and why we behave irrationally. Or maybe you’ve already heard us say on the Only Human podcast that we’re partnering with him on a new project: a study that aims to help all of us stick with our New Year’s resolutions to get more exercise. The story of how Ariely became a behavioral economist begins dramatically and terribly. Ariely was a teenager in...

Duration: 00:21:17

Why is Healthcare So Expensive? We Ask an Expert

When Mary sat down with Zeke Emanuel, one of the main architects of the Affordable Care Act, she basically wanted to know one thing: if the ACA was supposed to revolutionize healthcare, how come she still can’t understand her medical bills? Even though he’s an oncologist, bioethicist, and healthcare wonk, Dr. Emanuel still struggles to navigate the system. Arcane hospital bills stump him, too. So if patients aren’t to blame for not understanding medical costs, is there anything we can do?...

Duration: 00:15:51

Putting Care Back in the ICU

Does a more humane hospital make a safer hospital? That’s a question Johns Hopkins is grappling with — and Dr. Peter Pronovost believes the answer is yes. Dr. Pronovost is a critical care physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He’s known best for innovating an approach to patient safety a decade ago with something really simple: checklists. Preventable death rates at hospitals are high. Infections from central lines, the catheters inserted into major veins to let doctors administer drugs and...

Duration: 00:21:34

Let's Talk About Death

Bishop Gwendolyn Phillips Coatesis on a mission. She’s a preacher in a small church in South Los Angeles, and she’s made it her job to get her congregation prepared for one thing: death. Bishop Coates has lost two husbands and both parents, so she knows first hand how important it is to tell your loved ones what you want at the end of your life. “Having the conversation is not a death sentence, having a conversation is one of the greatest gifts that you can give to someone,” she says. But...

Duration: 00:25:18

Your Brain On Sound

When Rose* was growing up, she knew something wasn’t quite right about how she heard the world. She says it felt like she was isolated by an invisible wall. But when she got typical hearing tests at an audiologist’s office? She aced them, every time. Rose’s problem was particularly bad in noisy places. “It doesn’t take much,” she says. “It could be five computers in a room and a bunch of shuffling around — you lose me at that point.” It took Rose years, and plenty of doctors’ visits, to...

Duration: 00:22:41

Listen Up! The Big Turkey in the Sky

It’s not a coincidence that we decided to tackle listening right before a big holiday, when a lot of us are about to spend time with family. After all, sometimes the people we love the most can be the hardest to listen to — and that can make for contentious conversation (unless you’ve got Adele to save you). So we’re rounding out Only Human’s Listen Up project with some guidance to navigating the dialogue at your Thanksgiving dinner table. Henry Alford, who writes about manners for the New...

Duration: 00:16:09

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