Charles Forte may get more reverential treatment, but the man who brought the weird and wonderful to the masses via his newspaper cartoons and his museums was Robert Ripley, whose last name will forever be followed by “Believe It or Not!” This week we have two stories about people whose conditions would make great Ripley headlines: ‘Fast Ascent Turns Diver Into Human Balloon Man” “Girl Cries Dry Cotton Ball Tears.”
Photographs of Alejandro Ramos Martínez look like the ‘after’ images in an ad for a bodybuilding gym, but the pain that put him in this condition had nothing to do with lifting weights. Four years ago, he was happily employed in Pisco, Peru, as a seafood diver when he accidentally made an ascent from 30 meters faster than he should have. What happened next is no mystery to anyone who knows anything about diving – he was hit with the bends, the common name for decompression sickness or Caisson disease which is caused by nitrogen bubbles forming in the joints, lungs, heart, brain and other body parts. Mild cases of the bends can cause nausea, dizziness and joint pain. Severe cases can cause paralysis or death. What happened to Martinez four years ago is still a mystery to doctors and divers.
The diver’s body immediately ballooned to the size of a massive bodybuilder as the nitrogen bubbles mysteriously formed large pods inside of him. Free-floating bubbles could be removed surgically, but these attached to his muscles and flesh, so he must instead spend time in an oxygen chamber. Lots of time. It happened four years ago, yet Martinez has only lost 30% of the nitrogen and doctors expect he needs 100 more sessions, followed by surgery that costs $100,000. That would be tough to pay on a seafood diver’s salary, but Martínez hasn’t worked since it happened because of the pain, hypertension and 30 kg (66 pounds) the nitrogen has added to his body.
If that story brings tears to your eyes, consider yourself lucky. Manasi Kevat, an 11-year-old Indian girl from the village of Pachkhura in Madhya Pradesh, has been crying up to 40 tiny white cotton-ish balls from her eyes for at least two weeks for no apparent reason, other than she’s sad about these cotton balls appearing where her tears should be. As usual when stories like these come from India, reports say the girl’s village has shunned her and her family, believing she’s possessed by a ghost or demon.
Unfortunately, that’s more than the doctors can tell her. While she hasn’t yet seen an ophthalmologist, several contacted by the local media suspect it’s either a discharge from an allergy, those dreaded teenage hormonal changes or a Vitamin A deficiency causing a condition known as Bitot’s spots. Fortunately, all of those conditions are treatable. Unfortunately, if the locals really believe poor Manasi is possessed, they may keep her in that state and use the cotton ball tears for some sort of rituals or folk medicine.
Let’s hope it’s the former so that the ‘girl who cries cotton balls’ can again shed a real tear for the ‘balloon man of Peru’. If he were alive today, Robert Ripley would be crying tears of joy as he drew tomorrow’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not cartoon.