Medical Practice

“True, True, and Unrelated” in the age of “Product Placement/Embedded Marketing.”


This is “high grandparenting season” at our home when you go “The Extra Mile.” That means it is possible on certain days on or between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day to find up to 20 children and grandchildren under our roof. With my wife one of ten, and me, one of twelve, we are no strangers to chaos. Our kids believe we feed off it, and maybe they’re right.

With over 150 years under our collective belts, we two are – if nothing else – optimistic, resilient, and somewhat wiser then we were in our early years. For example, we know that the mere temporal or geographic approximation of two incidents or events does not necessarily prove cause and effect. 

That point was reinforced the morning after Thanksgiving when our 11 year old granddaughter informed me that the basement toilet was clogged. She then provided a thumbnail sketch of the events the night before after we had bailed early – the toilet overflowed (nobody knows how or why), a frantic search for a plunger failed even though all were enlisted in the effort, and eventually everyone retired satisfied that the now unusable toilet was quiescent.

Channeling my long gone and much beloved father, who had lived through and honorably managed many a clogged toilet in his tour of duty, all without much complaint, I focused on the plunger issue. First off, I knew we had one, and not just any plunger. I had an orange plastic bellows accordion MasterPlunger that was always surprisingly effective.

I thought it was is the garage, so I went there first. No plunger. Then successively I searched two different basement storage areas, three bathrooms multiple cabinets, and finally an outdoor shed, all the while still clad in my Nautica pajamas. Nothing. So I went back to ground zero, the garage, and after a careful piece by piece search, found the amazing tool under a mountain of outdoor collapsible beach chairs.

With two or three quick thrusts, the toilet outflow was liberated and back in service. No harm done. By Sunday afternoon, the house was emptied of family, most of the major clean up was done, and work began on Christmas decorations. That included multiple trips up and down to the basement, and the rebirth of a boxed 8 foot artificial Cosco Christmas tree, which, with some minor difficulty was assembled, and lit without incident, drawing the same response from my wife that it has for the past 5 years – “I wish we had gotten the colored bulbs instead of the clear ones.”

Anyway, shortly after the tree lighting, and before any ornaments resurfaced, my wife came up from the basement and asked that on my next trip underground I check one of the basement bedrooms adjacent to the toilet overflowing bathroom because it smelled “a little musty.” Not having had any sense of smell for over 30 years, I rely on her nose. So I went down to the bedroom, and noticed in the corner, bordering the bathroom, that the rug was wet and the sheet rock was soft in the area to a height of about 18 inches.

I freed up the wall-to-wall carpet and under padding, and figuring it was stained with toilet water, used my Ace Hardware Craftsman utility knife to cut away the damaged portion till I reached dry concrete floor. By now, my wife’s warnings of impending black mold were enough for me to cut back the affected sheet rock revealing wet framing and insulation, part of which had the trade mark droppings of house bound mice. No big deal – rural New England is rural New England. The clean up was quick and included the shop vac and a range of standard tools.

Opening the wall had exposed a 4 inch copper major drain pipe that seemed to be heading straight up to the main floor. Still believing the source of the mess was the clogged toilet, I brought my wife down to inspect my work and assure her that mold was not a threat. She agreed, but while we were standing next to the slightly exposed wall, she asked, “Do you hear something dripping?” And sure enough I did. There was a thin, but significant, stream of water coming from above streaming down the copper pipe.

So I asked her, do we have any water running, and she said only the washing machine on the floor above. So we turned it off, and the next morning we called MACCA the plumber, who promised to come on Thursday, but asked me to test other appliances that might be tied to this drainage line. So I turned back on the washer, and sure enough, recreated the stream. But by now I was curious enough to wonder where this vertical pipe went. So I took my handy Craftsman knife and removed an 8 foot by 8 inch piece of wall. Now a fuller length of the 1950’s vintage 4 inch copper pipe was exposed. The pipe went through a 2″ by 6″ stud into the ceiling. Above the stud, no water. Below the stud, water.

Having reached a decision point that involved deeply ingrained “there’s no going back now” brain circuitry, I got my DeWalt 20V MAX* XR Reciprocating Saw and freed the pipe from the wooden ceiling anchoring  that was obscuring the site of the leak. And I was rewarded with a diagnosis. Here fully exposed for the first time (except for the USAA Home Owners insurance people) was the hole at a soldered joint site in the copper elbow. 

It was now easy to establish that the only source of water came from the washing machine line, and not from any toilets or faucets in the house somehow tied to the line. And the plumber will easily replace the exposed ancient copper elbow with a PVC pipe replacement, and insurance will cover the bit of carpet and wall repair.

But what have we learned? First, the toilet overflow had nothing at all to do with the leak and mess just a few feet away. Second, had it not been for the toilet overflow, we may not have noticed the more significant problem for weeks. And by then, maybe there would have been black mold. And finally, everyone should invest in and have available an orange bellows accordion MasterPlunger, visible and accessible.

Now lastly, it is fair to ask, what does this have to do with health, beyond baseline sanitary prudence? Well, in our third year of Covid, it is not surprising that all of us have a tendency to associate are manners of symptoms and disorders with the virus or its vaccines. Like the overflowing toilet and latter pipe leak, it is guilt by association which may or may not prove to be true. The evidence required was initially lacking. So it is with Covid and/or the vaccines. Don’t jump to conclusions. Adjacent medical issues may or may not have anything to do with this infectious disease. Give evidence time to surface. And have tools, like the Siemen’s Covid Clinitest home tests, available and accessible as needed.

Mike Magee MD is a Medical Historian and author of CODE BLUE: Inside the Medical-Industrial

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