Integrated Paper, Case Study Example

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Case Study

Harry Houdini was unquestionably the most magnificent and most amazing magician in modern history. His feats were phenomenal and the methods in which he went about performing them were astounding and, at times, incomprehensible to the normal human. When the name Houdini is mentioned, some individuals will picture the man who was hurled over Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel or the man who was ‘buried alive’ and managed to claw his way out before dying. Both of these examples of Houdini’s magic are actually physiologically due to something that has been practiced by many professionals throughout the years. Houdini practiced, among other things, an extended form of breath control when performing most of his tricks. This helped him to remain submerged beneath water or trapped inside a small area for hours without air.

In order for humans to remain alive, our bodies need a certain amount of oxygen. We achieve this by the involuntary action of breathing. There are sensors built within us to ensure we continue breathing in order to rid our bodies of carbon dioxide and fill our bodies and tissues with oxygen so our brains can send nerve impulses and directions to the rest of our organ systems. It seems simple, really, but is quite complicated and there are positive feedback and negative feedback systems as well as saturation levels of oxygen and levels of pH that always seem to remain in equilibrium with our bodies unless something happens to cause us to be thrown out of this homeostatic balance.

Houdini practiced for many years and developed an ability to have almost complete control over his body and the systems for a limited amount of time. Through this control, he could perform a variety of magic tricks and leave the audience gasping for air as he would emerge from whatever danger he encountered at the last moment. He routinely contorted his body into yoga-like positions in order to achieve more flexibility and creativity for various stage performances. He was able to disjoint his limbs from their socket when necessary in order to escape the confines of a straightjacket or other apparatus. This was the main way his skeletal system was involved in the magic. It has been rumored that Houdini was double jointed and could take almost any bone from its original position and move into a slightly different position before returning it to the original form.

Harry Houdini’s extreme practiced control of breathing encompassed every other system in some way. It is the body’s natural ability to breathe and the diaphragm will receive electrical impulses to begin breathing if it senses danger. If Houdini were practicing breath control, he would have first induced hyperventilation with oxygen to remove as much carbon dioxide from the body and thus cause an increase in his oxygen levels. Afterward, he would many times be submerged into a tank of cold water. This causes the mammalian reaction to take place (The Mammalian Diving Reflex).

The mammalian reaction is also referred to as the diving reflex. If the body is submerged in cold water, circulation will automatically be diverted from the limbs and lower torso and become concentrated on the heart and brain (The Mammalian Diving Reflex). For the muscular system, the muscle contraction in the walls of the blood vessels would cause a decreased blood blow and ensure the brain and heart received oxygen for as long as it was available. Houdini was able to do this for a lengthy amount of time.

The nervous system triggered the ‘fight or flight’ response by signaling the endocrine system to release the appropriate hormones, which would involve urinary function (and the kidneys). During this release, all of Houdini’s senses would become heightened by the nerve impulses and his brain would have a higher activity level because of the increase in oxygen. The hormones released from the endocrine system would affect the urinary system and cause a sodium or potassium change within the kidneys.

While all of this was occurring inside of Houdini, there were things happening to his cardiovascular system as well. Obviously, he was experiencing bradycardia because the heart rate was becoming increasingly slow as time progressed and he continued to control the breathing, or lack thereof. His heart was not pumping as quickly, so oxygen delivery to all tissues was decreased. This would have affected the respiratory system the most. Houdini’s lungs couldn’t utilize oxygen in the proper manner and he was not able to take deep breaths during this period of time.

The digestive system would have also slowed and there would have been a subsequent decrease in enzymes and saliva, causing a problem with the absorption of nutrients and elimination of toxins (Effects of Aging on Your Body, 2009). Also, if the digestive system was not absorbing the proper nutrients, there would be a problem later in life with the skeletal system becoming more porous and prone to breakage (Effects of Aging on Your Body, 2009).

Houdini performed his magic shows and the stunts became increasingly dangerous as he became more famous. At one point, there was some sort of blunt force to his abdomen and he began to feel pain in his abdominal region. He attempted to ignore this and allowed the problem to continue, resulting in a terrible infection due to a rupture in his spleen. Despite efforts made by physicians in the hospital, Houdini succumbed to this and died as a result.

It is questionable as to whether or not this blunt force would have caused such a rupture if Houdini’s tissues had not been chronically deprived of oxygen. Due to the lack of nutrients and decrease of lung capacity when exercising the breathing techniques, it was surmised that Houdini might have been more susceptible to infections as a result of his poor inner physiological shape. This is not a known fact, however, and will never be proven. Although, by reviewing the information and consequences breathing control have on the body and its systems, something of this nature could be possible.

References

Effects of Aging on Your Body. (2009). Retrieved from My Senior Health Care: http://www.myseniorhealthcare.com/Effects-Of-Aging-On-Your-Body.html

The Mammalian Diving Reflex. (n.d.). Retrieved from Breathology: http://www.breatheology.com/services/articles/freediving/the-mammalian-diving-reflex

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