Contemplate ~ Deliberate ~ Meditate ~ Ruminate – WIF Reflection on the Human Brain

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Your Brain

is Crazier

Than You Think

The human brain is, so far as we know, the most complicated thing in the universe. It exists in the lonely darkness of the skull, but by interpreting electrical signals from the senses it’s able to build up a detailed picture of the world around it.

Quite how accurate this picture is, and how closely one person’s version of reality matches with that of another, is not known for sure. It is nonetheless an impressive trick.

There’s still a great deal we don’t understand about the human brain, and it may well be that we’re never going to be smart enough to figure it out completely.

We do know that a lot of strange and extraordinary things are going on inside our heads. These are ten reasons why your brain might be crazier than you think.

10. Your Brain’s too Complex for a Supercomputer

Japan’s K computer is one of the fastest and most powerful supercomputers in the world. Its 88,000 processors are capable of an astonishing 10.51 quadrillion computations per second, and it chews its way through roughly the same amount of electricity as a medium-sized town.

Since becoming operational in 2011, at which point it was ranked as the fastest computer in the world, the machine’s capabilities have been harnessed for medical research, disaster prevention, and modelling climate change. In 2014 it was used to create the most accurate simulation of a human brain’s activity ever attempted.

Only a mere 1% of the brain’s entire neural network was simulated, anything more would have been too much even for a machine as powerful and sophisticated as the K Computer. Even then it required some heavy lifting, and it took the Japanese machine some 40 minutes to replicate just one second of brain activity.

The K Computer is due for retirement in August 2019, having been surpassed by ever faster and more powerful machines. Even these are not yet capable of replicating the complexity of the human brain.

9. Memory Capacity

In 2007 a Canadian named Dave Farrow broke a world record when he successfully memorized a sequence of 3,068 playing cards.

While this is an extraordinary achievement, particularly for those of us who struggle to remember where we left our keys, it only scratches the surface of the human brain’s memory storage capacity.

Until recently this was believed to come in at somewhere around one and ten terabytes, but recent studies suggest the true total is several orders of magnitude greater.

Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies believe the average human brain can store over a petabyte of data. That’s the equivalent of 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text, or around 2% of the total number of written words in every language in all recorded history.

Much of this capacity is devoted to such things as ensuring you don’t wake up having forgotten how to read a book or drive. By necessity, only a fraction of the remainder is available to you at any one time. It would be enormously inconvenient if you had to trawl through your memories of everywhere you’d ever been to work out where you lived.

8. Half a Brain can be Enough

Human brains are by no means the largest brains in the world. That particular distinction belongs to the sperm whale, whose brains are around six times as heavy as our own. However, comparing brain size with body mass is a far better indication of intelligence. By this measure the humble tree shrew comes out on top, with humans placing in second.

Surprisingly, it’s possible to remove an entire hemisphere of a human brain with no negative impact on the individual’s intelligence or memory.

In rare cases surgeons have no option other than to perform a hemispherectomy in order to prevent a patient’s seizures. In an adult this would be catastrophic, but the outcomes for children who undergo the procedure at a very young age are surprisingly positive. Their brains are able to adapt in a way that an older brain could not.

A recent study found that not only are most of the children who underwent the procedure seizure free, many were thriving. One had even gone on to become a state chess champion.

7. You Might Not Have Free Will

It seems obvious that humans have free will. We make thousands of decisions every day, and every time we act on these decisions we experience free will first hand. There is, however, a strong case to be made that free will is nothing more than an illusion conjured by our brains.

While it used to be believed that mind and matter were two separate entities, we can now say with a good deal of confidence that mind does not exist independently. The brain seems to be entirely material, which suggests that it must obey the law of causality – that every effect must have a specific cause.

This leaves little or no room for free will. Any decision we make or action we take is an inevitable result of the brain state which immediately preceded it, going back to even before the moment we were born.

This sounds odd, but it’s an established fact that humans are terrible judges of their own behaviour. They can be manipulated into acting in a certain way; when asked why they have done so they will subconsciously post-rationalize the action and insist they had made a decision based on their own free will.

The question of whether free will really is an illusion is far from settled, and a new $7 million study has just been launched in an attempt to come to a definitive answer.

6. Brain Plasticity

In 2014 a Chinese man visited his doctor’s surgery in Great Britain complaining of headaches and strange smells. Scans revealed a parasitic worm burrowing its way through the unfortunate man’s brain, and doctors believed it had most likely been in there for as long as five years.

That he had been able to function for so long with such relatively manageable symptoms is testament to the brain’s remarkable ability to reorganize and rewire itself.

Whenever we learn a new skill, or even form new memories, the brains physical architecture remodels itself. The hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with spatial navigation, is significantly larger in London taxi drivers than in the average person. Differences in brain structure have also been found between musicians and non-musicians.

The brain’s 90-billion or so neurons are linked by trillions of connections. Learning a new skill forms new links, while recalling a memory strengthens existing links. Our brains are constantly changing, adapting, and forming new connections. It’s this brain plasticity that means stroke victims are often able to make a full recovery despite suffering permanent damage to parts of their brain.

5. Your Brain Might be a Secret Genius

For 31 years Jason Padgett’s existence was relatively unremarkable. He worked as a futon salesman, and his free time revolved around drinking and picking up women.

That all changed in 2002 when he became the victim of a vicious, unprovoked assault outside a nightclub. Padgett managed to stagger to a hospital across the street, where he was diagnosed as having suffered a severe concussion.

Padgett’s life would never be the same again. The violent attack had somehow unlocked a previously untapped ability in his brain.

Whereas previously he had shown no particular interest or aptitude for mathematics, the attack had transformed him into a mathematical genius. Even the way he saw the world had been profoundly changed. It looked as though it was pixelated, and everywhere he looked he saw complex mathematical shapes known as fractals.

While Padgett’s experience was extremely unusual, it wasn’t entirely unique. There are other instances of people suffering a brain injury, only to come into possession of extraordinary new abilities.

Acquired savant syndrome is rare, with only a few known cases across the world. But some scientists believe almost any human brain could potentially be rewired to unlock the genius within.

4. You Remember the Past all Wrong

Our memories are fundamental in determining our sense of self. Without them we would be both literally and figuratively lost in the world. Considering their profound importance to us, it’s surprising just how unreliable our memories are, and how little we know about how they are formed.

Conventional wisdom has it that memories are recalled through connected neurons across the brain all firing at the same moment. Other research suggests that memories physically reside within brain cells.

However it’s done, the results aren’t terribly reliable. Memories aren’t recorded perfectly ready to be retrieved with total clarity at some future date.

According to research conducted by neuroscientists such as Daniela Schiller, each time we recall an event our memory of it is brought into an unstable state within the brain. When it is stored back into memory again our recollection of that event is slightly altered.

We use our memories to tell ourselves a story of who we are, but our source material is deeply unreliable.

3. When You Go on a Diet, Your Brain Eats Itself

The human brain is made up of something in the region of 90 billion neurons. Until recently it was believed that all of these are present from birth. We now know that through a process called neurogenesis it is possible for even adult brains to create brand new neurons. This is good news as we’ll lose plenty of neurons as we navigate our way through life.

Obesity, smoking, alcohol, and cocaine have all been linked with killing off brain cells and even physically shrinking the size of the brain, and a recent study suggests that even dieting can cause the brain to cannibalize itself.

Despite only weighing about 3 pounds, the brain consumes about 20% of the body’s energy, and when there’s fewer calories than expected coming in it doesn’t seem to much like it.  The neurons start cannibalizing each other, which sends out an urgent message to the body that it needs to eat something in the very near future. This explains why losing weight can be so difficult.

2. Your Brain Doesn’t Have Pain Receptors

When our bodies suffer physical injury, pain receptors fire warning signals up the spinal column to the thalamus, which serves as the brain’s sorting house for sensory signals. The message is then passed on to the regions of the brain that deal with physical sensation, thinking, and emotion. This results in the deeply unpleasant sensation of pain.

If the brain itself is injured, this doesn’t happen. It doesn’t have any pain receptors of its own. This means it’s quite possible for surgeons or neuroscientists to poke around in somebody’s brain with them fully conscious and in no discomfort. The patient is then able to assist doctors in mapping out the brain, helping to ensure no damage is done during the operation.

One Brazilian man named Anthony Kulkamp Dias even kept himself entertained by playing guitar whilst undergoing brain surgery.

1. Synesthesia can be Learned

Synesthesia is a condition that causes two or more of a person’s senses to become mixed up. One of the most common types is to perceive numbers as having a particular color. However, it comes in a wide variety of flavors, such as tasting words or perceiving the days of the week as having specific personalities or appearances.

The condition is often associated with particularly creative people. The famous physicist Richard Feynman saw equations in colors, and this may have helped him win a Nobel Prize in physics in 1965.

Around 1-in-300 people are born with synesthesia, but it’s possible to train your brain to experience it. A study at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom had subjects read books where certain words appeared in a certain color.

After several weeks of training most of the group reported seeing those colors even when reading standard black text. However, it seems the effects were not permanent, and within a few weeks the synesthesia had worn off.


Contemplate ~ Deliberate ~ Meditate ~ Ruminate –

WIF Reflection on the Human Brain

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #187

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #187

Theirs is not to reason why’, writes Tennyson about the six hundred and I for one buy into that notion 100 per cent…

“Their is not to reason why., theirs but to do and die.”

“I guess they don’t read your magazine in Britain.” 14 months and a scary recollection away, James turns sober, recalling that he really did not know if his clients had boarded the Titanic or not. “I don’t know why they didn’t…”

“‘Theirs is not to reason why’, writes Tennyson about the six hundred and I for one buy into that notion 100 per cent.” Harv shakes off the morbid tone of the conversation. “Say, what McGillicuddysdo you men say to an ice cold beer over at McGillicuddy’s?”

James is willing, though he will tell Abbey who is with Judith and the women, where they are going. Alpha, however, is distracted by Maggie Lou, who has been patiently waiting her turn to congratulate him. She represents a more inviting diversion than a beer in a tavern filled with over-served Irishmen.

“We understand, Alpha.”

 There is no way we can compete with a pretty girl, Harv.” James is giving A.O. a good old-fashioned ribbing. “Beware the female charm, Campbell, or she will have you in her spell before you know it.” Some of his playfull advice is valid, considering that his doctor friend has been cuddling up to books, not females, up to the present.

Now brother Hosea could show him all he needs to know about women, but he will not get the chance, Willy has seen to that, showing his scoundrel son the way off campus, before he can flaunt his fleshly acumen and pollutes the innocent.

Medical School graduation in 1913

Instead, Maggie is allowed her time, with Laura and Ziggy lurking at a safe distance “You look so handsome, Alfrey.” She feels the collar of his velvet-trimmed robe.

“I can’t wait to take this thing off. In fact I am, right now.” The white bow tie follows. “There.”

She will always look up to Alpha, her big brother in past times, but admiration has recently altered, more in the vein of a wistful pining. She has missed his company during his academic journey to today, but she sees him now through the eyes of a woman. “Please show me where you stay, your room I mean.”

“Not much more than a cracker box, I’m afraid, a desk and a cot,” he warns, “and I am moved out.”

“Then show me the buildin’… please, I’d like to get away,” she whispers, motioning subtly in the direction of her mother Laura Bell and Ziggy.

They do not elude the opportune eye of Judith’s camera lens, the last image she will capture for posterity; Alpha and Maggie Lou, arm in arm, walking down the paths he knows so well, with a girl he is just getting to know.


Alpha Omega M.D.

“Modern Times” Charlie Chaplin

Episode #187


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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #186

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #186

…Don’t be givin’ me credit, James, I’m just going to be a simple country doctor…

Morning Rounds by Terry Redlin

At the reception following the commencement, thankfully in a tent cooled by large fans, the rest of Tallahassee gang gets the chance to congratulate the recognized star of said proceedings. A.O. Campbell is by no means totally comfortable with his celebrity. He has been merely singled out, by a President no less, but it took every fiber of his brain to make it to this point. Brain surgery is not in his future, though many men, women and children will come to him for what ails them and he will do his best not to fail them.

People like John and Martha Ferrell are just plain overjoyed, especially John, having seen his metamorphosis first hand.

James Ferrell has witnessed the severe prejudice that Negroes must endure, knowing that a Negroes lot may be one small step from imprisonment or death. Whether it be North or South, he is rightly impressed with the new professional and tells him so. “Put it there, buddy,” he extends his hand. “Not your ordinary commencement. Mine was so boring that half of the entire gymnasium fell asleep. Some guy named Robert Wynne, the then Postmaster General with a sedative speaking voice and speech to match. But you, my friend, have a flair for the dramatic and Teddy Roosevelt.”

“Don’t be givin’ me credit, James, I’m just going to be a simple country doctor.”

Country Lawyer-001  “Well, that makes me a country lawyer and if that country doctor ever needs my services, please do not hesitate to knock on my door; like if you amputate the wrong leg, or try to deliver a baby out a woman who’s not with child?”

“Pay no mind to him, Alpha, the world of law warps the mind, like a day old pine board on a hot day like today,” chides Abbey, uncomfortable when he is so flippant about such things.

Harv Pearson is not far away, catching the tail end of the conversation concerning his P-E J attorney. “You best take him up on his offer, Alpha. It’s better to have him with you, than against you. Anyone who can stare down a man like Hank Blount is all right in my book.”

“Not to mention keeping you from sailing on the Titanic,” James adds, taking any color from the involved faces, paled by the eeriness of a near miss. Harv and Judith were supposed to be aboard the fated ocean liner, but…

 (…“I believe you neglected to get us a press-pass from the White Star Line. ‘I’ll get you an exclusive’, is what you told us, ‘One of the Beacon Hill partners is the brother-in-law of Guggenheim’s sister’ or some such thing.”) At the time Harv and Judith were put out, stuck in dirty old London without a story they had counted on to boost sagging subscriptions. But in four days all is forgiven; a night in frigid Atlantic waters is transformed into a holiday in Scotland.


Alpha Omega M.D.

by RB McGrath

Episode #186


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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #185

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #185

…We are living in exciting and dangerous times, you young people who have been called to the care and healing of your fellow man…

Tufts School of Medicine

Tufts University graduates are encouraged to take in fluids and the Dean edits some of the pomp and circumstance, skipping past the salutatorian, a disappointed young woman from Maine, who was asked to introduce the main speaker, former President and recent unsuccessful “Bull Moose” candidate, Theodore Roosevelt.

(#26) responded readily to an inspiring letter sent by Willy and Amanda Campbell, with the help of the Loves. He is moved by the expressed feelings of former slaves, turned proud parents of a real doctor, keeping in mind everything Willy had gone through in Blountstown late in 1908 and his passion for the oppressed.

Roosevelt is very much a beloved figure, his impeccable character something to be admired and emulated by aspiring professionals. He has never been a doctor, but he is intimately familiar with the trade due to his rough and tumble lifestyle, not to mention a bullet to the chest before a campaign speech in Milwaukee, just nine months before.

  “We are living in exciting and dangerous times, you young people who have been called to the care and healing of your fellow man. Most of you will go to cities and towns in nearly every state in our proud union. Some of you will discover new medicines from the leaves of tropical plants. Others will put their life on the line to tend to wounded soldiers; you have my advanced gratitude.

“And then there is Alpha Omega Campbell and his Dad.” He motions for the revived subject to join him at the podium, along with Willy, from the rear. “From out the midst of the shadow of slavery comes one of the finest young men I have ever had the chance to meet. I am told, by his proud parents, Willy and Amanda that he is returning to the Tallahassee area to serve the needs of the Negro community.

 “Gentlemen and Ladies, these are true American heroes!” He gives them a mighty bear hug.

Judith Eastman makes this a true P-E J moment, a photographic record of a life-changing event; a world leader and a world changer.

The entire graduating class of 1913 rises and cheers, tossing their hats high into the air. They are joined in celebration by the entire plaissance of attenders.

“Bully!” shades of T.R. political rallies past.

Before euphoria takes complete control, A.O. cannot pass up the opportunity to thank the two people responsible for this day, mentors of possibilities and means, in that order. ”My fellow graduates, I know it’s a hot day,” he blushes, “as my lapse in balance can attest, but I will not let this occasion pass without introducing the two men who made the School of Medicine a reality for me, Doctor Siegfried Endlichoffer and Herbert Love!” Herbert stands, while helping Ziggy conquer rusty knees. “I dedicate my future patients to the Lord God Almighty and these men, his good and faithful servants.”


Alpha Omega M.D.

Episode #185


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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #184

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #184

…Alpha looks handsome in his black cap and gown,  but pays a price, his dark presence soaking in the penetrating sunlight like a sponge…

LATOBSD3-001


At the end of the second quarter of 1913 Alpha Omega Campbell is about to graduate from Tufts University School of Medicine, formerly Boston College of Physicians and Surgeons. If anyone from Quincy would have been so foolish as to predict that the runt of the family they had rescued from the grip of Jefferson Smythwick, would become a doctor 17 years later, they would have been laughed out of town.


Old Doc Ziggy was the first to have an inkling back in 1897, when Maggie Lou was new and the then Alfrey Campbell would explore all the wonders of his black bag. He has spent the intervening years as A.O.’s personal career consultant, imparting as much of his knowledge as he could and encouraging him the rest of the way. It has been sixty years and an Atlantic Ocean away, since a German university fashioned the good doctor.

Now he is the proud Omega to his dear Alpha, part of the well-traveled Tallahassee contingent, here in Boston for a slice of history; Willy, Amanda & family of course, with John, Martha, James, Abbey, benefactors Herbert and Phoebe, Laura Bell and 16 year old Maggie Lou.  Out of nowhere, Atlantic City produces brother Hosey and a floozy, though no one would freely admit to any association.

A hot summer sun beats down on the plaissance grounds, where Tufts graduations are held; ten rows of folding chairs for the graduates, twenty for spectators behind.

         Alpha looks handsome in his black cap and gown, with three rings on each sleeve and white shirt and bow tie, but pays a price, his dark presence soaking in the penetrating sunlight like a sponge. Looking closely at the second row, you can see the third person in, in between Misters Calvert and Carson; fall off his chair like a lead-filled balloon.

 Prowling nearby, as they often are where there is a significant human interest story to be had, Harv Pearson plops his notebook on the grass to rushes to his aid, without realizing there are over two hundred new doctors in a fifty foot radius. “We need some water and a towel, Campbell’s dehydrated,” says physician in waiting, Carson.

“He will not be the last,” Harv suggests, “not if they don’t shorten those speeches.”

 He will be the last black person to faint, the other two of his original freshman class minorities having dropped out of school early on.


Alpha Omega M.D.

Graduation Day by Howard Temperley

Graduation Day by Howard Temperley

Episode #184


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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #167

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #167

… Alpha Campbell is the only person remotely qualified to perform resuscitation. He may have learned this technique from the stricken Ziggy himself…

by TheMozzy (Deviant Art)

Alpha is smart enough not to scare Maggie Lou off with talk other than friendship. He can only hope that she will be there for him, when he is a doctor and she is not off limits

For the time being, he must be satisfied with holding her hand, helping to complete an unbroken circle around the departed Frieda… surviving husband Ziggy and Reverend Watkins.

“We commit our sister, Frieda, to you, Lord God Almighty. We believe you have already taken her into your loving arms, to a place where we the living look forward to coming; the throne of everlasting grace.

  “And please help her watch over her dearest Siegfried. Comfort his heart, dry his tears, give him the strength to continue to look after Laura and Maggie.”

Strength is substituted by the opposite. Ziggy wavers for a moment, catches himself, only to crumple like a house of cards, narrowly avoiding Frieda’s earthen aperture.

Without hesitation, Alpha rushes to his mentor, removing his tie and loosening his collar. Finding no pulse, he goes to work alternately pumping the breathless man’s chest and forcing his air into the mouth. This looks so foreign, to the point of violence, but Herbert Love and John Ferrell urge the others to stay calm. After all, young Campbell is the only person remotely qualified. And who knows, he may have learned this technique from Ziggy.

Back to Life-001  “Breathe, Doc, breathe!” Alpha screams while forcing the palms of his hands onto the heart area.

“Have mercy on our souls!” calls out the Reverend. What a cruel fate to suffer; how unthinkable.

But just as all hope was lost, with resuscitating efforts having ceased, Ziggy comes to life, seemingly on his own, as if he had an on/off switch that had been accidentally tripped, then reset to on. “Vhat am I doing on za ground? You have been crying, why. Did someone die?”

 Did someone die… indeed.

“We thought you were – not more than two minutes ago,” explains his friend and neighbor, Ferrell, still dumbfounded by what they have just witnessed.

No explanation except God! claims Reverend Watkins.

“Vhy are vee in za cemetery?” he asks, before focusing his failing eyes on the headstone in the background. His chin touches a once silent chest, upon seeing the completed dates under his Frieda’s name. What had caused him to spring back from death had removed the memory of his loss. Laura, Maggie, Willy, Alpha and John, those he knows the best, surround him in loving kindness, easing the newest impact on a man who cannot remember a day without his wife.


Alpha Omega M.D.

Episode #167


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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #164

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Alpha Omega M.D. -Episode #164

…”I can’t believe Frieda is gone, James,” Alpha laments, “she was so strong”…

1908-001

At a corner cafe, on a darkened Boston street, three old acquaintances are getting together for the first time since the aftermath of the Galveston hurricane in 1900.

Endlichoffer Chalet-001The reason for this get together is a sad one, the passing of Frieda Endlichoffer in August of 1908. She had fallen, breaking a rib that pierced a lung, preventing her precious mobility and pot-stirring dexterity. She had forgotten that she rolled up the front room rug, whereby felling her and the arm load of freshly air dried bed linens. She lays there for five hours, before her husband, Laura Bell and Maggie Lou return from a shopping excursion to Tallahassee. Dehydrated and weak, her 75 year old heart could not stand the strain. Doc Ziggy did not have the chance to save her. She died alone. Her private doctor and der Liebling was five helpless miles away.

Lawyer Ferrell, wife Abigail and pre-med student Alpha Omega Campbell discuss short term plans, i.e. traveling back for Frieda’s funeral.

I can’t believe she is gone, James,” Alpha laments, “she was so strong, like Blue Boy the draft horse. I remember watching her work that horse after that cyclone hit, two years back. If we hadn’t showed up that Friday, she would have worked that horse… and our man Joseph half to death.”

“That is the whole point, Alpha, seventy-three year olds should happy to wake up each morning, not clean up after tornadoes,” James observes clinically.

“Doc Ziggy must be seventy-five, right? Who is keeping him from overdoing it? He is very single minded, not one to listen to three women, let alone two.” Abigail is familiar with the breed, finding the throttle control is a daunting task; male engines either rev madly or drop to the stalling threshold.

“He listens to Laura, Abbey. Frieda had a way of making him dig in his heels with her lack of tact.” A younger Campbell found out early on that you did not have to ask Frieda what she meant. If you could understand her broken English, you knew where the bullfrog croaks in the rushes. “On the other hand, he sure enough is putty in Maggie’s hands. Yessir, I do believe they can take care of him, ‘cause iffin’ they couldn’t, I’d go back in a bug’s minute I would.”

“Speaking of going back, we have our own Pullman for the trip. We expect that you will join us?” James assumes, while Alpha hesitates.

“I don’t think I’m allowed in the fancy white folk’s car; probably have to ride with the baggage.”

“Don’t play that race excuse in my around me, Campbell. Besides, if that were the case, the last case I take at Beacon Hill would be Campbell vs. B & O Railroad!”

1908  Musical Interlude


Alpha Omega M.D.

Episode #164


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