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Brainstorm Health: Smartphone Addiction, Human Head Transplant, J&J Cancer Verdict

It was a twitch. I reached for my inside jacket pocket but my phone wasn’t there. And then my hand twitched—sort of. A flinch, kind of—but hard to describe. Moments later, I reached for my back pants pocket. No phone. I must have reached for an empty pocket a dozen more times—walking out of my home this morning, en route to the subway, on the subway platform, on the subway, on the walk to the office. But the strangest part is, I knew my phone wasn’t in any of these pockets. It was in my brother-in-law’s car.

Last night, I discovered I am addicted to my smartphone. I mean, really addicted.

After gathering in Queens, New York, for a birthday celebration, my brother-in-law dropped me off at the subway. It was late. The second I walked through the turnstile I realized I’d left my phone charging in his car. There was no way to reach him.

I can’t remember the last time I rode the subway without reading news, or emails, or grazing through Twitter on my phone. Last night, for close to 90 minutes on two subway trains, I found myself feeling rudderless. Sitting on the train, I discovered I no longer knew where to look. Without a phone in my hand, I read every subway ad, stared at the floor, the ceiling, the opening and shutting doors.

When I finally got home, I couldn’t sleep. Not without the last glance at email and Twitter before bedtime. I tossed and turned. It was like going through the DTs. My phone had become an extension of me, and now it was a phantom limb.

I had no idea until last night how much I’d relied on this limb. As I waited on the subway platform, I reached for my phantom appendage to call an Uber. (No phone, no Uber.) I couldn’t text my wife and let her know where I was. I couldn’t listen to music or a podcast. No phone. When I opened my laptop to check my email, I realized only then that I didn’t have the randomly generated 6-digit password I needed to access the network. The app is on my phone.­ I suspected I had a conference call scheduled early this morning—or was I supposed to be somewhere for a meeting? I couldn’t check my calendar. Again—it was on my phone.

This morning, at the office, when I thought to call my brother-in-law and arrange to retrieve my phone, I couldn’t. His phone number is on my phone. I don’t think I’ve remembered a phone number in years. I haven’t had to.

The magnitude of my phone’s apparent power over me is a startling revelation. I tell myself now that I have do something about it—to wean myself off of this insidious addiction. And I will. As soon as I get my phone back.

Does anyone know my brother-in-law’s number?

Happy Friday, all.

Clifton Leaf, Editor in Chief, FORTUNE


Is a human head transplant really possible (or ethical)? Neuroscientist Sergio Canavero has long made audacious claims about the imminence of human head transplants—that is, physically taking someone’s head and reattaching it to a different body, ostensibly for the purpose of helping people with diseases that have caused their bodies to waste away. But there’s a fair amount of skepticism surrounding Canavero’s latest assertion that a full-on successful head transplant is “imminent” after performing the procedure on a corpse. Beyond the many outstanding scientific questions, critics like Dean Burnett raise ethical concerns about how such procedures would work in practice. (The Guardian)


Johnson & Johnson wins talc-cancer link lawsuit in CA. Johnson & Johnson has scored another key victory in its long-running legal saga over alleged links between talc products like Johnson Baby Powder used for feminine hygiene and cancer. A California jury ruled in favor of the drug giant Thursday. This particular case was a bit different from the thousands of other talc-cancer suits J&J is fighting—the plaintiff claimed that J&J products contained asbestos which then cause the cancer mesothelioma (the other suits focus on an alleged link between talc and ovarian cancer). (Reuters)

Insys founder Kapoor to plead not guilty in opioid bribery case. Billionaire Insys Therapeutics founder John Kapoor is pleading not guilty in a marquee case centering on whether or not he was part of a conspiracy to bribe doctors so they would prescribe powerful opioids to patients. Insys is one of several prominent biopharma companies being accused of helping fuel the opioid epidemic with aggressive—and potentially illegal—marketing practices. (Fortune)


Improper Medicare payments drop to lowest level in four years. Improper payments in the Medicare program dropped nearly $5 billion between 2016 and 2017, according to a new government report. That means the level of unjustified Medicare payments (which may be made due to incorrect, fraudulent coding or honest mistakes about payment amounts and recipients) dropped from 11% of overall Medicare payments in 2016 to 9.5% in 2017. (Modern Healthcare)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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