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What They Do--and Suffer--for Their Art

August 21, 2000|Rosie Mestel

You know what they say: Artists have to suffer for their craft. We're not just talking huddling in ice-cold garrets and working telemarketing jobs on the side. We're talking real suffering. Bunions. Ill effects from exposure to stage fog. Serious stuff.

In fact, performance and visual artists face enough occupational hazards to warrant their own health discipline: arts medicine. Programs designed to address their specific needs are springing up in places like the University of Illinois at Chicago, where two doctors who are also performance artists (one plays flute and sax, the other dances and plays piano) recently began a program.

To be sure, repetitive stress injuries have long been acknowledged as debilitating ailments. But take, for instance, the visual-arts graduate student who suddenly started skipping classes and getting extremely irritable. While such behavior is not so unusual in itself, doctors determined that the student's change of mood was caused by toxic oil-paint solvents he was breathing.

Every art discipline has its dangers, we learn from the University of Illinois and from reading a review by Dr. Robert T. Sataloff (, director of the Arts Medical Center at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. Here are a few of them:

Clarinetists develop problems in their thumbs from the weight of the instrument. Rock musicians can develop severe hearing loss. Violinists and violists commonly have back problems and can develop a type of dermatitis known as fiddler's neck, caused by friction of the instrument on the skin.

Dancers not only suffer from stress fractures and foot deformations but can get yeast infections from those tight tights they wear. Then there is cymbalist's shoulder, flutist's forearm, and, yes, guitarist's nipple. And then there are the afflictions of bagpipers (the players, not those who are listening). It seems that bagpipe skins are cured with glycerine and honey, which can encourage the growth of molds and bacteria that can cause serious lung infections.

As if that weren't enough, Sataloff adds, "bagpipers may also develop a spastic, 'hourglass' stomach, which makes frequent rumbling noises."

It's a Girl!

Moving on to sweeter images, we read that women who are vegetarians may be more likely to have baby girls than baby boys, according to British researchers.

Researchers in Nottingham, England, stumbled on this discovery while researching the health status of 5,942 pregnant women, including more than 250 vegetarians. Normally, 106 boys are born for every 100 girls. But in the vegetarian women, the ratio was 81.5 boys for every 100 girls. The same held true when the researchers, Pauline Hudson and Rosemary Buckley, extended their study by six months and tracked an additional 150 vegetarian women.

Interestingly, a Web site listing folk remedies for choosing a baby's gender lists eating red meat and salty snacks for the mom who wants a boy, and lots of fish and vegetables for both mom and dad if it's a girl that you want. Oh, lots and lots of chocolate too--which I guess explains my daughter.


If you'd like to suggest a topic, write Rosie Mestel at Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012, or e-mail her at

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