Thursday, May 5, 2011

Allergy versus Anguish. A Scientific Look at Mrs. Clinton in the White House Situation Room

According to news outlets, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has denied being in a state of "anguish" when she was photographed while remotely witnessing the Bin Laden raid.  She blames her appearance on  one of her "early spring allergic coughs."

Which prompted the scientific Disease Management Care Blog to ask two questions:

1) Doesn't being in an air-filtered and environmentally controlled "Situation Room"  protect against lingering allergy symptoms?

The DMCB looked at some peer reviewed literature and found that after exposure to an allergen, there is a complex cascade of cellular and chemical reactions that can play out over many hours. Check out this helpful quote:

The immediate reaction to brief allergen challenge, measured in minutes, does not fully explain.... clinical allergic rhinitis, in which symptoms last hours to days after exposure....  From 3 to 12 hours after allergic challenge, about half the subjects experience a recurrence of symptoms, most notably nasal congestion; this is termed the late phase response.

The inflammatory congestion and mucus production can lead to a "post nasal drip," which can irritate the upper airway and cause a reflex cough.  This could account for Mrs. Clinton placing her right hand over her mouth, which supports her version of events.

2) Is the news media's description of Mrs. Clinton's appearance as "anguished" correct?

The psychologically astute DMCB has witnessed plenty of anguish in its lifetime.  A recent example was the DMCB's spouse's look when the DMCB suggested that a 5 foot column topped with the bust of a Roman dead dude would be a perfect addition to the decor of our enclosed porch.  Mrs. Clinton's appearance rises to that level, but - assuming this isn't a cough - the DMCB thinks the hand over the mouth is more than just anguish.  Among body language cognoscenti (for example), that action is thought to convey the unconscious suppression of speech in response to a surprise.

Who cares, but it's a fun end-of-the-week topic.  The DMCB likes to imagine that at least one person in the White House Situation Room was connected to his or her emotions. That is doubly true for Mrs. Clinton, who has struggled with being perceived as heartless and, ironically, supposedly mastered the art of political body language.

One last thought: Mrs. Clinton would care what the DMCB and others think and would respond to a reporter's question like that if she is harboring plans for higher office. 

Stay tuned!

Photo from the White House

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