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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 5, 2006 | Vol. 36 No. 1
Thinking Out Loud

William R. Brody

By William R. Brody

Cellulitis: Second Def'n

If you trained in the health care field, or perhaps if you or a family member had this affliction, you will immediately recognize the term "cellulitis." And if you have ever seen cellulitis or, worse yet, been the unfortunate victim of this infection, you will have a knee-jerk revulsion when the term is used.

Just to be sure of the definition, I checked with Merriam-Webster and Stedman's Medical Dictionary, and they concur with the following definition:

cel-lu-li-tis (sel'y-li'tis) n. A spreading inflammation of subcutaneous or connective tissue.*

More detail is provided by Wikipedia, the online shareware encyclopedia:

Cellulitis is an inflammation of the connective tissue underlying the skin that can be caused by a bacterial infection. Cellulitis can be caused by normal skin flora or by exogenous bacteria, and often occurs where the skin has previously been broken: cracks in the skin, cuts, burns, insect bites, surgical wounds or sites of intravenous catheter insertion. The mainstay of therapy remains treatment with appropriate antibiotics. It is unrelated to cellulite, a cosmetic condition featuring dimpling of the skin.
Let's stop right here: This isn't a column on how to treat diseases, or about the fact that the overuse of antibiotics is rendering many cases of cellulitis increasingly resistant to antibiotic therapy. I'll leave that to the medical journals and to the experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Rather, I am invoking a second, alternative definition for the term cellulitis, one that I think will invoke similarly unpleasant reactions by our readers. If my readers agree, I think I will submit this new definition to Wikipedia:

cel-lu-li-tis (sel'y-li'tis) n. [second def'n]. A spreading epidemic condition related to the overuse of cell phones in public places. Often characterized by inappropriate, loud speaking by the cellulite [see cellulite: new definition for cell phone user], cellulitis may occur in restaurants, on trains, planes, buses, in concert halls, etc., causing irritation bordering on inflammation in many innocent victims who happen to be within audible range. Another example of cellulitis occurs when, during a critically sensitive passage of a Beethoven violin concerto being performed by an orchestra, a cell phone in the audience suddenly spews forth, at 60 decibels or more, a 30-second version of Hello Dolly or Bach's Missa Solemnis.
Unlike the primary definition of cellulitis, this new version has no known cure. Some establishments have enacted rules prohibiting the use of cell phones within their walls but, as in Amtrak "Quiet Cars," the rules are often flouted either deliberately or by cellulites who can't read signs.

I was dining with my family recently at a very nice restaurant and, while I was beginning to enjoy the nice ambience and exquisite cuisine, my peace was severely encroached upon as a woman at the far corner of the restaurant proceeded to pull out her cell phone and start a conversation that was fully intelligible even to me, with a rather substantial high-frequency hearing loss.

With my serenity shattered, I decided to think about ways to stop this growing example of antisocial behavior. Maybe we can get City Council to enact an ordinance, like nonsmoking laws, to prohibit cell phone usage in certain public spaces. I quickly rejected that one — probably no one would support it, and even if ordinances were enacted, you can foresee the difficulty of enforcement. We have a hard enough time getting drivers to stop at red lights; how can we keep them from pushing the "send" or "answer" button on their cell phone?

So why not employ good old Yankee ingenuity to solve a particularly nasty problem? In desperation, I am contacting the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. I'm sure we must have experts in radar jamming and other forms of electronic countermeasures. We will develop low-cost sophisticated jamming equipment that will render cell phones unable to receive signals inside buildings that have installed this new "CellJammer" technology. I also wonder if they might be able to help design a hand-held personal CellJammer so I could use it when encountering some knucklehead yelling and screaming over his cell far above the background noise level.

I plan to start a company to manufacture this product, and I believe our revenues ultimately could exceed $1 billion a year. In fact, I even have the next product on the drawing boards. It's called BoomerJam: a jamming system for "boombox-itis." With it, you can instantly knock out the rapping on the car audio system next to you that is shaking the earth at about 4.5 on the Richter scale.

Excuse me, got to run now ... just got an important call on my cell phone from the new vice president for marketing and sales. This is going to be big.

* The American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary. Copyright 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Co.


William R. Brody is president of The Johns Hopkins University.


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