Yeah, right, I thought. Another Brazilian medical myth, like their old wives' tale that if you eat hot cake and then walk in the cold rain, you will drop over dead--BOOM--like that.
But then I went to medical school and learned a thing or two. I learned about Chagas disease, an illness endemic to Central and South America which infects over ten million individuals. This disease is caused by a parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, that is passed to humans after they are bitten by the Reduvid Bug. This dreaded bug, also known as the blood sucking assassin bug--or in Brazil, the bicho barbeiro-- lives in woodpiles, and after it bites its victims and sucks their blood, it defecates on the host's body. The feces contaminate the open wound, and thus the parasite is directly transmitted into the blood stream. A slow, insidious infection of human tissue ensues, most specifically of the heart. After a quiescent period that can last seven or more years, the infected heart muscle shows signs of weakening, typically leading to congestive heart failure, with symptoms such as fatigue, swelling, shortness of breath and chest pain. But in some cases, the heart develops an aneurysm--a ballooning weakness of a heart chamber--which can spontaneously rupture in previously asymptomatic individuals.
Or in other words, an exploding heart.
Have you ever been to South or Central America? Mexico, perhaps? Were you bitten by an insect while there?
If so, you could have Chagas disease, and you might not even know it until the day you are taking the trash out and your heart pops like an overfilled water balloon. The take home lesson here is that life is short and unpredictable, and yours could be in imminent danger.
It's enough to make you want to forget it all and eat some cake.
Just be sure to stay out of the rain.