Transcript

404:

Enemy Camp 2010
Transcript

Originally aired 04.02.2010

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

Here's the story the way we usually like it. There's this guy. And he's behind enemy lines. Maybe he's dropped in there in the middle of the night. Maybe he sneaks under barbwire at the border. Whatever. He's there. He's been there awhile. Months. Years maybe. He's in disguise. Working on our behalf. Nobody suspects. No one can tell. He looks and acts just like them. And then, living there in their midst for so long, speaking their language, eating their food, breathing their air, watching their TV shows, something happens. He starts to change. He starts to become more like them. And then when it's time for him to strike, to launch his mission against them, he hesitates. He's not sure who he sympathizes with anymore.

It's a very romantic idea, this particular vision of what it means to live inside the enemy camp. And you lose your bearings and you will forget how to fight because some other impulse inside you would take over. But sometimes, this is actually how it happens. There are lots of ways that people get confused about who their enemy is and how to fight them.

Today on our radio show we have that story, happening to several different people, in several different places, in several different ways. True stories.

WBEZ, Chicago. This is American Life. distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, we choose some subject. Bring you documentaries, interviews, short fiction, found tapes, found writing. Anything we can think of on that subject. Today on our program, life behind enemy lines. Our program today in four acts. Act One: Confession. In that Act, the true story of a fixer for the Catholic Church. And now he came to sympathize with people who he was sent by the church to deceive. Act Two: Blood Agent. How microscopic beings inside you and me can control our thoughts and minds. No kidding. Act Three: As The Worm Turns. The story of a man who invites the enemy inside. And I mean really inside. Act Four: Sleeping With The Enemy, in which we ask who's side is your girlfriend on anyway.

Act One. Confession.

Ira Glass

Act One: Confession. It's Easter week. Pope Benedict has been facing a lot of criticism with allegations that he didn't adequately discipline priests who were accused of sexual abuse, back before Pope Benedict was a Pope, back when he was an Archbishop and a Cardinal. So we've decided to revisit a story that we first broadcast in 2003, about a young American priest who was sent out on a series of jobs by church administrators to squelch some scandals. Scandals not too different from the ones that are surfacing in the news right now. But spending time out among the people who he's supposed to be deceiving, the priest finds it harder and harder to keep doing his job. Carl Marziali tells the story from Los Angeles.

Carl Marziali

Patrick Wall was just where he wanted to be at 26. He was a monk, studying theology at St. John's Monastery in rural Minnesota. He lived in a quiet room facing the lake. He looked forward to a life of study and prayer. It was late summer, 1991.

Patrick Wall

The first day that school started out, pretty uneventful, winter morning prayer at 7:00 o'clock like normal. I went down for breakfast like normal. Went back up to my room. Was literally brushing my teeth when there was a knock on my door, which is extremely out of the ordinary. And it was Abbot Jerome Tyson. Well, the abbot's a very quiet guy. And he usually never went up on that floor of the monastery. So he says, "May I come in?" I said, "Yes, Father Abbot. No problem." So he comes in and sits down. And I've got my books out. I've got class in 10 minutes. "What's up?" And he said, "Well, Father Dan Ward has told me that you would be a good person for this particular job. And we have a situation over in St. Mary's Hall that we need to be a faculty resident."

Carl Marziali

The faculty resident is a live-in counselor at the college dorm. The campus at St. John's includes a university.

Patrick Wall

I said, "Well, I'd love to be a faculty resident someday. I think that's a great idea." And he said, "No, today." And when I asked Abbot Jerome specifically what it was for, what was going on, he said, "Well, I can't tell you that." We had numerous sexual abuse cases that had been popping up. So ultimately there's only one conclusion that can be drawn that there was an allegation that they must have thought somewhat credible or probable. And they needed to pull that particular monk. And off I went.

[MUSIC - "ANGEL'S ULULU" BY DEERHOOF]

Carl Marziali

That afternoon, Wall moved his stuff out of his room and into the freshman dorm. His instructions were simple. Put the kids at ease. And don't say anything about the monk you're replacing. He organized a pizza party for the students. He told them he was taking over as faculty resident, but that he couldn't say why. There were no questions. Wall didn't know it then, but he was being tested. Unfortunately for him, he passed. His dream was to be a monk as he understood monks to be. Devout and learned men who live in monasteries. By showing a knack for damage control, he put himself on a less spiritual path.

Before long, the abbot appointed him to a sexual abuse response team. And sent him to the church of St. Elizabeth's in the town of Hastings. He was replacing a pastor who had been withdrawn for what the monastery called a incredible allocation. Wall arrived at St. Elizabeth's on February 2, 1993.

[MUSIC - "ANGEL'S ULULU" BY DEERHOOF]

Replacing a pastor is not easy. People in a parish tend to get attached to the priest. Replacing a disgraced pastor is harder. A lot of people believe their priest can do no wrong. And they are not shy about telling his replacement.

Patrick Wall

They were very forward and forthright and angry. And they said, "Father, I'm really sad that you're here. I'm really sorry that you had to come because we really liked the other monk. And we don't think he should have been removed." And that was it. And I said, "I'm really sorry that that particular monk had to be removed. And I'm here because my abbot asked me to be here." I'm tried to be as candid and simple as possible. But I felt taken back. And I felt sad from the very beginning. And I didn't enjoy that experience.

[MUSIC - "ANGEL'S ULULU" BY DEERHOOF]

Carl Marziali

At first, Wall was trying to raise morale. He told parishioners what he himself had been told. That the alleged abuse took place a, some time ago. And b, somewhere else. But it wasn't long before victims at St. Elizabeth's began coming forward. They would show up unannounced at the rectory or in the church after mass and ask to speak to him in private. Then they would start with a tiny revelation.

Patrick Wall

It's unforgettable. It's absolutely unforgettable when they start to tell you. And they only tell you very small, cryptic little things. There are code words for everything. And they've kind of broached the subject to see what you're going to do with it. And to see if you're going to actually believe them. Obviously I'm 27 years old. I'm not exactly sure what to do with it. Emotionally, I really have no idea what to do it.

Carl Marziali

So how did you deal with it when the victim or victims came forward and told you about what had happened? Do you try to comfort them? Do you try to tell them that-- I mean, what do you do? Do you try to restore their faith in the church? Or do you just listen and write up a complaint and send it on?

Patrick Wall

You don't even write up a complaint basically. You get a few of the facts. And then you pass that on to the diocese. And honestly, unfortunately it's easy to deal with because these people never go to church again. Because they really view that person as representing God. So it's hard for them to publicly ever celebrate or to practice their faith again. So they just disappear honestly.

Carl Marziali

Did you ever wonder whether you should make a special effort when they came to you beyond the effort that you might make to convince somebody else to come back to the church? To do something more for these victims. Or to offer them counseling or something to try to make up for what had happened?

Patrick Wall

It's a difficult situation because you really need to remain neutral. And your natural inclination, especially as priests, is to be sympathetic and to heal. But there's no way that you're going to be allowed to be part of the healing process because ultimately you're part of the defendant. You are the institution that brought about the hurt. And so you really have to put your professional hat on and keep an arm's distance.

Carl Marziali

Wall survived the scandal at St. Elizabeth's. And he helped a superior survive it too. He never told parishioners about the allegations in their parish. And the stories he was hearing in private never became problem.

[MUSIC - "ANGEL'S ULULU" BY DEERHOOF]

After serving a year at St. Elizabeth's, Wall thought he would come back to the monastery. But the end of this term he received a letter from the abbot, instructing him to report to another parish, St. Bernard's. The monk there have been having an affair and paying for it with church money. This was not the assignment Wall had in mind, but part of him was flattered.

Patrick Wall

I felt pretty good about it because all of a sudden-- I'm 20 years old and I'm an administrator of a parish. I'm being turned loose as the boss. That's a compliment as far as I'm concerned. And I really felt I was doing the right thing.

Carl Marziali

Not long after Wall arrived at St. Bernard's, an agent from the IRS knocked on his door. The agent presented a bill, payable immediately, for $600,000 in back taxes, interest, and penalties for undeclared profits from a church run lottery. The business manager was not available to answer questions because he had been the other person in the affair. And had been removed along with the monk. Wall had to take a crash course in bookkeeping to pay the IRS.

The rest of his time at St. Bernard's, Wall did what every priest does. He celebrated mass, performed weddings and funerals, baptized babies. And he heard confessions, including those of other priests.

[MUSIC - "ANGEL'S ULULU" BY DEERHOOF]

Despite the headlines, the percentage of priests who have abused minors is relatively low. Celibacy is another story. In a recent Los Angeles Times poll, only one third of priests said they do not waiver from a celibate life. After awhile, Wall stopped thinking of broken vows as something foreign to his world.

Patrick Wall

You know, once you seen enough people fall and once you hear enough confessions of different priests, you look at yourself in the mirror and you say, "Am I really any different?" And the chances of me maintaining a celibate way of life without failure along the way are so low that ultimately either I have to change or the system needs to change.

Carl Marziali

What about-- there must be a lot of priests who believe in being priests. And have decided that the rule of celibacy is nonsense. And so are willing to lead a double life of sorts. Was that-- that wasn't something that you considered?

Patrick Wall

No, that's really not my personality. I'm a terrible liar. Oh. I turn red. I'm really bad. And I had seen priests who maintained heterosexual relationships with women. And I saw the effects of it. Because it's a life of contradiction. Because the relationship is there. It's exclusive. But you can't profess it. And everyone around you knows it's going on. And that's not happiness. That's not a true coming together. I just couldn't see myself doing that. That's just not me.

Carl Marziali

After St. Bernard's, the assignments kept coming. The next one was an affair between a priest and a nun. After that, a new parish where a teacher had abused a student and the priest was living with his housekeeper. Four years. Four parishes. Four scandals. There are good, dedicated priests out there. But they're not the ones who get replaced. By the very nature of his job, Wall was acquiring a skewed and depressing view of the priesthood.

Carl Marziali

Did you ever ask not to be given those assignments?

Patrick Wall

Yeah. I did. And I specifically asked to be able to come back to the prep school and teach. But the needs of the monastery were so great at that point that again, it was only going to be another year. I was only going to have to go to St. Bernard's for another year. So it sounds like a bad construction deal. Two more weeks. Give me two more weeks and we'll be done. And it just kept going on. And it kept going on.

Carl Marziali

Meanwhile, the monks he replaced were getting exactly what Wall himself had asked for. They were going back to the monastary, permanently.

Patrick Wall

I'd run across them at community meetings. And whenever we had chapter votes, and all that. And it's hard not to be judgmental.

The other thing I found hard was that my whole career path was driven by other people's mistakes. And that's the last thing I ever expected in monastic life. I really expected to work in a parish for a year, to go off to grad school, come back, teach, coach football at the university. And to live a pretty darn good life-- a balance between prayer and teaching and working as a teacher. So-- They changed my career path. They changed my whole trajectory in life.

Carl Marziali

Without fully realizing it, Wall have been initiated into a brotherhood of priests known informally as fixers or cleaners. They replaced problem priests. They hide things in the archives. They reassure the faithful. In short, they make it all go away.

Visually, he was perfect for the job. He's was barrel-chested, a former offensive lineman on the St. John's football team. He was young and friendly. He was the anti-stereotype of a troubled monk. The abbot couldn't have found a better prospect if he had picked a model out of a catalogue. But Wall did more than just PR. He became familiar with the law of the church called cannon law. Specifically, with the different archives cannon law sets up for storing and hiding information.

Patrick Wall

The first is the historical archives, which is just the names, states, people, those kinds of things. Then you have the secret archives.

Carl Marziali

The secret archives-- is that literally what they're called-- the secret archives? I mean, why were they set up?

Patrick Wall

They're set up for the protection of individuals. So the bishop has the responsibility to take things that would be considered scandalous, things that might hurt individuals' reputations, and to be able place them there so they wouldn't easily be exposed.

Carl Marziali

OK When you call it the secret archives though, it makes it sound sinister. It makes it sound like it's there for the protection-- to really protect the church. I'm not saying that's what it is. But that's how it sounds. I mean what really is the purpose of these so-called secrets? Why can't everything be in the personnel records. And then some items just be labelled confidential or whatever?

Patrick Wall

Well, you've got to give Rome credit. I mean they have wonderful procedure. This is things that have worked out for centuries. And that has always been the secret to one of the defenses of the church. If you don't know what you're asking for, they don't have to produce it.

[MUSIC - "ANGEL'S ULULU" BY DEERHOOF]

Carl Marziali

Did you ever-- when you were working for the church, cleaning up these situations of abuse and having to tell parishioners some of the facts, but not all of the facts about what was going on, did you ever feel complicit in the cover-up of all of this?

Patrick Wall

I have some regrets. But I think I did it in good faith. Because as I was taught and as I believed, that was my role, to help the church in the long run. And to be obedient to what I was asked to do. And it's only later on as I had greater experience that I couldn't support it any longer. And I felt that if I was going to stay, I was going to not only support it but I was going to get deeper into it.

I was going to be asked to do other assignments to follow pedophiles. I was going to be asked to be on the finance council to try to figure out ways to mitigate the huge financial costs of childhood sexual abuse by priests and the religious. And I remember having an epiphany. And sitting on the porch at St. Mary's in Stillwater. And that's when I came to the conclusion that this is pretty much going to be my career path. I'd be there for another year or two as the administrator. And then I would go on to another assignment. And I just couldn't do it any longer.

[MUSIC - "ANGEL'S ULULU" BY DEERHOOF]

Carl Marziali

After four years of deceiving the faithful about the extent of priests and misconduct, of protecting the institution over the health and welfare of the victims, of covering for the perpetrators and letting the problem fester, Patrick Wall decided he was on the wrong side. On July 31, 1998, Wall quit the priesthood. He was 33 years old.

[MUSIC - "ANGEL'S ULULU" BY DEERHOOF]

Leaving was difficult. If you want to leave honorably, you need permission, which doesn't come easily or quickly. It took more than a year in Wall's case. Then once you're out, there are practical challenges, like trying to get a job with a Master of Theology on your resume. In the end, it was his experience as a fixer that translated best to the real world. Wall read an op-ed in the LA Times, by John Manley, an attorney who sues the church on behalf of sexual abuse victims.

Patrick Wall

He essentially separated himself amongst all the different attorneys in saying that we need to protect the sheep and not the shepherd. It's not the problem of the victims. It's not the problem of the particular perpetrators, per se, or some particular issue like homosexuality, or whatever. The problem is within the institution itself.

Carl Marziali

By this point, Wall was convinced that lawsuits where the only way to reform the church. He called Manley and offered to help. Soon they were on the phone constantly. Wall took him step by step through church bureaucracy. Manley was amazed.

Patrick Wall

John didn't know all the different documents that are out there. And then John will be working on things and he'd call me up, and said, "Dude, what do I do with this? What does this mean? What am I supposed to do with it? What are other things can I-- where else can I look?" And I remember-- I think he was quite surprised when I showed him the penal code of canon law and exactly what we need to ask for. He just couldn't believe that it was there. That they would have that level of sophistication.

[MUSIC - "ANGEL'S ULULU" BY DEERHOOF]

Carl Marziali

Wall started working for Manley's law firm full-time in October of 2002. Using his knowledge of Latin and Italian, he translates and interprets church records. He helps the firm identify and request key documents, like psychological assessment of priests, from the secret archives. The fact that he switched sides, that's he's fighting the church, doesn't seem to trouble him. He believes he is doing what God wants them to do, which is what he's always believed.

[MUSIC - ANGEL'S ULULU" BY DEERHOOF]

There's another part to Wall's job at the firm which doesn't have anything to do with case law. Last week, he stayed on the phone with a man for an hour and a half, listening to him talk about the priest who abused him, and who might still be hurting other people. Wall finds himself talking to victims about all kinds of things. Everything he was not allowed to talk about before, back when he was a priest.

Patrick Wall

I feel I really do pastoral work when I'm working was victims every day, on every single issue.

Carl Marziali

Before you were part of a holy order. And now you're working with a bunch of lawyers. And it's hard to know-- it's hard to know these days where priests belong on the ethical ladder, but most people know exactly what a lawyer is. So it's odd to hear you talk about this work being more fulfilling in some ways that what you were doing before.

Patrick Wall

Well, we're dealing with people at the lowest ebb of where they're at. They're dealing with the greatest pain they've ever experienced. And one of the greatest things that we find is that they can no longer participate in the sacramental life of the church because of the seven sacraments. The one thing that's really clear is that it takes a priest to administer the sacrament. And every sacrament is either through touching or it's through breath, through words. It's in close proximity to the priest. And that is the symbol of their abuse. So we're dealing with some of the most damaged people within the church. And it's a very fulfilling ministry I find in being pastoral to be with them. Because honestly, we're one of the few symbols of hope that they have.

[MUSIC - "ANGEL'S ULULU" BY DEERHOOF]

Carl Marziali

Patrick Wall is married now. He and his wife have a two-year-old daughter, who they plan to send to Catholic school. They all go to mass every Sunday.

Ira Glass

Carl Marziali attends mass with his family in Los Angeles. Patrick Wall, however, no longer does. Since we first aired this story in 2003, Patrick has worked on nearly a thousand sexual abuse cases involving priests and co-authored a book called Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church's 2,000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse. He says after all this, he no longer believes that the Catholic Church has the capacity to change. His daughter, now eight years old, is not enrolled in Catholic school.

[MUSIC - "ANGEL'S ULULU" BY DEERHOOF]

Coming up, enemies on our turf-- controlling the minds of ants, of rats, of you and me. This is not some whacked out conspiracy theory, my friends. This is science. In a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

This is American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program of course we choose some theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's program, Enemy Camp-- stories of what it means to work behind enemy lines. We've arrived at Act Two of our program.

Act Two. Blood Agent.

Ira Glass

Act Two: Blood Agent. Nature, it turns out, is full of enemy agents, living behind enemy lines, doing their work. Parasites-- they're literally parasites. Carl Zimmer has written a book about the different strategies that these parasites use to survive. And it makes for weirdly compelling reading. For one thing, who knew how prevalent they were?

Carl Zimmer

Most creatures are living inside an enemy. And they are trying to fight that enemy, trying to survive, trying to outwit--

Ira Glass

Just to give people a sense of the range of things that different parasites do, could you tell the story of the parasite that gets into ants, the lancet fluke?

Carl Zimmer

Sure. Well, the lancet fluke is kind of a flatworm. It starts out as AN egg on the ground. And a snail comes along and eats the egg. And it kind of irritates the snail's system. So eventually it kind of coughs it up. And so there you have this sort of clump of kind OF nail goo with a parasite in it. And while it's disgusting to us, to an ant there's nothing more delicious than snail goo. So the ant comes along. And he it eats the snail goo and the parasite along with it. So now you have these flukes inside the ant. And once they recognize that they're inside the ant, they start doing some strange things. Sort of as the sun is starting to go down, while the other ants are probably heading back to the nest, it gets this uncontrollable urge to climb upwards. It wants to climb up. And what it generally does is it climbs up a blade of grass.

Ira Glass

And what's the advantage to the parasite for the ant to be up there?

Carl Zimmer

Well, it's not too obvious at first. I mean it's not like the parasite wants to take in a better view. The thing is that there are these grazing mammals-- sheep, cows. And that's one their favorite grazing times, towards the end of the day. So the ant goes up there. The sheep comes along. Chews on the grass. The ant gets eaten. Chewed up. Dies. But the flukes, inside the ant, they can survive the digestive acids in the sheep's stomach. And actually sheep are where they like to live. They're their final host.

Ira Glass

What's so amazing that is it's not just the control that the parasite is having over the ant. That life cycle that you're describing is so complicated. It's having to go through three different animals over the course of its normal life cycle.

Carl Zimmer

Yeah. There actually are some parasites that go through six or seven different animals to get through their life cycle. It's mind boggling.

Ira Glass

It's really hard to talk about without kind of ascribing a kind of intentionality to them. They don't have consciousness. They don't have brains in any way. And its hard for us to even understand what they're doing without kind of like putting that on them.

Carl Zimmer

Yeah. Because in a sense they are using us or are using other animals or other hosts in such an intentional way. And they seem to know so much. How does a tapeworm inside a fish know that if it makes it flick and flail a certain way, that it'll be easier for a bird to see it. So they can get inside that bird, where it wants to be. It's amazing. And not only to not have brains-- a lot of them don't even have nerves. So it's just this sinister chemical wisdom they have.

Ira Glass

And it seems like all the parasites break down into two different groups. There the kinds that actually get inside a host and then kill it off in their drive to survive. And then there are others which actually just kind of live inside and are happily living inside forever. They want the host to survive. Could you just tell the example of the creature that eats the fish's tongue?

Carl Zimmer

Yeah. This is a particularly creepy one. The parasite in question is called an isopod, which is a kind of crustacean. It looks like a little pill bug or something. But it lives in the water. And what it does is it swims into the mouth of a snapper, a fish. And when it's in there, it's eats that fish's tongue. It just devours the tongue completely. But just the tongue. It stops there. But now this isopod, this parasite does something very weird. It sort of turns around so it's facing front. And kind of hunkers down exactly where the tongue used to be. So if you look in one of these fish's mouths, you see this tongue that has these little eyes in it. It's amazing.

And what scientists think then happens is that the fish can then sort of use the parasite as its tongue. It'll go out and it'll catch some food. And it'll catch a fish. And will crush up the food on the back of this parasite. The fish I guess doesn't mind too if it can still get its meal I guess. And the fish can then kind of get back to its life.

Ira Glass

So many of these stories just are such gross-out stories on a visceral level.

Carl Zimmer

Well, it's funny because it disturbs us when we talk about that when it comes to parasites. But I mean why doesn't it disturb us when we talk about a lion? We name football teams after lions.

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Carl Zimmer

But we don't name football teams after tapeworms. You don't have the Tapeworms or something like that. We don't want to think about it. But we admire these predators. But what are these predators doing? These predators are taking advantage of these other life forms. They're just sort of eating them from the outside, I guess you could say. I mean to my mind, it's just a lot more cool when they're on the inside, trying to figure out how to make this work.

Ira Glass

Thinking about this as much as you have, do you start to see everything as being parasites?

Carl Zimmer

I see a lot of things as being parasites. Parasites are the most successful life form on Earth. And it could be as many as three parasites for every one free living species. It's hard to say.

Ira Glass

Huh.

Carl Zimmer

And if you're not a species that is living inside another thing, then you're a species with something living inside of you.

Ira Glass

Is one side winning?

Carl Zimmer

I'd say the parasites have the upper hand because they're just doing so very well.

Ira Glass

The parasites have the upper hand?

Carl Zimmer

Sure. Yeah. I mean they have the most species. They're getting around all these defenses. I mean there are things they do that either we don't know how they do it or if we know how they do it, we can't reproduce it. We just stand in awe of it.

Ira Glass

I know. But we know about them. They don't know about us. Like we're the ones with the brains and the thinking and the consciousness.

Carl Zimmer

Well, then maybe you're overselling your brain you know. I mean the brain's a wonderful thing. But these parasites are able to pull the strings in those brains in a lot of cases. Say for example, a rat. Rats are very smart animals. I mean they know how to learn. They know how to figure out their surroundings. But there's a parasite called toxoplasma, that's a single-celled parasite. And they pick it up on the ground. And when it gets into them, they suddenly lose their fear of the smell of cats. Otherwise, they're totally the same. Then the cat eats them. And then toxoplasma gets into its final host, which is the cat. So even though you've got a brain, you're still being pushed towards your doom by this single-celled parasite.

Ira Glass

Mr. Zimmer, whose side are you on?

Carl Zimmer

I think I'm on the parasite's side when it comes to getting a bad rap. I'm their PR man.

Ira Glass

Because Mr. Zimmer, at some point we're all going to have to choose sides in this war. Speaking for the other humans, I want to say you're either with us or against us.

Carl Zimmer

Well, it's funny. I have not gotten seriously sick in my life. Knock on wood. And I have actually gone to places where there are a lot of parasites around, in order to report on how people are dealing with them. And I didn't get sick. I was really scared. But I didn't get sick. I didn't get malaria. I didn't get river blindness. I didn't get sleeping sickness.

Ira Glass

What is this? Are you saying this because they could sense that you are in league with them?

Carl Zimmer

Who knows? Well, maybe they think I'm here to serve their purpose.

Ira Glass

Carl Zimmer. His book, the perfect reading material if you ever whenever long talk with an eight-year-old boy, is Parasite Rex.

[MUSIC - "I LIVE OFF YOU" - BY X-RAY SPEX]

Act Three. As The Worm Turns.

Ira Glass

Act Three. As The Worm Turns. Well, as long as we're on the subject of apologists for parasites, let's hear this story from the staff of Radiolab. Here's Radiolab's host Robert Krulwich and reporter Patrick Walters.

Robert Krulwich

So Patrick, are you there?

Patrick Walters

Yeah, I'm here, Robert.

Robert Krulwich

So just tell us a little bit about this fellow, what's his name exactly?

Patrick Walters

His name is Jasper Lawrence. He actually grew up in England. He grew up in this little farm in the southwest corner of England. And it's important to know before hearing any part of his story, that Jasper has had allergies for pretty much his whole life.

Jasper Lawrence

On really bad days, my eyes would swell up so much from pollen or air borne allergens that they would feel like they were swelling shut. I could feel my eyes squeaking in my sockets. It was an enormously uncomfortable feeling.

Patrick Walters

But it was nothing debilitating.

Jasper Lawrence

They were just allergies.

Patrick Walters

And so he's just like most other people who have allergies. You just learn to deal with it.

Jasper Lawrence

You know, you live with it. But what changed for me in my late 20s, early 30s was my asthma. And at that time I was living in Santa Cruz. I was relatively recently married. We had three cats that had been grandfathered in with the relationship. And I started a landscaping business. I really didn't work for someone else.

Patrick Walters

I think someone with allergies, a landscaping business, that seems kind of unexpected.

Jasper Lawrence

Stupid is actually the word for it. And within six months or a year--

Man

He starts to notice--

Jasper Lawrence

--this really weird barking cough.

Patrick Walters

Was there anything in particular that brought this on?

Jasper Lawrence

No. It was just sitting and breathing. Cats certainly didn't help.

Patrick Walters

Right.

Jasper Lawrence

And during that period, my asthma got much worse, very, very quickly. By the time it was 1996, 1997, I was seeing specialists, having skin allergen tests, and cycling through emergency inhalers, trying Singulair and all these other drugs that were coming on the market. I was being hospitalized at least couple of times a year. I mean I looked terrible. I had dark eyes and pale, waxy skin. I had that allergic look. It was a really bad time.

Patrick Walters

And he decides in the summer of 2004 to take a vacation.

Man

He made this visit to England.

Jasper Lawrence

Yeah. I took my two daughters back to see my aunt who had raised me. Very early in the visit, I was sitting at her kitchen table. And she asked me if I'd seen a BBC documentary about parasites and their connection with things like asthma and allergies and multiple sclerosis. And of course I hadn't. But I went upstairs and got on the internet after lunch. And I stayed on the internet until perhaps 2:00 in the morning. I didn't stop. I was reading and reading the work of all these researchers.

Patrick Walters

One study after the next.

Jasper Lawrence

And Japan. And epidemiological studies in Africa. Animal models of multiple sclerosis.

Patrick Walters

This enormous weight of evidence that in the developing world people don't really have asthma or allergies. And what he discovers is that behind all of this, to his shock, is hookworms.

Man

Hookworm?

Patrick Walters

Yeah. Hookworms.

Jasper Lawrence

Yeah. I learned that asthma was 50% less likely in someone who had a hookworm infection.

Patrick Walters

So this sort of just like hits you.

Jasper Lawrence

Oh, yeah.

Patrick Walters

What did you think when you read that?

Jasper Lawrence

Oh, I immediately was determined to obtain hookworm. Immediately. I couldn't wait.

Patrick Walters

So hookworms are these very tiny worms the size of a little hair. But if you take a microscope in you zoom way in, they have this big circular mouth mouth, brimming full of pointy teeth. very. Scary to look at. They have these toothy mouths so that they can borough up through your feet, ride through your blood, and eventually end up down in your gut, and start chewing on the inside of your intestines.

Man

This guy wants hookworms in his intestines?

Jasper Lawrence

Absolutely.

Patrick Walters

And so did you just Google it?

Jasper Lawrence

Yeah. Hookworms for sale. I mean someone has got to be selling them. But nothing. I contacted every laboratory supply company in the world and parasitology research centers. And they all said the same thing. No. Various flavors of no. And so I came to the conclusion that I was going to have to go to the tropics.

Patrick Walters

So fast forward a little. Jasper is in Cameroon, along the coast.

Jasper Lawrence

Quite literally and figuratively the armpit of Africa.

Patrick Walters

He's 200 miles north of the equator. It's extremely hot. He finds a guy to drive them around. And so and his driver would go to a village--

Jasper Lawrence

We'd get out of the car.

Patrick Walters

--walk up to these villagers and ask them if they could see the latrine.

Jasper Lawrence

Just an open area of ground. Usually with bushes so people could have a little bit privacy. And I would go over to the area, remove my shoes, and start walking. The first time I did that I almost couldn't do it. It must have been 110 degrees that day-- 100% humidity. And the stench and the noise from the insects. It was so repulsive and so disgusting.

Patrick Walters

How many villages and latrines do you think you visited?

Jasper Lawrence

Between 30 and 40.

Patrick Walters

Jasper spent two weeks there walking around in village latrines and then he flew home.

Jasper Lawrence

I got back from Africa in early February. So I was looking at allergy season coming up. And the day I realized that I longer had allergies, that was such a good day. I got into my car and I started driving. And I had the window down. And I felt the breeze blowing across my face. In the past what that meant was that very quickly my eyes would be itching uncontrollably. Snot and phlegm was going to be pouring out of every orifice in my face. And it didn't happen. It didn't happen. I just started screaming in the car. I was so, so happy. And I haven't had an asthma attack since I went to Africa. I no longer have allergies. The vast majority of the benefit that I've experienced has come from hookworm.

Robert Krulwich

What is the hookworm doing? Do you know?

Patrick Walters

Well, so the immune system that we learn about in elementary school is all about like these attack cells that go after foreign invaders and destroy them.

Robert Krulwich

Right.

Patrick Walters

And that's a big important part of the immune system. But if the immune system were allowed to attack and destroy things unchecked, it could kill you. And there are lots of diseases where the primary symptoms are caused by the immune system attacking the body that's it's really designed to protect. Allergies and asthma are just two of these. Some of the more serious ones are like Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, in which the immune system actually starts attacking the inside of the intestines.

Robert Krulwich

Uhhuh.

Patrick Walters

There are like 80 of these diseases.

Robert Krulwich

Eighty of them.

Patrick Walters

And so what scientists have found in lots and lots of mouse studies and in some human studies to this point too, is that once the hookworms get inside the gut and the immune system actually starts attacking, somehow hookworms actually stimulate these cells, which just quiet things down. And tell the attack cells to stop attacking.

Robert Krulwich

So these are like lullaby cells?

Patrick Walters

Exactly. What lots and lots of scientists think-- Joel Weinstock--

Robert Krulwich

Joel Weinstock. Tufts Medical Center.

Patrick Walters

And dozens of others is that over--

Robert Krulwich

--thousands and thousands of years--

Patrick Walters

Hookworms almost developed in tandem with the human immune system.

Robert Krulwich

Co-evolution. Parasites living within your body, your immune system changes.

Patrick Walters

If you got to a point where the hookworms could survive safely--

Robert Krulwich

The worm gets a home. There's food coming down the food pipe and in return--

Patrick Walters

The human immune system gains some kind of--

Robert Krulwich

Some form of--

Patrick Walters

Positive regulatory

Robert Krulwich

--advantage.

Patrick Walters

So that if you had this glitch where your immune system started attacking your own body, the presence of the hookworms would keep things--

Robert Krulwich

--controlled. That's the gift. You do something for the worm. The worm does something for you.

Man

So then by that logic, what we in the West, in the richer countries have done stupidly is we have cleaned ourselves up too much. And we don't have enough wormies in us.

Patrick Walters

Yeah, this is called--

Man

They call it the hygiene hypothesis.

Robert Krulwich

--the hygiene hypothesis. That we're not dirty enough.

Man

Too clean.

Jasper Lawrence

We function like rain forests. We're ecosystems. And we've entirely eliminated a class of organism that co-evolved with us and our genetic predecessors for millions of years.

Man

Now, I don't want to leave the impression that hygiene is bad for you. People can't go back to living in filth-- kids playing in sewage by the river bank. But in improving our hygiene, we're also excluding organisms that may be important for making us well.

Robert Krulwich

So then what does Jasper do about all of this?

Patrick Walters

He decides to start a business selling hookworm to people.

Robert Krulwich

What?

Patrick Walters

You can call him up. And he will literally Fed-Ex a dose of hookworms to your door.

Robert Krulwich

How?

Man

Sorry, to break in for a second--

Man 1

Pat--

Hi dad--

Man

Where does he get the hookworm from?

Patrick Walters

This is weird. Jasper gets the hookworm from himself.

Patrick Walters

Could you describe how you go about getting hookworm from your stool into one of your patients?

Jasper Lawrence

Well, it's a very easy organism to work with. It gets up and it walks out of it. So it doesn't take an enormous amount of work to separate it from the feces. And then having done that, I repeatedly wash them in solutions of antibiotics to make sure that anything that could live on them is killed. People contact us. We'll have them complete a questionnaire, submit a recent blood test. Then we'll ship them a dose and all the materials and equipment and the instructions necessary to infect themselves.

Robert Krulwich

Is this a safe thing to do?

Patrick Walters

Jasper has done tons and tons of research. But he's not a doctor.

Robert Krulwich

Right.

Patrick Walters

The treatment is not approved by the FDA.

Robert Krulwich

That's what I wonder. Is there any serious sort of double-blind study trying to figure out whether some safe delivery of hookworm might make sense?

Patrick Walters

Yes. So one of one of the guys who was sort of a pioneer in this hookworm research is David Pritchard.

David Pritchard

I'm Professor David Pritchard.

Patrick Walters

Immunologist and parasitologist.

David Pritchard

--at the University of Nottingham where I study parasites and the wound healing properties of maggots. So we've now got two safety trials under our belts. But we've yet to conduct the trials to show that therapeutic benefit results from infection with worms.

Patrick Walters

So Pritchard infected himself pretty much just to make sure that it was safe.

David Pritchard

What we did was, 10 of us in the lab took worms at different doses. We were either given 10, 25, 50, or 100 worms. And then we had to report on the symptoms. And on the back of that study, we determined that 10 worms were tolerated.

Patrick Walters

But Pritchard, when he did this proof of safety study, he actually give himself 50 hookworms.

Robert Krulwich

Oh.

Patrick Walters

Which put him out of commission for awhile.

David Pritchard

Well, I felt pretty bad. I mean pain in the gut really. You could feel them. Because they are biting on your tissues.

Patrick Walters

I mean if you have too many hookworms, they can cause things like diarrhea. And the most serious side effect and the side effect that makes them sort of a public health enemy is that they can give you anemia.

David Pritchard

So if you have too many, you lose quite a bit of blood to these parasites.

Jasper Lawrence

Well, if you take too many hookworm, which you're not going to, if you come to us, the worse thing you're going to get is anemia. But it's not like you wake up one morning in your drained of blood. It's very slow to develop. And it's very easy to deal with.

Patrick Walters

Jasper's kind of just gone for it. You know, it's a very sort of like cowboy move.

Jasper Lawrence

So the scientific community, I think they believe that I'm premature--

Man

It's not FDA approved.

Jasper Lawrence

--in offering this to the public.

Man

You don't know what it is. You don't know it's purity. It's not safe.

Patrick Walters

But I've talked to several clients who have really severe allergies and asthma. They say they're just achieved these great results. And Jasper also says he's seen success with a few multiple sclerosis patients and several Crohn's disease patients too.

Patrick Walters

Like how many people do you think that you have infected?

Jasper Lawrence

It's about 85 right now.

Patrick Walters

How is business? Is it everything that--

Jasper Lawrence

Business is adequate. But I honestly don't know why I don't wake up in the morning with my front garden 20 deep with people with ulcerative collitis, Crohn's disease, allergies. I just don't know why I'm not completely buried.

Patrick Walters

The way he sees it, people are scared.

Jasper Lawrence

Well, they're the people who are coming from the point of view of what they learned in kindergarten about clean drinking water and sewers. To them, worms and parasites are so repulsive that there is nothing good to be said about them. But I can make you better. It's simple. It's cheap. I mean for god's sakes, these organisms fall out my rear end every day, a half a million at a time. The raw material is human excrement for god's sake. All people have to do is open their minds. Are you really that scared of a little worm?

Ira Glass

Thanks to Patrick Walters and the hosts of Radiolab, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich for that story. After that story was first broadcast, the Food and Drug Administration decided to pay a visit to Jasper Lawrence's house in Santa Cruz. Officials inspected the lab where he harvests his hookworms, told him he had to shut down his operation. That night, Jasper and his wife packed up their belongings and fled the country, so he could keep harvesting and selling hookworms. Jasper's website is autoimmunetherapies.com. And before you get any big ideas about ordering some hookworms, he is not shipping worms right now to the United States of America.

Act Four. Sleeping With The Enemy.

Ira Glass

Act Four. Sleeping With Your Enemy. We have this story about what is hidden inside of us-- the secret agents within. From writer Etgar Keret. Among other things, he says that this is a story of his real-life wife. Actor Matt Malloy reads it for it. A quick warning for listeners before we begin. This story acknowledges the existence of sex.

Matt Malloy

Surprised: Of course I was surprised. You go out with a girl, first date, second date, a restaurant here, a movie there. Always just matinees. You start sleeping together. The sex is dynamite. And pretty soon there's feeling too. And then one day, she arrives all weepy. And you hug her. And tell her to take it easy. That everything's OK. She says she can't stand it anymore. She has this secret. Not just a secret. Something really awful. A curse. Something she's been wanting to tell you the whole time, but she didn't have the guts. This thing, it's been weighing down on her like a ton of bricks. And now she's gotta tell you. She's simply got to.

But she knows that as soon as she does, you'll leave her. And you'd be absolutely right, too. And right after that, she starts crying all over again. "I won't leave you," you tell her. "I won't. I love you." You may look a little upset, but you're not. And even if you are, it's about her crying, not about her secret. You know by now that these secrets that always make a woman fall to pieces are usually nothing. And you hug them and say, "It's all right. It's OK." Or shh, if they don't stop. "It's something really terrible," she insists, as if she's picked up on how nonchalant you are about it, even though you tried to hide it. "In the pit of your stomach it may sound terrible," you tell her. "But that's mostly because of the acoustics. Soon as you let it out, it won't seem nearly as bad," you'll see. And she almost believes it. She hesitates a minute and then asks, "What if I told you that at night I turn into a heavy, hairy man with no neck, with a gold ring on his pinky? Would you still love me?"

And you tell her, "Of course, you would." What else can you say, that you wouldn't? She's simply trying to test you to see whether you love her unconditionally. And you've always been a winner at tests. The truth is, as soon as you say it, she melts. And you screw, right there in the living room. And afterwards, you lie there holding other tight. And she cries because she's so relieved. And you cry too. Go figure. And unlike all the other times, she doesn't get up and leave. She stays there and falls asleep. You lie awake, looking at her beautiful body, at the sunset outside, at moon appearing as if out of nowhere, at the silvery light flickering over her body, stroking the hair on her back.

And within less than five minutes, you find yourself lying next to this guy. This short, fat guy. And the guy gets up and smiles at you and gets dressed awkwardly. He leaves the room and you follow him, spellbound. He's in the den now. His thick fingers fiddling with the remote, zapping to the sports channels-- championship football. When they miss a pass, he curses the TV. When they score, he gets up and does this little victory dance. After the game, he tells you his throat is dry and his stomach is growling. He could really use a beer and a nice hunk of meat, well done if possible, with lots of onion rings. But he'd settle for some pork chops too. So you get into the car and take him to this restaurant that he knows about and you don't. This new twist has you worried. It really does. But you have no idea what to do about it. Your command and control centers are down. You shift gears at the exit, in a daze. And he's right there beside you in the passenger seat, tapping that gold-ringed pinky of his. At the next intersection, he rolls down his window, winks at you, and yells at this chick who's thumbing a ride. "Hey, baby. Wanna play nanny goat and ride in the back?

Later, the two of you pack in the steak and the chops and the onion rings, until you're about to explode. And he enjoys every bite. And laughs like a baby. And all that time you keep telling yourself, it's gotta be a dream. A bizarre dream, yes. But definitely one that you'll snap out of any minute. On the way back, you ask him where to let him off? And he pretends not to hear you. But he looks despondent. So you wind up taking him back home with you. It's almost 3:00 a.m. "I'm going to hit the sack," you tell him. And he waves to you. And stays in the bean bag chair, staring at the Fashion channel. You wake up the next morning exhausted, with a slight stomach ache. And there she is, in the living room still dozing. By the time you've had your shower, she's up. She hugs you guiltily. And you're too embarrassed to say anything.

Time goes by and you're still together. The sex just gets better and better. And she's not so young anymore. And neither are you. And suddenly you find yourselves talking about a baby. And at night, you and the fatsoguy hit the town like you've never done in your life. He takes you to restaurants and bars you didn't even know existed. And you dance on tables together, beak plates likes there's no tomorrow. He's really nice, the fatso guy. A little crass, especially with women. Sometimes coming out with things that make you just want to die. But other than that, he's great fun to be with. When you first met him, you didn't give a damn about football. But now, you know every team. And whenever one of your favorites wins, you feel like you've made a wish and its come true, which is a pretty exceptional feeling for someone like you, who hardly knows what he wants most of the time. And so it goes. Every night you fall asleep, with him struggling to stay awake for the early scores on ESPN. And in the morning, there she is, the beautiful, forgiving woman that you love too, until it hurts.

Ira Glass

Matt Malloy. Reading Etgar Keret's story, "Fatso", which appears in his book, The Nimrod Flipout. Kaaret's most recent collection is The Girl on the Fridge. This story was translated into English by Miriam Shlesinger.

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Credits.

Ira Glass

Radiolab is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. Thanks to them. If you're not listening to Radiolab, you should be. The new season starts this week-- radiolab.org. Our website, thisamericanlife.org. The store at our website is back up in operation. And there's an update to our iPhone app. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International, WBEZ. Management oversight for our program by our boss Mr. Torey Malatia, who has just one question for you: Hey, baby. Want to play nanny goat and ride in the back? I'm Ira Glass. Back next week, with more stories of This American Life.

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