A Small Death

Author: Chris Repetsky  //  Category: General

On February 19th, 2011 I decided to take a walk.

I was just beginning my second semester of medical school, and things weren’t going well. I was taking a full course load, and any AUA student who graduated from the old curriculum will tell you that second semester may as well be the toughest. 4 brutal classes, all at once, each demanding hours of study that you don’t have. Couple this with my anxiety issues I was having at the time, and it was a recipe for disaster. The apartment I lived at was near the beach, so I would often take walks in the late afternoon and early evening to clear my head and avoid panic. This time, I had gotten it into my head that my room needed sprucing up, and I figured a plant was the best way to fill that goal. So I fished out a tin can left over from a meal of Spaghetti-O’s, washed it thoroughly, and left my apartment on a mission to find some dirt and a native plant to bring back to my humble abode.

I didn’t get far. I had just crossed over the threshold leading from the parking lot to the street when I spotted an object moving in the grass outside the gates. Curious, I went over to see what it was. Clearing away bits of unkempt island grass, I revealed a large Hermit Crab. I was shocked, having forgotten that these little creatures were indeed native to Antigua. I picked him up in my hands, and instead of recoiling into his shell, he greeted me curiously, running his feelers the length of my fingers.  I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but I scooped up some sand in the tin can, added him on top, and turned around and went back home to set up a house for him.

He lived in a large tupperware container filled with sand. It sat at the foot of my bed on a small table, and each day I would give him fresh water and table scraps from whatever meal I had finished. We grew to be fast friends. He learned that I brought the food, and became even friendlier with me. When I spoke to him, he would emerge from his shell, always ready to greet me with a friendly feeler. Concern for his well-being inspired me to conduct more research into crab care. I studied journals on Carcinology, and spoke to Veterinarians and Marine Biologists alike. Turns out keeping crabs properly is a large amount of work, one that pet stores rarely have a clue about. They require special diets, special humidity levels, and special heat levels. A major production. I skimped by with what I could salvage while living on the island, and Brutus always flourished despite my best efforts.

The little crab became something more than a pet to me. Not only had he started me on a new hobby, but he was a companion while I toiled on Antigua. Too many a night I would come home, on the verge of exhaustion and sometimes tears, and he’d greet me as always, ready to provide a much-needed distraction. I played with him daily. He sat on my shoulder while I read in bed. He’d scamper around my desk when I studied.

The time came for me to leave the island for break. I was facing a tough choice. My little friend couldn’t survive over break without me, and no one was staying behind who would care for him. I made the choice then. It was a huge hassle to do it properly, but I managed to get Brutus home with me to the United States.

He got a wonderful new home in Ohio. A huge tank, tons of new shells, much-needed humidity and heat, and a veritable buffet of new foods to try, along with some old favorites. He also got tank mates. As I got deeper into raising crustaceans, my little colony grew. But Brutus was always my favorite. He was special. We had a history. Of course I love and enjoy my other crabs, but Brutus was always my special friend from the island.

For three years, my little buddy has been there for me through good times and bad. I played with him when frustrated with school. He sat on the bed with me when I cried over losing what I thought was the love of my life. Earlier this week, he excitedly ran his feelers over my fingers like he always did when I learned that I passed the United States Medical Boards. Even during my celebration, I took my little guy out of his tank and we spent time playing. He was special, after all.

Over the past few days, Brutus fell ill. He became lethargic, turned a horrid pale color, and left his shell permanently. I tried many things at the advice of other crustacean enthusiasts, marine life experts, and some of my own design. He seemed comfortable, but wasn’t getting better. Earlier today, I noticed him almost lifeless in his tank, sunken into a pit another one of the crabs dug. As instructed, I isolated him with his shells, attempting in vain to get him to go back into one. He wouldn’t budge.

A few minutes ago, I found him still in his isolation tank. Gingerly I picked him up and stroked his tiny back. I started to cry (and I still am). When I spoke his name, he stuck out his little claw to touch my finger, holding it there as he passed in my hands.

My little buddy died.

I know you’ll probably think “It’s just a crab”. And you’re right. Most people don’t bond with those types of animals like they do with a dog or a cat. But Brutus was special to me. He entered my life at a dark and tumultuous time, and provided me with an outlet to quell my anxiety. Having another life to care for while I was stuck on the island eased my worry, and his friendly demeanor comforted me. Yes, he was just a crab. But he was my little buddy. My friend.

My Brutus.

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I don’t know where animals go when they pass. I like to believe that all of them, from the smallest insect to the largest elephant, pass on to some sort of afterlife. And I hope my little Brutus is there. And that maybe, I’ll get to be reunited with my friend from the lonely isle someday.

Rest in peace, Brutus. I loved you.

My Hermit Crab Care Guide

Author: Chris Repetsky  //  Category: Uncategorized

Land Hermit Crabs! While not a true crab biologically, these little fellows are quite interesting and captivating to keep and care for. I’ve been crabbin’ for about 4 years now, and having done extensive research into caring for these creatures, I’d like to take the opportunity to share my knowledge and experiences with you guys! Sadly, most people view hermits as a disposable or throw-away pet that will only live a few months to a year. Not so! Due to many crab owners not knowing how to properly keep them healthy, this is an outcome we can blame on the owner, not the animal. When properly cared for, hermits can live 25-30 years in captivity. That being said, let’s dive in!

PREPARING
So you want to get some hermits? Excellent choice! They may not look like much, but they are far smarter than people realize, and really are quite enjoyable to care for. First though, you need to figure out what you are going to keep them in.

HOUSING (OR CRABITAT)
The proper choice of a crabitat is key. The small plastic boxes you buy at a pet store, mall kiosk, or carnival are NOT a good housing choice. Hermits are very active animals, climbing and burrowing for exercise and exploration. They need a minimum of a 10 gallon tank, with a 20 gallon (or higher) preferable for larger crab communities (5+ crabs). This will ensure they have adequate space. The choice of bedding is rather important as well. The absolute best bedding you can get them is regular play sand from the hardware store. It’s very cheap, readily available, and easy to clean. And best of all, it mimics the natural habitat of hermits in the wild, so they take to it quite nicely. Don’t waste money on Calcium sand products. They are very expensive, and tend to clump together in water, irritating the crabs. Stick with plain old play sand (However, make sure the sand isn’t treated with insecticides or chemicals. Some hardware stores do this, and hermits are very sensitive to chemicals. We’ll talk more about that later.)

So you have some sand! Now, we make sure it’s deep enough. Hermit crabs love to dig and burrow, and during part of their life-cycle they will molt yearly. This process is incredibly critical as well as fragile, and the hermits need at least an inch of sand over their head after they burrow completely. So plan to fill your crabitat deeply, 4-6 inches deep of sand depending on the size of your largest hermit.
Along with sand, some crabbers like to add a bit of coconut fiber bedding to the bottom. This gives the crabs more to play with/climb on, and has the added bonus of helping to keep moisture in. Speaking of moisture…

HUMIDITY
Hermits are tropical animals natively, and require specific humidity in order to thrive. Improper humidity is one of the number one reasons people lose crabs! Hermits are equipped with modified gills. These leech water from the atmosphere used to breathe (Note, the gills are not the same as fish gills. Hermits will drown in water). Therefore, the humidity level in the crabitat must be between 70-80% at all times. You can verify this by purchasing a Hygrometer. I found a nice one at the local pet store for 10 dollars that was pre-calibrated, and stuck on the side of my tank.

To keep humidity up, you can do a variety of things. First, moist sponges in the hermit’s water dish are a must. They keep things moist, and the crabs prefer to drink from the sponges anyway. Secondly, you can invest in a mister/humidifier for the crabitat. I personally use the ReptiFogger Misting Appliance, which I connected to a cheap digital timer. Every 2 hours, it mists for an hour, keeping the humidity constant and in range.

HEAT
Along with humidity, hermits require specific temperatures to mimic their natural environment. The crabitat must be 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you go too high or too low, the crabs can suffer metabolic issues, and may die. Therefore, proper temperature regulation is a must! Along with your hygrometer, utilize a thermometer to keep a watchful eye on the crabitat’s temperature. I use a two-fold approach. First, I have a stick-on heater like you would utilize for a reptile tank. I have it placed on the side of the tank, halfway above the sand and halfway below. They utilize this at night when the lights are off. Secondly, I have an above-tank heating lamp. I use a red light 75 Watt Moonglow bulb. It mimics moonlight, which the crabs are preferential to, being as they are a nocturnal species. It’s low enough to leave on during the day as well, without overheating the tank.

CRAB SPECIES
So you have the tank ready, and now you want to get some hermits! There are two main species that are sold for captivity, the Purple Pincher (Caribbean) Hermit Crab and the Ecuadorian Hermit Crab. The Purple Pincher is easily identified by its namesake, the giant purple claw (cheliped). Ecuadorians are usually grayer in color, and don’t have as big of a main cheliped. They of course, live natively in the Caribbean and Ecuador respectively.

Purple Pincher

Ecuadorian

Both species are friendly with each other, and can be kept together. You do not have to worry about your crabs breeding. It is incredibly difficult to get crabs to breed as pets, to the point that most scientists cannot even coax them to do so in a laboratory setting. In all my research, I’ve only seen a handful of anecdotes about hermits breeding in captivity, and it always ended with unfertilized eggs or immediate death of the offspring. The current hypothesis is that the ocean is required for this part of the life cycle, but we simply don’t know.

EDIT: I forgot to mention: Despite their name, hermits are NOT solitary animals. They need other crabs to be happy and social. If you plan on getting a hermit, plan on at least 2, if not more. Being alone depresses them, and they can actually die of loneliness.

WATER/FOOD
Hermits are picky about their water supply. Their modified gills are easily damaged/destroyed by the chemicals in tap water, so unless you purchase a water conditioning agent from the pet store, giving them tap water is a no-no. Things that are safe and beneficial to humans (like fluoride) are harmful to your hermits, so water choice is very important. I personally use bottled water for their drinking water, and distilled water to mist the tank. Both are cheap, and even if your bottled water comes from a municipal water source, you can verify that it has been filtered/reverse-osmosis treated to remove the chemical compounds present in tap water.

Crabs also require a dish of saltwater along with fresh water. I buy 2 gallon jugs of distilled water, and use a product called Instant Ocean from the aquarium shop. It mixes up 2 gallons at a time, which should easily last you at least a month. Warning: DON’T USE TABLE SALT TO MIX SALT WATER. Reef salt is very different than the salt we eat. It will kill your crabs.

As for food, hermits are true scavengers. They will eat pretty much anything you give them. However, it’s important to make sure they obtain enough nutrients (especially calcium) which is needed for growth of their exoskeleton. Pet stores sell powdered and pellet-form crab food, both of which are good choices. Once weekly, I give my colony fresh fruits and veggies, which they love.

SHELLS
Obviously, hermits need shells. Lots of them. You need to have a variety of shapes and sizes because like humans, not all hermits enjoy or appreciate the same home. They love to “test drive” shells, and switch frequently. Try to get shells that are similar in size to their current one, but also have a supply of slightly smaller and slightly larger shells. Hermits do change size throughout their life cycle, and will be uncomfortable stuck with only one size shell.

Note: AVOID painted shells! Some stores paint hermit shells to make them appealing or cute. The paint is sadly toxic to the hermits. It will flake off over time, and being the scavengers that they are, they will eat the paint chips. If your pet store sells hermits in painted shells or painted shells alone, please consider asking them to stop. It’s cruel to the animals.

TOYS
Hermits love to climb and burrow. In addition to the previously mentioned deep substrate, adding in driftwood is a good idea. They will climb and explore any wood structures you place in the tank, and even sometimes hide underneath them. Purchased driftwood is the best bet for ensuring it’s safe, but if you obtain it from the beach you can bake driftwood in the oven to help sterilize it. Just be careful not to catch it on fire!

MOLTING
The most stressful time in a hermit’s life is molting. They do this once or twice yearly. It involves burrowing deep down into the substrate, and slowly wiggling out of their old exoskeleton in order to grow a new, larger one. If you suddenly see a crab has vanished, don’t panic! He or she may be molting. NEVER disturb a molting crab. The stress can kill it. Depending on how rough/aggressive your other hermits are, you may need to put a small plastic barrier down, separating the non-molters from the molter. My colony gets along very well, and usually don’t bother a molter.

When molting is done, you’ll be left with what looks like a dead crab, but really it’s just their hollowed out exoskeleton. Your newly molted hermit will be nice and pink, and their exoskeleton will take a few days to harden. Leave the old exoskeleton in the tank, as they will consume it for calcium supplies that they have lost during the molting process!

Many crabs die during a molt because they are improperly cared for. But with good information and handling of the situation, this stressful process will turn out just right. Just remember: Don’t handle or disturb a molter. They may disappear for weeks on end, but this is how nature intended it.

HANDLING
You can handle your new pets, so long as you are careful. Like anything with a pincer, it will use it if frightened. That said however, hermits are just like people and each one has a different personality. Some are shy and hate being handled, others love it. Some are aggressive. You may get pinched, but it’s important not to blame the animal. He/She is just doing what they do naturally.

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Here is a shot of my crabitat. It’s a 50 gallon tall, chosen so I was able to construct a second level for them to climb. As mentioned previously, they love climbing for exercise, and are very good at it. The more vertical space you can give them, the better. I’ve also utilized several plastic aquarium plants and choya wood for hiding places and decorations. Your crabs will each show preference to where they like to rest and play.

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This is the ReptiFogger Misting system I described earlier. It uses distilled water to produce a fine mist in the crabitat, keeping the tank saturated and moist at the required humidity levels. I have it hooked up to a cheap digital timer, programmed to turn on every 2 hours for an hour at a time. This was calibrated to my tank after some experimentation, so if you decide to use a mister, you will have to see what your tank’s perfect setting is based on it’s height and volume.

Nasty E-Mails and Comments

Author: Chris Repetsky  //  Category: Uncategorized

Hello, my dear readers! Today, I’d like to do the first installment of something that may or may not be a regular feature on here, depending on how much the opinions of myself anger the internet! Yes, it’s time for….

Nasty E-Mails and Comments!

Rarely do I use profanities in my debates. I’m a firm believer that debate should be utilized as a learning tool, not one to disparage someone personally. However, I received a lovely comment on my blog here from someone who apparently wasn’t content with one of my opinions. That’s completely fine, people will always have conflicting viewpoints and one of the nice things about debate is that you can go back and forth in a respectful way about your opinions. However, when people try to personally insult you as part of their argument, it shows an utter lack of backing to their opinions, and merely reveals that you struck a nerve in them, got them angry, and they can’t defend themselves rationally so they resort to insults. This comment was one such example!

Let the “Eye for an Eye” begin!

“It is interesting how you spend a lot of your time trying to degrade others who have gone into their respective professions (chiropractic, osteopathy, naturopathy etc..) with the expressed intention of helping others, usually because they themselves were helped when allopathic medicine failed to do so. “

Quibble the 1st: My intentions are not to degrade others. My intentions are to provide discourse and information on healthcare practices that are bogus, quackery, and all out devoid of good science in an effort to perhaps strike a chord in those who would otherwise ignore or be oblivious to these goings-on. The 3 professions you have listed are filled with pseudoscience and only serve as a detriment to the public’s understanding of health and biological sciences. I deride these professions not because I have a vendetta, but because I care about patients everywhere and how they are choosing to spend their money or time in the interest of their own health. When these professions decide to cast off their roots of vitalistic nonsense and start to produce real, measurable scientific results, I will be the first to welcome them with open arms into the fold of healing. Until then, no.

Quibble the 2nd: There’s no such thing as “allopathic” medicine. There’s medicine which works and has been proven by science to do so, and there’s everything else. Allopathy was a derogative term for “mainstream” physicians coined by Samuel Hahnemann, the gentleman who invented Homeopathy, a system which disregards basic fundamental sciences on such a huge level, that it is perhaps the worst offender of them all.

I would hope you went into medicine to do the same, and not just for the money. You seem like a little man.

And here we have a lovely ad-hominem attack against me! Bravo! Good to see you can defend your opinions without resorting to insults. Er…wait…

If you’d spend any time reading my website, you’d no doubt see the scads of posts I have  made bemoaning the current medical environment in the United States, and how I am disgusted by my colleagues who are motivated only by money. But then again, that wouldn’t make for a good insult now, would it?

I was drawn to your website because of your reply to an article I read about Sidney Crosby. You state how good the article is, and then in the next line show your ignorance by questioning how it is that chiropractors get “specialties”. Quite bold of you to have such strong opinions without any facts.

Hooray for more reading comprehension! This was inspired by my posting on http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/chiropractic-neurology/ concerning the topic of Chiropractic Neurology, a “specialty” claimed by many Chiropractors across the US. My words on this site were expressed not as a request for this knowledge, but at the sheer-dumbfoundedness I felt in seeing that these unscrupulous individuals claiming to be competent Neurologists after taking 300 HOURS ONLY OF THE TOPIC, WHICH CAN BE DONE ALL ONLINE. By that logic, one elective rotation should fully qualify me in a medical specialty, residency be damned.

Chiropractors do take post graduate courses to get these specialty designations, and you cannot use it in advertising or in any way unless you have earned the designation from one of the accredited colleges. It is regulated, but of course, like in medicine or any other profession, there will be crooks who try to get away with using them without the valid credentials. It takes a couple of years of course work and it does not imply a ‘medical’ specialty, it is a chiropractic specialty.

Years of coursework? Try again: http://www.chirocredit.com/pages/chiro_neurology.php 300 hours is the minimum requirement to sit for their Board exams. That to me, is laughable. An understanding of Neurology as a specialty takes years, and isn’t something one can do sitting at home in the La-Z-Boy  on the laptop or attending Hotel Room Conferences on Sundays.

‘Medicine’ is only one type of healthcare, as is dentistry, optometry etc… Chiropractors do not pretend to be medical doctors, although some lean that way in practice more than others.

Perhaps in legal terms, but from a science perspective, the realms of Dentistry and Optometry are considering in the realm of Medicine. They utilize good, solid science in their practices. Chiropractors do not.

…and many Chiropractors DO pretend to be Medical Doctors. They are trying in many states to get access as Primary Care Providers, a role which they are woefully inadequate in training to perform in. For a good analysis, see: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/the-dc-as-pcp/

You and your small minded peers seem to think that chiropractic only involves clicking bones, but the profession is much more diverse than that. Chiropractic Neurology encompasses all non-surgical treatment of neurological conditions, in other words, whatever works, whether it be allopathic or chiropractic, and it attempts to fuse these approaches and apply them appropriately, and with evidence to support it.

Another lovely ad-hominem. Thanks! Really shows your ability to debate rationally and intelligently.

The sad thing about Chiropractic Neurology is that not a single one of its practitioners  has yet to actually demonstrate in a scientific fashion that what they do *works*. They rely mostly on patient anecdotes and stories, as well as simple case reports. The lack of research astounds me.

Funny, in the next part you bring up the “Doctor” treating Sidney Crosby as your example. Here’s a quote from him concerning scientific studies of his “treatments”

“We don’t have enough time to publish studies.” (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1190863/2/index.htm)

So what, lets just do a bunch of stuff that has no basis in the lab and hope it works? If I practiced Medicine that way, I wouldn’t get very far. Nor should I. That’s the kind of attitude that harms people.

The reality is, Sidney Crosby is back on the ice (and looking to move to the KHL since the NHL is in shambles), yet I do not hear any of you eating your words about the apparently successful treatment he received. Your apparent quiet is even more disturbing in light of the fact that the nerologists he did see could not, or would not help him.

We aren’t eating our words because this is one anecdote. We have no idea of knowing what got Mr. Crosby back and playing again. Without further studies, we can’t simply conclude that “Hey, this treatment works. Let’s keep doing this.” The Chiros that champion Mr. Crosby’s case are doing themselves such a disservice by not utilizing even the slightest in critical thinking skills. Again, if I practiced Medicine like this, I’d be in deep, deep trouble. You can’t just treat things with methods you make up, without even knowing if their underlying function has a basis in science. That’s just plain wrong.

BTW, isn’t the Antigua medical program a little bit of a joke? Isn’t that where students go that can’t get into medical school in the US? Stones and Glass houses…

Another lovely ad-hominem! Keep ‘em coming!

Since you don’t know me personally, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I never applied to a United States Medical School. I didn’t want to. I went to Antigua for the express purpose of working in an impoverished country where I could simultaneously learn Medical Science as well as provide outreach to the destitute there who cannot afford to see a doctor.  And not that it really matters, but the University I attend is fully accredited in not only the United States, by also by the World Health Organization. I have completed my classroom studies and am slated to be working in a hospital in my home state soon, which I could not have accomplished if my program was in any-way “a joke”.

It might not be Harvard Med, but at least we aren’t being taught nonsensical fairy tales about how the human body works.

And that, my dear friends, brings us to a close! If you’d like to debate or discuss, I’m always happy to! I will respect your opinions fully as long as you respect mine. But show up with idiotic drivel like the above, and I will deconstruct it for the public to see.

Hope you enjoyed :)