Day 844: The Girl With The X-Ray Eyes

originally published April 23, 2014

I think I would have made a good superhero. I get along well with sidekicks, I’m mostly incorruptible, and I’d probably look pretty smokin’ in a cowl. But alas, I have fallen into zero vats of radiation, been struck by no meteors, and if I saw a radioactive spider I’d probably blast it with a flame-thrower before I’d let it bite me. I’m destined to be a powerless schlub, I suppose.

But that’s okay – superheroes are but the stuff of fiction, right?

Well, maybe. That all depends on how much disbelief you’re willing to suspend when it comes to Natasha Demkina, the twenty-something lady from Russia who claims to possess the power of X-Ray vision.

To be clear, this is not some floozy with a Superman fetish, nor is she an impassioned collector of 1950’s mail-away cereal-box kitsch. Natasha truly believes she has this ability, and a number of people sporting a cavalcade of letters after their names have lined up to check her out.

According to her mother, a lady whose intentions hopefully drift nowhere near the realm of exploiting her daughter, Natasha began exhibiting this bizarre skill when she was around ten years old. To be clear, we aren’t talking about peering through plaster and brick into the next room, nor is she able to identify a playing card by looking at its back. Natasha’s X-Ray vision is just that – the ability to see into someone’s body, X-ray-style, to diagnose what’s wrong with them.

This is a skill whose usefulness could vary between a brilliant parlor trick and a genuine medical triumph. It’s not a particularly handy superpower when fighting bad guys (unless, I suppose, she could spot a henchman’s weak ankle and pass on that info to one of the other superheroes), but a so-called super-doctor with this ability could be a phenomenal asset to any society. With that in mind, there are two speed-bumps we must traverse here:

  1. Natasha has zero formal medical training.
  2. It might all be bullshit.

Word of Natasha’s gift began spreading around the population of her hometown of Saransk, Mordovia (home of actor Gérard Depardieu since 2013!), and locals began flocking to Natasha’s door for an immediate diagnosis. Media attention soon followed, as it inevitably does. A local children’s hospital asked Natasha to test out her gift. She drew the contents of a doctor’s stomach, indicating precisely where he had an ulcer. She also disagreed with a patient’s cancer diagnosis, claiming she could only see a small cyst.

Before you hop on the internet machine and frantically click your way to a search engine to find Natasha, I should point out that I can’t actually verify any of this. The article I’m reading doesn’t say whether or not the doctor actually had an ulcer, nor does it specify whether or not the patient actually had cancer. One of the cited sources is in untranslatable Cyrillic text and the other doesn’t exist. So shoot back these achievements with a spoonful of salt for now, and let’s dig a little deeper.

Always in search of a good story, the British tabloid The Sun brought Natasha to England for a demonstration. The Discovery Channel, in an effort to stave off their inevitable decline into becoming yet another 24-hour reality show channel, sent a team to investigate also. The results were curiously mixed. When confronted with the recent victim of a car crash, Natasha correctly identified the fractures and metal pins that had been placed inside her. Apparently the host of the daytime show This Morning was impressed by her observation that his ankle was sore (presumably he wasn’t limping onto the set).

But the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry wasn’t sold. They wanted to run a truly blind test, with a fabric screen between Natasha and the patients so that she couldn’t even guess what ailed them based on their physical appearance. Apparently Natasha needs to see the patients up close – she can see through clothing, but not through a screen. Okay…

Natasha was shown seven subjects and told what seven conditions they had. The examination took four hours, and Natasha nailed… four of them. She missed the guy who had a metal plate in his skull after having had a brain tumor removed, and instead ascribed that condition to the guy who’d had his appendix out. The guy with the metal plate later pointed out that he’d also had his appendix out, but had forgotten to mention it. No worries – Natasha had diagnosed someone else (someone with a very present appendix) as being the one who’d had the appendectomy.

During her time in the spotlight, Natasha encountered a man who had been treated unsuccessfully for tuberculosis. She looked into his cells and drew a picture of what she saw. The picture was sent to a Moscow doctor who claimed to see the same thing under his microscope: it was  an inflammatory disease lesion known as a sarcoidosis granuloma. Huzzah! Natasha had succeeded where medical science had failed! Except the skeptics at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry sent the same drawing to a professor of pathology at Yale University, an expert on the condition. He swears that the drawing does not resemble a sarcoidosis granuloma in the least.

Okay, so the results here are definitely inconclusive. And one might pass this off as a sideshow parlor trick, harmless in nature, except for the case of Dr. Chris Steele, a doctor who shows up on British television with a Dr. Drew-type frequency. Natasha told Dr. Steele that he had kidney stones, a problem with his gallbladder and an enlarged liver and pancreas. Dr. Steele underwent a battery of tests (including a colonoscopy, which in itself carries some medical risks), and was found to have nothing wrong with him at all.

Further tests in New York frustrated Natasha, as she claims the testing was performed in inappropriate conditions by biased researchers who were focused on little more than discrediting her. An independent paper written by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Brian Josephson also pointed a critical finger at the researchers. Her experiments in Tokyo were an unheralded success, according to… her own website. The independent findings appear to be online as well, but Google Chrome’s translate feature appears to be consistently failing me today so I can’t discern what they say.

Natasha’s gift seems too unfathomable to be true, yet there are too many maybes and too many inconclusive results for me to toss this on the bullshit heap. I don’t know, I want to believe she has this talent. That there’s someone out there with a bona fide super power, and that she’s willing to use it for anything but evil. Besides, I’d make a great sidekick.

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