Probed in space

Alien medical-exam waiting rooms don't even have magazines.

Published July 30, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

David Jacobs has an interesting collection of stains. He collects the mysterious little stains that people notice on their clothes after returning from an alien abduction. The stains happen during the medical examination that abductees typically report being subjected to. Jacobs interviews people about these things during hypnosis sessions.

Jacobs is not himself an abductee. He teaches history at Temple University in Philadelphia. Oddly, Jacobs' stain collection does not include the stubborn blot that one assumes such activities would leave upon one's academic reputation. Ditto alien abduction author John Mack, who wrote the forward for Jacobs' latest book. Mack is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "We believe in academic freedom," said Harvard spokesman Bill Schaller when I called to verify Mack's post. Schaller didn't think Professor Mack was an embarrassment to Harvard. "They're all weird and embarrassing one way or another," he said.

Jacobs, for his part, is a seemingly ordinary guy who listens to "Prairie Home Companion" and raises two boys and just happened to get interested in aliens, enough to write his dissertation and three books on the topic. I called Jacobs because I was curious about the alien examination. I wondered what it would be like to be a patient, and whether it could actually be more frightening than my recent visit to a major metropolitan emergency room. What are the aliens checking for? How's their bedside manner? Do they make you wear humiliating paper garments? I would hope that a civilization that has figured out intergalactic travel would have a handle on dignified johnny design.

Having interviewed 135 abductees, who have had, between them, 525 such exams, Dr. Jacobs had answers to all my questions. He also had answers to questions I didn't ask, like "How do they get the sperm samples out of male abductees?" More on this later.

Like medical exams here in our own planetary system, the alien exam begins in a poorly decorated waiting room. ("No aesthetic sense whatsoever," said Jacobs, a bit harshly. "No posters, no scenic scenes of broken rowboats on the beach.") The alien medics, while distinct from our physicians in many ways (no fee or copayment has ever been charged for an alien medical exam), seem to share the basic disrespect for their patients' time. "If it's a very busy ship -- let's say there are 20 tables and they've abducted 40 people -- there can be quite a delay." Do they at least have a decent reading selection? "Nope. No magazines. People just sort of sit there with their clothes off in specially constructed alcoves with their tongues hanging out, eyes rolled back." I wondered whether Jacobs had considered the possibility that these people were confusing alien abduction with certain sectors of the Los Angeles club scene, but then he went on to describe the exam.

In all 525 exams, the patients are naked. Their clothes are left on the floor in the waiting area or, occasionally, the exam room, where careless "beings" sometimes slop betadyne-like liquid onto them (whence cometh, Jacobs surmises, the little stains). The aliens themselves don't typically wear clothes, which perhaps explains their cluelessness in the realm of garment care and storage. The occasional "Star Trek"-esque "shift-like or robe-like thing" crops up in abductees' stories, but never a white coat.

In three quarters of the stories Jacobs has heard, the exam starts with the alien version of vital signs. A nurse-like entity, known in alien abductee parlance as "a smaller being," runs its fingers up and down the patient's body as though taking a reading. It doesn't hurt, but is unpleasant in that the examining beings are reported to have cold, rubbery skin and can't be bothered to warm their hands up. This is typical of alien bedside manner, which is described by abductees in Jacobs' book "Secret Life" as brusque and clinical. "I would use the word task-oriented," said Jacobs.

What Jacobs finds remarkable is that he rarely hears of a case where an abductee reports an alien using Earth medical equipment. If abductees were dreaming or making their stories up, he reasons, there'd be a few stethoscopes in the mix. "We have never had a single case, ever."

What I find remarkable is that the aliens have chosen instead to perform their exams using Earth kitchen equipment. On Page 93 of Jacobs' book, we have beings performing a rectal exam with "a small wire whisk." Page 91 finds them doing vaginal scrapes with instruments "resembling butter knives." A woman who believed herself to have been impregnated by alien seed reported the aliens extracting the fetus and putting it into a little glass "Pyrex thing." Perhaps this explains the mysterious disappearance of a set of bumblebee-themed ceramic measuring cups from my childhood home in New Hampshire. No doubt some hapless abductee is, as we speak, being made to give a quarter-cup urine sample, thinking, "Bees, how queer."

What is it that the aliens are up to with their Williams-Sonoma ware? "Now we're getting to the stranger aspects of it," said Jacobs, as if we'd spent the past 10 minutes chatting about the weather. Jacobs cleared his throat. "It's a program of systematic exploitation of humans. All men say sperm is taken. All women who have ovaries say eggs are taken."

For unknown reasons, the women's breasts are manipulated in the process and the aliens stare into their eyes, creating "a sexual feeling that will go zooming up to a peak feeling, so to speak." The men, for their part, may be telepathically shown a picture of a naked female acquaintance to facilitate the sperm extraction. This struck me as overkill, given the veritable arsenal of sperm-extracting paraphernalia described in Jacobs' book: wall-mounted hose-like devices, little balls with the end cut out of them, tube-like pumping machines, "something shaped like a distributor cap," a "buzzing comb-shaped gimmick," suction cups and "a piece of machinery that no good mistress of domination would be without." I asked Jacobs what percentage of abductees haven't got laid in a very long time.

Jacobs acknowledges the possibility that alien abduction "might be nothing but total bullshit and an interesting footnote to popular culture." But he doubts it. Who knows, maybe he's right. In the words of Bill Schaller, "There's a lot of weird science that turns out to be not so weird once it's proven." If this is indeed going on, I have this to say to all you abductees out there: Keep an eye out for those measuring cups, will you?

By Mary Roach

Former Salon columnist Mary Roach is the author most recently of "Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal." Her previous books include "Stiff," "Spook" and "Packing for Mars."

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