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That cruel thing I did to Debbie Wasserman-Schlutz’s eyeballs

I ran across this Mashable series of photos of inmates from a Victorian mental hospital in Yorkshire. It’s a sad browse, but interesting. I was particularly struck by this woman.

The caption says she suffers from “general paralysis of the insane” but it’s more usually called general paresis. It’s a sudden onset bugfuck crazy that used to be blamed on bad character but was ultimately recognized as the third and final stage of syphilis, when the bugs finally eat the brain.

It was tricky to work out because the madness strikes abruptly as much as thirty years after the initial infection, so the bad character explanation made as much sense as anything (a Victorian with syphilis being the very definition). But somebody got a Nobel in the thirties curing paresis by infecting patients with malaria (the syphilis bacterium can’t take the heat, so one good fever can kill it off).

My mother describes seeing a tertiary syphilis sufferer on Bourbon Street, stumbling along the road suddenly freezing with one foot in the air, having forgotten how to walk. The diagnosis comes courtesy of my grandmother being a nurse and jazzmen being no better than they should be, *sniff*.

Anyway, I mention it because this condition informs one of my most cherished phobias: Lyme disease. On account of it’s a very similar disease with a very similar progression: spirochete causes a small rash, disappears, roars back with a leather mask and a chainsaw thirty years later. Except Lyme is a lot harder to kill.

Summer is coming. Tick check, people!


Comment from Stark Dickflüssig
Time: March 17, 2015, 10:14 pm

Tick check, people!

Black? Parasitic? Beplagued? I wonder if the ol’ application of a hot butter knife to the backside would get rid of a certain pair of ticks we got plaguing us.

Comment from Some Vegetable
Time: March 17, 2015, 11:58 pm

So, you can get it from tick bites or syphilis?

In either case, she’s the picture in the dictionary next to definition of “ Bug-Fuck-Crazy

Comment from Anonymous
Time: March 18, 2015, 3:16 am

Yeah, but catching syphilis is probably more fun. Having it – meh – not so much.

Comment from Rich Rostrom
Time: March 18, 2015, 4:51 am

One of Kipling’s most terrifying stories is “Love-O’-Women”. It’s about the last days of a soldier dying of tertiary syphilis – though it’s also about the guilt he feels for a misspent life.

Comment from Wolfus Aurelius
Time: March 18, 2015, 12:43 pm

“Two times two is five. Hunnert per cent, Doc. Hunnert per cent.”

— Lady in picture, to her doctor

Comment from Anonymous
Time: March 18, 2015, 1:39 pm

The “hot butter knife” most likely would not, Stark Dickflüssig. But a proper application of hemp surely would…

Comment from drew458
Time: March 18, 2015, 5:13 pm

Lyme disease can be cured if caught soon enough. I’ve had it; it’s rampant around where I live. 3 weeks of heavy antibiotics generally does it, but they have to find it fairly early. The intensely painful tick bite, swollen up the size of a tennis ball, the bullseye rash, along with the flu symptoms and the need to sleep 18 hours a day are dead giveaways.

And yes, you worry forever if you’re really cured, or if you’ve been bitten again … because I’ve heard the symptoms are not so easy to see the second time around.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: March 18, 2015, 5:48 pm

I got a dose of Lyme a few years ago too, drew. We caught it 5-6 days after the bite – the telltale ring just forming.

I insisted on 2 doses of anti-b’s – 3 weeks of one followed by 3 weeks of a second type.

My brain is my most valuable asset, and I’ll be damned if I’ll risk it. I also don’t go in the woods anymore. Period.

And – yes – I still worry, and at my age I regularly think, “is this just age and normal minor memory loss, or…?”

Comment from Harbqll
Time: March 19, 2015, 5:55 am

I actually saw one of these in med school, which is rare. Syphilis is easily treatable, so you almost never see a case of tertiary Syph anymore. Anyway, his walking was relatively unaffected; what it took out was his language center. He would speak to you, and the only thing that came out was word salad. Random words. You’d ask him a question, and he’d say some jumble of nonsense. It reminded me of that old Steve Martin bit about “mambo dogface the banana patch”.
I remember specifically I asked him what he had for breakfast, and his reply was “cold bricks on the airplane”. The really sad part is, he couldn’t figure out why none of us could understand him. As far as he was concerned, what he was saying made perfect sense, and he could understand us just fine because he could follow any instruction we gave him.

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