When a doctor makes a mistake, it’s best to bury the subject. – Comedian Woody Allen
Imagine if you were Lou Gehrig and you’d been experiencing muscle weakness and went to see a doctor to find out why?
How would said doctor have handled it?
Now a grim and sternly humourless fellow would have given him the bad news straight up, and risked a possible heart attack.
The imaginative fellow, however, would have begun: “I have good news and bad news” and then proceed to let slip the news: Mr Gehrig would be forever immortalised by having a hitherto unknown disease named after him.
Actually, Gehrig was already famous as a baseball player then; which just underlines the point of the affliction’s name – it could happen to anyone, even very healthy athletes.
This was way back in the 1930s and Gehrig has long passed on to that baseball diamond in the sky, but it makes you think about the great miracle that is humankind, our continued existence despite the countless diseases, syndromes, conditions and appalling threats just waiting to get us.
Example: I have always found Alzheimer to be a particularly sinister name, the sort that does not roll trippingly off the tongue like George, Faiz or Sumitomo.
But I’m guilty of equating the horror of the disease with the person who discovered it – a kindly physician who noticed discernible changes in the brain of an elderly woman diagnosed with extreme forgetfulness.
This was early in 1904 and the doctor’s name was Alois Alzheimer. By all accounts, he was neither sinister nor forbidding.
A long time ago, I met a Malaysian who, together with his foreign wife, managed beachfront chalets for rent off the East Coast.
In a conversation with them, however, I was astonished when he suddenly broke out into a fitful stream of obscenities for no apparent reason. It didn’t seem directed at anyone in particular and the other patrons either didn’t bat an eyelid, stared, or just laughed.
The wife explained that her husband suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder that usually manifests in “tics” like rapid blinking, shaking of the head or, in rare circumstances, vocal outbursts of the sort affecting said proprietor.
He was otherwise the soul of decency. There was no cure for it and there was nothing he could take to mitigate its symptoms. Their preemptive approach was to warn customers of its possibility so they might be prepared.
Unfortunately, I got the info after the fact. He bore his condition with a certain resignation and conceded that he’d had problems going through school, but sympathetic teachers got him through it.
I remember he had a good sense of humour. He said he should have joined politics as “I would have fitted right in.”
Then, there’s Werewolf’s Syndrome, where the patient grows hair so thickly, and so fast, that he could be mistaken for a werewolf, or a paid-up member of the Taliban.
With all the nasty possibilities skulking about out there, it was no wonder that a prominent banker checked himself into a hospital years ago.
He must have concluded that it was safer to be surrounded by a team of specialists, all waiting alertly to spring into action at the first sign of a twitch, cough, sniffle, sneeze, or spasm that indicated he could be suffering from something more serious than the flu.
More than anyone else, he knew that the most beautiful words in English were no longer “I love you” but “No worries, it’s benign.”