Thursday, January 17, 2008
Strange brain diseases on the upswing
To keep life interesting, things that kill us shift around in varying degrees. They are fairly sneaky about it though and that is why we need PhD candidates. by the class load. Let's look at horrible neurological maladies like ALS and Alzheimer's Disease. We can toss in Parkinson's Disease and MS as well. Ill wager you know someone who has one of those, plus there are a whole bag of other brain killers out there that sort of step in out of the cruel world, leave their dirty germs and hit the road and the infected person don't know jack about it until one day they ask someone to pass the cake when they mean the salt or they drop a fork or forget how to put their shoes on and there you have it. There is a book which was pretty popular a few years back called The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks. In it Dr. Sacks recounts humorous anecdotes from neurological case histories where patients did things like mistake their wives for hats. Somehow, I don't think that book would hit the streets so hard these days. Why? Well, I was taking stock of the people I know who are in decline and at the moment, I was rather surprised to discover that I knew more folks with creeping fatal brain disease than people who have cancer. Of course cancer pretty much kills everyone who gets it and I have lost a few friends and maybe I'm just in a lull before a fresh batch. Still, you go into someones home where a person is dealing with Alzheimer's and see signs on the doors saying "Door" it's not too amusing at all. Then I saw some guy on 60 minutes who literally couldn't remember shit. He sat around writing down stuff in this note book all day long, and every time his wife came into his room he would introduce himself and write down that he had met her, but two minutes later he'd say "Sorry, I've not met you before" and you could point out in his notes that this was not, in fact the case, and he wouldn't remember that. Talk about wanting to pull someones plug. When I first started working in medicine 30 years ago, you would Dx a goofy acting old person with OBS-Organic Brain Syndrome; thought to be a sort of "hardening of the arteries in the brain" Well terms like hardening of the arteries are not used any more and "OBS" is not in the big book of Dx codes. These diseases are unique and cannot be thrown together over at the old folks home. They need special wards for Alzheimer's patent's; it's rather terrifying to forget everything. Having ALS, must certainly be hell; your muscles just turn off, excepting the brain which, of course, is not a muscle. I can report that PD responds to its medication but the medication brings a life of its own and, if you don't happen to need it may well set up cake walks and bingo contests in your brain with your visible emotions as the prizes. There are many more neuro-nightmares that we could discuss, but I'd just ask you to wonder about what I have said about the spate of diseases. Is there some environmental issue on the march? Is the lid on? I have not done any real research. I just have a true feeling something awful is on the move. But then I'm a boy with a big imagination. Of course, if we don't put our imaginations to work, we seem to end up the worse for it. You think?
This is for Lynn, a friend to many, a mother to one and a victim to an evil whim of nature that took her mind and her heart, but not her soul. No, she spread that like a pair of wings in the early morning and flew away on the rising sun. Fly free, far and don't look back. You will not be forgotten.