Reading the discomforting announcement that the first case of Mad Cow Disease in six years has just reared its large, cud-chewing head in a dairy cow in central California, I was reminded of the following joke from my high school days:
Two cows are standing next to each other in a field. The first cow looks at the second one and says, “Hey, aren’t you worried about mad cow disease?” The second cow looks back at him and says, “Why should I be? I’m a helicopter!” [crickets]
After reading the article though, I also couldn’t help but think, man, “mad cow disease.” Now that’s a pretty badass-sounding affliction. Hell, even the bowtie-rockin’ scientific name — bovine spongiform encephalopathy — has a tattoos-and-tequila poetry to it. Then again, compared to some of the following diseases I came across while researching this article, “mad cow” is actually a bit of a featherweight on the scale of awesomely terrifying maladies, starting with:
Devil’s grip (a.k.a. epidemic pleurodynia)
They say that idle hands are the devil’s workshop, but apparently a bored Beelzebub will take any part of you it can get its forked mitts on, since Devil’s grip — caused by Group B coxsackieviruses — can evolve from a “headache, nausea and vomiting, and sore throat” to “severe, stabbing [chest] pain” in a brief period of time for an unfortunate few. Despite the name, however, the infection usually goes away on its own after a couple of days, regardless of how much holy water you ingest during that time.
But what would happen if the devil in all of us attempted to exit our bodies a little too carelessly? Might I suggest a Mephistophelean case of:
Exploding head syndrome (a.k.a. — oh, that’s the actual name?)
Well, no, I won’t suggest it. That was just a cheap literary ploy since EHS has nothing to do with Devil’s grip — or physical afflictions of any kind, for that matter. In fact, out of all the diseases on this list, it’s probably the one you’d be most likely to volunteer to contract just to be able to say you had it. According to the American Sleep Association, “Exploding head syndrome is a rare and relatively undocumented parasomnia event in which the subject experiences a loud bang in their head similar to a bomb exploding, a gun going off, a clash of cymbals or any other form of loud, indecipherable noise that seems to originate from inside the head.” Fortunately, despite having perhaps the most violent name in medicine, “exploding head syndrome is not dangerous” and “has no elements of pain, swelling or any other physical trait associated with it.”
Thankfully, our next ailment doesn’t have any pain associated with it either. Unless you count psychological pain, in which case, depending on your emotional constitution, all bets are off:
Human Werewolf Syndrome (a.k.a. Hypertrichosis)
In its congenital form, human werewolf syndrome is caused by an extremely rare genetic mutation that presents at birth, leaving its unlucky constituents wolflike in their incredible hairiness from an extremely early age. However, it can also be acquired after birth in various ways, including from “the side effects of drugs, associations with cancer, and possible links with eating disorders.”
Formerly the near-exclusive province of carnival sideshows, the hypertrichotic among us have received significantly more constructive attention in recent years thanks to articles like the one published by the Daily Mail last February about the Sangli sisters of India (see video above) and a Guiness World Record being awarded to Supatra Sasuphan of Thailand for achieving the coveted title of world’s hariest girl. (Okay, so maybe not all of the attention is constructive. Then again, Supatra says that she is “delighted after her new-found fame helped her become one of the most popular girls in school,” so what the hell do I know?)
From the benign (if beleaguering) to the very, very scary, we come to:
Toxic Shock Syndrome (a.k.a. Staphylococcal…toxic shock syndrome)
I’ll admit it: there’s no gussying this one up. Toxic shock syndrome is as bad as it sounds — maybe worse, considering that it “may be deadly in up to 50% of cases [and] the condition may return in those that survive.”
And fellas, don’t think you’re off the hook just because you remember reading once that toxic shock was a lady-parts problem caused by faulty tampons or whatever, since in reality,
Although the earliest cases of toxic shock syndrome involved women who were using tampons during their periods (menstruation), today less than half of current cases are associated with such events. Toxic shock syndrome can also occur with skin infections, burns, and after surgery. The condition can also affect children, postmenopausal women, and men.
I don’t know about you, but after suffering from confusion, diarrhea, general ill-feeling, headaches, high fever, low blood pressure, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting, widespread rashes, seizures, and, ultimately, organ failure, I think I’d pretty much welcome a chance to contract the next illness on our list:
Vampire Disease (a.k.a. Porphyria)
Offered as a possible explanation for the origin myth of vampires since at least 1985, porphyria is a nasty collection of rare, genetic blood disorders whose symptoms do, indeed, sound gnarly enough to spawn an entire subculture of mythical creatures. And no, there’s not a sparkly marbled six-pack among them. Instead,
Extreme cases of the disease can manifest gruesome symptoms where victims accumulate pigments called porphyrins in the skin, bones and teeth. While harmless in the dark, porphyrins become caustic, flesh eating toxins that can cause gruesome facial disfigurement when exposed to the ultraviolet rays of sunshine. Noses and ears can be eaten away with lips exhibiting a red, burned effect until they peel back from the gums that in turn recede, exposing the teeth in an unnatural way with a frightening, fang-like appearance.
The article linked to in the subheader also presents plausible explanations for the porphyria-related origins of other common vampire-y characteristics, including their unfortunate taste for blood and their entirely reasonable aversion to garlic and crucifixes. The less-than-cinematic takeaway here is that the longest-suffering victims of real vampires throughout history appear to be the vampires themselves.
That said, a vampire is a vampire, and there’s only one way to fight an army of the un-undead…and that’s with another army of the un-undead! That’s right, I’m talking about:
Walking Corpse Syndrome (a.k.a. Cotard delusion)
Unlike the victims of porphyria, whose physical symptoms are all too real, for the wannabe zombies suffering from Cotard delusion, it’s all about brains — and I don’t mean dietarily. First described by French neurologist Jules Cotard in 1882, walking corpse syndrome is classified as a “neuropsychiatric disorder” in which a disconnect in the brain leaves people unable to even recognize “their own face; as a result, they come to believe they’re dead.” Moreover, “in advanced cases, they sometimes believe their flesh is beginning to rot or that some of their internal organs or their blood is missing.”
Fortunately, if recognized and treated in time, the delusion is reversible. Not reversible, however? The 19 hours you’re scheduled to spend catching up with The Walking Dead on Netflix this summer before the third season begins this fall.