This is a first post of diving back into the history of medicine. I had intended initially to start with Koch, due to my fascination of his perseverance, but had recently encountered George Huntington’s works on describing the disorder at age 22. I’m not sure how this is linked but each time I think of Huntington’s disease I get a tad affected, I think of the novel Flowers for Algernon and I find life very, very sad.
I cannot claim to know much about Huntington’s Disease, especially since I am only starting to research and learn about it. I find regression sad, in all cases, of which the most common being Alzheimer’s. It is so much a person learns from his Day 1 on earth, and with HD, you lose your physical dexterity to chorea, your mental capacity, and eventually you lose everything. Potentially, you lose the people around you who no longer understand, or choose not to understand, brushing off your anxieties and flaring up at your irritability. You forget, involuntarily, all that you have treasured, all that you have mastered, and it all falls into dementia.
I know people who suffer from dementia – some self-comforting individuals believe it may be better for sufferers to indulge in their own worlds, oblivious to the cruelty of reality. I beg to differ. While it may sound positive, I’m not sure anyone would appreciate being highly dependent on others for help all the time, even for things as simple as chewing, or having someone perpetually misunderstand you due to difficulties in speaking. What makes HD sadder is that even episodic memory fails, one step worse than Alzheimer’s.
I’m not sure hot it was related to Flowers for Algernon but I remember feeling terribly depressed after reading the book when I was a teen. It was the same regression that killed my emotions. I guess when Charlie (protagonist of the novel) was subject to a procedure that endowed him with astonishingly high IQ which he lost later due to the failed experiment, I saw how one could lose everything he had gained. Charlie’s high IQ allowed him to work differently, think differently, and when he lost this intelligence, he lost everyone around him – his new job, his new relations, everything. And this novel ended with him requesting someone to leave flowers on Algernon’s grave (the mouse who became Charlie’s friend from the same experiment).
There you go – all he had at the end, was a little mouse that suffered just his fate. Who could understand what he was suffering? Who could know, or remember, what he knew? So with his change in character following a regression, his sexual partner left him in fear of his transformation. The book states that Charlie remembers that he was once a genius, albeit reverting to his past form, with IQ of 68. He did not wish for anyone to take pity on him, hence moved away from the rest of the world he knew. The character lost his skills, knowing that it was an experiment.
Can anyone imagine, how a patient of HD or dementia, might feel about losing his skills and capabilities without understanding how or why it might have happened? And it just keeps happening, day after day, time after time, with no apparent way to salvage the situation… …