Althouse | category: strange medical condition



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

"One agency, which the officials did not name, determined that it was 'unlikely' that a foreign actor was at fault, a slightly less emphatic finding..."

"... that did not appreciably change the consensus. One agency abstained in its conclusion regarding a foreign actor. But when asked, no agency dissented from the conclusion that a foreign actor did not cause the symptoms, one of the intelligence officials said.... 'There was nothing,' the official said. This person added that there was no intelligence that foreign leaders, including in Russia, had any knowledge of or had authorized an attack on U.S. personnel that could explain the symptoms."

I'm reading "'Havana syndrome' not caused by energy weapon or foreign adversary, intelligence review finds/After a years-long assessment, five U.S. intelligence agencies conclude it is 'very unlikely' an enemy wielding a secret weapon was behind the mysterious ailment" (WaPo).

Some attempts to allay suspicion stimulate suspicion. I wonder what else does "not appreciably change the consensus." I remember when "consensus" used to feel reassuring.

The intelligence assessment also examined whether an adversary possessed a device capable of using energy to cause the reported symptoms. Of the seven agencies, five determined that it was “very unlikely,” while the other two said it was “unlikely.”

But what did cause the symptoms? Is every possible cause is unlikely? If so, the unlikely causes remain in play, because something caused them.

“There are multiple possible explanations for the apparent discrepancy between the failure to identify a malefactor and the plausibility of directed energy as a mechanism. One should not necessarily discount the latter,” [said David Relman, who headed a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine panel that reached a similar conclusion]....

Representatives and lawyers for people suffering with symptoms lambasted the new report as incomplete and opaque....

[T]he final intelligence report found that medical experts could not attribute the symptoms to an external cause separate from a preexisting condition or environmental factors, including conditions such as clogged air ducts in office buildings that could cause headaches, the officials aid.... 
Secretary of State Antony Blinken... has long doubted that personnel are suffering from mass hysteria or some psychogenic event, officials have said. Previous investigations, notably by the FBI, had raised the possibility that the symptoms had a psychological origin, not a physical one, outraging many sufferers who felt their pain had been marginalized and their claims not taken seriously by medical personnel....

So it seems the real conclusion is that it's a psychological problem, but they're afraid to say it directly. Look what happened to Spratlen:

[In 2021], the State Department’s top official overseeing cases, Ambassador Pamela Spratlen, left her position after six months amid calls for her resignation. Spratlen had held a teleconference with sufferers who asked about the FBI study that determined that the symptoms were psychogenic.

It seems they've retreated to tactfulness, but it stirs up suspicion that they are hiding something. I'm giving this post my "propaganda" tag, because that's what this is, isn't it? Not very effective propaganda, but maybe it's the best they can do.

"Even though medical experts expect their baby to survive only 20 minutes to a couple of hours, the Dorberts say their doctors told them that because of the new legislation...

"... they could not terminate the pregnancy.... 'The doctors already told me, no matter what, at 24 weeks or full term, the outcome for the baby is going to be the same.' Florida’s H.B. 5 — Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality... bans abortion after 15 weeks with a couple of exceptions, including one that permits a later termination if 'two physicians certify in writing that, in reasonable medical judgment, the fetus has a fatal fetal abnormality' and has not reached viability. It is not clear how the Dorberts’ doctors applied the law in this situation. Their baby has a condition long considered lethal that is now the subject of clinical trials to assess a potential treatment. Neither Dorbert’s obstetrician nor the maternal fetal medicine specialist she consulted responded to multiple requests for comment...."

I'm reading "Her baby has a deadly diagnosis. Her Florida doctors refused an abortion. Florida abortion ban includes exception for fatal fetal abnormalities. But her doctors told her they could not act" (WaPo).

I wonder... are the doctors interested in getting the chance to figure out how to treat the condition, which is Potter syndrome?

Without working kidneys, newborns are unable to rid their bodies of deadly toxins and go into renal failure. Without amniotic fluid in the womb, they are born unable to breathe.

The article describes the woman's psychological suffering as people talk to her about her visible pregnancy and assume good fortune. There is physical suffering as the baby's movement lacks the "fluid cushioning" of amniotic fluid — suffering of both the mother and the doomed child.

The doctors may simply fear that the law will apply to them and choose to interpret it expansively to protect themselves rather than to do what they and the woman feel is best for her. That choice may be augmented by the prediction that the story of this case will strengthen political opposition to the new law.

I have noticed how few stories like this have appeared in the press. I tend to think there will be political acceptance of the new statutes unless there is a constant stream of reports about suffering like what we are seeing here.

The woman's father, a Catholic, is quoted, saying, "I asked her, ‘Would you mind if I put my hand on your stomach?’ I wanted to feel the life. It’s hard to comprehend there won’t be life.” And: "I believe in life and all that. But [when] two doctors, three doctors say this is this, they should be able to terminate early to save the mental life of the mother."

The ambiguity about the law lies in the language about viability. Does viablity refer to the number of weeks that marks the viability point in a healthy fetus or can you say that a baby with a lethal defect never reaches viability and therefore fits within the exception for the entire length of the pregnancy?

Here's the relevant statutory text: "the fetus has not achieved viability under s. 390.01112 and two physicians certify in writing that, in reasonable medical judgment, the fetus has a fatal fetal abnormality."

If you have trouble reading that — which requires click through to the other statute — then you should see why the doctors are so cautious.

"Mysterious symptoms can spread rapidly in a close-knit community, especially one that has endured a shared stress."

"The TikTok tics are one of the largest modern examples of this phenomenon. They arrived at a unique moment in history, when a once-in-a-century pandemic spurred pervasive anxiety and isolation, and social media was at times the only way to connect and commiserate. Now, experts are trying to tease apart the many possible factors — internal and external — that made these teenagers so sensitive to what they watched online. Four out of five of the adolescents were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, and one-third reported past traumatic experiences.... In new research that has not yet been published, the Canadian team has also found a link to gender: The adolescents were overwhelmingly girls, or were transgender or nonbinary — though no one knows why."

"TikTok tics" are "acute explosive motor and vocal tics," as seen in various TikTok videos. We're told these new patients "did not fit the mold of a typical case of Tourette’s, which generally affects boys and begins in early childhood" and usually involve "simple movements — like blinking or coughing — and they wax and wane over time." The new cases appeared suddenly and in an exaggerated form, with "relentless, elaborate movements, often accompanied by emotionally charged insults or funny phrases."
An overwhelming number of patients had a history of mental health conditions.... Eighty-seven percent of the patients were female, a sex skew that was also found in previous outbreaks of mass psychogenic illness. 
No one knows why girls are more susceptible to this kind of social influence. One theory is that women may seek out belonging more than men do, and may empathize more strongly with others’ suffering. Women also experience higher rates of depression, anxiety and sexual trauma than men. 
At a conference on tic disorders last summer in Lausanne, Switzerland, doctors from several countries shared another observation: A surprising percentage of their patients with the TikTok tics identified as transgender or nonbinary. But without hard data in hand, multiple attendees said, the doctors worried about publicly linking transgender identity and mental illness.... 
Looking at a sample of 35 patients with the TikTok tics, the researchers found that 15 of the adolescents — 43 percent — were transgender or nonbinary, compared with 12 percent of their patients with Tourette’s or with no tics. (An estimated 1.4 percent of the general population of adolescents in the United States identify as transgender.)...

"[T]he gap between Covid-19 mortality and overall excess mortality has proved remarkably, and mystifyingly, persistent...."

Writes David Wallace-Wells, in "Why Are So Many Americans Dying Right Now?" (NYT).

[A]lmost every week for more than six months, the agency has calculated that total excess mortality was 50 percent larger than and often almost twice as large as the number of official Covid-19 deaths.... What are the hypotheses? 

The first is delayed care [caused by the pandemic]....

A second hypothesis is about the indirect effects of pandemic restrictions... social isolation, anxiety... unemployment, which can worsen a wide range of conditions, as well as, potentially, suicide and homicide and even car accidents and overdoses....

A third hypothesis is that Covid-19 infection does harm to the body that can linger after recovery for some people....

If you are waiting for "a fourth hypothesis, the vaccine," I can tell you it is not in this article. The vaccine is mentioned but not as a possible cause of the excess deaths. But Wallace-Wells discusses a subset of the "third hypothesis" as "another hypothesis":

Another hypothesis is that Covid infection damages immune function in some patients in a long-lasting way....

So the damage to the immune function, if any, is presumed to come from the disease and not the vaccine. Wallace-Wells notes that there is "a lot of contestation and pushback against — and contextualizing," but only about the effect of the disease. Questioning the vaccine cannot even be a hypothesis. He proceeds to talk about how our emotions drive our thinking on the subject:

Among the many lessons of the pandemic, for me, has been how much more complicated and baffling disease severity and death are.... how simplistic it often feels to apply a single cause of death.... Yet we’ve wanted stories we drew from the pandemic to be straightforward and legible, no matter how messy and nuanced so many cases turned out to be....

Does this want cause you to exclude the complicating factor that is the vaccine? As I write this, I am feeling the fear of questioning the vaccine. 

Here's the parenthetical in the article where Wallace-Wells excludes the vaccine:

If long Covid or post-acute sequelae were primarily responsible [for the excess deaths], we might expect to see a spike in non-Covid excess deaths at some interval following each particular wave of infection — perhaps a few weeks or perhaps a few months later. (If vaccination risk was playing a role, it might create the same pattern, but that’s not what the curves show.) 

There is also the idea that the excess mortality is really made up of deaths from Covid that were not registered as Covid deaths because they died at home and why test for Covid when the death certificate can say heart disease?

Throughout the pandemic, about 20 percent of in-hospital deaths have been attributed to Covid-19, compared to barely 2 percent of deaths at home. If you roughly triple the share of at-home deaths attributed to Covid — still well short of the share in hospitals — you make the Covid death toll a bit larger but almost entirely eliminate the excess excess gap. And if you adjust it to match the share of deaths attributed to Covid everywhere but homes — hospitals, outpatient clinics, nursing homes — you actually overshoot the gap....

That sounds quite plausible, but I note the emotion in my desire to embrace it. It's the most comforting thought. People who died were old and already in bad health, and Covid knocked them off relatively peacefully. They died at home. And they were expected to die. They'd reached the end of their life. Nothing strange is going on. Rest easy.

"Where does this leave us?," the last paragraph of the article begins. And here comes the one other mention of the vaccine:

More Americans are still dying than expected, which means at some point the United States may have to reset its expectations for how many will die in a given year at least a bit higher. The country long ago walked away from most mitigation measures beyond vaccination. (And even there, booster uptake has been quite low.)...

You can see that the reference to the vaccine is entirely positive. The only fault is only in us: We're not continuing to take it.

"They’re unable to see properly, they’re confused, they’re having hallucinations. And we’re talking about scary hallucinations; it’s nothing that’s fun."

Said Darren Roberts, quoted in "How Can Tainted Spinach Cause Hallucinations? A food recall from Australia sheds light on an unusual aspect of brain chemistry" (NYT).

The belief is that there's some other plant in there with the spinach and that it's "'anticholinergic syndrome,' a type of poisoning mainly caused by plants in the Solanaceae family, which includes nightshade, jimson weed and mandrake root."

Anticholinergic plants and drugs inhibit the production of a brain chemical called acetylcholine, which is linked to memory, thinking and the visual system, according to Dominic ffytche, a professor of visual psychiatry at King’s College London....

Acetylcholine can also be lost naturally and is linked to Alzheimer’s.... Hallucinations caused by a suppression or loss of acetylcholine tend to be “formed,” Professor ffytche said, that is concrete and recognizable, usually taking the form of people, objects and landscapes.

This is distinct from “unformed” hallucinations, when people might see shapes, patterns and colors. Furthermore, hallucinations caused by a lack of acetylcholine are linked to the memory system, so they tend to involve people the sufferer knows or recognizes, he said. “It could be deceased relatives, or people that are vaguely familiar to them in some way.”...

 “When you lose an understanding that they are hallucinations, they tend to become distressing,” he added. “You become sucked into the story where something bad is going on and people are trying to hurt you or harm you in some way.”

Very disturbing! You assume the leaves in the bag are the leaves of the plant that is named on the label. Interesting to see the distinction between "formed" and "unformed" hallucinations. I'd known the difference, but not the words for it. Formed hallucinations with an inability to understand that they are hallucinations — quite a predicament.

Also interesting is that strange old phenomenon, British surnames that begin with "ff" — with no uppercase. Grammarphobia discussed this a few years ago. Excerpt:

We haven’t found any recent scholarship on “ff” surnames, but 19th-century paleographers (scholars of ancient handwriting) traced the usage to legal scribes in the Middle Ages. In “The Capital Letter F In Early Chirography,” a note in the April 1893 issue of the scholarly journal Notes and Queries, Sir Edward Maunde Thompson writes that “legal handwriting of the middle ages has no capital F.” Thompson, a paleographer as well as the chief librarian and first director of the British Museum, says, “A double f (ff) was used to represent the capital letter.”

A note in the January 1893 issue of Notes and Queries, by the philologist, paleographer, and Anglican canon Isaac Taylor, says the “ff” in Middle English legal writing of the 14th century evolved over two centuries from the Latin capital “F.” He writes that a vertical tick on the upper horizontal bar of the Latin “F” gradually lengthened in legal writing, making it appear that there was a double “f.” Taylor, author of The Alphabet: An Account of the Origin and Development of Letters (1883), says, “It is this elongated tick which has been mistaken for a second /f/. People who spell their names with /ff/ are merely using obsolete law hand.” ...

Much more at the link, but I'll just include this:

In the 1965 second edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Sir Ernest Gowers notes that the “ff” in surnames evolved from a scribal symbol to a symbol of distinction. He cites Cranford, an 1853 novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, in which Mr. ffoulkes is described as someone who “looked down upon capital letters and said they belonged to lately invented families.” It was feared that he would die a bachelor, Mrs. Gaskell writes, until he met a Mrs. ffaringdon and married her, “and it was all owing to her two little ffs.”

I think I've blogged this before. That sounds familiar! Ah, yes, here. Anyway, I'll persist:

We’ll end with a passage from “A Slice of Life,” a 1926 short story by P. G. Wodehouse:

“Sir Jasper Finch-Farrowmere?” said Wilfred.

“ffinch-ffarrowmere,” corrected the visitor, his sensitive ear detecting the capitals.

I've got 9 TikToks for you tonight — all things I liked. I invite you to appreciate them too.

1. The crochet genius.

2. A Kardashian Christmas.

3. The joy of Neptune.

4. The importance of routine during the long polar night.

5. The importance of layers when dressing for winter.

6. Let a girl show you how to approach a girl.

7. Celine Dion explains her rare disease — stiff person syndrome.

8. He gets AI to write a folk song about his dog dying.

9. AI envisions the cast of "The Office" as babies.

"So I woke up with something that’s literally Black Hairy Tongue. People, including my doctor, seem to think it’s no big deal, and will go away soon, but it certainly is gross."

That was Julie Powell's last tweet, quoted in "Julie Powell's Last Tweet Before Her Death at 49 Causes Confusion Among Fans/The popular author of Julie and Julia tweeted she had 'black hairy tongue' the day before she died" (Gizmodo).

The Mayo Clinic’s website describes black hairy tongue as a “buildup of dead skin cells” that accumulate on the tongue, explaining that while it can look alarming, “typically it doesn’t cause any health problems, and it’s usually painless.”

Photograph of the horrid condition at that Mayo Clinic link.

Going back further into Powell's tweets, you see that she had Covid in September:

“Decided to take a nap and woke up sick like a dog. This is how the covid hits, I guess. All of a sudden like,” Powell tweeted on September 10. A few days later she shared another tweet about how painful it was living with covid-19. “Weirdly, my Covid is getting worse. Terrible headache, cough, probable fever, fatigue,” Powell tweeted on September 13.

Lest readers speculate, Gizmodo tells us the speculation is "right-wing" and goes on to minimize the significance of some deceased person's last social media posting. After all, Chris Cornell's last tweet — "#Detroit finally back to Rock City!!!!" — gave no clue that he was about to commit suicide.

What does the NYT know about me?

I was scanning the front page of the NYT, looking for headlines to click, and I noticed that the Times had picked out a set of things recommended for me. I was pleased for an instant and genuinely ready to to share Penn Jillett's love for hot baths and cold watermelon, but...

What does the NYT know about me? 

... I don't like the implications of the rest of it. The kiosk and the toilet are okay — lowly and functional — but don't push Jeffrey Dahmer at me, and don't juxtapose him with a person with a mysteriously drooping face.

I go to read the Penn Jillette article and the word editing slows me way down:
Jillette’s latest novel, “Random,” is about a young man who inherits his father’s crushing debt to a loan shark and turns to dice — and other dangerous measures — to dig himself out. That the dice bring him luck sends him a new philosophy of leaning decisions both big and small up to chance.

I waste time thinking about what "leaning decisions" are — a special category of decisions that ought to be resolved by a throw of the dice? No, it must be a new philosophy of leaving decisions both big and small up to chance.

But here's the hot bath part: "Every night I take a bath that’s so hot that I come very close to passing out — and I use scented oil, the whole thing is done as girly as possible." Okay, I take very hot baths, and I am privileged — being a woman — not to have to think about whether anything I do is "girly" and —having little sense of smell — not to want anything "scented."

As for the watermelon, Jillette — who is privileged by his whiteness to be able to openly extol watermelon — relies on watermelon as a weight-maintenance food. 

Jillette recommends skepticism but not cynicism: "Cynicism is attributing the worst motives to people. Skepticism is looking for the truth." I'd say cynicism is consciously dwelling on the awfulness of people, and skepticism is pretending you're all about rationality while inferior people dwell on the unknowable contents of other people's minds.

Here's the article about the toilet:
[H]e’s built a sanctuary to showcase his ideas about environmental sustainability: the Shower Tower, the Worm Palace (crucial to his composting toilet), the Tea Cave (where he has stored more than 50,000 pounds of rare, aged tea), the Tea Pagoda (where he’s hosted tea ceremonies for friends and dignitaries for more than 40 years) and so many more.... [H]e never had permission to build any of it. “I’ve been a scofflaw all my life,” said Mr. Hoffman, 78. “I have to recognize that.”

Ah, yes, I can see this is like articles I've chosen — and blogged about — in the past. Eccentric real estate projects and the law. 

At one time, he argued that his property could be considered a film set and exempt from much of code compliance because his home was the site of a documentary about his home-based tea business.... Landing a historic designation still appeared to be his best route....

As for Dahmer and the drooping face, I won't read the Dahmer article. Why does anyone need to "relive it"? And I'll skip the mystery of the drooping face.

"Brad Pitt believes he suffers from prosopagnosia, a rare 'face blindness' disorder — but 'nobody believes' him...."

"Pitt, who has not been formally diagnosed, worries about appearing 'remote … aloof, inaccessible [and] self-absorbed' while struggling to recognize faces, according to the article.... 'So many people hate me because they think I’m disrespecting them.... Every now and then, someone will give me context, and I’ll say, "Thank you for helping me"'...."

I've blogged about prosopagnosia twice before. The first time, in 2006, was the first time I'd heard of the condition. It was funny to read that just now, because it's almost identical to what I thought a moment ago, when I read about Brad:
A person with this problem must have many painful social encounters, especially before being diagnosed. On the other hand, many of us are just lazy about noticing and remembering people. We could make casual claims of prosopagnosia, the way we make casual claims of attention deficit disorder."

The second time I wrote about it  was a year ago, when I was reading the NYT article — "The Cost of Being an ‘Interchangeable Asian’" — about "the phenomenon of casual Asian-face blindness," which made me go back to something Oliver Sacks had written in The New Yorker in 2010 —  "Face-Blind/Why are some of us terrible at recognizing faces?" by Oliver Sacks. I said:

The suggestion that there's racism in the inability to recognize faces needs to be handled carefully, because there are 2 forms of discrimination in conflict. It may be discrimination to be bad at recognizing Asian-American coworkers, but vigilance about this human frailty may amount to a failure to accommodate the disabled — those with prosopagnosia. Quite aside from the specific disability, we're all on a spectrum when it comes to facial recognition. Many of us are bad at it, and some people are fantastic at it. Be careful about throwing accusations of racism around in this area of radically diverse ability.

Of course, the Oliver Sacks article was worth reading and rereading, and I'm ready to reread it again. Sacks himself had prosopagnosia:

I have had difficulty recognizing faces for as long as I can remember. I did not think too much about this as a child, but by the time I was a teen-ager, in a new school, it was often a cause of embarrassment. My frequent inability to recognize schoolmates would cause bewilderment, and sometimes offense—it did not occur to them (why should it?) that I had a perceptual problem. I usually recognized close friends without much difficulty, especially my two best friends, Eric Korn and Jonathan Miller. But this was partly because I identified particular features: Eric had heavy eyebrows and thick spectacles, and Jonathan was tall and gangly, with a mop of red hair. Jonathan was a keen observer of postures, gestures, and facial expressions, and seemingly never forgot a face. A decade later, when we were looking at old school photographs, he still recognized literally hundreds of our schoolmates, while I could not identify a single one....

At the age of seventy-seven, despite a lifetime of trying to compensate, I have no less trouble with faces and places. I am particularly thrown if I see people out of context, even if I have been with them five minutes before. This happened one morning just after an appointment with my psychiatrist. (I had been seeing him twice weekly for several years at this point.) A few minutes after I left his office, I encountered a soberly dressed man who greeted me in the lobby of the building. I was puzzled as to why this stranger seemed to know me, until the doorman greeted him by name—it was, of course, my analyst. (This failure to recognize him came up as a topic in our next session; I think that he did not entirely believe me when I maintained that it had a neurological basis rather than a psychiatric one.)...

There's already enough paranoia about bugging out and hunkering down — must we add prions?!

I'm reading this advice about "go bags" and "stay bins" in The New York Times:
No matter where you live, every home should have a “go bag” and a “stay bin.” The go bag is what you grab when you have to leave the house in a hurry, whether to get to the emergency room or to evacuate because of a fire or a hurricane. The stay bin is a two-week stash of essentials to be used in case you have to hunker down at home without power, water or heat. In the event that you need to stay put instead of flee, keep a stay bin in your home. Use a large plastic bin or a similar container to set aside the essential items for a two-week prion....
Prions are misfolded proteins with the ability to transmit their misfolded shape onto normal variants of the same protein.... It is not known what causes the normal protein to misfold, but the abnormal three-dimensional structure is suspected of conferring infectious properties, collapsing nearby protein molecules into the same shape.... The hypothesized role of a protein as an infectious agent stands in contrast to all other known infectious agents such as viroids, viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites, all of which contain nucleic acids (DNA, RNA, or both). Prion isoforms of the prion protein (PrP), whose specific function is uncertain, are hypothesized as the cause of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs),[7] including scrapie in sheep, chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle (commonly known as "mad cow disease") and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) in humans. All known prion diseases in mammals affect the structure of the brain or other neural tissue; all are progressive, have no known effective treatment, and are always fatal.
That's horrifying. I don't know what kind of "two-week prion" the NYT author has in mind, but I can't imagine anything I could put in a bin that would help. I'd mellowed out from the anxiety of the summer of 2020, when thoughts of bugging out or hunkering down loomed large, and I could have calmly contemplated go bags and stay bins, but then I confront a word that's been disturbing me lately: PRION.

What did she mean to write? Prison?

Anyway, prions have been disturbing me lately, ever since someone on our neighborhood email list said he had 25 pounds of venison that had tested positive for chronic wasting disease. He didn't want to eat it, but he thought someone might want it to feed to their dog. Is that a good idea?
What does the NYT know about me?

Report "Althouse"

Are you sure you want to report this post for ?