Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic that Remains One of Medicine's Greatest Mysteries

by Molly Caldwell Crosby | Nonfiction |
ISBN: 0425238733 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 3/7/2013
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This book is in a Controlled Release! This book is in a Controlled Release!
2 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Thursday, March 07, 2013
This trade paperback is about the epidemic of encephalitis lethargica, aka "sleeping sickness", in the 1920s - also the subject of Oliver Sacks' Awakenings. The prologue opens with "My grandmother was sixteen when she fell asleep," and describes her grandmother's own experience with the weeks that she was unable to move or communicate - a chilling situation, especially when she could hear the doctors pronounce her dead...

There are accounts of soldiers in WWI who, after seeming to have suffered shell shock or one of the many other traumas that that war inflicted, would fall into longer and longer sleeps - and nothing the doctors did made a difference, or told them what was wrong. Eventually several theories were proposed, and a name for the syndrome: "encephalitis lethargica". But this only described it, and people still didn't know the cause - and, between the war and the flu pandemic, the sleeping sickness fell onto the back burner.

In the '20s the number of cases began to rise, reaching epidemic proportions, but still leaving doctors and caregivers baffled. Many sufferers died; of those who survived, many were changed in different ways, often to such a degree that they weren't the same people anymore. And some of them didn't die, but didn't wake up either...

The book goes into the history of epidemics in general, as a background for the difficulties in analyzing this particular epidemic; it includes many case histories, nearly all of them heart-wrenching; it looks at the search for a diagnosis, for a cause, for a vaccine, for any kind of treatment.

And it reveals the way in which the institutionalized survivors of the illness were forgotten, as the years passed and research funding dried up and new ailments replaced this one as the scourge of the day. But since the patients who came out of their sleep reported being awake and aware mentally the whole time, it seems very likely that most of the victims in the institutions were also aware - knowing where they were, and that they'd been left behind.

The book wraps up with some accounts of recent cases - the disease hasn't gone away, though it's so rare that modern doctors often fail to recognize it. There are a few treatments that seem to help, if administered in time, but the disease is still largely a mystery - though I found some of the theories, especially its possible relationship to influenza, intriguing.

A fascinating account of a nightmare disease!

Journal Entry 2 by wingGoryDetailswing at Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Thursday, October 10, 2013

Released 7 yrs ago (10/12/2013 UTC) at Nashua, New Hampshire USA


I'm adding this to the Medicine Chest IV bookbox, which I'll be moving along soon. (See the forum thread here for the mailing order, and the bookbox journal for the lists of books taken and added.) Hope someone enjoys the book!

Journal Entry 3 by winghyphen8wing at Honolulu, Hawaii USA on Saturday, December 21, 2013
Taken from quietorchid's Medicine Chest IV - sounds fascinating!

Journal Entry 4 by winghyphen8wing at Honolulu, Hawaii USA on Monday, February 29, 2016
What a strange disease: it's not at all reassuring that we still know so little about it!

The case histories give the disease a more human face, and the long-term effects are both sad and scary. I think I have a copy of Awakenings by Oliver Sacks somewhere, so it will be good to have this background when I read that.

The author's suggestion that Sleeping Beauty, Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle, Edgar Allan Poe's stories, and zombie movies might have been influenced by various aspects of this disease is food for thought.

Bits that stuck with me:

You know how they say "war is hell"....

The battle of Verdun, fought in 1916, is regarded by many historians as the longest and most devastating battle in world history. .... No ground would be gained or lost or even sought. The battle would simply match life for life until the army with the fewest souls left surrendered. The pointless slaughter lasted ten months with over 700,000 casualties.

Mad science, anyone?

His closest assistant, Clarence Dally, operated the X-ray tube—holding the images with his left hand. Dally soon suffered burns and hair loss, then he lost fingers and eventually had to have his left hand amputated. Still the burns and infection spread, until Dally lost both arms and, ultimately, "died by inches." ....a lost finger or amputated hand became the emblem of a radiologist.

What oil spills are good for:

...coating open water sources with petroleum to kill mosquitoes...

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Notes for 1st quarter re-do:

Week 2: Trade paperback
Week 4: People sleeping
Week 9: Double letters in title

Journal Entry 5 by winghyphen8wing at Honolulu, Hawaii USA on Sunday, April 03, 2016

Released 5 yrs ago (4/2/2016 UTC) at Honolulu, Hawaii USA


This book went to a delicious TOC lunch at Town and found a new reader there. Happy reading!

Released for Secretariat's 2016 Never Judge a Book By Its Cover Challenge (week 13: 1st quarter re-do).

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