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Baffling medical mysteries...

So being the morbid person that I am, I spent this evening reading about encephalitis lethargica.

Basically, people fell into catatonic states that were only briefly disturbed by something startling to them such as a friend visiting or hearing a loud sound. Unfortunately, patients had to wait decades to find a potential cure in the form of L-DOPA, which also has terrible side effects. Because of the side effects, as well as the horror of waking up in an old body decades from your last active memory (these patients aren’t technically sleeping, but are in a state of mind where they’re not as engaged or as aware of time passing) some of the patients opted to be taken off the drug and return to their previous catatonic state. The weird thing is that this disease appeared, affected a huge amount of people, and then a couple decades later suddenly disappeared. The last time I became so simultaneously fascinated and depressed about a medical mystery was when I learned about prions.

The part about encephalitis interested me because I remember encephalitis being the main theory from my parents and the doctor when I had a sudden illness after returning from a trip to China. Obviously, if I did have encephalitis, it was completely different from these cases. But it did remind me of one of my own medical mysteries, making me wonder what the hell bastard illness I did have that one time. I just remember throwing up every 40 minutes after a severe headache reached a peak, which continued for a whole week until I randomly woke up in the hospital after sleeping 16 hours and was better. I remember being a very melodramatic 22-year-old and wondering if I was dying because I was being seen by an infectious disease doctor and because I. kept. throwing up. I also remember watching the Food Network when I wasn’t throwing up and for some reason that made me happy? If I did have encephalitis (and since it’s rare, I doubt it), then it was a very mild version.


To me, the bigger medical mystery is the strange vertigo that I got as a child. When I was a kid, I would have episodes of vertigo where I would wake up in the middle of the night from a dead sleep, have vertigo for an hour or two, throw up once or twice in that time span, and then be OK for the rest of the day (which actually made little kid me very happy because I got to stay home from school even though I was fine, in exchange for just an hour or so of suffering). The weirdest part was that it would occur three nights in a row, almost like it was on a schedule. Each incident would be slightly later in the evening. For example, I might wake up at two in the morning one night, four in the morning the next night, and then five or six in the morning the last night. It happened so many times that we knew that after the third night it wouldn’t happen again for at least a few more months. These episodes continued for about 3 to 6 times a year from when I was about ages 5 to 10.

The only thing we sort of figured out is that I was also having a headache at the same time, but was too young and distracted by the vertigo to really report that symptom until I was older. Because of this, we ended up informally concluding that I was having migraines with vertigo as a side effect of the migraines. Because it wasn’t life-threatening, just very inconvenient, I don’t think my parents ever consulted a doctor about these episodes. No matter how many times I consult Google for those symptoms, either being very specific or very general, I never find anything that even slightly resembles those episodes.

In conclusion, bodies are weird and terrifying and gross and very, very mysterious. I know that a lot of people here are struggling with chronic undiagnosed illness, which unfortunately the medical field doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of what to do with. I’m lucky that my medical mysteries have been transient in nature. Still, the fact that I have no clue about what happened bothers me. I guess I’m a control freak that way.

I’m wondering about other people’s medical mysteries as well. And if anyone has any insight into my medical mysteries, I’m happy to hear it because I sure don’t have a clue.


ETA: I’m sorry this entire post is basically this scene:

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