Heirloom Diseases

caduceusWhile driving in my car recently, I discovered a radio program on which listeners would call the station and ask a physician sitting in the studio to comment upon their ailments. As I listened to people detailing their symptoms, I was struck by the banal nature of the exchanges; most of the callers described rashes, and the doctor predictably recommended salves and ointments. The entire proceeding was quite tedious.

When I later reflected on the matter, I concluded that our world sorely needs a new group of alternative diseases to replace the current ones that are losing their fashionable edge. Very few people are presently inclined to discuss mumps, measles, or even the heartbreak of psoriasis. Since most revolutions are in some sense restorations, I have decided to initiate a campaign to help restore the legitimacy or at least the popularity of some traditional physical disorders that have been unfairly relegated to the categories of pseudo-science and folklore.

For example, while scrofula is an actual disease, it has lost the immense prestige that it once had in England, largely because it was known as the King’s Evil, since it was widely believed that the reigning monarch could cure it with the touch of his royal hand.

Since he has to deal with a sometimes contentious state legislature, perhaps Governor Huckabee should claim the ability to heal canker sores, though he might also consider making diaper rash the official “Governor’s Evil,” since doing so would afford him ample opportunities to kiss babies and thereby garner votes.

All authentic medical theories should be supported by evidence derived from rigorous scientific research, and that is why I recommend that we immediately reinstate the Four Cardinal Humors as a basis for understanding human physiology. After all, the notion that the balance of blood, phlegm, choler, and bile in our bodies determines the state of our physical well-being is at least as plausible as the claims made for aromatherapy.

Skeptics are wrong to dismiss the assertion by aromatherapists that there is scientific proof that confirms the influence of smells on our moods. In a little-publicized experiment at an obscure university east of Hackensack, New Jersey, aroma researchers divided fifty subjects into two test groups, based on their astrological signs and preferences in clothing textures. The first group was placed in a large room and exposed to the combined fragrances of roses and violets; after ten minutes, they unanimously declared the experience to be “pleasant.” The second test group was locked in an airtight broom closet along with a pile of smoldering automobile tires, and when the door was opened three hours later, the two subjects who remained conscious stated that the aroma did not in any way “make them feel good about themselves.” I insist that the scientific evidence supporting the theory of humors is just as compelling.

For those unacquainted with humors, I will provide a brief overview of the subject, starting with blood, which is, of course the fundamental element in humor science. Alas, an excess of blood can cause many problems, including an uncontrollable desire to discuss Bela Lugosi movies in public places, and so the new generation of humor doctors would routinely and wisely bleed their patients into a state of well-balanced torpor. In fact, this happy practice is the reason that “leech” was once synonymous with “physician,” though today, of course, the word is usually associated with “lawyer.”

Phlegm is the humor that can cause someone to become dull or impassive, and these indications of its disproportionate presence bear a striking resemblance to the sluggish behaviors of people who, while surfing the Internet, accidentally enter a “Star Trek” chat room.

Too much choler in a person’s system can cause him to be irritable and quick-tempered. All red heads are permanently burdened with an excess of choler, and that is the reason for their many character deficiencies. To date, no hair dye has helped to improve the dispositions of these misfortunate beings, though humor-trained cosmetologists might effect a cure.

Finally, too much bile in a person’s system can plunge him into profound melancholy, a depth of despair otherwise known only to those who have endured the dissonant vocalizations of Keanu Reeves.

I will now provide a brief descriptive taxonomy of some other neglected disorders, beginning with gout. After all, this bizarre affliction has a decidedly brisk, even postmodern tone, and its renewed popularity would certainly increase sales of heavily padded footstools.

One of the most promising alternative diseases is a mainstay of Southern lore – the fantods. Since the victims of this disorder display a restless anxiety, I suggest that it afflicts most adolescent shoppers in malls, as well as people who cannot leave home without their cell phones. Furthermore, parents who wish to avoid taking responsibility for raising their children could succeed in doing so by blaming this disease. After all, it sounds so much better to say, “Alas, little Bubba has the fantods” than it does to admit, “Since for years I have allowed televison to be my son’s principal babysitter, he now has the attention span of a caffeine-addled shrew.”

The vapors, a debilitating disease of the abdominal nerves once largely confined to maiden aunts in the South, has now reached near-epidemic proportions among groups especially vulnerable to uncontrollable stomach
exhalations, such as taco eaters and people who drink cheap beer while watching NASCAR races on television. Once misdiagnosed as hypochondria, the vapors have now achieved
an order of pestiferous magnitude at least equal to the frets and sometimes even surpassing the dread willies. In fact, sincere but incompetent forensic anthropologists now speculate that the vapors might be partly responsible for some of history’s most puzzling events, such as the decline of Mayan civilization and the disappearance of the Dallas Cowboys’ offense.

The vapors should not be confused with either palpitations or queasies, though the initial symptoms of all three disorders can be remarkably similar. The vapors often burden victims with depressed spirits, while palpitations invariably produce what vocabulary-deficient
health professionals call “quivers” and “flutters.”
Though not nearly as serious a condition, the nauseating queasies can become chronic in people who watch video tapes of Adam Sandler trying to be funny on “Saturday Night Live.”

Needless to say, any doctor who confused the fantods with heebie-jeebies would obviously be a quack, since heebie-jeebies are virtually confined to people who spend too much time watching storm reports on the Weather Channel.

Finally, the American South, source of so many useful afflictions, has given the world the versatile diagnosis “stove up,” as in, “I was doing fine until my knee stove up,” or “He’s home in bed, all stove up.”

I am convinced that restoring these venerable diseases to the center of medical theory, training, and practice would create a scientific renaissance in our Republic. Internet users could delight in phlegm-related Web sites and peruse the heady offerings at fantods.com. Medical schools could establish heebie-jeebies and queasies departments and endow Professorial Chairs in Choler and Bile. Future Nobel laureates would come from the ranks of dedicated researchers laboring to discover cures for the vapors and being stove up. I deeply regret that P.T. Barnum is not available to further the goals of my worthy campaign by serving on the Bush administration cabinet as Secretary of Alternative Diseases, since he would have relished the appointment.

pt-barnumThis posting first appeared as a column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on January 14, 2001. I quite naturally intend to approach President-elect Obama with this proposal, despite the fact that it was ignored by President Bush, although he did make several cabinet appointments that would have delighted P.T. Barnum. I note that the offense of the Dallas Cowboys continues to be afflicted by the vapors, and I suggest that Jerry Jones should help fund the search for the cure of this terrible disease. Perhaps Terrell Owens and Tony Romo would agree to be the co-poster children for this effort, and Jessica Simpson convinced to be its spokescelebrity.

This entry was posted in Opinion. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply