While the jocks of the world may be freaked out by the loss of body control associated with Huntingdon’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Parkinson’s Disease, those who value their intellect have other fears lurking in the recesses of their superior minds. Dementia. Alzheimer’s Disease. Amnesia. All waiting to attack without warning!
Scared yet? Here are three more diseases you’ve probably never heard of that strike terror in the hearts of nerds everywhere.
Moersch-Woltman Condition (AKA: Stiff Person Syndrome)
Think back to the worst, most unrelenting muscle spasm you’ve ever had in your life. The one that made you cry in front of your buddies at the D&D marathon when your leg fell asleep and then seized. Now imagine that is happening to almost every muscle in your body and will not stop. This is Stiff Person Syndrome at its end-stage. Getting to end-stage in no picnic, either. Not only are you in severe pain, but your jaws, tongue, and throat are stiff too. Speaking or operating a mouth-stick device are out of the question.
You have no way to communicate and are in agony you cannot express in any way other than a muted gurgling sound. Your muscles can rupture and your bones can break under the strain. The worst part? There is no cause, no genetic marker, no way to know when or if it’s going to happen to you, and no cure. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, you can’t communicate and are in too much pain to form a coherent thought anyway.
This condition is the opposite of a persistent vegetative state. Instead of having your higher brain fail while your body is capable of moving, your brain continues to think and operate normally while your body is completely paralyzed. In some cases the eyelids and the eyes themselves can still be controlled, allowing the locked-in person to dictate one letter at a time their needs, wants, discomforts, and desires. Other patients have no such luxury and have no way to communicate at all.
Journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered from this condition after a stroke. Using only his left eyelid, he dictated an entire memoir entitled The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It took him ten months and he died three days after it was published. Scientists are working with other patients to hook computers directly into the brain to allow communication, but the results so far are mixed. 90 percent of patients with this condition die within the first four months.
The syndrome can be caused by brain injury, drug or medication overdose, a stroke, or a brain hemorrhage. Think about that the next time you cut someone off in traffic or even take a walk down the street.
Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis
This disease is caused by swimming in warm, stagnant water like pools and lakes. Naegleria fowleri amoeba get up your nose, crawl up the olfactory nerves, and then munch on your brain. As this is happening, your sense of smell starts to malfunction, your neck becomes immobilized, and you suffer bouts of vomiting and seizures. You eventually slip into an irreversible coma and die.
This disease carries with it a 97 percent mortality rate, primarily because it is both rare and fast-moving. In other words, by the time the doctors know why you’re sick, your body is in the morgue. Most cases are diagnosed at autopsy when the frontal lobe of the brain is found to have necrotic lesions. For those that didn’t major in biology, this means your brain was rotting while you were still alive.
Nerds who like to take a dip should always wear a nose clip. The Naegleria Fowleri amoeba is practically omnipresent in soil and in wet environments, but has to get up your nose to do any damage.
Are you freaked out yet? Before you start worrying over every muscle twinge and bump to the noggin, remember that all of these conditions are extremely rare. The vast majority of the population has never even heard of them, let alone known anyone who knew anyone who died from them. So stop crying and relax. Just remember to wear you nose clip and your helmet to stymie the last two on the list.
As for the first one, no one knows what causes it, but I’d say avoid mimes. You can never be too careful.