Top 10 Weird Illnesses
Before starting on the list, I should point out – these are all authentic medical ailments.
1. Art Attack (Stendhal Syndrome)
Dr Graziella Magherini, author of The Stendhal Syndrome, has studied more than 100 tourists in Florence, Italy, who became ill in the presence of great works of art. The symptoms include heart palpitations, dizziness, and stomach pains. The typical sufferer is between the ages of 26 and 40 who rarely leaves home..
Dr Magherini believes the syndrome is a result of jet lag, travel stress, and the shock of an overwhelming sense of the past. She says: “Very often there’s the anguish of death.’ The disorder is named after a nineteenth-century French novelist who was overwhelmed by the frescoes in Florence’s Santa Croce Church.
Particularly upsetting works of art are: Michaelangelo’s statue of David, Caravaggio’s painting of Bacchus, and the concentric circles of the Duomo cupola.
2. Hula-hoop Intestine
On February 26, 1992, Beijing worker Xu Denghai was hospitalised with a twisted intestine after playing excessively with a hula-hoop. His was the third case in the several weeks since a hula-hoop craze had swept China. The Beijing evening news advised people to warm up before playing, and to avoid hula-hooping straight after eating.
[I cannot verify this story]
3. Carrot Addiction
In 1992, the British Journal of Addiction described three unusual cases of carrot dependence. One 40 year old man had replaced cigarettes with carrots. He ate as many as five bunches a day and thought about them obsessively. According to two Czech psychiatrists, when carrots were withdrawn, he and the other patients lapsed into heightened irritability.
4. Cutlery Craving
The desire to eat metal objects is comparatively common. Occasionally there is an extreme case, such as that of 47 year old Englishman Allison Johnson. An alcoholic burglar with a compulsion to eat silverware, Johnson has had 30 operations to remove strange things from his stomach. In 1992, he had eight forks and the metal sections of a mop head lodged in his body. He has been repeatedly jailed and then released, each time going immediately to a restaurant and ordering lavishly. Unable to pay, he would then tell the owner to call the police, and eat cutlery until they arrived. Johnson’s lawyer said of his client, ‘He finds it hard to eat and obviously has difficulty going to the lavatory.”
5. Dr Strangelove Syndrome
Officially known as Alien Hand Syndrome, this bizarre neurological illness affects thousands of people. It is caused by damage to certain parts of the brain, and causes one of a person’s hands to act independently of the other and of its owner’s wishes. For example, the misbehaving hand may do the opposite of what the normal one is doing: if a person is trying to button a shirt with one hand, the other will follow along and undo the buttons. If one hand pulls up trousers, the other will pull them down. Sometimes the hand may become aggressive – pinching, slapping, or punching the patient. In at least one case, it tried to strangle its owner. Says neurologist Rachelle Doody, ‘Often a patient will sit on the hand, but eventually it gets loose and starts doing everything again.”
6. Mud Wrestlers Rash (Palastaie Limosae)
Twenty-four men and women wrestled in calf-deep mud at the University of Washington. Within 36 hours, 7 wrestlers were covered with patches of pus-filled red bumps similar to pimples, and the rest succumbed later. Bumps were on areas of the skin not covered by bathing-suits – one unlucky wrestler had wrestled in the nude. The dermatitis palastaie limosae, or “muddy wrestling rash”, may have been caused by manure-tainted mud.
7. Electric People
According to British paranormalist Hilary Evans, some people are ‘upright human [electric] eels, capable of generating charges strong enough to knock out streetlights and electronic equipment.” Cases of electric people date back to 1786, the most famous of which is that of 14 year old Angelique Cottin, whose presence caused compass needles to gyrate wildly. To further investigate this phenomenon, Evans founded SLIDE, the Street Lamp Interference Data Exchange.
8. Mary Hart Epilepsy
The case of Dianne Neale, 49, appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the much-publicised 1991 event, Neale apparently suffered epileptic seizures at hearing the voice of Entertainment Tonight co-host Mary Hart. Neale experienced an upset stomach, a sense of pressure in her head, and confusion. Laboratory tests confirmed the abnormal electrical discharges in her brain, and Neale had a press conference to insist that she was not crazy. She said she bore no hard feelings toward Hard, who apologised on the air for the situation.
9. Foreign Accent Syndrome
There are about 50 recorded cases of Foreign Accent Syndrome, in which people who have suffered strokes or other injuries adopt a new accent. For example, Tiffany Roberts of Florida suffered a stroke and then began speaking with an English accent. She even adopted such Anglicisms as ‘bloody’ and ‘loo’. Ms Roberts had never been to Great Britain, and was not a fan of British television shows.
Perhaps the oddest case concerned a Norwegian woman who had fallen into a coma after being hit by shrapnel during an air raid in 1941. When she woke up, she spoke with a thick German accent. She was then ostracised by her neighbours.
10. Uncombable Hair Syndrome
Also known as hair-felting, this condition causes hair to form a tangled mass. In a case reported in 1993, a 39 year old woman’s hair fell out and was replaced by dry, coarse, curly hair which was so tangled that it was impossible to comb. It lacked knots, kinks, or twists that would explain the tangling. The hairs themselves were strangely shaped: the cross-sections were triangular, grooved, or shaped like kidneys instead of circular.
The unusual solution to the condition is to cut off the solidified mass of hair. In one case, a woman from Indiana wanted to keep her hair, having spent 24 years growing it. After two and a half months of lubricating her hair with olive oil and separating the strands with knitting needles, her hair returned to normal.
I’m glad those were not pandemics.