September 08, 2009
Olivia Judson: The Creation of Charles Darwin
Marking the 200th year since Charles Darwin's birth, and 150th anniversary of his publication of 'On The Origin of Species' 2009 also heralds the release of the film Creation 'the powerful and true-life tale of Charles Darwin.'
The film is dedicated to Alison Hunter, Emily Chapman, Jenny Hill, Tracey Ash, Casey Fero, and Sophia Mirza and all those whose lives have been devastated by chronic post infection diseases.
Chronic Post Infection Diseases:
Psychospeculation and Shifting Attributions
In their Clinical Review for the British Medical Journal in 20021 titled "ABC of Psychological Medicine - chronic multiple functional somatic symptoms" authors Christopher Bass and Stephanie May relate how patients with such symptoms are regarded by their doctors as "difficult to help".
Bass and May highlight Charles Darwin as one such patient whose "symptoms began shortly after his voyage in the Beagle to South America. Despite many suggested medical explanations, these symptoms which disabled him for the rest of his life and largely confined him to his home remain medically unexplained. Because such patients may evoke despair, anger and frustration in doctors, they may be referred to as "heart sink patients" "difficult patients" "fat folder patients" and "chronic complainers". In psychiatric diagnostic classifications these patients are often referred to as having a somatisation disorder". Or hypochondria.
Biographers also have "viewed Darwin's poor health as psychosomatic - an indication of his spiritual and intellectual turmoil. However there is growing support for the theory that Darwin was a victim of Chagas' disease, a parasitic infection passed on by the assassin bug and contracted in South America during his travels on the Beagle. The symptoms of Chagas' disease match closely those experienced by Darwin".2
Ignaz Semmelweis, one of the earliest pioneers of asepsis was ridiculed for cautioning doctors to handwash between dissections and confinements. It took the medical profession 50 years to "believe" in bacteria. Yet the lessons of history are never learned.
Charles Darwin's severely disabling illness resembles the disease myalgic encephalomyelitis otherwise known as chronic fatigue syndrome ME/CFS.
ME/CFS has been classified as a neurological disease since 1969 (ICD 10). ME/CFS is often triggered by viral or bacterial infection, with consequent failure to recover. ME/CFS still attracts the same damaging psychospeculation, yet strong evidence is accumulating for the role of infection and immunogenetic dysfunction. The name chronic fatigue syndrome gives misplaced emphasis to fatigue and trivialises the substantial disability.
In late 2004 the US Centers for Disease Control CDC reported research findings that CFS patients are more sick and have greater consequent disability than patients with heart disease and chronic obstructive lung disease and psychological factors play no role in the development of CFS following an infection
Charles Darwin despaired that those outside his family thought him a hypochondriac. Yet his manservant said he was often so ill he thought some days his master would die in his arms. Reading "Annie's Box" by the author Randal Keynes, great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin through the lens of scientific advances, reveals Darwin's immense physical suffering.
Around the world people with "unexplained illnesses" such as ME/CFS face shameful neglect by their health systems. Biological research has been poorly supported and the psychiatric lobby has been very powerful. The plight of children and their families becomes a medical nightmare when parents dispute harsh treatment regimes proposed by poorly informed medical practitioners. In the worst cases, parents face removal of their children through court processes. In 1999 the BBC 1 Panorama program highlighted the appalling "medical abuse" suffered by children with ME/CFS.
ME/CFS needs strategic biomedical research funding aided by the establishment of Brain / Tissue Banks which are accessible to research centres around the world.
People with ME/CFS and their families need access to up-to-date information, resources for advocacy and support. They also need medical practitioners to be well informed in order to receive appropriate care.
1. BMJ 2002;325:323-326 (10 August)
2. November 11 2000 SMH Good Weekend p.83 Nature- Lincoln Hall
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