Wednesday, November 21, 2007


“Undulating relentlessly from one side to the other of the [microscope slide].”

That is how Deborah Hayden, author of “Pox,” describes the actions of the tiny, snake-shaped bacterium that causes the terrible disease syphilis.

It is a book at once horrifying and amazing, about a creature that is also both. Her words aptly conjure up the notion of a determined and ruthless predator – a Great White shark churning in a petri dish.

Most diseases cause a few specific symptoms. Few if any produce the huge and devastating range of ailments as this one: from sores and a rash to terrible aches, heart damage, paralysis, birth defects and even insanity.

I am caught up in the spell of this book, describing a deadly beast that has stalked and captured some of the best and brightest or notorious of mankind – from Nietsche to Beethoven, Columbus to Al Capone.

And indeed, only mankind does it plague – riding the waves of our carnal desires.

I don’t know much more about this subject, syphilis. I do know that most bacteria or other parasites debilitate or kill in four ways: by secreting toxins, consuming tissue, consuming the host’s food supply or by blocking lymph nodes or blood vessels.

I’m not sure at this point how syphilis does its gruesome damage – maybe Hayden’s book will explain it for me.

Penicillin, for now, controls it in modern society.

Having not exactly lived the wild life in my youth and having as my life partner a Woman of similar background, I have been spared this terrifying experience.

Ms. Hayden


Janice Thomson said...

"...riding the waves of our carnal desires." - I think that explains why this disease exists in the first place doesn't it. As long as sex remains rampant outside the confines of marriage or a long relationship then this disease will continue to thrive. How scary.

chipazoid said...

That's what condoms are for.

Eastcoastdweller said...

Janice: And new ones, such as AIDS, will crop up.

Adena: Condoms break. Or get put aside in the heat of the moment.