As opposed to the somewhat better known ‘sleeping sickness’ often spread by the tsetse fly. Here’s an old article that mentions it, and here’s the wiki on it. Basically, at around the time of the 1918 Flu, another disease called ‘sleepy sickness’ spread and affected between five and ten million people worldwide before it was over (apparently after about 10 years). The causative agent was never identified, and it remains a mystery to this day.
It was one of the features on “Mysteries at the Museum,” which showed some footage from the 1960s where Dr. Oliver Sacks was treating some of the patients who had basically been somewhat catatonic since they were affected. Basically, a drug used for Parkinson’s seemed to help some of them, at least temporarily.
Apparently, the movie “Awakenings” (1990) [which I never saw] was partially inspired by some of Dr. Sacks’ work.
You should absolutely see Awakenings, which is a really brilliant and moving film (and my favorite Robin Williams performance ever). I’ve seen the movie many times and read the book at least twice, which lead me to seek out other resources on this illness. it’s a fascinating mystery, made even more interesting by the fact that aside from Dr. Sacks’ work, it’s been almost completely forgotten.
It’s been awhile since I saw the movie Awakenings but I was under the impression that only a small number of people were affected the way Robin Williams’ character was affected. Was it really millions? Or were most somewhat affected and only a few completely affected?
According to one of the cites above, it was millions worldwide, and over a period of about ten years. I don’t know the percentage who ended up permanently catatonic, since the information is pretty thin on the subject.
I’ve heard of it, in a biological psychology class. We discussed Oliver Sacks’ work with it. Apparently there is also a designer drug–forget which one–that, if cooked the wrong way, destroys the brain’s substantia nigra and creates the same symptoms.
“Awakenings” is a brilliant movie that deserves to be seen, and is family-friendly. The book is also easier to read than most of Dr. Sacks’ writings, and what happened to the patients was much more complex than the movie implied.
Here’s an excellent book about it that came out several years ago.
It was mentioned in a book I read about Parkinson’s Disease. At the time, I didn’t make a distinction in my mind between this and “sleeping sickness”. It damaged the substantia nigra (a part of the brain that mediates control of the voluntary muscles), the same area that becomes degraded in Parkinson’s Disease. The implication I got from the book was that these people effectively developed Locked-In Syndrome, in which they were fully awake and aware but completely paralyzed – much like our own recently-deceased member blinkie.
Many many years later, when some progress began to be made on treating Parkinson’s Disease with Levodopa, it was found that this was helpful for some sleepy-sickness victimes, some of whom hadn’t moved a muscle for years.
Being stuck living like that must be one of the greater ways to experience Life in Hell while still alive.