Sallyportal: Madly Blogging Reed



Skeletons and Syphilis


Many years ago, when I was a psych major hunting for a thesis topic, I ran across a slender volume in the Reed library. It concerned an obscure neurological disorder known as general paralysis, quite common in the late nineteenth century, particularly among old mariners. The disease typically began with delusions of grandeur; as it progressed, sufferers were afflicted by a peculiar stammer, and they started to walk funny. Ultimately they lapsed into paralysis, dementia, and death.

Interesting stuff, but not really what I was looking for, so I shelved the book, promptly forgetting its title and author. One thing I did remember was the surprising conclusion that the disease had nothing to do with salt water or sea biscuit. It was, in fact, late-stage neurosyphilis, presumably acquired in dockside brothels.