Living on a knife’s edge

The sleeping-sickness, actually a viral disease called encephalitis lethargica, struck no two patients in exactly the same way — this baffled the medical community. Many sufferers slipped in to irreversible comas, while others became so aroused that they died of insomnia. Those who didn’t die tended to fall gradually into a deep Parkinsonism, especially of the “frozen” variety, and had to be institutionalized. Sacks epitomizes their dreadful state with a quote from Donne: “As Sicknes is the greatest misery, so the greatest misery of sicknes, is solitude… Solitude is a torment which is not threatened in hell itselfe.”

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