This is the Sixteenth Modern Myth featuring Crusoe. The Persecution series resumes next week with Brand Fascism.
The clinics were different now to what they had been.
The woman walked in, glancing at her hands as she came. Crusoe already knew what she would say. In days gone by peripheral neuropathies were rare. You saw one a year, perhaps in older people – more often women than men. The books talked of stocking and glove problems – the person with a burning or other odd sensation in their hands or feet. The books linked the problems to alcohol which was odd as it seemed to happen more in women than men.
But now it was becoming common and seemed to affect any age – often quite young women – who presented with burning feet. These weren’t peripheral neuropathies strictly speaking but if the person was referred to a neurologist that was the diagnosis they would end up with.
Nobody knew what was going on or how to treat it. People on triptans for migraine came in with strange sensations across their upper body. Those on antidepressants or benzodiazepines had burning feet.
Those on antibiotics like Cipro and Levaquin had the worst problem – especially it seemed to her, the men who had prostatism. If the treatment was stopped quickly, they might be left with no more than tingling sensations in their hands or feet. This wasn’t trivial – nothing that lasts for years is trivial. But if the treatment went on for longer, the problems could be anywhere round the body and were often much worse than tingling. Sometimes the person was left in constant disabling pain.
Worse again, if really badly affected, the neurologist might run tests on their nerves and the test reports would say working normally. She had seen lots of people told it was all in their mind and they were given a prescription for antidepressants.
The next woman brought her baby in. He was eighteen months old. He seemed slower than her first child had been she said. Was there anything she should be worried about? A quick check on the computer showed she had been on antidepressant during pregnancy.
Here was a dilemma. Crusoe was trained was to see variation in children as normal – in her generation there were boys who were tiny till late adolescence who later became the tallest people in the class, girls who at first seemed slow in school who later got first place in class exams. Some babies seemed to live on nothing while others were just voracious but they all ended up the same size.
So did she just advise the mother to do nothing that everything would be okay or did she tell her there was a possibility that the antidepressant might have caused a problem? She was seeing more and more of these children and still hadn’t worked out what the right thing to say was.
She’d heard a Ministry official on the evening news the previous day, asked about some drug and its problems, say that the Benefit-Risk ratio was still favourable. As long as a drug was still on the market, this is what they always said but what did it mean? It seemed to mean that it was more than the bureaucrat’s life was worth to start asking questions.
What bothered her as much as anything was a new problem that was linked to the disappearance of old one – there were fewer Romeos and Juliettes. There used to be a string of broken hearted adolescents looking for antidepressants. She tried her best to keep them off medications – you’re eighteen and in love – how do you expect to be feeling?
There still were some Romeos, but there was an increasing number of teenagers who seemed to have no interest in romance. At first she thought that it was one of those swings of the pendulum to Puritanism. Perhaps some new Just Say No campaign in schools was having an impact.
But when she fished, the kids knew what she was talking about but told her that she was a sexual and they weren’t. They just accepted it. Didn’t bother them. They’d never known any different.
What didn’t bother them bothered her. It bothered her that the same few drugs came up in their mother’s pregnancy records or in the kids records before they hit puberty.
Years ago she had met a a man who desperately wanted a limb removed. I’ll feel more like me without my right leg, doctor. This was in the early days of the Internet, and using Google before the word googling came into use, she found communities of “apotemnophiliacs”. Some people had probably always had feelings like this but others looked more vulnerable, uncertain of their own identities, and at risk of getting sucked in by a group like this. What would happen when they had a leg removed?
She could believe there might have always been some Asexuals around waiting for the Internet to shine a light on them. But lots of the kids she was now seeing had never accessed any Asexual websites. And there just seemed to be too many of them.
More and more she felt that if she voiced her suspicions to any of her colleagues, or even her friends, she would start feeling like an island unconnected to their mainland. Might be time to find a real island.
The woman with burning hands, the mother with the autistic baby or the asexual son, were in the same place as her – no-one wanted to know them. Was there any way to unite all these people, each marooned on their own island, this new Archipelago of the Shipwrecked?
The shortest novel in the English language, complete with its post-modernist twist, came to mind.
“Crusoe, we say, was rescued”.
Illustration: The Sea of Medicine, © 2014 created by Billiam James