Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Things that Go Bump in the Night

Man, I really need to get better at remembering what day it is.  Just this week, I forgot to call my dad on his birthday-- not because I forgot his birthday but rather because I didn't realize it was already October 25th!  How did it get so far into fall already?

Maybe the weather here is throwing me off.  Everyone told me to have fun in the Frozen North when I left Virginia for Michigan, even my Connecticut friends who should be used to cold!  But so far it hasn't been too bad.

On the plus side, even with the warm weather, one of my favorite holidays is almost here-- Halloween!  My apartment's been decorated for fall since I moved in, and a stuffed black cat with a witch's hat is perched right by the front door.  Halloween is awesome-- costumes, candy, what's not to like?  I got a Halloween care package from my parents just this afternoon.  They don't send as much candy since I was diagnosed with diabetes a few years ago, but a crossword puzzle book and a smiley face mug are just as much fun.  And better for me!  My mom even tossed in some new exercise clothes (I think she's worried I'll eat too much candy corn).

But for my post today, I figured I'd celebrate the season and share some information I learned a long time ago from an interesting article by Neil Osterweil, called "Halloween: The Truth Is Out There".  Should you desire to read the whole thing (and you should, it's awesome), you can find it here on WebMD.

The article goes through some medical conditions that, in a way, explain beliefs in two things that have been very popular lately-- vampires and werewolves.  Now, I'm not talking about Twilight-style sparkly vampires (because that's crap).  I'm talking real, Bram Stoker, allergic-to-garlic-and-holy-water, can't-go-into-sunlight vampires.  According to Osterweil, Stoker's description of Dracula in many ways matches the symptoms of porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT), a rare pigment disorder that interrupts, among other things, the proper functioning of hemoglobin and red blood cells.  He writes, "According to the American Porphyria Foundation, PCT primarily causes skins problems such as blisters that appear on sun-exposed areas of the body such as the hands and face."  Hence why real vampires can't go into the sun!  The disease also causes abnormal hair growth, corresponding to Stoker's characterization of Dracula as having thick, dark hair and large, bushy eyebrows.  Another article I read, that unfortunately I can't find now, mentioned that PCT can cause receding gumlines, as a result of the easy damage skin cells sustain with the disease.  So right here we have blood, fangs, reactions to sun and physical descriptions, all matching both vampires and PCT sufferers.

Also, did you know lycanthropes (werewolves) are real?  Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, they are not actually people who transform in to wolves on the full moon.  Rather, lycanthropy is a psychiatric disorder in which a person has delusions that they are turning into a wolf.  These delusions are so strong as to translate into actual physical sensations for the sufferer, such as in the case Osterweil describes:  "Mr. A is a 46-year-old male who experienced delusional episodes that lasted up to several hours. During these episodes, he had sensations of hair growth on his face, trunk, and arms. Occasionally, he became convinced that the hair growth was real. He also complained that he experienced structural facial malformations and lesions that took place within minutes and remained for hours. He thought these changes would make him appear to be a wolf, and avoided seeing his face or body whenever possible".  If you're looking for a modern lycanthrope, however, you might be out of luck-- as people have become more civilized and interactions with real wolves more rare, the number of lycanthropy cases has decreased to almost nil.  

If you're interested in a more official description of these diseases, I fully recommend reading the article, and perhaps I'll have more Halloween information for you on Sunday for you to enjoy with your candy!

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