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Saturday, September 18, 2010

To Feel Nothing

Hansen's Disease, formerly known as leprosy, still exists around the world.  Since the development of medicines for it, it is no longer a fatal illness, nor has is it ever been highly infectious. It is a chronic illness.  The incubation period is anywhere from nine months to 20 years.  That makes it very difficult to pinpoint where or when one has been exposed to the disease.

The bacteria that causes Hansen's Disease prefers the parts of the body that are cooler -- the earlobes, the nose, the fingers and toes, and the eyes, though it can be anywhere on the body.  It resides in the nerves and damages them.  Where the sores are -- there is diminished or no feeling.  The devastating thing about the eyes being affected is that the blink reflex is lost.  Without blinking, the eyes dry out and foreign matter is not washed away.

This is a picture of a Belgium priest named Father Damien who spent sixteen years on the island of Molokai in Hawaii caring for the lepers who had been exiled there. He contracted Hansen's Disease and died in 1889 at the age of 49.

There is a book called "The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai" by John Tayman.  It is a very interesting read.  This quote from the books shows some ingenuity.

"Doctors tried training patients to blink on schedule, using a timer or some other device. The technique worked in some cases, but only if the patient was physically able. Leprosy bacilli also attack the nerve controlling eyelid muscles, creating a condition known as lagophthalmos, in which the person is unable to close the eyelids. In such cases surgeons rigged a thread of muscle from the jaw to the lid, which caused the person to blink as he chewed - doctors then handed them a pack of gum."

Now you have heard something interesting.

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