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“Mystery” diseases are communicated through culture.

IAt the end of 2017, Media reports about the 9-year-old sleeping beauty began to surface. Sophie, a refugee living in a small Swedish town, slipped into a coma for more than a year. Although medical tests show he is healthy, he has seldom moved under his pink blanket. He snatched a clean tube from her nose because she never woke up to eat.

Although her condition was not novel – other immigrants had reported similar symptoms before – Sophie’s mysterious stagnation helped neuroscientist Suzanne O’Sullivan launch the book’s lengthy reporting journey. He had already spent many years seeing patients with symptoms and disabilities, from tremors to limbs, for which no clear biological cause could be found.

O’Sullivan thought of diseases that are primarily the product of the effects of the brain on the body. Yet the Swedish outbreak, which doctors call “uppgivenhetssyndrom” or “resignation syndrome” in English, prompted him to consider how profound social and community influences guide the disease process. O’Sullivan writes, “That single extreme example, I needed to be reminded of the importance of society and culture in the formation of disease.”

I “Sleeping beauties: and other mysterious illness stories.O’Sullivan invites readers to move beyond the Western notion of disease as a failure of individual biology. Understand situations like “Gracie Skins” Fraud and convulsions in coastal Honduras and the Muscato people of Nicaragua – and the Havana syndrome, a pattern of dizziness and hearing impairment that appeared five years ago among foreign diplomats stationed in Cuba. But “The Sleeping Beauties” is about something more basic: how a person subconsciously describes his struggles in physical ways that people around him will understand.

Despite the phrase “mystery disease” in the title of his book, O’Sullivan believes that few such diseases are as secretive as they seem, unless they are examined in the right cultural context. Swedish immigrants like Sophie often have traumatic histories that are sometimes called learned helplessness. Before fleeing her homeland to the former Soviet Union, Sophie saw her father being beaten by police and her mother by mafia men. When Sophie and other asylum seekers slipped into the long stretch of irresponsibility, O’Sullivan theorizes, they were embodying this despair the way they felt to other refugee children, “unconsciously a sick The culturally influenced reactions, such as Sophie and O’Sullivan, emphasize that they have nothing to do with counterfeiting, but These are very real, physical manifestations of suffering.

Through case studies she explores, O’Sullivan opens up complex processes through which culturally influenced thought patterns and assumptions can alter behavior and even brain function, and How can these changes exacerbate symptoms? In one of her patients, who was struggling with the heavy workload of college, local doctors attributed her cycles to blood pressure drops when she stood up – a decision her family said. Confirmed that his illness was real. But when O’Sullivan tested the woman in his office, her blood pressure remained stable, until she complained of dizziness.

O’Sullivan writes, “She thought that standing up when she felt dizzy would inevitably lead to disaster.” “So, when he tried to stand up, his expectations overwhelmed his nervous system and fulfilled his prediction.” Similarly, in the Muscato people of Central America, the story of the community that Gracie Skins oxygenates can promote seizure-like activity in those people حالت although none of the mental activity associated with epileptic seizures. ۔

However, telling patients that community expectations are part of the symptoms of the disease is not a good idea. They feel like doctors are telling them they are making themselves sick, so they often go to great lengths to deny the social origin of their symptoms. When O’Sullivan visited Sweden, a doctor there hoped that she would provide a biological explanation for uppgivenhetssyndrom., Just as some of his patients claimed to have a “real” disease like epilepsy. Finding “objective changes in blood tests or scans”, O’Sullivan writes, “allows others to believe in suffering.” But finding such evidence may not be necessary, she thinks, if most doctors take the cultural and social drivers of the disease more seriously.

“The Sleeping Beauties” plays an important role in highlighting the similarities between current medical principles – which are separate evidence of physical illness – and the fact that the disease is a complex entity with social, mental and biological components. Are In its search for many cultural spectacles through which disease can be seen, O’Sullivan urges readers to consider not only the onset of mysterious diseases, but also the way social expectations shape everyone’s disease experiences.

For example, a person in the United States or Europe may believe that depression is caused by a serotonin imbalance that needs to be treated, a hypothesis in which they live. But in another culture, one can see depression as a result of life events that they can face and change. O’Sullivan says taking it can be just as helpful – if not more so in some cases – because it encourages people to position themselves not as victims but as architects of their own development and healing. Is. She sometimes goes so far as to mourn the dangers of Western diagnoses, claiming that “we make sick people” with her passion for medicalized labels. Still some refreshment, almost. WarriorsRecognizing that other cultures may be better at understanding struggle or pain as possible ways to expand human potential.

Although O’Sullivan is not a trained reporter, his storytellers shine everywhere. Everywhere, from Sweden and Texas to a former mining town in Kazakhstan, she patiently builds trust with families to understand the cause of certain social ills. They challenge the frustrations of communities because they understand the answers, but are unlikely to. “Someone told reporters that when the jail and factory were open, the creek passing through the city would change color according to taste,” she writes, following the addition of a Tort-like tax among teenagers in Lee Roy, New York. The day is being prepared. Who knew which toxin was left behind? ”

She exchanges tension with the eyes of the cinema, such as when she steps back against a patient who believes that her repeated empty sentences mean she has epilepsy. And his description of a Swedish patient in a long sleep is both lyrical and cold: “She looked calm, like a princess who ate a poisoned apple.”

To this day, some Swedish refugee children suffer from uppgivenhetssyndrom – a living reminder that we have a long way to go in overcoming the complex entanglement of pathogens. Yet as their families settle into a new, safer environment, many children recover, waking up months later to reunite with their families and communities. “Sleeping Beauties” creates a passionate issue that embraces a more comprehensive definition of the disease – resolving its psychological and social causes as strongly as its physical illnesses.

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Elizabeth Soboda is a science writer based in San Jose, California. Her most recent book for children is The Life Hero.

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