Syphilis, a social disease

Napoleon Bonaparte, Al Capone, Adolf Hitler, Friedrich Nietzsche and Vincent van Gogh. All well-known men that seem to be unrelated in every way. But on closer look we understand that they all changed the world as we know it. And no, not always for the best. I am indeed talking about Nietzsche with his endless nagging about the apparent relationship between the Apollonian and Dionysian juxtapositions in one’s endless struggle trying to create order in one’s chaotic life, … , you know what I mean. But what these men also had in common, they all suffered from Syphilis. Probably not a big shock, looking at the title of this blog. Can we maybe state that, to change the world, you might need a nice little psychosis due to neurosyphilis?

Syphilis is a disease that has been amongst us for many years now and used to be referred to as a “social disease”. Now don’t be afraid, you can still like a Facebook post, play Monopoly with friend or even go to a birthday party. Just wear a condom when you are doing it! You know why? Because unlike what my patients try to convince me of, you don’t get Syphilis from a toilet seat. Syphilis is an STD.
We now know that the bacterium Treponema pallidum thrives through intense relationships of mucous membranes from different persons, or to state it in plain language: penises, vaginas and anuses having fun with each other. The bacteria end up in the blood leading to rashes on your skin, festers on the already mentioned penises, vaginas and anuses and could lead to severe neurological problems… now take a look at the list of names again…

Back in the Middle Ages they didn’t know what the cause was. To investigate the disease and see if it maybe was blood transmittable, some clever men (always those guys) started a “very ethical” study amongst prostitutes, by far the most social people in that time. The researchers found some ladies with syphilis and took their blood. This blood was then given to another group of prostitutes, let’s call them the “I am really not volunteering for this” ladies. All the IARNVFT-ladies got injected with the infected blood and became ill. Voilà: the clever men knew Syphilis was blood transmittable. That’s what you call empirical research.

Unfortunately for them, there was no cure. One of the treatments that was practiced from the 11 century onwards was using Mercury. It wasn’t a cure, merely treating some symptoms if any. The Mercury was rubbed on skin, patients swallowed it, it was vaporized or applied in a plaster. For your reference, using Mercury as a medicine is probably comparable to taking 13 XTC pills, swallowing them away with detergent and smashing yourself on the toe with a hammer. Not something to look forward to. Another idea was to induce high fever in neurosyphilis patients using a Malaria parasite. This led to some patients death but also for the Nobelprize in 1927. Imagine you are paralyzed and psychotic and then getting Malaria, I wouldn’t be the biggest fan.

So, what did they know: Syphilis was blood transmittable, it gave you severe neurological problems … and there was no cure from getting sick after a social event! And if there’s no safe cure, people try crazy stuff to think of ways to prevent it. Flashback to 1717. An English doctor Daniel Turner was sitting in a bar, had some drinks and saw some beautiful ladies. He felt his manhood swelling and he knew he couldn’t resist the action. As a doctor he knew that the last thing on his wish list was getting Syphilis, so with his almost exploding man parts he jumped out of the bar, ran into a greenfield, saw a sweet little lamb … and butchered it. He immediately wrapped the sheep’s intestines around his penis, ran back to the bar and started a social intercourse event with one of the remaining lovely ladies. And guess what? He didn’t get Syphilis. In fact, he didn’t catch any STD. Daniel Turner, through his act of explosive desperation changed our lives drastically, the Condum (old English for hide) was born! To his great disappointment however, not everyone was enthusiastic at the time. We get that now because there probably wasn’t an ultrathin condum or one that glows in the dark or had funky flavours (unless you really like intestine flavour of course… not judging).

Luckily, in 1928 Alexander Flemming opened his window to start the discovery of Penicillin and a cure for Syphilis and many other diseases was finally there. But don’t think you can live like the Prince of Bel-Air. Syphilis is back in the game. After the start of the HIV pandemic, people became more scared about free sex with everyone they met and started either using condoms or having less contacts. This resulted in a huge drop of all STD’s, hooray! But HIV is not so terrifying anymore. That’s of course good news but people are getting back to their old habits, thus increasing STD rates and also Syphilis rates. That’s crazy, almost like … already have … some severe neurological problems … because of Syphi… probably not.
Ok, you can have sex with as many people as you’d like, even at the same time for all I care, but please take care of yourself and wear protection, it’s not a sheep intestine anymore!

My personal takeaway: I do want to change the world, but I’ll try to do this without Syphilis… I’ll try.

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