François Gigot de la Peyronie seems bent out of shape to James Parkinson, the afterlife support group leader plunging his ceremonial scalpel into the cadaver hanging next to the podium. This initiates venting about inappropriate derision among the living about meeting participants.
Parkinson shakily realizes the inappropriateness of his unvoiced characterization of his fellow sufferer.
Peyronie persists: “I have bone to pick! TV Ads! Bad enough men fear the disease with my name; now, I’m ‘Bent Pickle Man,’ with slacker cousin Ed or E.D.”
“François, we all have bones to pick. People associate our names with the likes of the Big C, COVID-19, H.I.V., Rabies, Leprosy, Bubonic Plague.”
The Englishman Edward Cock shouts at Peyronie, “That’s nothing, Frenchie. ‘Cock’s Peculiar Tumor’ sound better?”
Parkinson points the discussion in a different direction. “A recent poll suggests that 41% of people fear a cancer diagnosis most, closely followed by Alzheimer’s Disease at 31 percent. Poor Alois.”
Gertrud Hurler, among few women present, chuckles because, though her name accompanies a syndrome leaving unfortunates looking gargoyle-like, she—like peers Bernhard Bang (Bang’s Disease), Sir Charles Bell (Bell’s Palsy), George E. Brewer (Brewer kidney), and Richard Bright (Bright’s Disease), the “Killer Bs,” not to mention the festively named Stephen Christmas (Disease)—has a name that could pass for a generic association.
Hurler plans to welcome newcomer Jean Berger to this club soon, victims probably thinking Berger’s Disease results from excess fast-food.
Gertrud thinks of Lou Gehrig, one of few non-scientists present. She assumes most Americans or Brits, hearing a diagnosis of “her syndrome,” might think it only strikes baseball or cricket pitchers, or Irish hurlers.
The Emerald Island’s Robert Graves (with Hakaru Hashimoto, the “Over/Under boys”) ascends the podium. Ostensibly announcing Fantasy Disease League results from previous years (Graves’ Disease identifies OVER-active thyroids while Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis focuses on UNDER-active thyroids), Graves gloats about wins for his OVER side.
Again, however, Graves publicly bemoans the fact that fellow Irishmen fear any suggestion of burial, yet alone a throat-grabbing diagnosis of the disease attached to his terminal-suggestive name.
Interrupting, Hans Asperger (Syndrome) reports the World Health Organization is proposing new best practices for naming infectious diseases “to minimize unnecessary negative impact of disease names on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare, and avoid causing offense to cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups.”*
“Great,” Myrtelle May Moore Canavan (Disease), among the first female American pathologists, interjects. “WHO wants to protect swine and mad cows but has no regard for us. The no-brainer President of my country, who lost the last election, wanted to name COVID-19 the China Flu. WHO should have attached his name to it.”
“Erection?” Peyronie, hard of hearing, exclaims before Parkinson tells him to sit down.
John Langdon (Haydon) Down shouts, “Back to names. I still question changing the name of Wegener’s Granulomatosis because Friedrich was a Nazi. Doesn’t removing his name reward him?”
John Down lowers his voice: “Asperger Syndrome or Down Syndrome sound less threatening than names tied to ‘disease.’ Still, eponymous naming will continue—diseases, disorders, conditions, and even syndromes named after scientists who identified them seems a backhanded honor.”
“So,” rejoins a stressed Thomas Addison (Disease), “Your name already sounds like directions to a downstairs loo; couldn’t there be a better alternative?”
Georges Gilles Tourette (Syndrome) stammers agreement: “Syndromes, especially among Psych folks, often get named after make-believe characters like Miss Havisham, Alice in Wonderland, and Othello, or cultural icons like Valentino or Baron Münchausen. Wouldn’t that work?”
The Aussie R.D.K. Reye (Syndrome) adds, “And generic terms. WHO opted for that with Nun’s Knee, Tennis Elbow, and Mad Hatter’s Disease.”
Thomas Hodgkin (Disease), fatigued as the meeting winds down, wistfully offers, “Must be incredible having your name linked forever with wondrous things like the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, Fibonacci Numbers, Occam’s Razor, Descartes’ Theorem, the Brandenburg Gate.”
“Why not associate our names with the meds to suppress diseases we identified? Our names associated with positive things,” Alois Alzheimer challenges.
“Be careful what you wish for, Alois,” the chair warns, formally ending the meeting by pulling his scalpel out of the cadaver. “Have Dr. Peyronie, our ad expert, tell you about TV disclaimers for prescribed meds. Side effects sound worse than the disease. Remember that eternally.”
who lives in San Francisco’s East Bay with his wife, Sally, retired after a 46-year career as a high school teacher and principal. Since, his stories, essays, and comedy pieces have been published in Underwood, Sport Literate, Sequoia Speaks, Woman’s Way, Purpled Nails, Cobalt, the San Francisco Chronicle, Points in Case, Glossy News, The Satirist, and Good Old Days.
Author’s website: http://kenhogarty.net/