6 Bizarre Medical Conditions That Shouldn't Be Possible
No one ever forgets the first time their body malfunctioned in some way they didn't even know was possible ("Why is my poop green?"). The body truly is miraculous in its ability to unleash new horrors when we least expect it.
Well, in the name of preparedness (and giving hypochondriacs something new to obsess over), we want to let you know that ...
One Day, Your Face Might Cave In
If you have recurring nightmares of spontaneously transforming into a Batman villain without so much as a vat of acid to blame, have we got the thing for you. It's called Parry-Romberg syndrome, and it makes the skin and soft tissues of half of your face slowly cave in. Only half because, as Darwin so famously put it, "sometimes nature is a gaping asshole." (Also, sometimes we like to call ourselves "Darwin.")
If we catch this, we're totally telling everyone we got face-hammered by Thor.
Since caving half your face in isn't enough (obviously), Parry-Romberg syndrome also discolors the skin, sinks your eyeball back into your skull, and causes your jaw to stop opening properly. And some unlucky bastards experience additional side effects like migraines, seizures, and muscle spasms in the "lucky" half of their face. And we probably shouldn't have called them bastards just now, since it typically strikes teenage girls right in time for senior prom.
If the thing that disturbs you the most about Parry-Romberg syndrome is its asymmetricalness, then allow us to show you lipodystrophy. Lipodystrophy translates to "fat loss," which you'd normally think of as a good thing -- right up until you lose all of it. See, a nice layer of fat is what gives your face everything that makes it recognizable -- like cheeks, lips, and the lack of a tendency to cause neighborhood children to awaken in the middle of the night swimming in pools of terror pee.
"See you tonight, Li'l Jimmy!"
Lipodystrophy is a common side effect of powerful antiretroviral drugs, meaning that even after you've contracted HIV, the universe still isn't quite finished kicking you in the dick. Don't think you're safe from this condition by avoiding HIV, however: There are dozens of factors -- ranging from environmental triggers to your own sad, broken genes -- that could cause you to transmogrify into Skeletor without warning. On a related note ...
You Can Suddenly Transform Into A Real-Life Smurf
Argyria is what happens when a person gets a little too much colloidal silver into their system. See, much like Taco Bell nacho cheese sauce, silver is one of those substances that your body simply doesn't know what the hell to do with. But rather than making you crap out silver bars like a character from some second-rate children's fable, your body's solution is to stash it away in your skin, eyeballs, and mucus membranes and HOLY SHIT THIS GUY'S BLUE:
That's right: When enough silver builds up, you'll look like an extra in that James Cameron movie that the entire world watched and then promptly forgot about. And there's no going back once it sets in -- treatments for argyria are still in their infancy, so once you've got it, get ready for a lifetime of looking like a photo negative.
Also of assholes asking, "Why so blue?" and expecting laughter instead of a punch in the throat.
We know what you're thinking. "I'm not an old-timey silver miner, and I haven't swallowed any jewelry for, like, at least a year! This could never happen to me!" But you're only saying that because you don't realize that you're practically swimming in colloidal silver in your own home.
It's like a magic potion! Only shitty!
For the past few decades, colloidal silver has been touted as a true wonder of alternative medicine, with proponents claiming it cures everything from allergies to a chronic case of butt itch. It goes way beyond masses of uninformed Internet denizens gulping down snake oil, however -- the FDA officially disapproves of colloidal silver in medications, but due to its antimicrobial properties it finds its way into tons of everyday items, from socks to bandages to commercial eye drops.
Still, it takes a massive overdose of the stuff to activate Smurf Mode, so don't go gulping it down unless that's your goal. Like, if you need to be blue for a Comic-Con costume or something.
Your Eyes Might Start Seeing Into The Past
This is the closest we can get to showing you what palinopsia is like: If you stare at this image for 30 seconds and then look away ...
"Viva teenage rebellion!"
... you'll be struck by a sudden urge to shop at Urban Outfitters while being pants-shittingly ignorant of history. But what if that afterimage that floated in front of your eye didn't fade away, instead lasting for days or even weeks? That, boys and girls, is palinopsia.
Palinopsia is an umbrella term for a laundry list of brain malfunctions that can cause afterimages to "stick." In one case, a 73-year-old man had an unknown brain tumor that was only discovered and treated after he turned and spoke to his wife ... who had left the room 15 minutes earlier. That's right, his eyes had given him a very specific and useless form of time travel.
Unless he was looking at breasts when everything got stuck;
then it's a gift from the heavens.
How is that possible? Well, you really see with your brain, not your eyes -- and sometimes your brain loses its shit. For example, about 20 to 30 percent of people who lose their eyesight wind up having visual hallucinations later -- everything from random geometric shapes to complex animal scenes (imagine losing your sight, only to have to weave through a menagerie of random jungle animals whenever you leave the house).
It's called Charles Bonnet syndrome, named after a guy who, in the late 18th century, cataloged his grandfather's sightless visions of everything from buildings to birds. To be clear, he was otherwise mentally healthy -- that's typical of people who suffer from the disorder. It's not some sudden surge of crazy juice flowing through the brain that causes it, but rather the brain filling the information gaps that the eyes were always tasked with filling before -- similar to how an amputee might report sensations of a phantom limb.
Once again, whether it's a blessing or a curse kind of depends
on what types of visions you've got in store.
Think of it like this: Your brain has an incessant hunger for input, and if it's not getting its fill from your now-defunct eyeballs, it'll simply make a stale snack of your memories "reassembled and scrambled in peculiar ways" -- meaning you could "see" anything from a beloved childhood pet to an ephemeral clone of yourself dancing the robot to "Pink Elephants On Parade."
And while we're on the subject ...
Written Words May Suddenly Transform Into Complete Gibberish
Imagine you wake up one morning, retrieve the newspaper from the front porch in your bathrobe and bunny slippers, and sit down to read it over a steaming mug of coffee. But when you unfold it, you find that the text is nothing but gobbledygook -- the pictures are there, the letters are there, but the words make not a flea's butt of sense. Realizing that you're the victim of a practical joker with access to a printing press and also that we live in the goddamn future, you toss the paper aside and break out your smartphone ...
... but it's the same. You can't read anything. Oh dear lord, you can't read Cracked.
*cough* just gonna leave this here ...
That's precisely what happened to Howard Engel, a man who makes his living writing detective novels, in 2001. The words in his morning paper transformed into "Oriental-looking script," which sounds like your racist uncle describing a particularly Glenn-heavy episode of The Walking Dead. But rather than trying in vain to write "HELP ME" on the walls in his own excrement before running into traffic in the nude (our default reaction to anything even vaguely traumatic), Engel calmly thought, "I have suffered a stroke."
At the hospital, his assumption was proven true: A stroke had affected the visual area in the left side of his brain. But even though he couldn't read a word, he could still write -- ask him to read back what he'd just written, however, and you may as well have asked him to lick his own elbow. The technical term is alexia without agraphia, and to oversimplify it, it's what happens when one specific part of your brain -- the reading bit -- comes unplugged. After months of rehab and teaching himself a whole new way to read (tracing the letters with his hand and moving his mouth, or "replacing reading by a sort of writing"), Engel was able to write a memoir of his experience.
We assume his copy editor got a pretty hefty bonus for that one.
So how likely is this to happen to you? Well, it's the result of a tiny meat explosion in a very specific part of the brain, so ... not real likely. But on the off chance that it does, you'll be grateful we told you about it when you're frantically trying to figure out what's wrong with you and WebMD looks like the Dead Sea Scrolls. Meanwhile, if a different specific part of your brain gets damaged ...
You Can Completely Lose Your Ability To Sleep
Rhett Lamb was a normal 3-year-old boy, with one slight exception: He didn't sleep. And when we say he didn't sleep, we don't mean he tossed and turned at night -- we mean he literally did not sleep. Ever. His parents had to take turns sitting him throughout the night, because getting some shut-eye was simply a foreign concept to this kid.
His parents later won the Nobel Prize in the field of
"Holy Shit, I Can't Believe You Didn't Give Him Up For Adoption."
While it sounds like Rhett's parents made an all-too-common parenting mistake (that is, getting PediaSure confused with Red Bull), in actuality Rhett was suffering from a Chiari malformation. And while that, in turn, sounds like some unobtainium device from an upcoming Marvel flick, in actuality it's a very rare condition in which part of your brain squooshes into the spinal column rather than staying in its skull like a good little brain should. Specifically, it's the part of the brain responsible for crucial bodily functions such as speech and, of course, sleep.
As with so many conditions in which our brain goes renegade, why this happens isn't entirely clear. Luckily, however, it's often fixable -- in Rhett's case, surgeons removed some extra bone, causing his brain to ooze back into its proper spot and allowing Rhett to ride dinosaurs in Dreamland for the very first time in his life. If he'd been less lucky, he might have simply forgotten to breathe.
You Might Puff Up Like A Human Water Balloon With No Warning
If we could revisit the subject of "words you never want to hear from your doctor" for a moment, we're going to go ahead and add "leak" to that list. Yeah, if it's something you don't want your car or your fridge doing, it's a pretty safe bet that you don't want your meat machine doing it either -- otherwise, you might end up with something unspeakable like Clarkson's disease, aka systemic capillary leak syndrome. As the name suggests, it's what happens when your blood vessels start leaking plasma all willy-nilly. "What, so it means I'm just bleeding all the time?" Nope. All that extra fluid has nowhere to go but into the sponge-like tissues of your skin and vital organs. So you just start expanding.
"Doubling in size is a lot harder than Super Mario makes it look."
Episodes typically take around three days to reach a peak, during which time you'll go from your usual svelte self to a bloated, squishy beluga, and the only treatment is to wait it out. And in case that's not terrifying enough, you should know that it doesn't take much to go from just plain bloated to dead and bloated: Every single episode has the potential to straight-up pop one of your vital organs.
Not pictured here because oh, God, don't Google it like we did!
Scientists know approximately fuck-all about what causes SCLS, and cases of it are so rare that we probably won't be figuring it out anytime soon. There's no real pattern as to whom and when it strikes, although we do know that it usually develops after an upper-respiratory infection -- so the next cold you catch may be the one that turns you into a swollen sack of blood and nightmares. The only thing we know for certain is that once you have your first attack, you're going to spend the rest of your life randomly inflating and deflating, like you've been cursed by some angry wizard who heard you making fat jokes about him. Go apologize, dammit!
Janel Comeau writes words on the Internet all day. You can find more of them on her Twitter or on her blog. You can say hi to Himanshu on Twitter, or offer him money to write for you here.
For more medical maladies, check out The 6 Most Brutal Infections You Could Have Right Now and Your Body Hates You: 6 Gruesome Disorders Anyone Can Get.
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