The human body is a fragile house of wet cards built atop a swamp during hurricane season. There are so many awful things that can go horribly wrong with our meat suits, including cancer, aneurysms, and even hair growing out of our fucking eyes. It's amazing any of us have lasted this long. However, there are some diseases that are arguably worse, in that they sound like black magic curses and can literally strike you at any time for seemingly no reason whatsoever. For example ...
The pinkie toe really serves no purpose, unless there's an evolutionary advantage to banging an appendage on every piece of furniture you own. As such, science has never paid much attention to the little toe, which is why they have absolutely no idea why it can suddenly just strangle itself and fall off.
The condition, known as dactylolysis spontanea or ainhum, begins innocently enough: A ring of tough, fibrous flesh suddenly appears around one or both of your pinkie toes. Then, slowly, the ring tightens, squeezing harder and harder, cutting off circulation to your tiny digits. Eventually, the band breaks through the bone, and your toe is left hanging off the side of your foot by a thin strand of tissue. When this crushing, minuscule hug severs through this last bit of flesh, the toe falls off completely, and you are free to start buying narrower shoes.
The full process, from formation to amputation, can take years or months. No one really knows what exactly causes it or how to cure it. As far as we know, anyone can develop it at any time, and the only "treatment" is to have a surgeon amputate your toe before the universe gets the chance to.
The only consolation is that it's pretty rare, but your chances of coming down with pinkie-fall-off-itis do rise slightly if you live in the tropics or are of African descent. And it isn't fatal -- the worst thing it's likely to cause is uncomfortable conversations at the beach.
You know you're screwed when the word "curse" appears in the name of your disease. Such is the case for those who suffer from Ondine's Curse, a disorder that short-circuits the part of your brain responsible for breathing, which we're sure you'll agree is one of the more important parts.
Once afflicted, patients "forget" how to breathe automatically and consequently are forced to consciously inhale oxygen into their lungs. That alone is exhausting and terrible, but that's not the worst part -- Ondine's Curse becomes a life-threatening problem when patients fall asleep and just stop breathing altogether.
The curse, otherwise known as congenital central hypoventilation syndrome, is essentially a form of sleep apnea on steroids (if you take your steroids with just an unsightly amount of booze).
Because there is no cure, the only way to survive a night with Ondine's Curse is to stuff a breathing tube up a hole carved into your throat and hope for the best. No one is entirely sure how or why the disease starts. Although the name would logically point to defiling some kind of sacred temple, most cases are congenital, meaning that patients are born with it. However, there have been many instances where adults have developed the disease out of nowhere or after an accident or infection. Some evidence even suggests that chronic alcoholism may be a potential cause, while other research says that the condition can also be triggered by sleeping pills.
Either way, the probability that you ever develop the disease is low, a comfort which is only somewhat diminished by the fact that you could suddenly, for no reason at all, fall asleep for a nap and leave your confused brain at the helm of your lungs shrieking, "HOW DO YOU WORK THESE THINGS?"
Some people, it turns out, have thin ear bones (which is admittedly piggybacking on the equally thunderous "There are such things as ear bones" revelation). Technically called temporal bones, they are basically protective helmets for the inner parts of the human ear, and if you were born with one anorexic enough to become too thin or even develop small holes, you could end up with superior canal dehiscence syndrome, which is a fancy way of saying that you might hear the insides of your body moving.
And we mean everything. Your heartbeat, your blood flowing through your veins, even your eyes moving around in your skull -- once you come down with SCDS, you'll be able to hear them all day every day, thus gaining a hell of a lot of respect for what Daredevil goes through. You know, except for the whole "not being able to see" thing. That's a whole separate condition, called "blindness."
Early symptoms of SCDS include general dizziness and a tendency to fall down and/or feel physically ill at the sound of certain noises. Then the real horror begins. Maybe at first it's an oscillating squeak, like a finger rubbing against a wet porcelain plate, that won't go away. Or perhaps a deafening roar, like a perpetually crashing wave that you hear every time you eat. Then, you slowly start to realize that it's the internal functions of your body that's making all those noises, including the "sandpaper on wood" sound apparently given off by our moving eyeballs.
Thankfully, SCDS is treatable, although it does require expensive surgery. Still, once you start hearing a bunch of weird sounds like a kazoo coming from a cracked loudspeaker (which is what our internal organs supposedly sound like) on a daily basis, the price of the surgery will probably stop mattering to you.
We don't want to spook you out, but there is a skeleton living inside you right now. Still, though, you know what's even spookier? Not having a skeleton inside you. That's a reality for people who have Gorham-Stout disease, aka idiopathic massive osteolysis, aka disappearing bone disease, aka noodle body syndrome, aka dem bones disease (not all of those names are officially recognized by the medical community).
To put it simply, people who contract the disease lose the ability to grow new bones. In a normal person, when a bone is fractured or otherwise injured, it usually re-ossifies, kind of like how skin heals over a cut or expands with a growing body. In people with noodle body syndrome, though, your bone just disintegrates until it's gone, and the place where it once existed is overrun by soft tissue and lymphatic vessels, essentially turning you into a human Gumby, or Sam Jackson from Unbreakable.
That all sounds admittedly terrible but ultimately survivable, until the disease reaches your spine. Then it usually turns you into a paralyzed human ball of constant pain. What's even scarier is that, so far, Science's best answer to "Why is this shit happening?" is an embarrassed shrug. So, obviously, we don't know how to control or stop it, and our current treatments are more about mitigating pain rather than curing it altogether. One early test that is presumably effective is to ask yourself, "Have I suddenly gotten amazing at limbo?"
Imagine if your body became allergic to pain. Every time you stub your (un-amputated) toe or sprain your ankle, your body has the mother of all overreactions and sends you into a whole new dimension of hurt. You experience severe burning pain that starts in one tiny place but then quickly spreads to your entire limb before making it swell and resemble a goth rainbow of purples, grays, and reds.
That's how it feels to live with complex regional pain syndrome.
Now, to be fair, most people develop CRPS after serious stuff like surgeries or strokes, and the syndrome is usually caused by your malfunctioning nervous system. But sometimes it isn't, and sometimes it makes you want to die after slapping your hand a bit too hard on the wall while trying to kill a mosquito. What's arguably worse is that it doesn't even always take a bump to set the disease off. Sometimes CRPS can develop as a result of simply being too stressed out -- just worrying that you might get a CRPS attack is enough to trigger one, thus potentially sending you into a never-ending loop of torture and pain.
The syndrome affects men and women of all ages and can even spread from one limb to another, making CRPS the closest thing to a malignant spider curse that actually exists. Now, there is a treatment that can mitigate the pain somewhat and help keep your limbs from completely dying, but as is so often the case with humanity's most awful diseases, there is no cure, because life is cruel and full of meaningless pain and suffering. So, you know, spend that extra dollar to get the large milkshake every now and then (assuming your arm isn't hurting too badly to grip it).
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For more ways we underestimate our fragile meatbags, check out 6 Ways Your Body Loves To Screw You (Explained By Science) and 7 Creepy Physical Changes Your Mind Can Make In Your Body.
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