5 Real People Who Have The World's Worst Superpowers
Occasionally, someone hits the genetic lottery and they become superhumanly good at things like running, memorizing, or not dying from frostbite. However, "extraordinary" doesn't always mean "awesome." Sometimes being genetically special results in a lifetime of bad juju, ranging from the merely annoying to the downright deadly. Forget Jubilee, these people would make the worst real X-Men.
Super Hearing, But Only For Yourself
Stephen Mabbutt is one of very few people to suffer from the hilarious last name "Mabbutt." Oh, and he suffers from superior canal dehiscence syndrome, which might be even worse. This incredible power manifested when Stephen was in his 50s. At first it was nothing but a dull pain in the side of his head, then slowly, his hearing started to fade ... until it came back with a vengeance. We don't mean to imply he could hear quiet sounds over vast distances. That might actually be useful. He could only hear himself -- just super, super loud.
The worst part about this syndrome, aside from everything, is being able to hear "all the interior sounds of the body very loudly," according to expert Dr. Martin Burton. At its worst, Mabbutt could hear the sounds of his own eyeballs moving around in his head, which is something that only happens to the rest of us when we are extremely high.
After depleting a small warehouse's worth of antibiotics and nasal sprays, Mabbutt finally found Dr. Burton, who recognized the affliction and cured his inner microphone with a surgery to seal off the defective bone. Now Stephen lives a boring life like anybody else, and the only time he can hear his spleen screaming is on Arby's Night, as God intended.
The Genetic Disorder That Erases Fingerprints
Adermatoglyphia is a rare condition that causes the ridges on your finger pads to be completely flat and free of identifiable patterns. It's genetic, and researchers have only discovered four families with it worldwide. Fortunately, having fingers as smooth as a Ken doll's party bits is the only downside of the disorder.
Well, that and you're not allowed to enter the United States.
The first known case of adermatoglyphia was a Swiss woman who tried to enter the U.S., but wasn't allowed because she couldn't be fingerprinted. Rather than turn into the supervillain she was clearly meant to be, she alerted medical professionals, who discovered that eight of her other family members were also suffering from the disorder. Because of the nature of its discovery, the application has been nicknamed the "immigration delay disease," and not the far more logical "Slippy McSmoothfingers."
Some People Lose The Need To Sleep
In 2016, French sleep experts stumbled onto something extraordinary: a 27-year-old man who claimed to be suffering from complete insomnia ... for the past nine months. He reported that he not only never slept, but also never felt tired. Nor did he experience the memory loss, mood disturbances, and anxiety that usually accompany sleep deprivation. This clearly wasn't regular insomnia, but a human being who no longer required sleep.
But there was a strange cost to this eternal vigilance. At about the same time each night, the patient would experience a 20-60-minute episode of auditory, visual, olfactory, and tactile hallucinations, along with pain in his fingers and toes. So really, it's less like gaining a power, and more of an exchange: You're trading eight hours of sleep for one hour of a bad acid trip.
The patient was diagnosed with a neurological disorder called Morvan's fibrillary chorea, which is so rare that only 28 cases have ever been documented. Other symptoms include itching, delirium, weakness, diarrhea, cramping, and sweating. Doctors suspect that Morvan syndrome has something to do with the thymus gland, seeing as how about half of its sufferers had a thymus tumor and, more importantly, removing the thymus seems to completely cure them. Which is good, because in the case of the wakeful Frenchman, he died 11 months after developing the illness. Maybe that last little side effect should make the top of the list next time.
The Woman Who Can Smell Parkinson's
When Joy Milne's husband Les was 33 years old, he started to smell. She encouraged him to take more showers, but nothing helped. For the next decade, Milne learned to live with the uncomfortably musky scent. Then tragedy hit when Les was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a degenerative nervous disorder resulting in tremors, rigidity, difficulty walking, and eventually death. His smell didn't seem all that important after that. But one day in 2012, she was suddenly overwhelmed by the smell of her husband again. Only he was home, and she was at a Parkinson's awareness lecture.
It was then that Milne, a retired nurse, figured out that she hadn't been smelling her husband's BO, but instead had a very special and macabre gift: the ability to sniff out Parkinson's in someone's sweat. And what's more, she has a 100 percent accurate track record. When an analytical chemist at Edinburgh University tested her, Milne managed to get 11 out of 12 guesses correct ... until eight months later, when one subject she supposedly identified wrongly got the diagnosis. Pretty terrible way to ace an exam.
Before Milne, doctors didn't know that Parkinson's had a smell, but now it joins the ranks of diabetes (which smells sweet), liver dysfunction (which smells musty), and severe diarrhea (which smells like severe diarrhea). That's actually great news, because right now, the disorder can only be diagnosed after most of the neural damage has already occurred. With Milne's nose to the rescue, treatment could start a lot earlier and do a lot more good. Of course, she can't be in every hospital all the time, so scientists are working to create a definitive lab test based on her uncanny abilities. Yet despite having a nose that could save lives, Milne says that a lot of people specifically ask her not to sniff them.
The Woman Without Fear
A patient known only as "SM" suffers from a rare condition called Urbach-Wiethe, which results in a hardening of the amygdala -- the area in each cerebral hemisphere that governs, amongst other things, the fear response. In other words, Daredevil is (partially) real, and he's a middle-aged mother of three. To her children's burgeoning horror, it became apparent that SM was quite literally fearless. She would encounter a large snake and just ... pick it up. Found a spider? She'd pet it. Get mugged? No, thank you.
Yes, one time a would-be robber put a knife to her throat, and SM stared him down with such utter disdain that the attacker freaked out and let her go. And sure, that's how superheroes are made ... but also orphans.
Urbach-Wiethe superheroes even have their own kryptonite: carbon dioxide. According to researchers, U-W only erases the fear from external threats, all of which are immediately reported to the amygdala. Internal threats, however, like inhaling and choking on carbon dioxide, send warning signals to other parts of the brain, which U-W sufferers do feel. So there you go -- handy knowledge in case you ever need to take down an invincible housewife.
Laura H shoots radiation at people for a living. Follow her on Twitter.
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