Death by cholera is a horrific way to go

November 17, 2009

Earlier tonight I began reading The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson, which chronicles London's 19th-century cholera epidemic. I was about a fifth of the way through the book when I came across a description of the disease so engrossing, so utterly terrifying that it stopped me cold. I probably read it three or four times before turning the Kindle DX off and doing something, anything else.

One of cholera's distinctive curses is that its sufferers remain mentally alert until the very last stages of the disease, fully conscious both of the pain that the disease has brought them and the sudden, shocking contraction of their life expectancy. The Times had described this horrifying condition several years before in a long feature on the disease: "While the mechanism of life is suddenly arrested, the body emptied by a few rapid gushes of its serum, and reduced to a damp, dead...mass, the mind within remains untouched and clear--shining strangely through the glazed eyes, with light unquenched and vivid--a spirit, looking out in terror from a corpse."

Not sure why I felt compelled to share this here, but, well, there you have it. Don't hate me (and don't let this dissuade you from reading the book, which so far is excellent).

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