Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Walking Dead

A Tale for Hallowe'en ...

A young man sat patiently in a South African clinic awaiting his turn to see a doctor.  His mother had brought him to the clinic after he began to act strangely during a vacation away from their home in Scotland.  The young man was recovering from a motorcycle accident and his mother thought a vacation in a dry climate would do him a world of good.

When his name was called, the young Scotsman wearily rose and shambled slowly into the exam room and stood listlessly, his eyes dull, his hands limp at his sides.  When the Doctor entered and asked the young man what the problem was, he lifted his vacant eyes and without expression met the Doctor's gaze.

"I'm dead." the young man proclaimed with as much sincerity he could muster with his monotone voice, "I died of septicaemia after my accident and now I am in hell." 

"How do you know you're in hell?" asked the puzzled Doctor.

The young man looked out the window at the sunbaked landscape, "The unbearable heat." he said, "And it looks like hell."

"But your mother brought you here today.  Does that mean she is dead and in hell as well?''  the Doctor asked.

"No." said the young man, "I borrowed her spirit to show me around hell.  She is really at home in Scotland, asleep in bed."

The young man believed he had become one of the walking dead.


Yes, and what's more; it is a true story, embellished to be sure, (I'm only guessing at the actual conversation), but true none-the-less.

In January of 1990, that young Scotsman did travel to South Africa with his mother while recovering from a motorcycle accident and had become convinced that he had died and was now in hell.  And he was not the only one to ever have the syndrome.

It's called Cotard's Delusion, Cotard's Syndrome, or sometimes Walking Corpse Syndrome.

In 1880, during a lecture in Paris, a French neurologist named Jules Cotard first described the syndrome, calling it déliire de négation (negation delirium).  It is a rare condition and people who experience it hold the delusional belief that they are indeed dead, do not exist, or are putrefying.

Cotard's Syndrome is thought to result from a disconnection between the fusiform part of  the brain (the region that allows us to recognize faces) and the limbic system (the cluster of brain organs where emotions arise).  If these two regions are disconnected, when the patient looks at themselves in the mirror they do not recognize themselves, nor do they experience any emotions when viewing their own or any other person's face.  With that lack of recognition and emotion, the patient concludes that they are no longer alive.

Treatment for Cotard's Symptom includes medications (antidepressants & antipsychotics) that are sometimes administered along with electroconvulsive therapy.

Developing Cotard's Syndrome would truly be a nightmare, and a real one.

Aaron D. McClelland, RPC -

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