Jodi's Reviews > Invisible Enemies, Revised Edition: Stories of Infectious Disease

Invisible Enemies, Revised Edition by Jeanette Farrell
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's review
Mar 09, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: health-books
Read in June, 2012

My experince as a person with M.E. affected how I thought about the issues in this book and I cannot separate those reactions from my general thoughts about the book for this review.

To see the ways in which other illnesses have been treated and dealt with by government and society and to compare that with the ways Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) has been dealt with was just fascinating.

For example, in 1900 in the US there was an outbreak of plague in a booming seaport town (California) and with plague came the sensible calls for quarantine to stop its spread. But it never happened. Business leaders, aware that huge sums of money were to be lost if they were unable to operate for such a long period of time, either refused to acknowledge the epidemic at all or else they claimed that it was merely a disease confined to the Chinese - as by mere chance the first plague victim happened to be Chinese. The medical authorities accordingly took action against the Chinese and there was no quarantine. Meanwhile all but one of the city's newspapers refused to print news of plague. The governor declared, to protect business interests, that there was no plague. Despite there being very good evidence that indeed, plague was rampant, he then fired all the medical authorities who dared to disagree with his warped views. He even proclaimed that it should be made a felony to report plague in the town.

(This rings so many bells re ME!)

The book also talks about how medicine began to shift from valuing careful observation of patients and their symptoms to doctors not seeing or believing anything that was not written in a book no matter what they saw. "For instance, although, unlike most Greek anatomists, medieval anatomists, medieval physicians dissected dead bodies, and therefore had the opportunity to correct some big mistakes in the Greek books on anatomy, instead they had the Greek books on anatomy read out loud while they dissected, and tried to describe it the way the Greeks believed it to be"

(Again this rings so many bells re ME! This problem has not gone away and may even be becoming much worse as time progresses.)

It also talks about how with a slow moving disease that sometimes improves for periods of time all on its own, how many different `treatments' come to be considered useful for the condition when in reality it is all just coincidence.

(This irritating phenomenon is not just particular to ME!)

Society refusing to accept a new illness is not at all a phenomenon unique to M.E. either, indeed in some ways we have been dealt with far less harshly than some sufferers of previous outbreaks of other illnesses have been.

Tens of thousands of innocent Jewish people have been tortured and burned alive because they were blamed for causing plague (which was really just an excuse to escalate already existing discrimination and persecution) and people with Leprosy (Hanson's disease) have been buried alive - these are just two examples of many. It makes it feel so much less personal somehow to know that FOR CENTURIES awful things have been done to people who were unlucky enough to become ill with the `wrong' illnesses.

This book contains just enough detail to get a basic overview of all seven diseases.

It also has some fascinating myth-busting facts about Leprosy, now known as Hanson's disease. It tells about how 90% of people could not get it if they tried and the other 10% would have to live with someone with the disease for years to even have the chance of getting it!! Leprosy (Hanson's) is one of the very least contagious and least deadly illnesses there is, yet people with leprosy were known as `untouchables' and were often shunned if not actively attacked. Most of this happened merely because there was an error in translation in a religious text, which meant that the word Leprosy and the word sin were confused, and so Leprosy was seen as a sign of sin rather than of disease. People with Leprosy have even buried alive just for having the illness. If only society had learned form this mistake...

The only bad bit in this book is that it doesn't include M.E. as it very much could.

This is a really interesting read to give you perhaps more insight into how diseases have been dealt with by our society - and why we all need to be cautious about what we are told about different diseases today. I recommend it to M.E. patients and also to everyone else as well.


"On most days, we go about our business not thinking about our body, merely using it to get where we want to go. But when we get sick we can think of nothing but our aching head or upset stomach. We feel at the mercy of forces beyond our control. Infectious diseases have another troubling aspect: sometimes the disease comes to us from another person. This can turn the fear of disease into fear of one another. It is in this response to fear that humans have been both incredibly brave and incredibly cruel."

Jodi Bassett, The Hummingbirds' Foundation for M.E.

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