Wednesday, April 9, 2014
H is for . . .
Image courtesy: Frank Balsinger
Hysteria, as in mass hysteria. You're probably aware of the Salem witch trials in the 1600s, but did you know about the Dancing Plague of 1518? One woman in Strasburg France started dancing wildly in the streets. Others joined and boogied until they dropped dead of heart attacks, strokes, or pure exhaustion. Can I use this as an excuse not to dance at the next wedding reception?
If you google "incidents of mass hysteria", you will find plenty of modern-day examples. The 2012 Leroy, N.Y. case hit close to home. In this small town, about 30 miles south of where I live, several teenage girls experienced unexplained twitching and weakness of limbs to the point that they could no longer attend school. Their high school was investigated for environmental causes, and even Erin Brokovitch sent a team to see if a 1970 train derailment, which dumped a nasty chemical called TCE, could be the explanation.
Nothing came of these investigations and many of the afflicted girls were diagnosed with conversion disorder, the updated name for mass hysteria. Case closed? Not necessarily. Unsatisfied with the notion that it was "all in their head's", several of the girls continued to search for a physical cause and were later diagnosed with P.A.N.D.A.S., a rare complication from strep that can cause tics, among other things. Still, other experts claimed this alternative diagnosis didn't really fit.
According to Wikipedia, one girl was diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome and the rest finally responded to psychological treatment after they stopped participating in the media feeding frenzy.
This subject would make a fantastic plot device. Outside of The Crucible, can you think of other novels that feature mass hysteria?