John Friedlich

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The Unofficial History of CFIDS

Many years ago, back when Robin Hood was still stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, there was a major uprising by peasants who had the Grunt Disease (known today as chronic fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis). They were upset about how long they had to sit in waiting rooms before seeing their doctors. To appease these over-informed noncompliant patients who knew more about treating their illness than the doctors, socialized medicine was established.

When patients got to the hospital, they scratched their name on a piece of bark and placed it in a big pot. If they couldn't remember their name they could draw a picture of themselves instead. Gradually, the waiting rooms filled up with PWGDs (patients with the Grunt Disease) and the pot filled up with bark name cards. While this process progressed, the doctors were usually still making castle calls to put leeches on wealthy princes and princesses. The practice of leeching is thought to be where the expression 'these medical expenses are bleeding me dry' comes from.

Once there were enough names in the pot, they were all mixed up and each patient took one. The PWGDs would then pair off with the person who’s bark they had and discuss such varied subjects as tender spots, coping methods, herbal treatments (since that was the only medicine they had in those days), advocacy efforts, etc. Out of this custom came the origins of the first patient support group. Anyway, occasionally the conversations would turn to unrelated subjects, friendships were developed, and people were even known to on occasion, start cohabitating with each other. This practice had better curative powers than the treatments used in those days, such as leeching, sucking on rocks, or sniffing dead toads - hence the expression socialized medicine.

As time passed the nobility of England grew concerned about the number of people who were unable to pay taxes because they claimed to be too fatigued to work . Many PWGDs had previously been wealthy land owners who had fled to Sherwood Forest to wallow in a society of defiant anarchists. It was said that they were inflicted with Royal Free Disease (RFD), a syndrome most notably for inability to work, mood swings, and thrush. These people were then known as PWRFDs. Life was very difficult for these poor people and they were forced to live off the land, gathering food where they could find it. When meat was not available, they were forced to eat plant life skimmed off the tops of ponds. When one patient, obviously experiencing extreme pain, was asked by her physician what she thought might by causing the symptoms she replied, "my algaes?" From that day on, muscle pain was associated with RFD.

The men did not frequent the clinics very often; for they were too busy doing manly things like poking little animals with big sticks. Men were men and they would not let a little fatigue get in the way of their jumping out of trees on unsuspecting travelers and other heroic deeds. Therefore, clinical observations lead physicians of the time to believe that females contracted RFD.

Times have changed and PWGDs have come a long way since then, but unfortunately some things have stayed the same. We now call the grunt disease myalgic encephalomyelitis or Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome. Life was easier before because patients didn’t have to remember such long names. Diagnosis was easier too because all doctors had to do was push on a few tender points and if the patient grunted the diagnosis was confirmed. Doctors are still unsuccessfully searching for effective treatments. It is rumored that some doctors are still using dead toads. PWCs are no longer put in the tower of London or tied on stakes at low tide, but they are told to go see mind healers in lieu of getting good medical care.

© Friedlich, 1994
from The Chronicles of CFIDS: One Patient's Forum

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