Monday, March 26, 2012

The HKPP Hall of Fame

We posted last week about hypokalemic periodic paralysis (HKPP), a disorder that causes weakness and sometimes even temporary paralysis, due to a drop in blood potassium levels.  As it happens, one of our favorite BBC radio programs, In Our Time, discussed the 18th century philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn last week as well.  He is considered to have been one of the foremost architects of the Jewish Enlightenment, who helped to bring Judaism into mainstream European culture. He was a strong proponent of religious tolerance.

Because neither of us knew much about Mendelssohn (grandfather of the composer, Felix Mendelssohn), Ken googled him. Among other facts about his life, the Wikipedia article about him had an arresting paragraph about an affliction he was known to suffer from.
In March 1771 Mendelssohn's health deteriorated so badly that Marcus Elieser Bloch, his doctor, decided his patient had to give up philosophy, at least temporarily. After a short and restless sleep one evening, Mendelssohn found himself incapable of moving and had the feeling of something lashing his neck with fiery rods, his heart was palpitating and he was in an extreme anxiety, yet fully conscious. This spell was then broken suddenly by some external stimulation. Attacks of this kind recurred. The cause of his disease was ascribed to the mental stress due to his theological controversy with Lavater. However, this sort of attack, in milder form, had presumably occurred many years earlier.  
Could this be another addition to the HKPP Hall of Fame (we've previously written about Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the possibility that she had this disorder)?  We're on the trail.


Kelli said...

I am very interested in learning what you find out about this. Thanks!

Kelli (HypoKPP patient)

Anne Buchanan said...

Well, unfortunately we hit a brick wall on this one. The only source we could find was in Hebrew, and we don't read Hebrew. Now that you've reminded me, however, I'll think about it some more.

You note that you have HypoKPP, Kelli. I guess the only good thing I can say about that is that this is a better time in history to have this rare and difficult disorder than Mendelssohn's day, or Elizabeth Barrett Browning's. At least there's that.