|I know I'm pathetic, but I still find it|
exciting to see my books on the shelves
at my local library.
Hollywood Lied - Chapter 1
by Iris Carden
It began with Mary Elizabeth Marsdensen. That was a name the whole world came to know, but only after she was dead.
She went to the emergency Department at Brisbane General Hospital on a busy Friday night. When the triage nurse, Adrian Hughes, asked what she was there for, Ms Marsdensen simply said: “I’m dead. What’s supposed to happen now? Do I go to the morgue or something?” She coughed, and looked pleadingly at the nurse.
Nurse Hughes took the obvious action. He called for the people in the white coats. Pink scrubs to be more accurate. That was the uniform of the nursing staff in the Mental Health Emergency Clinic at the time.
In MHEC there was some excitement about Ms Marsdensen’s arrival, after all Cotard’s Syndrome is very rare. The psychiatric registrar tried to explain to the new patient that she only believed she was dead. In reality she was quite alive. She very carefully explained that Ms Marsden had a neurological condition, and that she most likely had lesions in her frontal lobe. It could be treated with antidepressants and other mood modulating drugs. If the drugs didn’t work, there was always the option to use electro shock therapy, or to operate on the lesions when they were located. There was no need to worry. A few days in the psych unit, and Ms Marsdensen would be well on the way to recovery.
It was some hours before Ms Marsdensen persuaded a nurse to do what would have been done automatically if she’d been admitted for a physical, rather than mental, illness: to take her pulse and temperature. The nurse complied, thinking it would help prove the truth – that the patient was really and truly alive.
It proved she was not.
Instantly, Mary Elizabeth Marsdensen became a prized scientific specimen, and the world’s most famous woman. She had no pulse, no blood pressure, her temperature varied with the temperature of whatever room she was in.
An EEG, MRI, CT and numerous other members of the medical alphabet confirmed that she had some brain activity, but it was vastly different to normal human brain activity, and that there was, indeed, a lesion, the size of a grape, in her brain. She had no blood circulation, and no other normal bodily functions, except movement, and mysteriously speech even though she wasn’t breathing.
Non-scientists, reading the news the next morning, failed to understand the full import of what was explained, or what it would mean for the future.
Most scientists also missed the importance of the event. Others, like microbiologist Dr Martin Pryce, realised it was of ultimate importance. Dr Pryce contacted the hospital to ask for blood and other samples from Ms Marsdensen, and results of all tests. Then he called his long-time friend and recently-retired colleague Dr Robert Beare to come out of retirement for this major project.
The Pryce-Beare study would be the first of many into the mysterious condition Ms Marsdensen presented at the hospital with that night. It would be a long time before anyone knew just how significant this particular study would be.
At 7am, Nurse Hughes clocked off from his shift. He had a headache. Headache was an understatement. At home he told his wife it felt like fireworks going off in his frontal lobe. And he felt tired, more tired than he ever remembered being. He felt as if every single part of his body was tired. Even his bones felt tired, and he could feel every single tired bone. He had just started to develop an annoying cough.
“Must be the flu that’s going around,” his wife, Marianne, said practically. She kissed him good-bye and left for work at a nearby primary school. By lunchtime, she would start to get a killer headache, too…
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