Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hungry like the Wolf

A family member has very recently been diagnosed with lupus, and amid all the questions, uncertainty, worry, and discombobulation, part of my brain has been mulling over the fascinating matter of the disease's name.

Lupus is Latin for "wolf," casting a dangerously exotic aura over its victims. Wolves have been maligned and feared throughout human history, but also revered as symbols of freedom, strength and courage. As entrancingly complicated icons, wolves are an intriguing namesake for this disease. I was hoping to discover some arcane and super-cool explanation for this (lupus sufferers get hairy during the full moon?), but the reality is pretty mundane. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, a 13th century physician named Rogerius thought that the skin lesions of some lupus patients looked like wolf bites.

Skin rashes aside, the word "lupus" conjures up all those hungry wolves in folklore and children's stories. There's that lurking wolf who menaces Little Red Riding Hood and her granny, the wolf with impressive lung power who manages to blow down two houses before meeting his match in the third little pig, the wolf who dabbles his paws in flour to impersonate a nanny goat in order to eat her kids, the Gunniwolf who is so lulled by a little girl's song that he can't stay awake long enough to eat her, and many, many more.

Hungry like the wolf
, indeed!

Curiously, these wolves are all solitary. We talk about "lone wolves" but aren't they pack animals? Isn't that why wolves are so terrifying to humans - they work together to bring down their prey?

Of course, wolves aren't necessarily solitary by choice, and certainly werewolves are often forced into secretive and lonely lifestyles by their inconvenient syndrome. Professor Remus Lupin of Hogwarts comes immediately to mind. Luckily, Jacob Black of the Twilight series demonstrates that werewolves can be happily social in packs of their own kind.

Folks with lupus don't have to go it alone, either - there are plenty of support groups. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, about 1.5 million Americans have some form of lupus - which I can well believe, as just about everyone to whom I've mentioned lupus knows someone with the disease. Even my dentist has lupus, as it turns out.

It's a tricky and complicated disease, as are most autoimmune disorders. Still, I prefer the name "lupus" to that of another autoimmune disease - Crohn's disease. I know how it's spelled and what it is - but still, every time I hear that name spoken aloud, I think of the old and wicked witches in fairy tales, the ones whose warted noses and whiskery chins almost touch each other. Both diseases are nasty - but let's face it, lupus has the cooler name.

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