“Looking it up” to save your life

I often have to cajole my students into looking things up in the dictionary, the encyclopedia, or online. They don’t seem to have the inquisitive nature they’d need to direct their own learning. But Neil Peart does, and that impulse probably saved his life in an experience kind of analogous to my own experience discovering quotidian in English. He writes (in Traveling Music p. 335-337):

I paused when I encountered the quote from Schopenhauer I had recorded in the Gambia, “Every great pain, whether physical or spiritual, declares what we deserve; for it could not come to us if we did not deserve it.” … Wanting to know more about a so-called philosopher who could write such an evil thought, … I pulled out the appropriate volume [of the encyclopedia], and as I paged through looking for Schopenhauer, I came across an entry for “schistosomiasis,” and I though, “Hmm, I’ve heard of that.”

Peart had recently returned from a bicycle tour of the Gambia and was experiencing strange symptoms of an undiagnosed illness. He continues:

I read the description of the disease and its symptoms: “skin rashes, asthmatic episodes, malaise, urinary infection,” and suddenly the thunder rolled, the lightning flashed, and the penny dropped: … “I have this!”

He had been to a doctor, a specialist in Tropical and Infectious Diseases, but the doctor had given no diagnosis after several tests. After reading about schistosomiasis, he called the doctor, demanded to be tested for the disease (“the second-most prevalent tropical disease after malaria” according to the World Health Organization), was properly diagnosed, took eight large capsules of some sort of poison that kills the parasites, suffered while the poison did its work, then returned to the doctor’s office to be pronounced cured.

When I remarked what a strange ordeal it all had been, [the doctor] looked at me with his usual self-satisfied expression and said something that I could hardly believe: “Well, at least we were able to catch it.”

I just looked at him for a beat, then said, “We? We didn’t ‘catch’ anything! Remember, you told me I would either get better or die, then sent me home. It was pure luck that, four months later, I happened to look up Schopenhauer in the encyclopedia!”

And that was that. I respect the fact that Peart didn’t just keep his quibble to himself. The moral?

I had learned that even a bad philosopher could save your life.

PatrickConnections/Words10/03/04 1 comments


Dad • 10/04/04 7:26 PM:

The story would have been better if Neil had thought of what he should have told the doctor after leaving the office, thus experiencing a trepfverten.

Also, I’ve heard of Schopenhauer, so how bad a philosopher could he have been?

Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

Please capitalize your name properly and use the same information each time you comment. We will not send you spam, and your email address will not be posted.

Remember me?


Related Entries
  1. Peart on Travel Writing
    Neil Peart wears baggy pants when traveling and writing.
  1. Trepfverten / Trepverter
    What do you call the perfect comeback that you think of too late?
  1. Adventures of Power
    Neil Peart makes his big-screen debut (as a live actor, not a cartoon) in this air-drumming movie.
  1. Adult Swim Low Bandwidth Site
    How to do a low-bandwith version of your website.
  1. This, too, is life
    “The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another…”