Thursday, April 7, 2011


I suppose yesterday's post left some readers scratching their heads. Is Post-Mature Birth Syndrome a real phenomenon, journalistic hyperbole, or an outright hoax?

I'm not going to answer, but I do wish we'd ask ourselves that question every time we hear about the latest medical "breakthrough." So here's another one, from the Journal of Medical Breakthroughs


Nancy Simpson considered herself a reasonably happy, average, normal woman. She’d raised two children while her husband, Ted, pursued his career selling insurance. The kids went away to college, she and Ted began to make each other’s acquaintance anew, and still...something wasn’t right.

“I should have felt terrific,” she complains. “Accomplished. Complete. But I was miserable. I felt drained and exhausted, as though something had sucked my energy away.”

She visited doctor after doctor. One told her that her thyroid was deficient, but the replacement he prescribed made her insomnic and jittery. Another doctor gave her antidepressants, which only sagged her out more. Working her way through the medical system, she was told she was prematurely menopausal, manic-depressive, malingering, fibromyalgic, and allergic, depending on whom you believe, to alcohol, carpeting, yeast organisms, her own blood sugar, and irony.

“I thought I’d live out my life reading National Geographics in doctors’ waiting rooms,” she sighs, “but finally I found Dr. Beane, who diagnosed PNS.”

Dr. T. Richards Beane and PNS, or Pathological Niceness Syndrome, are almost synonymous in medical circles. A trim, sober-looking man in his middle years, Dr. Beane describes the syndrome as a persistent need to behave more nicely than conditions warrant.

“Almost all PNS patients,” he explains, “are women. We aren’t sure about its source. But suffice it to say that compulsive niceness marinating over many years can brew up a volcano of anger. These patients are rich in bile and heavy in spleen.” 
Dr. Beane favors behavior-modification therapy. At his clinic, the Institute for the Study of Niceness in Boise, Idaho, highly trained technicians coax the afflicted away from their ingrained pleasantness.                   
On a Thursday afternoon, one of Dr. Beane’s technicians, Jean Armentraut, mentions to her group of three PNS patients, “Oh, I’m terribly thirsty. A little iced tea would be so nice.”
The two newest patients, Marie and Wanda, leap from their seats. “Let me do it,” pleads Marie. “Wanda did it last time.”                                                              
“Oh, no!” answers Wanda. “I was just about to go to the kitchen anyway!”  
Ms. Armentraut turns calmly to Mildred, the veteran patient, who has remained silent, and comments, “Mildred hasn’t had a chance to contribute. Mildred, why don’t you get the tea?”                               

Mildred bares her canines. “Jean, why don't you take a flying…” 
Technician Armentraut turns proudly to the interviewer. “As you can see,” she beams, “Mildred’s making marvelous strides.”                                                                              
PNS treatment becomes more intense, building upon each small success. Later, male technicians with five o’clock shadows and filthy T-shirts will scream at patients orders to mend socks, chicken-fry steaks, and fetch cold brewskis.
Like Nancy Simpson, millions of women may actually not be allergic to their wallpaper or their conjugal sheets, but instead suffer this most insidious of diseases. The last word for the moment is from Dr. Beane, who advises, “One thing is for sure: we need more research.”

1 comment:

  1. I guess people are too pathologically nice to leave a comment! A wicked tongue in wicked times would seem like such a tonic, but we many of us suffer the spectre of unemployment hanging over our necks...thank goodness for the sharp truths of retired folks or the professionally independent (like you) to counter the truthiness of all our world's paid speech and agendas....

    But this piece is really quite funny!