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13: Edgar Allen Poe

As part of my foray into famous historical figures with Epilepsy, I have landed on famous poet Edgar Allen Poe. While not nearly as influential as last weeks choice of Julius Caesar, he is nonetheless a household name and made a significant contribution to contemporary literary art.

Poe suffered from more than just one disorder. He also lived with alcoholism, acute paranoia, periods of loss of consciousness, and confusion. These last three can be attributed to the aforementioned alcoholism, but the combination of the three isn't always a guarantee. Not to mention, the three are extremely common in epilepsy. This, however, is a weak correlation and not a very strong argument for epilepsy per se.

Although this correlative evidence is only a strong suggestion, there is medical evidence to back up the hypothesis that Poe suffered from epilepsy. He was often known to be in what we now identify as a "postictal state." Where he had a very difficult time reacting to outside stimuli and performing even the most basic actions came at great mental strain.

A nurse identified only by the name "Mrs. Shew" compared Poe to other patients of hers and diagnosed him with lesions of the brain. This claim was backed up at a later date by the prominent doctor Michael Benitez, who was also an expert on the subject.

Brain lesions are a common cause of epileptic conditions and would be a completely logical conclusion by those familiar with their causes and effects. Unfortunately Poe's lesions cannot be officially diagnosed because Poe's death records have been lost to time and we will never know for certainty. But honestly, how many things in this world are known with 100% certainty? I am extremely critical of points I arrive at when it comes to correlation and causation, but with the amount of evidence available, causation is an impossibility. All eyewitness evidence of Poe's epilepsy points towards partial complex seizures. Now known to be exacerbated by alcohol consumption. Therefore, if the scientific principle of Occam's Razor is applied to Poe's epileptic condition, Poe living a seizure condition such as epilepsy is a resounding yes.

This brings us to Poe's end. Multiple paths in epilepsy can lead to sudden or slow death. Therefore, with Poe's likelihood of an epileptic condition, it is a leading theory on what caused his eventual death.

The conclusion of epilepsy implied by Occam's Razor becomes only more sure when it is applied to other theories of Poe's death. These include rabies and poisoning due to heavy metal intake. Many have theorized that his conditions point to rabies, but that theory was been put to rest after discovery of experiments he underwent that did not trigger the hydrophobia that is associated with rabies. (That evidence was discovered after faulty evidence was produced claiming that he did suffer from hydrophobia.) One of the other leading theories is heavy metal poisoning, which does have some strong evidence behind it due to the fact that testing of a sample of Poe's hair was found to include heavy traces of arsenic, lead, mercury, nickel, uranium, and vanadium. These metals have been found to be lethal in large enough amounts and would certainly be a cause for alarm if found in these levels today. However, Poe did not live today. He lived in the time of early industrialization and poor societal waste management. The amount of heavy metals found in Poe's system would be found quite commonly in the United States at that time. This would have lead to massive surges in conditions mimicking Poe's. While it certainly was not a boon to health conditions at the time, it doesn't seem to be a cause of his death.

I certainly encourage others to comment on this and bring up points that I may have missed, or possibly bring up a conversation in the forums located on this site. Thanks for reading!

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