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Toxoplasmosis and Me


I have just put together an odd coincidence that I am beginning to think is not a coincidence.

I was first heavily exposed to cats when I was a junior in college.  I started working in a neurophysiology laboratory that used cats as subjects for their experiments.  The cats were kept in cages and freely defecated through the wires into the pans below that were changed daily.

The likelihood that at least some of these cats carried Toxoplasmosis was, I think, very high.

One of the cats was young and playful, and I would take it out of its cage and carry it around on my shoulder.  After showing the cat to a girl I was dating, I took the cat home for a pet.   It defecated everywhere in my room and on my bed, and after one night I took it back to the lab.

I carried the cat on my shoulder, partly in the hood of the orange nylon parka I always wore.  I took the cat on the subway with me back to the laboratory, which was in Boston at Massachusetts General Hospital.  He tried to climb down from my shoulder after a while, but I pushed him back up and managed to get him there in good order.

I returned the cat to the cage with the other cats.  A week later, we needed a cat’s lateral geniculate body for a quantitative measurement of how much serotonin was in it.  I personally sacrificed that cat for this purpose, cutting into his skull after he was anesthetized and digging the lateral geniculate body out of his brain before turning on an overdose of nitrous oxide to kill him.

Around the same time, I had an argument with the girl I was dating.  I had asked her to stay with me in student apartments over the summer where we could live together.   She told me her parents had refused to allow her to do this, and I got mad.  I remember we were walking somewhere in Harvard Square, past the gates into the College, and I was yelling at for for what seemed like a long time.

After that, I didn’t see her for a while.  I changed my summer college course from Chinese (her language) to Russian (nobody I knew spoke Russian.)  I checked in to a room near the College (on the street side of Widener Library.)  The room was designed for three students; it had two bedrooms, one small and one large, and a very large common room with a fireplace.   It was on the top floor of the building, and it got kind of hot there in the afternoons.

I had to open the windows wide when I came in.  I also went out and bought a fan that produced a really strong wind.  It cost me a little more than what my father thought was reasonable– I think it was thirty dollars– but it was an excellent, strong fan that I kept for many years.  I used to sit in front of the fan on hot afternoons when I was in the rooms.

I went to Russian classes all morning, five days a week.  I was a wreck; I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t think.

I went to see my girlfriend at her new apartment, where she had gotten away from the older professor who had been harassing her because she was renting a room in his house.  I talked to her for a while, and told her I had changed my course to Russian from Chinese.  She seemed to be forlorn; she just stood there and looked at me as if she wanted me to hug her.  I didn’t touch her.  After that, I went back to the other girl I had been seeing before.

To make matters worse, the girl I went back to gave me the “crabs.”  I had to go to a pharmacy in Boston and get this stuff called A-200 Pyrinate, which was partly kerosone, and apply it to my groin, all the hairy areas, every day for three or four days.  I picked the little bastards off when I saw them, swimming and  dying in the kerosene, which was milky with this insecticide.  One morning I got about eight of them.

Then they came back because I hadn’t changed my bed or maybe one of them had survived the laundering in hot water of all my clothes.  I had to go through the same routine again.


What was more important was that I went back to the Counselling Center at the College Infirmary, and they sent me to a private psychologist.  The day she saw me, I hadn’t slept all night and I must have looked like hell, because she sent me over to the infirmary to be admitted for a few days.  I stayed there a week, but continued my Russian classes, missing only the one day that I went to the psychologist.

I finished the Russian classes at the end of the summer and received an A- grade for my work.  I never used Russian again for anything.

In the meantime, I had broken up with the Chinese girlfriend who had been my constant companion for four months and a dear lover.  This was wrong, and I have never gotten over the loss of this one girlfriend.  That is an abnormal thing to say about myself: it is not right.

I have had many girlfriends since her, and I have been married twice, but now that I am old and retired, I think about that one girlfriend and wish I could go back to her.  That doesn’t really make any sense.  It is a very romantic notion.

What makes it spooky is that I have recently discovered this information about the effect that Toxoplasma gondii has on the human brain.  It affects thinking, and in some cases may precipitate suicides or schizophrenic behavior.  Was what happened to me that summer partly a result of a T. gondii infection that I got from one of the lab cats?


One Comment leave one →
  1. Theodore Seitz permalink
    2014-12-16 05:29

    This is more purely personal information from you to me than I have received since you left home for college. Thank you. You may be getting comfortable with your life. love, Dad


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