I can’t go to school today. I’m sick. *cough* Yeah, how many times have we all heard that before?
Mrs. Hudson shows up at Watson’s house, remember he’s not at Baker Street all the time; he did get married for a while. Mrs. Hudson says that Sherlock is very sick. He hasn’t eaten anything. He hasn’t drank anything. He won’t let her call a doctor. She finally told him she was going to call a doctor whether he liked it or not and he said, fine, but it had to be Watson.
Watson hurries to Baker Street where he finds Sherlock looking just terrible. He tells him to turn the gas up only a little. He tells Watson he has caught some eastern disease from the dock workers and it’s very serious. Watson looks around the room and sees a box.
Sherlock yells at him and tells him to put it down.
“Put it down! Down, this instant, Watson–this instant, I say! I hate to have my things touched, Watson. You now that I hate it. You fidget me beyond endurance. You, a doctor–you are enough to drive a patient into asylum. Sit down, man, and let me have my rest!”
If Sherlock Holmes isn’t Shelden Cooper’s great-great grandfather I don’t know who is.
Sherlock tells John that there is only one man who can cure him and he’s not a doctor. He gives him the name though, after babbling off some crap about money. John thinks he’s delirious. The man’s name is Culverton Smith. He’s not a doctor, but he has researched the disease of which Sherlock Holmes is suffering. He tells John not to ride back with Smith, but get back before he returns.
John goes to get Smith and Smith agrees to come. John does not ride back with him. John gets back to Sherlock’s room and Sherlock tells him he can’t be visible and tells him to hide behind the bed, but not before asking John to put the strange little box and some papers beside his bed.
Smith appears. He says Sherlock looks terrible and that the other guy died within four days. It’s been three days for Sherlock. Sherlock told Smith he had picked up his box and it had pricked his finger. Apparently, Smith has been giving people this disease on purpose. Sherlock tells Smith that if he cures him he’ll forget about the death of the other guy. The other dead guy happens to be Smith’s nephew. Smith picks up the little box and puts it in his pocket to remove all evidence. After Smith admits as much as to killing his nephew, Sherlock asks him to turn up the gas and also to give him a cigarette.
Suddenly, other people rush into the room. It’s the inspector and he’s here to arrest Smith. Sherlock isn’t really sick at all, but faked the entire thing. He didn’t eat or drink for three days. He put makeup on and made his eyes red. He acted sick and delirious.
The disease Sherlock names as Tapanuli fever is a real thing, but it’s not called Tapanuli fever, maybe it was called that at one point. Epidemiologists have studied the symptoms presented in this story and compared it to modern-day knowledge of the disease. Tapanuli fever is most likely Melioidosis, which is a disease found primarily in Asiatic regions, most specifically Thailand, but it’s basically been found all over the lower part of Asia, the Pacific Islands including Australia, and parts of Africa. This disease isn’t a virus it’s a bacteria.
The disease, once contracted, can present all the symptoms Sherlock says he has, but it can also do some pretty nasty things to a person’s liver. Arthur wouldn’t have known about these things because they involve x-rays and cat scans in order to be detected.
Arthur had probably heard about this disease because he was something of a doctor. I’ve read that he wasn’t the greatest doctor, but he was still a doctor.
What Arthur got wrong was the viability of this disease being used for biological warfare, well he also got in right in some senses. This bacteria could very well be used for biological warfare. It’s uncommon enough that people wouldn’t readily be diagnosed with it. It’s easy to collect. It’s easy to carry around and possibly put in the way for people to get. It’s also deadly. With proper medical treatment, some very, very strong antibiotics, this disease has as an ok survival rate. Without proper medical treatment, you’re looking at about a 90% mortality rate. There are a couple of different versions of the disease, one is a whole body thing, while one isn’t quite so bad. The current medical treatment for the disease wasn’t created until 1989. So until 1989 you could get Melioidosis, be treated with some awfully strong drugs and still die. The pre-1989 treatment of the disease had an 80% mortality rate. We have a better mortality rate with Ebola right now.
Now, here’s the downside to this disease being used as biological warfare–it has a rather tricky incubation period. Typically, someone develops symptoms of this disease about nine days after coming in contact with the bacteria, mainly through soil contact. That’s only typically. The incubation period can be from 1-21 days, but, there have been cases of this disease becoming symptomatic years after a person has come into contact with the bacteria. For example, there are Vietnam vets who have gone home and all of a sudden developed Melioidosis years and years after being in Vietnam.
Add to this the fact that this disease isn’t contagious and it doesn’t seem like the greatest choice for your biological warfare needs. If your friend has Melioidosis, you’re not going to catch it, I mean maybe if you eat part of their face off you might, but you’re not going to catch Melioidosis by simply sitting near a person.
Arthur had probably studied history. People have used biological warfare for a long time. They sent each other diseased cows. They put sick people near their castles. They gave blankets with smallpox to people. Biological warfare is a thing and it’s been a thing for a long time, some methods are more successful than others. Arthur knew this, but maybe he could have picked a better disease. I mean, if I were going to go around killing people with a disease, I would pick a disease that had a high mortality rate and had a high infection rate and a short incubation period. You can’t be waiting around twenty years for someone to die of your disease. The thing you wanted to kill them for probably isn’t even relevant by that point.
It’s difficult to pull one over on Sherlock Holmes. He knew what disease this guy was trying to infect him with and pretended to have that disease. Sometimes it’s best to let your enemy think they have won. They get smug. They think they have you in your place, but, bam– it turns out you have the upper-hand.
When someone thinks their life is going good, they’re less careful. It’s a rule of life. You’re less likely to lock your doors when you haven’t been robbed in a while. You’re less likely to use a condom when you haven’t caught any STDs. You’re less likely to wash your hands all the time when you think you’re healthy. We get careless when we think we’re doing well.
Smith thought he had won. Sherlock let him think that. He played the part wonderfully. He knew that if he thought he had won he would be more likely to make a slip, such as admitting to infecting the other guy. He did make a slip. He thought Sherlock was going to die and take his secret with him to grave, but he thought wrong. He let his guard down and Sherlock and the police snapped him up like a little fishy.
We play some dangerous games with one another, but one of the best ways to get at a person’s secrets is to make them think they’re in control. As long as they think they’re moving the pieces on the board, you’re going to find out things you never thought you would know.
Sherlock clearly takes faking sick to a whole new level.