The Adventure of the Dying Detective

The Adventure of the Dying Detective The Adventure of the Dying Detective

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 Adventure of the Dying Detective Observations

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.

The Adventure of the Dying Detective Themes

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.


#50 Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today by David Clark


This was fascinating book; no really it was, about germs and how they have affected our history. It’s part history, it’s part science, and it’s just plain interesting.

Clark makes a point in emphasizing the “good” results of epidemics. No, I don’t think he’s a eugenicist; at least he doesn’t really exude the attitude of being one anyways. By “good” results of epidemics he mainly means the higher collective resistance that results from the epidemic. He also gives a couple of other interesting examples relating to religion and government.

This book was not hard to read. At first I thought, “A non-fiction book, it’s going to be dry, it’s going to be boring, it’s going to take me forever to read,” but it didn’t. Clark writes in such a way that he makes his musings sound interesting. They are in fact actually interesting; he’s not pulling your leg.

The most interesting point, I thought anyways, that Clark makes is about collective resistance developed after an epidemic. The reasoning follows these lines. A major epidemic occurs. It wipes out everyone that is not resistant to the disease. It does not matter how severe the disease is and what it is, there are always going to be people that are immune to it. The amount of people wiped out may be 90%, but the people who remain are all immune. Those people then have kids. The disease can come back, but it has to battle against these peoples immune systems. Maybe some people get mildly sick, maybe there are some people who weren’t immune, but were just missed the first time the disease came around, but this time the death rate is only about 40%. The disease can keep coming back and come back again, but the more it comes back the less damage it’s going to do. This is true of many diseases, but not true of all diseases.

There are in fact some diseases that get worse if they don’t succeed the first time. Clark argues that this depends on how the disease transfers itself. If the disease has a hard time hitching rides then it’s going to be worse or Clark argues that it will tone itself down in order to hitch rides on animals.

Clark cites disease epidemics as contributing to major points in our history. He pretty much states that they have 100% responsibility for things like the fall of Rome, Europe’s conquest of the Americas, and Europe’s failure to completely colonize Africa. While I don’t think disease is a 100% factor in these things I definitely think it played a part in what happened.

One of the interesting things he points out that a loss of life by an epidemic looses the power of the local government whether it be serfdom, the church, or a monarchy. I see his reasoning in this. If there are less people to rule, then the ruling power is not going to be stable. He explains this more when he talks about Rome. At several points the Roman Empire was subject to some terrible plagues. Because there were less people to tax and less people to work, this contributed to the fall of Rome. I think that is quite an interesting take on the situation. I generally have contributed the fall of the Roman Empire solely to economic woes.

One of the diseases he explains in detail is typhus. Typhus is scary and we are literally one bath away from an epidemic of it. Typhus is carried by lice, fleas, and ticks; you know the things that like to suck your blood. At times in history typhus has been very rampant and that was because people had lice and didn’t take that many baths. Having been unfortunate enough to have been invaded by lice a couple times in my younger years, this is downright creepy.

He also explains HIV and AIDS in great detail. I now have a greater understanding of how HID and AIDS work. He also explains that homosexuals are considered the bearers of HIV because HIV passes through the intestinal blood-barrier much easier than it can pass through the vaginal blood-barrier. I never knew this. It’s not that heterosexual people are any less exposed to AIDS, it’s just that it’s a little harder to contract AIDS during heterosexual intercourse.

He also talks about germ warfare briefly. He details previous attempts at germ warfare including the small pox infested blankets of the early colonization of America. Evidently bubonic plague was actually the disease to spread around for germ warfare. Apparently it was used in WWI and WWII in various countries, but the source could never be proved. Meaning it couldn’t be determined at the time whether it was a random outbreak or germ warfare.

The talk of germ warfare got me thinking about other books I have read about biological warfare. If you look back through the posts I read The Scarlett Plague by Jack London, I now hate Jack London more than I hated him before, but his story makes me think. His plague sounds an awful lot like the sweating sickness that used to circulate around Europe, but is now considered extinct. Although, in his book the exact cause of the disease couldn’t be traced to anywhere. If global germ warfare actually happened that is probably how it would work.

It also made me think of I am Legend, no, not the movie, the book. The book and the movie are quite different and very little of the actual story line remained intact when the movie was made. In the book, a disease spread rampantly across the world. No one knew where it came from, but everyone supposed that it was germ warfare. The book was actually placed in the Cold War as an alternate reality. So germ warfare was something people were thinking about then.

Clark goes on to talk about diseases that could be good for germ warfare. Yes, he goes into detail about why Anthrax and small pox would be simply awesome to wage biological warfare with. I don’t share his enthusiasm. Anthrax is a scary thing. It’s a cattle disease, which can jump to humans, but it’s tough stuff. It can handle almost anything. It’s hard to kill. It can stay alive in your dirt for years. Basically if you have a cow that dies of anthrax and you bury it and sixty years later you want to plant a flower bed there, you’re running the risk of contracting anthrax. He even talks about an island off the coast of England somewhere that was used as an anthrax testing ground. The island has been burned and disinfected, but it is still uninhabitable because anthrax still remains in the soil. Scary stuff!

I have always known the dangers of small pox, but apparently small pox has become less severe since it first made its appearance hundreds of years ago. I remember, years ago, watching a documentary about small pox or germ warfare, I am not sure which. In the documentary a facility in Russia called Vector, not sure if this is the correct spelling, is featured. Vector is like the CDC in Atlanta for the states. Vector has at least twenty thousand tons of manufactures small pox just sitting there. This was all of course manufactures during the Cold War. I remember seeing footage of the facility and seeing rats run along the corridors. It’s enough to make you want to go and hide in a cave.

Speaking of hiding, one of the interesting statistics is that if you live in the country you are less likely to die of an epidemic. Valuable information isn’t it? Epidemics like cities. They like to rage through cities because there are more people to infect. There are more rats. There are more dirty sources of water. More people live closer together. Clark actually cites that the life expectancy of New York State has increased while the life expectancy of New York City has decreased. Basically, if you live out in the country away from the city, you are going to be less prone to all manner of diseases.

He also spends an entire chapter on religion and how he thinks disease has affected religion. I don’t agree with him on this. I see his point, but I don’t agree with him. I see logic in some areas, but in others I just see a desire to discredit organized religion. He does make some interesting points about ancient practices concerning sickness.

In the end he writes about the future of disease. One of the things he cites is a resistance to antibiotics which could cause some bad things to happen if a bacterial disease broke out. We do use too much antibiotics. Two-thirds of antibiotics are used in our food. Gross! When you eat chicken, you’re eating antibiotics, yum! I remember watching a documentary it was called either Food Inc., The World According to Monsanto, or The Future of Food. I don’t remember which one it was specifically, but I recommend all of them, but at one point a small chicken farmer is interviewed. She had a contract with a national chicken company and they demanded chickens be treated in a certain way and be fed antibiotics. This woman is now immune to almost every single antibiotic there is. She’s not eating chicken feed, she’s not licking the chickens, and she has developed this immunity simply from working with the chickens. If she ever develops a severe bacterial infection, there is probably nothing that is going to help her.

So, words to the wise- don’t get antibiotics for every little thing. Try natural remedies first. Definitely don’t get antibiotics if you have a virus.

One of the interesting points Clark makes is that Ebola really isn’t as bad as I have always thought it was. There has always been this fear in the back of my head that some awful Ebola outbreak is going to happen like in that movie, which I think is called Outbreak. That is always a scary thought, but apparently Ebola is kind of hard to get and doesn’t transfer from person to person very well. That is the reason we haven’t heard about larger outbreaks of it than we have so far. Instead of the near 100% fatality rate I thought it had, its fatality rate is actually 80% and there is more than one strain of it. There is a mild strain that is around that really doesn’t do anything apparently.

He also mentions the recent swine flu, which is a load of crap by the way. Seriously, it was all hyped up and what did it do? Nothing. The people that got sick from it didn’t really get that sick. The people that died already had compromised immune systems. It didn’t transfer from person to person like the media said it would. The vaccine was pushed and to what effect? Yeah, big nothing. Maybe this is that toning down of diseases he was talking about. If you know anything about the Spanish influenza of 1918-1919, it was supposed to have come from pigs. It was very very deadly. If you have seen Twilight or read the book you know that Edward is dying of Spanish influenza before Carlisle turns him into a vampire, off topic I know, but there is a cultural reference for you. Fast-forward, here we are today with a swine flu that is like one ant trying to move the large pyramid at Giza. So I can see this principle in action that Clark talks about in relation to diseases getting milder.

Clark goes on to explain that we don’t really have any new diseases. Most diseases are just mutations of existing diseases or diseases that have lain dormant for a while and suddenly popped up somewhere. The exception he says is a mad cow disease which is a prion disease. So, if you feed a cow another cow, then you eat that cow and you get mad cow disease, don’t you think that we shouldn’t be feeding other cows to cows? That sounds logical to me. Why would you make an herbivore be cannibalistic? An interesting thing, there is actually a human version of mad cow, that was found in cannibals on some island. So basically if you eat something of your own species, you run the risk of developing a weird disease. Don’t be a cannibal save yourself the medical expense.

I think this is a through summary. If you have the chance to read this, you should. Very, very interesting stuff.

What I liked: I have gone on and on about the book, so obviously I liked it. I liked how he combined history with the evolution of diseases. It’s always neat to learn about different angles to historical events. His chapters were broken down in a logical manner.

What I didn’t like: I didn’t like his stance on disease and religion. In Clark’s religion and disease chapter he basically says that religion is a product of disease. He says that religion changes simply because of disease. He says religion is formed by how religious authorities keep people from getting diseases. He says that Venereal diseases brought about monotheism, which quite frankly I find absurd. I wish I could remember this other quote I heard about sex that was equally absurd. The book is great besides his chapter on religion.

People are not shaped simply by disease. The author is trying to claim that disease is the main shaper of society and people. People have other motivations than disease. Views may change over time, for example, people don’t generally believe that sickness is the wrath of God anymore, but people still hold to their beliefs. Not all people, there are those driven by every fad, but religion, specifically monotheistic religions would not have lasted this long if people didn’t believe in them for their own reasons, rather than being worked upon by disease.

I liked the book, but this is a case of “a person thinks one thing solves everything and contributes to everything.” I have encountered many views like this. There are those that think finance is the thing, there are those that think fame is the thing, there are those that think beauty is the thing, there are those that think sex is the thing, there are those that think education is the thing, and etc.. I am not a fan of these skewed logics. Multiple things are what make the world work. Not just one thing makes the world go round. It takes many contributing forces to make our society the way it is. This idea of “one thing drives everything” is, in my opinion, a very close-minded view to have. When people take this approach it is very pompous. It doesn’t mean they don’t have good information, it just means they don’t have the whole puzzle put together; they just have one of the corner pieces. Their view may be important, but it’s only a small part.

Overall, an interesting read with very informative information, even if it has some skewed perspectives.