Lena B. (#856, 1929)

Lena B. (1879-1929)

Lena began having seizures when she was 16 years old, two years after her first marriage and about a year after the birth of her first child. The seizures continued as Lena went through three marriages, the birth of another daughter, and the births of two sons who died in infancy. She sustained many injuries, including burns, during her grand mal type convulsions, which usually came with no warning.

Lena worked several jobs including as a laborer in a butter-dish factory and peeling potatoes at a hotel restaurant. Her third husband, George, was a farmer in Elwood, Madison County, where Lena had spent most of her life. Lena had no history of drug or tobacco use, deviant behavior, or criminal activity. But shortly after she turned 41 years old, George noticed her becoming increasingly paranoid, believing she was being mistreated and that everyone was against her.

When she was admitted to Central State Hospital in 1922, the hospital staff observed that she seemed polite and “over-scrupulous” in her responses. She was diagnosed with epileptic psychosis, and it was noted in her admissions papers that she had an uncle who hanged himself. At this time, insanity was considered by many physicians to be hereditary in nature. By the time she passed away in 1929, Lena was very weak and exhausted and unable to feed herself. 

During her autopsy, the pathologist Dr. Walter Bruetcsh looked very carefully for an organic, or physical, cause of her seizures. He found unusual physical changes that he thought could be caused by either syphilis or rheumatic fever, but he eventually settled on rheumatic fever causing endocarditis. Dr. Bruetsch returned to this case periodically for years, reexamining his findings as his understanding of rheumatic fever and rheumatic brain disease changed (the latter is no longer an accepted diagnosis.)

Compare to the Old Clinical Label

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