Having read the title of this post, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of “that might be an interesting question in theory, but be honest, it couldn’t actually happen, could it?” Except it can, it does and it even has a medically-recognised name: Cotard’s Syndrome.
Cotard’s Syndrome is a mysterious, but thankfully very rare, condition which leaves people feeling like they, or parts of their bodies, no longer exist. Basically, people with this condition feel like they have died, but that their bodies haven’t realised it because they’re still moving around. This is where the disease gets its other name (and I promise I’m not making this up!): Walking Corpse Syndrome. Recently, some scientists put someone with Cotard’s syndrome through an MRI scanner to look at their brain activity and saw, to their amazement, that the man had less activity in his frontal lobes (the bit where our consciousness resides) than someone in a vegetative state. To all intents and purposes his conscious self was, indeed, dead.
So far, so interesting, but it wasn’t until today that a new discovery caught my eye. Cotard’s Syndrome can be caused by (amongst other things) a rare side-effect of a cold-sore treatment drug called Acyclovir (also known by the brand name Zovirax), but only in people with renal failure. This gave scientists the key they needed to start getting an idea of what’s going on in people with Cotard’s Syndrome. As it turns out, in the body, acyclovir breaks down into a number of things, one of them is called CMMG. CMMG is usually found in very low levels in the human body and is normally filtered out in the kidneys of people who take the acylovir. In the people with kidney failure, this wasn’t happening so it built up to much higher levels than normal. This seems to cause some sort of constriction of blood vessels in the brain, which it turn results in people feeling like they’ve died, but no one has quite told their bodies. Interestingly, kidney dialysis filters out the CMMG, causing them to feel like they’ve come back to life.
So, here we have a chemical in the body which if, for some reason, the levels get too high, leaves people feeling like they’re nothing more than walking corpses. Of course, they don’t run around trying to eat everyone’s brains, but they’re still for all intents and purposes, living, breathing zombies.
Now, here’s the interesting (and much less scientific) bit: Imagine if someone got hold of CMMG and tweaked it a little so even normal people couldn’t filter it out of their blood stream, and then found a way to deliver it to an entire city in large and continuous quantities – maybe through the water supply or something like that. Almost instantly, the whole of the population would be left feeling like they were nothing more than walking corpses. What impact would this have? How would someone who was unaffected feel when they found themselves as the only one who felt alive in a city full of people who all though they were dead? It would be a pretty weird and frightening situation.
Think, then, about what if some unscrupulous person, or organisation, or nation did this for their own gain. With everyone feeling like they are dead inside, they could do whatever they wanted: Rob bank vaults, fiddle stock markets, empty bank accounts, steal diamonds, rifle through secret government files, commit unspeakable crimes, take over entire countries without having to fire a shot, and they’d be able to do it front of everyone because they just wouldn’t care because they felt as if they were dead. It’s a strange, strange thought, but then again Cotard’s Syndrome is a strange, strange disease. It’s also potentially a very interesting premise for a novel.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.