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JAMA Dermatology a Century Ago
July 2014

Dr G. H. Armauer Hansen

JAMA Dermatol. 2014;150(7):690. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2014.234

Many years ago I had my first (and so far only) opportunity to treat a patient with leprosy. Poor guy. Even though his skin lesions were covered by his clothing, he was so self-conscious of his condition he always insisted on being the last appointment of the day and would stay tucked into the furthest corner of the waiting room until called. Granted, he was missing a few fingertips, but this was due to an industrial accident totally unrelated to his leprosy.

One night as I was finishing my examination, he plaintively asked “Dr Bernhardt, can we call my disease something else?” I immediately granted his wish and said “Sure! From now on we’ll say you have Hansen’s disease.” Never had I seen a happier patient leave my office! The next month, when he returned for his follow-up visit, he was clearly not so happy anymore. “What’s the matter?” I innocently inquired. “Dr Bernhardt! I looked it up! Hansen’s disease is just another name for leprosy!” he wailed. “Of course it is!” I laughed. “What, did you want me to give you another disease?” His beseeching eyes very clearly answered “Yes.”

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