Delirium tremens historical perspective

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Zehra Malik, M.B.B.S[2]

Historical Perspective

Cultural references

  • Literature
    • In Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment
    • In George Eliot's Middlemarch, John Raffles suffers and eventually dies from delirium tremens.
    • In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck's father suffers from delirium tremens.
    • Jack Kerouac's Big Sur discusses his experiences with delirium tremens.
    • In Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim, the chief engineer of the Patna is described as having the condition which results in his being hospitalized. He suffers from DTs after a traumatizing experience, in which he hallucinated hundreds of pink toads, which represent the eight hundred people he almost killed because of his one action. The pink toads are a slight variation of the common hallucination of pink snakes related to DT.
    • Australian writer, Henry Lawson, who was himself an alcoholic, refers in numerous short stories to the "jim-jams", a colloquialism for the "DTs".
    • In Aleksis Kivi's novel Seven Brothers, Simeoni has delirium tremens and hallucinates that the devil takes him on a huge tower made of boot leather and shows him the future of the world.
    • In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" the term is referenced.
    • The George Orwell book, Burmese Days features an alcoholic character known as Mr Lackersteen who suffers from delirium tremens.
    • Ignacio Solares’ Delirium tremens (1979) is a work of non-fiction that collects stories of nightmarish visions experienced by alcoholics when undergoing delirium tremens. Solares’ father had experienced delirium tremens when Solares was a boy.
    • The Brothers Karamazov, Book XI, Chapter 9: The Devil, Ivan Fyodorovich’s Nightmare, describes a delirium tremens induced hallucination.
    • In chapter 5 of Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, the dying sailor has the DTs.
    • In the S.E. Hinton novel Rumble Fish, the main character's father is an alcoholic who is said to have suffered from delirium tremens.
    • In Jeremy Paxman's "The English", he describes the life of one Jack Mytton, who "died of delirium tremens in the Kings Bench Prison on 29 March 1834".
    • In Emile Zola's novel "L'Assommoir", the alcoholic Coupeau dies of delirium tremens.
    • In Uncle Tom's Cabin (written by Harriet Beecher Stowe), the slave Cassy drives the cruel master Simon Legree into delirium tremens with mimicking haunting, which eventually becomes fatal.[1]
  • Theater/film/television
    • In a line from the stage and movie version of West Side Story, Lieutenant Shrank asks, "How's your old man's DT's Arab?"
    • Kramer and Mickey, who are both practising (Queen's english) various diseases for a job of theirs at a medical school, briefly impersonate the DT's in episode 172 of Seinfeld.
    • Delirium tremens is also referenced in Eugene O'Neill's play The Hairy Ape. Yank, the principal character in the play, cites the condition as the cause of his mother's death when referring to his troubled childhood.
    • In the 1945 Billy Wilder film The Lost Weekend, the main character, played by Ray Milland, suffers delirium tremens after fleeing a detoxification ward following a weekend of binge drinking. In the movie, Milland's delirium comes in the form of a bat that perches on an apartment wall and devours a mouse tucked into a crack in the plaster.
    • In Blake Edwards's 1965 film Days of Wine and Roses, Jack Lemmon's character, Joe Clay, experiences delirium tremens before detoxing and discovering Alcoholics Anonymous.
    • Another cultural reference is in Smokey and the Bandit II.
    • In the 1995 film Leaving Las Vegas, Nicolas Cage portrays a character who experiences this symptom following binge drinking and withdrawal.
    • During the filming of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Graham Chapman suffered from DTs
    • In the television show Strangers with Candy, the main character suffers from delirium tremens due to decades of drinking.
    • In the television show "M*A*S*H", one of "Hot Lips" Hoolihan's nurses and best friend, Helen Whitfield, suffers from delirium tremens.
    • In the movie Fried Green Tomatoes Smokey suffers from alcoholic tremor while attempting to eat corn with a fork. He is then given a bottle of whiskey by Idgy Threadgood in order to prevent the development of delirium tremens.
    • In an episode of Coronation Street Jamie's mother, an alcoholic is seen shaking on the sofa with DT after promising to go cold turkey
    • In Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Cercle Rouge, Yves Montand's character Jensen experiences delirium tremens.
  • Music
    • Hard Rock band Aerosmith mentions it in their song "Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)." "I'm Jonesin' on love / Yeah I got the DTs."
    • Irish folk singer Christy Moore sang a song titled "Delirium Tremens," which appears on his Ordinary Man album. It is a comedic trawl through a protagonist's visions; with such lines as "I dreamt Ian Paisley was sayin' the Rosary, and Mother Teresa was takin' the pill." He finds the visions so scary (culminating in being in a jacuzzi with Margaret Thatcher "that oul whore in Number 10"), that he vows never to drink again.
    • "Delirium Tremens" is the title of a song contained on the disc "Enemigos Intimos," published in 1998 by BMG España featuring Fito Paez and Joaquin Sabina
    • Musician Richard Thompson mentions this condition in his song "God Loves a Drunk," on the album "Rumor and Sigh" (1991). "Will there be bartenders up there in heaven? / Will the bars never close, will the glass never drain? / No more DTs and no shakes and no horrors / Very next morning feel right as rain.
  • Comics
    • In the comic series Preacher, the Irish vampire Cassidy swears off drinking and suffers from delirium tremens.
    • Two Asterix albums feature a perpetually drunk Roman legionnaire named Tremensdelirius.
    • In one trade paperback edition of The Sandman, one of the credits is given as "a variation of the legend says that she appears to those in the last stages of Delirium Tremens begging them to change their ways." Also, the character Delirium is rescued by a bunch of "crazy" people, one of them an alcoholic in The Sandman:Endless Nights.
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  1. Warner 1997: 142. Cited in: Warner, Nicholas O. (1997). "Temperance, Morality and Medicine in the fiction of Harriet Beecher Stowe". In David S. Reynolds. The Serpent in the Cup. University of Massachusetts Press. pp. 136–152. ISBN 1558490825. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)

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