The unusual case of Arthur T. Myers, tennis player and doctor

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by newmark401, Jan 26, 2010.

  1. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

    Aug 10, 2009
    By Mark Ryan

    The unusual case of Arthur T. Myers, tennis player and doctor

    Part I of II

    Arthur Thomas Myers, not to be confused with Arthur Wallis Myers (no relation), was not a great tennis player although he did make it to the quarter-final at Wimbledon on his debut there in 1878. This was just the second edition of the Wimbledon tournament and the men’s singles event, essentially the only event at that time, had a draw of just 32 players. Arthur T. Myers won two matches before falling to the eventual champion, Patrick Francis Hadow. Myers returned to the All England Club the following year, but did not make it past the third round in what was his second and last attempt at the title.

    Although in those days there were only a few tournaments for players to compete in, it is likely that Arthur T. Myers deliberately cut short his competitive career due to his unstable health (he might also wanted to have devote more time to his medical studies). He was prone to epileptic seizures at a time when epilepsy was certainly known about, but far from being fully understood. This is somewhat ironic given the career path Myers chose for himself and it is clear that, once he had qualified as a doctor, his illness also prevented him from practising medicine to the best of his ability.

    Myers’ obituary, reproduced below and carried in the “British Medical Journal” on 27 January 1894, provides an insightful overview of his short life while skirting the exact name and nature of his illness and how it affected him:

    “Arthur Thomas Myers, M.A., M.D. Cantab., F.R.C.P.

    “Arthur Thomas Myers, whose death we notice with great regret at the early age of 42, was born in 1851 [on 16 April] at Keswick, [Cumberland, England], his father [Reverend Frederic Myers] being incumbent of St. John’s Church in that town. He was educated at Cheltenham and Trinity College, Cambridge. A scholar of Trinity, he finished his university career by taking a first class in the Classical Tripos and a second in the Natural Science Tripos. He obtained his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1881, and was made a Fellow of the College of Physicians in 1893. At St. George’s Hospital the late Dr. Myers had a meritorious and distinguished career. He filled the office of house-physician and was registrar in the medical wards for several years. He fulfilled the laborious duties of the latter post with singular patience, minuteness and fidelity, and invented a system of indexing which has since proved of great value.

    “He was a member of the various Medical Societies, and physician to the Belgrave Hospital for Children [in London]. He wrote in the leading journals and contributed various papers of interest, among which may be mentioned the Nervous Sequelae of Small-pox and a Case of Raynaud’s Disease. His studies were of late years particularly directed towards abstruse problems connected with nerve disease and the subject of hypnotism as a treatment for disease – studies perhaps not the best suited for his own mental and bodily health.

    “Dr. Myers was a distinguished athlete. At Cheltenham he was in the [cricket] eleven and played in the public school racket matches. At Cambridge he was captain of the Trinity eleven and played in the tennis match against Oxford. Nature had, indeed, worthily designed him as one of those ‘all round men’ who are the glory of our public school education: but destiny thought fit to inflict upon him that terrible and inscrutable nervous malady which advanced with relentless tread, baffling the most devoted medical skill, and ultimately involving a fine intellect in ruin and confusion. There can be no doubt but for this Myers would have obtained the highest medical distinction.

    “His misfortune prevented his attaining to a post in medical staff of a teaching hospital, and this sad disappointment, intolerable to most men, was borne by him with singular patience. Even those who had the privilege of knowing him intimately never heard him repine, and in the intervals of illness he devoted himself energetically to his studies and to various athletic pursuits. After leaving the universities he was indeed known as an enthusiastic climber and skater, no mean cricketer and an adept at tennis.

    “He had much subtlety and delicacy of intellect, and belonged to a family of intellectual distinction and literary culture; his bent was largely towards psychological study and the investigation and discussion of the more recondite phenomena of mind. By family relations as well as by personal study, he was much interested in some of the problems which the ‘psychic researchers’ aspire to solve. But his medical training led him to distrust many of their conclusions. To his sympathetic yet cautious pen are due some of the articles on these topics and incidents which have from time to time appeared in our columns. He was particularly happy as a reviewer, and in that capacity we were often indebted to his just, kindly and suggestive work.

    “He was a devoted son, and in private life he was of a singularly kind and amiable disposition, given much to acts of hospitality and goodness to others. The slight brusqueness of his address, sometimes remarked by his juniors, was largely due to his infirmity, and he is mourned at the University and St. George’s by a large circle of friends. His history is tinged with a touch of melancholy, yet we can reflect that he has not lived in vain, for he has shown us the example of a brave man struggling against an unhappy fate, and there are many with all the advantages of intellect and physical health who have done less good work in the world than Arthur Myers.”

    It is thought that Myers committed suicide after his illness became intolerable to him. Before his death he had provided the following verbatim account of his condition, which can be read on the website

    “I first noticed symptoms which I subsequently learnt to describe as petit mal [‘absence seizures’] when living at one of our universities in 1871. I was in very good general health, and knew of no temporary disturbing causes. I was waiting at the foot of a College staircase, in the open air, for a friend who was coming down to join me. I was carelessly looking round me, watching people passing, etc., when my attention was suddenly absorbed in my own mental state, of which I know no more than that it seemed to me to be a vivid and unexpected ‘recollection’ – of what, I do not know. My friend found me a minute or two later, leaning my back against the wall, looking rather pale, and feeling puzzled and stupid for the moment.

    “More attacks came in the next two years. Often at night he would awaken ‘with an impression that I had succeeded in recollecting something that I wanted to recollect’ but then had forgotten it by morning. On awakening he would have ‘soreness at the edge of the tongue, a feeling of having been bitten, and saliva on the pillow’.
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2010
  2. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

    Aug 10, 2009
    Part II of II

    “Myers recalls running across a Swiss glacier in 1878, when an aura befell him: ‘I had insufficient control to stop myself and felt no fear, but only a slight interest in what would happen. I went through the familiar sensations of petit mal with such attention as I had to give concentrated on them, and not on the ice, and after a few minutes regained my normal condition without any injury. I looked back with surprise at the long slope of broken ice I had run over unhurt, picking my way, I know not how, over ground that would normally have been difficult to me.’

    “Myers began to suffer grand mal seizures after 1874, and normally they recurred at intervals of 18 months. When recovering from pneumonia in 1876, he had seven or eight attacks within a two month span. An aura of recollection followed his grand mal convulsions, but it lacked the clarity of those after the petit mal. With the grand mal neither an epileptic cry was heard nor muscular spasms observed. Nevertheless, he felt tired and sore with bodily bruises. Myers recalls several episodes, when a seizure would come and yet, despite the absence of memory and consciousness, he could still function physically and purposefully. In one situation, he saw a young male patient, who complained of lung problems. Myers told the young man to undress and lie down on the couch, so as to be examined.

    “‘I thought he looked ill, but have no recollection of any intention to recommend him to take to his bed at once, or of any diagnosis. Whilst he was undressing I felt the onset of a petit mal. I remember taking out my stethoscope and turning away a little to avoid conversation. The next thing I recollect is that I was sitting at a writing table in the same room, speaking to another person, and as my consciousness became more complete, recollected my patient, but saw he was not in the room.’

    “One hour later, Myers observed the patient in bed and read, in the patient’s chart, his diagnosis of pneumonia. He concluded that both his conscious and his unremembered diagnoses were, in fact, the same. Jackson also reports that occasionally there were post paroxysmal, purposive ‘actions by Z [A. Myers] during unconsciousness, of a kind which in a man fully himself would be criminal, and must have led to very serious consequences had not, fortunately, his condition been known. What he did was overlooked by those concerned’.”

    The Jackson mentioned in the above account is Dr John Hughlings Jackson, an English neurologist who carried out the autopsy on Arthur T. Myers. According to the book “Forms and Rhythms of the Paroxysmal Imagination” by Professor Richard A. Hughes:

    “Neurology began in London on January 10, 1894, when J. Hughlings Jackson attended the autopsy of one of his deceased patients, known in the history of medicine as ‘Dr. Z.’ The patient had been an unmarried physician, who died by an overdose of chloral hydrate at age 42.

    “Jackson claimed to have found the cause of the patient’s seizures in a lesion, located in the left temporal lobe of the brain and linked to the smacking movements of the lips, tongue, and cheek. His description of the neurological processes was purely objective, physiological, and mechanistic, totally excluding any references to the patient’s biography and relationships. Nevertheless, Jackson took over notions of ‘dreamy states’ or ‘intellectual aura’ and déjà vu or ‘recollection’ from the patient’s own writings about his illness. The ‘dreamy states’, along with the dread, came before the attacks; and the ‘recollection’ was a reminiscence of events occurring ages ago, which had been forgotten but seemed familiar.

    “Many years after the autopsy, two British scholars revealed the identity of ‘Dr. Z.’ to be that of Arthur Myers, a member of a distinguished British family, consisting largely of clergymen, scholars, businessmen, and members of Parliament. Arthur Myers’ father was a priest in the Church of England, and he had two brothers. One brother, Frederic W.H. Myers (1843-1901) was a classics scholar, trained at Cambridge University, and he made pioneering contributions to the psychology of death and the theory of the unconscious. His principle concept was that of the subliminal self, for which the epileptic seizure was the medical paradigm.”

    The fact that Frederic W.H. Myers, one of Arthur’s elder brothers, was interested in the psychology of death and the theory of the unconscious is worth noting. The boys’ father, also called Frederic, had died in 1851, a few months after Arthur’s birth and when Frederic junior was only eight years of age (there was also a third brother, Ernest, born 1844, later a distinguished classicist, poet and author).

    As an adult, Arthur T. Myers would submit a number of papers to the Society for Psychical Research, founded in England in 1882 (Frederic W.H. Myers was one of the founding members). This society, which still exists, has as its purpose to understand “events and abilities commonly described as psychic or paranormal by promoting and supporting important research in this area” as well as to “examine allegedly paranormal phenomena in a scientific and unbiased way”.

    One of the papers submitted to the society by Arthur T. Myers was entitled “Report on an Alleged Physical Phenomenon” (this is probably the source of the verbatim account of his illness reproduced above). Another paper, co-written by Arthur and Frederic W.H. Myers, was entitled “Mind-Cure, Faith-Cure, and the Miracles of Lourdes”.

    It is important to note that the discipline of psychology was still in its infancy in the late nineteenth century and the causes of many illnesses still unclear. The fact that Arthur T. Myers “blanked out” when he was in the grip of a seizure and was subsequently unaware of how he had acted might make some readers believe that he had a “Doctor Jekyll/Mr Hyde” type of personality, with the Mr Hyde coming to the fore during his seizures, as he did in different circumstances in the work “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, written by Robert Louis Stevenson and first published in 1886.

    However, in centuries past, and until very recently in some cultures, there was a tendency to demonize, persecute and even kill people suffering from what were then unexplained illnesses. Epileptics in particular were vulnerable to such actions. In the late fifteenth century two Dominican friars under papal authority produced the handbook “Malleus Maleficarum” (“The Witches’ Hammer”), which identified the presence of seizures as a characteristic of witches and led to the death of more than 200,000 women.

    Fortunately, Arthur T. Myers lived in a free country and in more enlightened times. However, no medication was yet available to treat his condition and it is not surprising that someone in his position would be willing to seek the cause of his illness in not just a physical but also a psychological or even a “paranormal” source. Nowadays the causes of epilepsy are understood although no cause can be found in more than half the cases of people suffering from the condition. Nevertheless epilepsy can be cured in some cases while some sufferers can outgrow it; most epileptics, however, take medication which usually keeps their seizures under control. This is all very encouraging, of course, but, unfortunately, much too late for Arthur T. Myers.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2010
  3. sureshs

    sureshs Bionic Poster

    Oct 1, 2005
    I was once with a colleague who suffered a seizure. I had an ambulance called and helped him get his treatment. I even got an award from my employer for my action.
  4. Tina

    Tina Banned

    Dec 27, 2009
    WOW! You are such a nice person, aren't you. I bet it's another sunshine day in the Southern California;););)

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