Brenna is a writer, radio fiend, and filmmaker who lives in Brooklyn. She hails from the Adirondack Mountains, where she makes frequent getaways for ice-fishing, hunting, and chopping wood.
If you haven't listened to Placebo yet, do that before you read this spoiler-strewn post -- just hit the play button above before you go any further.
In February of 1951, Dr. Albert Mason began treating a teenage patient whose skin was so ravaged that after two unsuccessful skin grafts, his plastic surgeons agreed they could do nothing else to help him.
Mason knew he was up against a big challenge. Most of the boy's body -- everything but his face, neck, and chest -- was covered in a "black horny layer" of skin that Mason said "felt as hard as a normal finger-nail, and was so inelastic that any attempt at bending resulted in a crack in the surface, which would then ooze blood-stained serum." On top of that, Mason's treatment plan didn't exactly inspire confidence in his colleagues: he was going to try hypnosis.
On the plus side, Mason had had success using hypnosis on patients with warts before, and he figured it might help this kid. So he decided to start with the boy's left arm (he specified one body part at a time in order to isolate a direct cause and effect from hypnosis). The arm cleared up in under two weeks.
As Mason moved on to the rest of the boy's body, he documented his progress -- which was shocking, especially once Mason realized he wasn't treating a bad case of warts (as he'd originally thought), but an incurable disease: congenital ichthyosiform erythrodermia.* Stunned by the boy's improvement, he typed up a paper charting his results in 1952 (PDF). Complete with photos...
Photos by Gordon Clemetson, courtesy of Albert Mason, British Medical Journal, August 23, 1952
* This realization hit Mason hard. It rattled his confidence, and his future hypnosis treatments -- so much so, that he eventually gave it up, and came to the conclusion that hypnosis is a "folie à deux," or "madness shared by two."