• Deborah Yaffe

Jane Austen triage

The first sentence of Pride and Prejudice turns up everywhere, most commonly


a) when a journalist who doesn’t know much about Jane Austen has to produce a story about her and thinks, “Hey! Wouldn’t it be clever to start this piece with a reference to her most famous line?”

or

b) when a journalist who wants to add a touch of class to a story that has nothing to do with Jane Austen thinks, “Hey! Wouldn’t it be clever to start this piece by riffing on the famous opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice?”


But earlier this month, that deathless sentence turned up in a radically new context: as the means by which a woman convinced medical professionals inclined to misunderstand her health concerns that she was, in fact, having a stroke.


As London high school teacher Tabitha McIntosh recounted on Twitter last week, she was eating a sandwich early this month when she experienced a mysterious episode: a visual whiteout followed by a low-grade migraine headache that continued for days. The local emergency room found nothing wrong. McIntosh chalked it up to the hormonal changes of impending menopause.


But three days later, finding herself increasingly unable to coordinate the movements of the right and left sides of her body, she was sure something more was going on. She went back to the hospital, and this time she took a piece of paper on which she had repeatedly attempted to type those twenty-three famous words: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” The garbling was so obvious that the nurse immediately ordered a brain scan.


And a few days later, McIntosh’s tweets about the incident (“Tldr: your stroke may be silent. Part of your brain may die, and the indicators will be entirely elusive to non stroke-specialist doctors while it dies”) was retweeted more than sixteen thousand times.


Which just goes to show that it’s a truth universally acknowledged that there’s no one to touch Jane when you’re in a tight place.

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