Post-influenzal Encephalitis: A Case History

By: Gisbert Husemann, M.D. 

(Original title: Postgrippale Encephalitis. Der Merkurstab 1996; 49: 323-5. English by A. R. Meuss, FIL, MTA.)

This case history, taken from Dr. Degenaar's collection, is followed by the patient's memories of the time. We are most grateful to the patient, Mrs. Mariana B., who still lives in England today.

Stuttgart, 4 May 1923

A girl of 15, d.o.b. 5 April 1908, had encephalitis in November, with severe headache, tiredness, etc. Previous treatment: Phosphorus oil 1% massaged into the head. Tiredness and headaches improved.

Dr. Steiner: "We must try and deal with this with collicular (quadrigeminal) secretion; inoculate this, possibly high up on the back and then, perhaps, every 3rd day, perhaps only 7 times in succession. Mild febrile conditions will develop in between. I believe this will altogether be the method of combating post-influenzal encephalitis. The preparation should be 25:1000."

Having been unable to get adequate medical advice in Berlin, the parents took the patient to Stuttgart for a consultation at the Institute of Clinical Medicine. The patient suffered from headaches and loss of balance; she was not able to walk on her own; had a temperature and drowsiness. On the day of her arrival she was the first patient to be presented to Rudolf Steiner. 

When the door opend, Dr. Steiner quickly came to meet me with a light step; he took me by the hand to guide me into the room. He did not let go of my hand but held it all the time I was there - about 20 minutes. And then something wonderful happened.

The moment his hand touched mine, something like fire flowed through my body, never stopping, always inflowing motion. And with it came unspeakable joy: here is someone who sees you, you and not just this miserable body! And with the joy came the will to live, for I did no longer want to remain on earth. The horrors of the First World War, revolution, the Kapp Putsch and the whole difficult situation in Germany had been too much for a child.

And now there was Dr Steiner! He would turn to me from time to time and say, in the kind way he had: "Don't be afraid." Being so very happy, I once said: 'But I am not at all afraid!' And he replied: "But it is fear after all!" He meant fear of life; but I did not understand that at the time.

Talking to the doctors he said, among other things, that the disease had progressed too far and medical treatment would not cure it completely. I was to stay at the Clinic, however. He added: "It would be good for her to study eurytlimy, and she should see the performance tonight." (The Dornach Eurythmy Group was giving a performance at the Stuttgart theatre that evening. Rudolf Steiner had decided to go with them at the last minute.) The physicians were horrified: "But Dr. Steiner, she is much too ill; this cannot be done!" And Dr. Steiner said firmly: "Oh yes, it will be possible!"

And so it was. My sister took me to the theatre. Dr. Steiner gave a short address. I cannot recall what he said (...). And then I saw eurythmy for tlie first time in my life, and the decision came: I am not going to die but dedicate my life to eurythmy. Tliat was my first meeting with Rudolf Steiner. I stayed at tlie Clinic, and lie returned about four weeks later.

This time, everything was different. The atmospliere was tense; the doctors who were there (Dr.s Palmer, [Friedricli] Husemann, Noll and Peipers) were distinctly nervous. Hardly had I entered tlie room wlien Dr. Steiner said severely: "This is not the result I expected." Some auestions were put, and it was found that the substance for the injections had. not been freshly made up on each occasion but kept in a refrigerator. Dr. Steiner was very annoyed about this, and I was glad to get out of the room!

Tliat was our second meeting. A year later, in 1924, I stayed with my sister in Arleslieim during tlie summer months and until December. I had daily eurythmy lessons in the Glass House. After about afortnight, 1 was walking up the hill wlien I saw Dr Steiner coming down. He was deep in thought (...). I wanted to make a curtsey and walk on, but no! Dr. Steiner stopped me, took my hand and looked me deep in the eyes. Then he smiled and let me go. Not a word had been said (...), but when I went to tle Glass House tle next day my teacher told me I was to go up to the Sclireinerei, for Mrs. Steiner wanted to see me. As I had never met her, I assumed Dr. Steiner had spoken to her about me. She stopped the rehearsal that was in progress, and I had to improvise a poem for her in eurythmy. I was then immediately included in the group of three eurythmists working with Tatiana Kisseleff. That was a wonderful time.

Those Summer months in 1924 were a 'happy time.' Think back to Stuttgart a year before and consider how the patient had gained full control of her body through the eurythmic art of movement. Doing eurythmy had brought progressive recovery. She met Rudolf Steiner once more briefly during this time and was still in Domach when he unexpectedly fell ill in September, 1924.

Tlie last time I was allowed to take part in a performance was on 7 December. The programme included a poem by Albert Steffen which was based on the pentagram. They were doing my make-up when Tatiana Kisseleff came into the dressing room carrying the huge programme which was still wet. Up in the top left-hand comer was a five-star. She told me: "Dr. Steiner wants me to tell you: 'The star right up there, that is you, and you must never forget this.'" Those were the last words Dr. Steiner had for me.

Their true meaning only came to me much later. Many years later, working as a eurythmist at Wynstones School, I sometimes felt I had not the energy. I had been the only eurythmist at the school for about 40 years, working with all 12 classes and also the teachers, parents and friends of the school. Conferences were held during the holidays or we prepared performances that we would take to different cities in England. Then there were the Christmas plays and many otlier things. I would therefore sometimes be dead tired when I got home at night, thinking: "I can't go on like this. I must leave Wynstones...."
The memory of the star that had been dedicated to her proved a source of strength, enabling her to continue with her work.

Mrs. B's memories have been limited to the medical aspects and slightly shortened. An English friend of hers, who was also a patient at the Stuttgart Institute took the well-known photograph of Dr. Noll, Rudolf Steiner, Wilhelm Pelikan and behind him Dr. Felix Peipers, often erroneously thought to be F. Husemann, on their way to the Institute. Mrs B.: "He walked on Pelikan's left side but did not get into the picture."

The story is typical for the relationship between infectious disease and the general physical disposition which determines susceptibility to infection. We also perceive a psychological background of fear. This had been provoked by external circumstances. The fear gave the psychological disposition as a cause for the illness. The soul body contracts in certain places under the influence of fear. In the coronary vessels this is called angina, meaning constriction and fear. If this aspect of the soul or the astral body acts on its own, the astral body contracts and crystallizes into specific forms - those of the higher animals. The fear that lives deep down in their souls can be seen in the eyes of those animals. In the present case, we can see most beautifully how the streaming-in warmth ether, experienced as a great relief by the patient, enabled the I to be active again. The contraction and constriction resolved spontaneously, giving a feeling of joy. Conversely, we can imagine that this experience of inner warmth goes to an extreme in febrile conditions, when the I has to cope with something alien and ward it off. The colliculi may be considered to hold the essence of the whole brain organization as regards the senses.

The superior colliculi serve the optical tracks, the inferior colliculi are part of the auditory pathway. The region may well also be the organic vehicle for other nervous diseases. In the speech organization a muscle is made to sound, with the opening between the vocal folds varying for different pitches. The mouth and laryngeal organization in front of these shapes the sounds into words but sculpting the sound in the air. This organization is the basic characteristic of an astral body that is wholly at the service of human I-nature. Medically speaking, it was definitely risky to take the sick girl to a eurythmy performance. But having recognized the fear and the fundamental experience of fear being removed by the eurythmy performance, Rudolf Steiner had the courage to use eurythmy as a healing principle. The youth-fulness of the body no doubt played a role in this.

When we give meteoric iron to help patients overcome fear, this may be seen as a substance that helps the warmth ether and therefore the I-organi-zation to take effect more strongly. When the warmth ether streamed in that morning, the young girl experienced release from fear and joy in life arising. The eurythmy performance in the evening should probably also be considered to have an inner connection with warmth being supplied. Iron holds the human being stable in warmth, so that he does not develop too much heat, as with a temperature, and does not lose too much heat either.

It is possible that the eurythmy performance served the purpose of radiating warmth into the organism from the speech organization during the night, rather like the action of iron, thus stabilizing it.

Degenaar Krankengeschichten. Ita Wegman-Fonds fr soziale und therapeutische Hilfsttigkeiten. Michaeli 1990: Erinnerungen an Rudolf Steiner. Mariana Bruehl.