The Emperor's New Diagnosis
A recently unearthed story by Hans Christian Andersen
about the AIDS/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome epidemic
Once upon a time there lived a very vain Emperor whose only worry in life was his health and his desire to live forever. He ate fresh fruits and vegetables and herbs all day long and loved to brag about his vim and vigor and body fat percentages to everyone in his court and to show off his masculine robustness to his people.
Word of the Emperor's excellent health and desire to live forever spread over his kingdom and beyond. Two scoundrel physicians who had heard of the Emperor's obsession with his own precious health and longevity decided to take advantage of it. They introduced themselves at the gates of the palace as cutting-edge physicians with a specialty in making healthy people even healthier so that they could live forever—with a scheme in mind.
"We are two very good doctors and after many years of clinical research we have invented an extraordinary medical procedure to make healthy people even healthier, so healthy that they will never die. As a matter of fact, it is a medical secret unknown to anyone, and people are probably too ignorant and incompetent to appreciate its quality."
The chief of the guards heard the scoundrel doctors’ story and sent for the court chamberlain. The chamberlain notified the prime minister, who ran to the Emperor and disclosed the incredible news. The Emperor's curiosity got the better of him and he decided to summon the two scoundrel doctors.
"Your Highness, if you wish, this special medical treatment will be created in your kitchen by us especially for you," declared one of the scoundrel doctors. The Emperor gave the two men a bag of gold coins in exchange for their promise to begin preparing the medical treatment that would make him even healthier than he already was and enable him to escape death.
"Just tell us what you need to get started and we'll give it to you," said the Emperor.
The two scoundrel doctors asked for carrots, spinach, garlic, an enema device and then they pretended to begin working. The Emperor thought he had spent his money quite well: in addition to getting a new extraordinary cutting-edge medical treatment, he would discover which of his subjects were ignorant and incompetent. A few days later, he called the old and wise prime minister, who was considered by everyone to be a man with great common sense.
"Go and see how the work is proceeding," the Emperor told him, "and come back to let me know."
The prime minister was welcomed by the two scoundrel physicians.
"We're almost finished, but we need a lot more carrots. Here, Excellency! Admire the unique colors, smell the power of the medicine!" The old man bent over the concoction and tried to see what was so special about the brew. He suddenly felt cold sweat on his forehead.
"I can't detect anything special or powerful," he thought. "If I observe nothing, that means I'm stupid! Or, worse, incompetent!" If the prime minister admitted that he didn't perceive anything special about the medicine, he would be discharged from his office for stupidity and incompetence.
"What a marvelous medicine,” he then said. "I'll certainly tell the Emperor." The two scoundrel doctors rubbed their hands gleefully. They had almost achieved their goal. More spinach and garlic were requested to finish their work.
Finally, the Emperor received the announcement that the two doctors had come to give the Emperor a complete physical before he received his medicine.
"Come in," the Emperor ordered. As they bowed, the two scoundrel doctors winked at each other.
"Here it is your Highness, the result of our intense scientific labors," one of the scoundrel doctors said. "We have worked night and day but, at last, the most amazing health-enhancing medical treatment in the world is ready for you. Look at the colors of the liquid and smell how powerful the miraculous life-enhancing, liver-renewing medicine is." Of course the Emperor did not see any special color in the orangey brew with green spinach highlights and chunks of garlic and could not smell anything all that different from his evening stew or the palace’s vegetable garden. He panicked and felt like fainting. But luckily the throne was right behind him and he sat down. But when he realized that no one could know that he did not sense the miraculous cutting-edge life-enhancing power of the brew, he felt better. Nobody would find out that he was ignorant and incompetent. And the Emperor didn't know that everybody else around him thought the very same thing.
The farce continued as the two scoundrel doctors had foreseen it. Once they had pretended to thoroughly examine the Emperor, the two began preparing the Emperor for his health-enhancing liver-renewing enema.
"Your Highness, you'll have to take off your clothes for your secret life-enhancing medical treatment." The two scoundrels then gave the Emperor his enema. They had to bite their tongues to keep from laughing. The Emperor was slightly embarrassed but he had high hopes for the treatment.
"Yes, this is an amazing medical breakthrough and it feels like it is having a powerful effect on me. My liver feels twenty years younger," the Emperor said, trying to look comfortable. "You've done a fine job."
When they saw him, everyone in the Emperor’s entourage applauded and insisted that the Emperor looked healthier than he ever had.
For the next few days the Emperor felt so good that he declared the two doctors would be his private physicians for life and ordered them to give themselves the life-enhancing enemas so they would always be there to take care of him. And he gave them each three additional bags of gold.
Wherever the Emperor went in the days after the enema, all the members of his court told him he had never looked as fabulous and that they were sure now that he would live forever. The Emperor was very happy so everyone in his kingdom was, if not very happy, at least relieved that the Emperor was.
This did not last very long however, because an event occurred that brought great anxiety to the kingdom. One morning one of the kingdom’s constables rushed to give the Emperor some very frightening news. People were dying in the kingdom’s prison and nobody knew why. There was a rather large prison because there were very many bad people in the kingdom and the Emperor had many enemies who usually ended up there.
“I will send my personal physicians to determine what is going on,” said the Emperor.
When they were summoned, the two scoundrel physicians pretended to be quite pleased with their assignment. “We are honored to be put in charge of this medical investigation, your Highness,” one of them said. Privately, they were terrified of what was expected of them. They were not the kind of doctors who really liked to be around sick and dying people all that much. But they nervously headed off to the prison.
Inside the prison they were horrified by what they saw. People were sick with all kinds of different symptoms. There seemed to be degrees of illness, from slightly sick to very sick to dying. They knew they were completely out of their depth but they would have to tell the Emperor something that would make him think they were not ignorant and incompetent. They had a feeling that if the Emperor ever thought that they were ignorant and incompetent they would promptly be two dead scoundrel physicians.
“We’d better come up with something,” said one of the doctors. “I have it,” said the other. “These prisoners all seem to be suffering from the collapse of their immune systems. They have all kinds of illnesses. Let’s give it a name. Let me think. Okay, I have it. We’ll say its acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Yes, and we’ll call it ‘AIDS’ so it’s easier for people to say.”
“Yes, sounds good,” said the other. “But what should we tell the Emperor is the cause of AIDS?”
“It’s a virus. A virus that only infects bad people who deserve it. The amazing virus has special powers of distinction that no other virus has. It sees bad people and then bad people who are infected give it to other bad people. Only bad people can get it and only bad people can transmit it. End of story.”
“That’s brilliant,” said the other scoundrel physician.
The two scoundrel doctors returned to the castle where they told the Emperor about the epidemic of AIDS that had broken out at the prison. The Emperor got quite agitated and said, “But if it is a virus, will I catch it and get sick and die?”
“It isn’t possible said one of the physicians. We did the epidemiology—which is the most advanced form of science that there is—and we determined that only bad people can contract this virus.”
“Well, that is a relief!” said the Emperor. For their efforts the scoundrel physicians received several more bags of gold.
When the townspeople learned that prisoners were dying in the kingdom’s dungeons, they grew concerned. The emperor had a proclamation read on every street in the kingdom, declaring that the people had nothing to worry about. As long as they were good, they could not contract the virus that caused AIDS. It was only transmitted from bad people to other bad people.
The people all pretended to feel safe but privately they were quite concerned. And they had reason to be. In a matter of days several people around the kingdom started to get sick with what looked a lot like the same AIDS that the prisoners were coming down with. It didn’t take long for word to reach the Emperor who immediately summoned his personal physicians.
“What is going on, doctors?” he asked, with a threatening tone in his voice. “Why are some of the townspeople getting sick. Did you make a mistake? Are you ignorant and incompetent?”
“But Sire, don’t you see?” said one of the trembling physicians. “Nature has created a virus to assist you in ruling your kingdom. The people who are getting sick people who are secretly doing bad things. They’re closet bad people. You wouldn’t have known that fact otherwise.”
“Of course, why didn’t I realize that?” The Emperor immediately ordered that all people who were getting sick with AIDS should be officially declared bad people who were no doubt guilty of secret crimes and taken immediately to the prison with all the other victims of AIDS.
Soon everyone in the kingdom was afraid to even appear to have a cold or a sniffle. If they coughed they said it was just allergies to the flowers that grew around the kingdom. Many hid in their homes when they were unwell.
Soon the prison was so packed with sick people who had officially been declared bad that several people had to sleep in every bed. And then something very troubling started happening. Some of the Emperor’s best friends and favorite servants started getting sick with symptoms that resembled the ones the prisoners had. And then worst of all, his beloved daughter, the Princess, suddenly became so ill that she could not get out of her royal bed. The Emperor had no intention of sending his daughter or his friends and servants to prison, so he angrily summoned the scoundrel physicians to demand some answers.
The two doctors were so frightened by what was going on that some of their hair started turning white. They had to do some fast thinking. When they appeared before the Emperor they were ready.
“Your Highness, not to worry,” said the first physician. “We’ve done the epidemiology. We’ve even used a special new kind of statistical modeling and the latest chi squares. These friends of yours and your daughter are not sick. They are not bad people. They are good people. This is caused by the stress of being too good. They are just tired because they spend so much time every day being kind and just. That gives them fatigue. We call it chronic fatigue syndrome. They worry about others too much. They are too generous and selfless. They work too hard. They try and do too much for you and your kingdom. If your Highness will only encourage them to do a little less for others the chronic fatigue syndrome eventually will go away. Chronic fatigue syndrome is not a transmissible disease. There is no AIDS virus involved. Not even a virus like AIDS. It is something that happens spontaneously because of too much goodness within a person.”
“What a relief,” said the Emperor. He was glad he didn’t have to send his friends and his daughter off to prison where he had been hearing that conditions were becoming more and more abominable. The Emperor ordered that a special feast be given in honor of the physicians at which he planned to award them the kingdom’s highest medal of honor, and he also planned to make a speech urging his friends and his daughter to be a little less selfless and generous so that their chronic fatigue syndrome would go away.
And so for weeks after that, anyone who was in the Emperor’s good graces or worked in the palace who showed any strange signs of illness or fatigue was given the official court diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome by the Emperor’s physicians. They were ordered by the Emperor’s physicians to stop being so good and working so hard for the kingdom. And unwell people that the Emperor didn’t know—or wasn’t particularly fond of—were carted off to prison if they as much as sneezed.
But, unfortunately, that was not the end of the story. Even though the Emperor had his weekly health-enhancing liver-renewing carrot and spinach enemas, he started to feel feverish one day and then was so tired he slept past noon. His balance was off and he had trouble organizing his thoughts. And his stomach was doing all kinds of unmentionable things. He immediately summoned his personal scoundrel physicians who, upon hearing about the Emperor’s condition, at first thought that they should immediately start making out their wills. But then they decided to be diagnostically proactive.
As they rushed into the Emperor’s bedroom, one of them cried, “Oh, Emperor, Emperor, Emperor! We knew this would happen. You have been working too hard for your people and you have been too good! Your supreme internal goodness has caused you to develop spontaneous chronic fatigue syndrome.”
“What should I do about this, doctors?” responded the Emperor.
The second physician said, “You simply have to be a little less good, a little less fair, a little less generous and pretty soon there will be no more chronic fatigue syndrome. You’ll be good as new. And just for good measure we also suggest a second weekly enema. It can’t hurt.”
And so, the Emperor took their advice. In order to be less good, less fair and less generous, he raised the kingdom’s taxes and he stopped commuting death sentences.
But still the chronic fatigue syndrome did not go away. However, everyone in the kingdom was so afraid of both the Emperor and the uncanny power of the two scoundrel physicians, that they kept telling the Emperor how unusually healthy he looked. He pretended to believe them, even though he knew he didn’t feel good at all. He was too embarrassed to tell them how he really felt, he didn’t want to appear ignorant and incompetent about his own health to his subjects.
But there were rumors circulating that the Emperor was not well, and that many of the people around him were also not well, so he summoned the wise prime minister and his public relations minister and asked what they could do to reassure the people that the Emperor was in good health and that the chronic fatigue syndrome that was affecting him and his daughter and many of the people in his court was nothing to worry about, that it was just something that could be dealt with by being less good.
The public relations minister immediately responded, “A procession. A procession to celebrate the fact that you and all the others who have chronic fatigue syndrome. Your chronic fatigue syndrome is a sign from heaven that you are all incredibly good people and the people of your kingdom should celebrate and honor you and your goodness, as well as your incredible hard work and your generosity.”
“Excellent,” said the Emperor. He ordered that a procession in honor of all the good people with chronic fatigue syndrome be conducted the next day with him at the lead. When all those in the kingdom who had chronic fatigue syndrome were told that they had to get up before noon and be in a parade in which they had to walk more than a block, they were not thrilled, but they had no choice but to attend because nobody dared to defy the Emperor.
As they prepared to leave the castle and travel the mile of so of the procession route, the Emperor and his entourage of friends and family who had chronic fatigue syndrome were quite a sight to behold. None of them were standing up straight. Some of them looked like they were half asleep. Some seemed kind of dizzy. Some had chronic coughs. Some looked feverish. Some looked like they had recently gained a lot of weight and other had recently lost a great deal of weight. And worst of all, as he got into his carriage to lead the procession, the Emperor looked a little green or a little yellow, depending on the way the sunlight was hitting him. It may not have exactly been the image his public relations minister was aiming for, but nevertheless, they were off.
A group of dignitaries walked at the very front of the chronic fatigue syndrome procession and anxiously scrutinized the anxious faces of the people in the street. All the people had gathered in the main square, pushing and shoving to get a better look. Vigorous applause welcomed the regal procession
Even though it was obvious that there was something terribly wrong with every member of the Emperor’s chronic fatigue syndrome procession, the townspeople were afraid to say anything that wasn’t celebratory and positive.
“You look marvelous!” cried one woman—loudly so everyone would hear her and know she was a good person.
“You haven’t aged a day,” another one said
“Handsome as ever, Your Highness!” cried one nervous man.
“And your complexion!” cried another. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
A child, however, who had no important job in the kingdom, and who didn’t understand the politics of the kingdom, (but who did know about the epidemic in the prison) could only see things as his eyes showed them to him. The child went up to the Emperor‘s carriage—close enough so everyone in the carriage and the entourage behind could hear him when he screamed, “Chronic fatigue syndrome? Fuck that shit. The Emperor has AIDS,” he cried. (The child, though basically very nice, had a foul mouth.”)
"Fool!" his father reprimanded, running after him. "Don't talk nonsense!" He grabbed his child and took him away. But the boy's remark, which had been heard by the bystanders, was repeated over and over again until everyone who had heard the child cried: "The boy is right! The Emperor has AIDS! The Emperor has AIDS! The Emperor has AIDS! It's true!"
And then anyone who knows the history of mankind knows what happened next. All the people who had screamed the word “AIDS” at the Emperor were arrested along with the child and his father. The next morning, after a miserable night in the dungeon, they were all—even the child—taken outside the walls of the kingdom and hung without mercy from the tallest trees.
And no one in that kingdom was heard to even mutter the words “AIDS” and “chronic fatigue syndrome” in the same breath ever again.
And while it would be going too far to say that everyone subsequently lived happily ever after, that was that.