On my search for an interesting topic regarding our subject, I remembered stumbling upon a quite absorbing case a while back. Although I had forgotten about the exact details it did not take long to get the information I needed on what I would call the world’s biggest freak show, also known as YouTube. With an astonishing 25.7 million views, I found what I was looking for: the story of the “Tree Man”.
It is the case of the 38-year-old Indonesian man Dede Koswara. He suffers from an illness called epidermodysplasia verruciformis, which is an extremely rare skin disorder that results in a lifelong eruption of wood-like warts’ on various parts of the body. These warts look like bark from a tree and grow infinitely, eventually covering the whole body and resulting in being completely disabled.
While I was re-watching the video I was amazed by the similarities between Joseph Merrick’s and Dede Koswara’s life. When Dede Koswara’s illness arose, he struggled to stay with his wife, who eventually left him. This can be applied to Joseph Merrick as well, whose father forced him to move out after Merricks mother had died and his father remarried. They both had to face rejection caused by their illness. They also both lost their job due to a lack of dexterity that resulted from the deformations of their extremities. Jobless, they had to look for other possibilities to earn a living. Whereas Joseph Merrick asked for a spot in a freak show, Dede Koswara on the other hand was part of an Indonesian circus. By displaying their deformed bodies as attractions to the sensation seeking lower class they earned their living. Another remarkable similarity is the important role of a doctor in their lifes. Dede Koswara became famous when a picture of him appeared on the internet, resulting in veritable media frenzy and inevitable attracted the attention of a group of documentary makers who introduced him to an American dermatologist. Koswara was then diagnosed a rare combination of conditions and was offered a treatment against his illness by the same doctor. Through surgery a lot of the mass on his legs and arms was removed and he was again able to write, walk and use his extremities without pain. Joseph Merrick also attracted the attention of a doctor who started examining his body in order to diagnose his illness and later offered a place in the hospital where the staff cared for him. A last, tragic, similarity is the missing cure for both illnesses. Whereas for Joseph Merrick there was no cure known whatsoever, there is no real treatment for Koswaras illness as well. Although surgery is possible it would take about two surgeries a year to remove the infinitely growing warts and alternative treatment has not been successful as of now.
When looking at different examples of humans with these sorts of deformations the similarities are striking. Many of these people have been on display for the public in one way or another, if in a freak show or in the media. While the sensation these disabled people create may be cruel, there are cases where the attention they get is helpful and leads to an actual improvement of their quality of life. There are also cases that prove that although one has a deformed body, one can still live a rather private life, as the video I attached shows, provided there is enough support from the surroundings. Whatever the case, people with illnesses like the aforementioned have an extraordinary hard life and I truly admire the strength they have to cope with their situation.