The word “lupus” is the Latin name for wolf. Lupus is also short for “systemic lupus erythematosus,” a chronic autoimmune disorder, because, before the days of drug treatments, the skin part of the disease could eat away at the face and leave destructive injuries, as if the person had been attacked by a wolf. Lupus can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, and other organs.
Some animals, such as wolves, bite off their own limbs to free themselves from a trap, but the animals will die anyway. With autoimmune diseases like lupus, the body destroys itself. Normally, the autoimmune system is designed to keep the body safe by protecting it from foreign invaders. Think of the immune system as a little army inside your body that stands in defense against anything that’s not supposed to be there. When a person has lupus, that army, like a trader, attempts to destroy the body it was designed to protect.
People often mistake lowered immune conditions like aids or hiv for autoimmunity. In fact, both impair the immune system, but think of lowered immunity as your personal army with its hands tied--it’s unable to fight very well, but when your army attacks itself, it’s a very confused situation. Believe me, lupus frequently stumps even the doctors.
Exposure to sunlight often triggers lupus attacks. Photosensitivity or abnormal sensitivity to sunlight, teaches lupus sufferers to avoid sunlight. So, I often feel like the fabled vampire hiding from the sun and rejoicing in the cool of a darkened room.
Warren Zevon’s most famous song, "Werewolves of London," just finished playing. If you’ve read my column for a while, you know how much I LOVE Warren Z. So I’ll end this post with his line, which feels very true to me and the topic of lupus: “Werewolves of London. Huh, draw blood!” (Change “London” to Salinas.)