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Sequential Symptom Syndrome

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...and I got all the symptoms, count 'em 1, 2, 3.

Sequential Symptom Syndrome is a gag in which one character (usually a doctor, but not always) describes the effects of a disease or a poison while someone else (usually another character who happens to be close by) experiences those same symptoms in exactly the sequence the first character is describing. If reciting symptoms causes a person to experience them, it might be Induced Hypochondria.


Clarification: The point is that the symptoms seem to be taking their cue from what the first character says. If the first character is simply watching the second character and reporting the second character's symptoms as they appear, it's not this trope.

Usually Played for Laughs. When it's not, it can get very close to being Nightmare Fuel.

Side-Effects Include... and the Five Stages of Grief are often handled in a similar manner. Often a Diagnosis from Dr. Badass.



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    Anime And Manga 
  • In Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu Sousuke describes the effects of the trap he set, as we also see the coach who set them off experiencing the symptoms.

    Comic Books 
  • This happens in Cerebus the Aardvark. In this case, the main character was conning someone into believing they had a plague, so the symptoms were largely psychosomatic.
  • In one story from Cattivik our anti-hero spends the whole story suffering the infernal and disgusting symptoms of a virus as soon as the medic on television mentions them. He eventually tries to stop them by swallowing a whole truck of medicines, but it backfires horribly as the virus had exhausted his life cycle anyway.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Disney's The Sword in the Stone Merlin describes the effects of malignalitaloptereosis to Madame Mim, who experiences this first-hand.
  • The first segment in Saludos Amigos has Donald Duck visiting Lake Titicaca, and succumbing to the symptoms of altitude sickness as the narrator lists them off.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Airplane!, Rumack describes the effects of the food poisoning in exhaustive detail, while the camera lingers on Oveur in the foreground, the poisoning's latest victim. He goes through each and every symptom in turn as Rumack describes it, the poor bastard collapsing when he is reduced to a quivering wasted piece of jelly.
  • Star Trek (2009) has Dr McCoy giving Kirk a vaccine against viral infection from Levaran Mud Fleas in order to fake a medical emergency. He then treats the symptoms in sequence as they occurred.
    Kirk: Whass... whas hahpenun wi' my mouf?
    McCoy: You've got numb tongue.
    Kirk: Num tum??
    McCoy: I can fix that!
  • A rather violent version of this trope occurs in the Jet Li film Kiss of the Dragon. Li's character uses Kung-Fu acupuncture to make a guy's head explode. Li describes the physical symptoms as the man stands paralyzed.
    ... you will begin to bleed from your eyes...
  • Bullshot. After an attempt by the dastardly Otto von Bruno to bump him off with a poisonous spider, Bullshot is giving a Patriotic Fervor speech during which he turns green and starts enunciating rather oddly.
    Rosemary: Are you sure you weren't bitten by that spider earlier? Daddy's an expert and I know the symptoms.
    Bullshot: REALLY? WHAT-ARE-THEY?
    Rosemary: Ranting, hysteria, delusions of grandeur, constant saluting (Bullshot starts saluting), green complexion, all the usual things. The most tell-tale symptom is... swelling of the extremities!
    Bullshot: Damn! My tailor always did make my sleeves too tight! (sleeves bulge and wristwatch goes flying)
    Rosemary: That spider did bite you, didn't it?
    Bullshot: Probably.
    Rosemary: But its bite is fatal. It would kill the average man in seconds!
    Bullshot: I'M NOT AVERAGE! (keels over)

  • In Dune, Feyd-Rautha is well known for describing the effects of the poisons he uses in the arena, though not on screen.
  • Matthew Reilly uses this to introduce his fictional bio-weapon in Area 7. It mostly results in liquefaction of internal organs — in sequence.
  • In Assassin's Apprentice, part of the Realm of the Elderlings collection, Prince Rurisk is poisoned whilst talking about poison. When the poison takes effect, Fitz and Kettricken believe he is pretending to be poisoned in order to emphasise his point.

    Live Action TV 
  • In the third Blackadder series episode "Nob and Nobility", the Scarlet Pimpernel unknowingly takes a suicide pill intended for someone else and explains the symptoms induced by it, oblivious to the fact that he's exhibiting each of them as he describes them.
  • One of the few surviving fragments of Broaden Your Mind (a precursor of The Goodies) has Graeme Garden's character (presenting a programme) listing symptoms, while Tim Brooke-Taylor's character (watching it) experiences them. Up to and including "...and the standing lamp falls on your head."
  • Star Trek
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation - "Realm of Fear": Barclay has the computer read the symptoms of "transporter psychosis" and acts out the symptoms as he hears them. Somewhat justified as the character is a hypochondriac, though he actually has been suffering some of the symptoms described (such as excessive thirst and tingling in the extremities) but not some of the others. After the computer readout, he constantly tries to examine himself for the symptoms he hasn't yet suffered (such as vision problems). It turns out his problems are not transporter psychosis, but a different phenomenon that nonetheless did happen during transit in the transporter.
    • Star Trek: Voyager. In "Living Witness" a historian has written the crew of Voyager as evil. In his holodeck simulation, the Doctor tortures a man by injecting him with a fatal chemical, with a To the Pain description of the symptoms, such as the fact that his brain will start dissolving.
  • In one episode of House, House uses this to prove that the sick passengers on a plane who were thought to be suffering from a deadly outbreak of meningitis (which started when one passenger exhibited real symptoms of a meningitis-like illness) in fact are simply under the effects of mass hysteria and psychosomatic illness. He announces that the original sick passenger did indeed have meningitis and that they may be infected if they have any of a long list of symptoms, including the nonexistent symptom "trembling in the left hand." Cue a planeful of suddenly shaking hands.
  • Joanna experiences this on Green Wing when Harriet rattles off a list of symptoms of pregnancy.
  • In The Nanny episode "Ode to Barbara Joan", Fran was explaining how kids deal with disappointment with C.C. experiencing each stage outside in the garden:
    Fran: They're not going to tell their father when they're dying inside. They give off signals. They act morose.
    (C.C. is moping outside)
    Sometimes they even have fits of anger.
    (She smashes a pot)
    And, finally, if they're despondent enough, they might even be driven to acts of violence.
    (She stomps on Niles's foot, which had been causing him agony from corns)
    And that concludes today's audio/visual demonstration.
  • A non-disease-related example. There's a song performed on Hello Cheeky which kicks off with "How'd ya like to squirt me with a soda seltzer, baby? How'd ya like to hit me with a pie?" and gets gradually messier from there. It's performed twice — the first time, it's just the song. The second time, the singer is attacked with what he sings about after every verse.
  • In the Community episode "Epidemiology", the group hides from the zombie partygoers in the study room. Rich, the doctor, tries to hide the fact that he's been bitten and details the symptoms of the contagion. He's already displaying some of the symptoms he mentions, then adds one last one: slurred speech...with slurred speech.

  • In The Changeling, a tragedy by Thomas Middleton, a drug used to test virginity causes certain symptoms, which are first seen in a serving maid and then faked by her mistress for the latter's fiance.
  • Bullshot Crummond. After a Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo, Bullshot lists the effects of the knockout drug he's slipped into Count Otto von Bruno's drink.
    Bullshot: You want to curse me von Bruno you can curse me now, for I have slipped you a deuced large Mickey Finn. You will shortly feel the effects. To begin with a crippling pain in your stomach. (Otto feels his stomach in alarm) Followed by slurred speeshhhh (breaks off into incoherence and keels over unconscious)

    Web Comics 
  • Two consecutive Wapsi Square strips involve a doctor telling Heather about a specific symptom of a concussion, and Shelly experiencing that symptom off screen.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In The Simpsons — the episode where Homer eats fugu and thinks he's going to die — Homer experiences the five stages of grief as quickly as Doctor Hibbert can recite them.
  • Bugs Bunny, describing the effects of Rabbititis in Hare Tonic.
    • Bugs does it twice in that episode- first to Elmer Fudd, then to the audience.
  • In one episode of The Mask the common cold turns out to be the only thing that can kill the Mask. The symptoms are actually numbered from one to seven, and serve as a sort of countdown to doom.
  • Chowder experiences the effects of eating a raw Puckerberry as Mung lists them.
  • The Boondocks - The Fried Chicken Flu episode has Huey explaining to Jasmine the symptoms of the eponymous disease while Tom suffers the effects of salmonella poisoning, having eaten tainted Buffalo Wings.
  • On Rocket Power, Reggie and Otto get the "Fiji flu" from Sam. The doctor describes a few of the symptoms being a high-pitched voice and irritability. As expected, they undergo both.
  • After trying to hide it for several decades, Prof. Hubert Farnsworth finally confesses to his employees in the Futurama episode "The Tip of the Zoidberg" that he long ago contracted an illness known as Tritonian Hypermalaria. Amy reveals that she recognizes the disease as "the one that causes fever, insanity, spasms, coma and death", with Farnsworth acting out each symptom as it's said (save for death, which is instead a Beat followed by "Yes, you moron!")
  • Happens to Helga in an episode of Hey Arnold! She looks up the symptoms of monkeynucleosis, a long-debunked disease, and is relieved when she finds out she only has the first symptom. Then, when the book slips from her hands, she realizes she has the second symptom, sweaty palms, and starts to notice the others showing up in sequence. Of course, since the disease isn't real, all of the new symptoms she notices are purely psychosomatic.
  • The "Ice Station Impossible!" episode of The Venture Bros. features the Goliath Serum, a drug that turn the recipient into a living bomb. As Brock and the boys watch a filmstrip describing the serum, Hank obliviously displays the symptoms of the first two stages.
  • In King of the Hill when Nancy reads the symptoms of rabies to Dale after getting raccoon scratches. There's chills ("I'm cold, Nancy... so cold." "You're in your underwear, Shug."), sore throat ([puffs cigarette smoke] "My throat's on fire!"), diarrhea ("Go on."), and anxious and fearful of things with no clear reason ("ahh!!... Nancy, I think I have rabies!").
  • Invoked by Garfield in Garfield's Thanksgiving, when he fakes the symptoms of vitamin deficiency as Liz lists them off so she'll let him off his diet.

    Real Life 


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