I once had a small bump in my mouth and had convinced myself that 1.) I had never seen it before and 2.) It was cancerous. I agonized over it for weeks before finally making an appointment with my dentist. He examined my mouth, scraped, cleaned, x-rayed, but made no mention of my bump. Was he blind? Was he just gonna let me die a slow agonizing death? So I asked him, “What is with this bump?”
“Oh that, that is just a calcium buildup. If it continues to get bigger we can schedule oral surgery and grind it out of your mouth. But, it is nothing serious.”
I almost passed out. If you have to slice me open, and grind something out of me, it is serious. I don’t believe in “nothing serious.” I come from a long line of hypochondriacs—it is the pretend disease that is sweeping the nation—everything is serious.
I blame my hypochondria (among other things) on my parents. They were not fussy about medical care. We went to the doctor once every decade whether we needed it or not. My dad was an EMT and a Mensa candidate, in his mind that was the same thing as board-certified-licensed physician. My mother was not the nursing type; she was more like the receptionist in the billing department. Her contribution to our health care was forcing us to eat oatmeal once a week and putting a hand on our forehead to see if we had a fever.
To stay home from school in my formative years required a fever, vomiting and some type of internal bleeding. If you didn’t hit the trifecta you had to go to school, come home and do your chores, and homework, before you were allowed to collapse. Bleeding was not allowed unless it was an absolute necessity and you had to hold the hemorrhaging appendage over a drain. Now, sometimes, if my parents were in a good mood, a broken bone could sub for say, a ruptured spleen, but you had to have proof that it was broken, like a protruding bone or a leg that went at a 90 degree angle toward your stomach.
Now, I am not criticizing my parents, I am just saying, this type of upbringing breeds hypochondriacs. All that “toughen up” stuff and “stiff upper lip” business is only for people who think they will live a long, happy life. I was certain I would die by scorpion bite or rabid rodent by the time I was 14. A girl can dream can’t she?
Anyway, long-story-short, I lived . . . sort of. What I mean is, I tried to get on with life, (such as it was) although I was constantly in fear that every paper-cut would result in a flesh-eating bacteria or, at the very least, a staph infection that would require the removal of limbs. It is hard to be peppy when you are waiting for the other shoe to drop, and by other shoe, I mean one that is infested with antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Part of the reason I married my husband is that, he too, came from a long line of hypochondriacs and he had an arsenal of home remedies that I had never heard of before. Our romance was a blur of tinctures, mustard plasters and poultices. Aaaaah, those were the days. Then several years into the marriage, it dawned on us that we both might make it into middle-age, we became hopeful like we had never been before. But then, the unthinkable happened, we had kids.
Worrying about your own health is nothing compared to the panic you feel for your own children. Parenting books on raising a healthy child were like a drug. It became my mission to raise my little babies free of disease and blood-borne illness as much as possible. But those little buggers were against me from the start. My oldest once found a raisin on the floor of aisle six at the grocery store and ate it before I could stop him. I almost had a heart attack right there in frozen foods.
I tried to safeguard the children from future potentially deadly situations but those dang kids made it into a game. “Look Mom, no hands.” “Mommy, look how high I am.” “Hey Mom, no teeth.”
That is when I began taking anti-anxiety medication and calling my doctor more regularly.
“Doctor, do you think this mole looks cancerous?”
“No, I think it looks like a piece of orange chicken from P.F. Chang’s.”
“Doctor, I am so tired. I just don’t have a lot of energy.”
“You need more exercise.”
“I have tried that, but when I start to exercise I get all out of breath and start to sweat. I think there is something wrong with me.”
“Well, at least we agree on something.”
“Doctor I am sorry to call so late but I had to call your office, the hospital and your receptionist first just to get this number, the other number you gave me was disconnected.”
Books became too slow for diagnosing symptoms and finding rare diseases. I had to turn to the internet, WebMd became my friend. They had photos of rashes, blisters, hairy moles and a thorough guide on diagnosing head injuries, irregular heart rhythms and irritable bowels. It was a godsend! (And just a side note: Doctors love it when you diagnose yourself, it makes their day go so much more smoothly.) However, the more I learned the more distant my husband became. When I diagnosed myself with E.D. that was the last straw--he snapped, and gave up his hyper vigilance. He had some excuse about “he didn’t have time to be paranoid, blah, blah, blah . . .” He was completely destroying the foundation of our relationship. Paranoia is what our love was built on.
I couldn’t wrap my head around it, it was like surrender. I thought it might have been the projectile vomiting, the explosive diarrhea, the chicken pox, the repeated fishing out of small objects in orifices—that wore him down. You know, when the kids were sick for real. Whatever it was, with his love of hypochondria over, he began to pressure me into “leaving the kids alone.” But I wouldn’t budge, “No one is gonna die on my watch!”
I turned to my siblings for comfort. One sister introduced me to some new herbal curatives. This particular sister was always consulting a nature-path and getting advice from “healing artists.” She also started carrying around a mason jar filled with fluid.
I asked her, “What is that?”
“It is a mixture of Honey, vinegar, and lemon juice. I call it huniger.”
“What is it for?”
“Digestion, allergies, arthritis, headaches. Basically, everything.”
“Why do you carry it in a glass jar, why not a plastic water bottle?”
“I don’t want chemicals leeching into my body from the plastic, but you can if you want to. I mean, it is your funeral, but whatever.”
“Ok, let me try some.”
It looked like urine and tasted about the same, but my sister swore that it was a cure-all.
Tooth decay? Huniger.
Stab yourself in the eye with a pencil? Huniger.
I became a huniger fanatic. Once I left my mason jar on the counter with the lid off. When I came back there was a fly floating in it. I screamed when I almost drank the fly but my children laughed.
“We were wondering if you would notice,” the little demons said maniacally.
“You put that fly in there?” I accused the little hellions.
“It was just a joke mom. Besides that stuff stinks.”
That is when I realized, the disease I was fighting was not mythical, not made up, I didn’t need to have hypochondria; I had a real illness. It is the pathological organism known as children. They were trying to kill me.
My mother said, “At some point children go from passively trying to kill you, to actively trying to off you. As evidence I submit to you: teenage drivers. I rest my case.”
This knowledge changed my life. I am now free of the burden of hypochondria. Yes, folks the pendulum has swung the other way, I am now my mother.
“Mom, I have a stomachache.”
“No fever. No vomit. No blood. Go to school and stop trying to destroy me.”
“But Mom, I feel sick.”
“Me too. That is what 25 hours of back-labor without an epidural but WITH forceps will do to ya.”
“But Mom . . .”
“And don’t come home until the last bell rings. Mommy needs a nap.”