Cardella: Diary of a Hypochondriac

Hypochondriacs are held in low public regard. People have no sympathy for someone who always complains about imaginary illnesses. I believe hypochondriacs are sadly misunderstood. I should know. I am one. A hypochondriac is someone who always is sick, only no one knows it but him or herself. Hypochondriacs don’t need doctors, contrary to popular belief. They’ve already self-diagnosed their illness. Diagnostic tests don’t mean anything to hypochondriacs. Either the test results confirm what the hypochondriac already dreads or … if the results show that there is no illness … the hypochondriac believes the results are wrong. What infallible medical insights we hypochondriacs are blessed with.

I was raised by a mother who was a hypochondriac. She was ill practically her entire life. One day at the ripe age of 85, she died. I thought about having her headstone inscription read, “See, I told you I was sick.”

When I was about 10 years old, my younger sister came down with the chicken pox. To protect me against possible contagion, my parents shipped me off to my aunt’s. I stayed there until my sister’s pox was gone. No sooner did I return home than I was diagnosed with scarlet fever. At that point, I realized a pattern was being formed. I couldn’t be protected.

As a functioning hypochondriac, I believe I’ve had some really exotic illnesses. When I was 14, someone bumped into me and stuck me with the tip of their umbrella. I swore I’d been poisoned by Josef Stalin. Somehow I survived that incident, but I know that Putin is just waiting to get a second crack at me.

When I was stationed at Lackland AFB in the early ‘60s for training in the Air Force Reserve, my bunk bed was reassigned. I woke up facing the wall after spending my first night and screamed that I was blind. I was having enough trouble getting through basic training, how could I make it through blind? I’m not a religious man, but my blindness miraculously went away — only for me to wind up in an Air Force hospital with infectious cellulitis. Hypochondriacs do not enjoy long periods between illnesses.

After I was married, I developed a plantar wart on the bottom of my foot. It happened when we spent a weekend with friends at the New York World’s Fair. I spent most of our “pleasure trip” complaining of unbearable pain in my foot. The incident was written off as another example of my hypochondria until my doctor confirmed the wart growing inside my foot. She also told me that I had the feet of a 65-year-old man (I was 25 at the time).

Two years later, I was stricken with kidney problems that required surgery. I spent a period of time in the hospital with tubes sticking out of every orifice and a bag in which to do my business. My male nurse nicknamed me “hypo” — short for hypochondriac. Did he think I had chosen to wear a bag as part of my Easter outfit? Luckily, the bag was only temporary. But I was forced to spend 10 days flat on my back while my wife tried to feed me peas. This was well over 50 years ago, and I’m still finding peas in my pajamas.

Has aging cured my hypochondria? In a word: ”No!” Things have only gotten worse. The years have passed, and things have only gotten worse in the last 15 years. My kidneys finally quit on me. My wife donated one of hers. Her friends thought she was crazy. It’s like putting new tires on a car that has engine trouble, I believe one of them said. “What else could happen to him now?” she replied. The answer came about five years later. Colon cancer. By now I was getting pissed, too.

The colon cancer was excised, and we moved on to a relatively quiet period in our lives. That is, if you ignore the trip to the hospital for a bacterial infection. The medical folks swore I had contracted a highly unusual illness normally suffered by farmers. I thought I’d had a bad pork chop. And there was a side trip to Jefferson Hospital for internal bleeding caused by one of those new-fangled blood thinners that either help you or kill you. Then came the pandemic.

Fran and I got our shots, but not before I was exposed to COVID-19 (we tested negative). But the weight of my medical history had fully activated my hypochondria by now. I made another trip to the ER when my blood pressure soared over 200. The attending physician remarked that I looked great and didn’t think my condition was life-threatening.

I began taking my blood pressure twice a day and keeping a diary. My medication was switched three or four times. All I had to do was look at the blood pressure cuff on my dining room table for my pressure to go up.

My Jeff doctors all assure me that my latest series of blood tests are fine (“Not just good, but terrific,” one doc said). My cardiologist advised me to stop taking my blood pressure. “You seem to need a lot of reassurance,” he said. Did I detect a sour tone?

He was right. I do. Lots of reassurance. My wife has taken to rolling her eyes when I mention the tickle in my throat or my achy knees or that I have a slightly elevated temperature. I would wear my mask if my wife didn’t object during marital relations. She grew angry when I tried social distancing during sex.

I no longer take my blood pressure. But I do take my temperature a lot. 

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