from Ew! Comic Books!
Illustration by Kathleen Foley
Every time my fingers worriedly rubbed my right eye, dread clasped its steel hands around my throat, making it harder and harder to breath.
“I can’t believe this is happening…” I could barely hear my own words over the pounding of my heart. “No. No. No. No!”
Pain started to seep in the more I rubbed, and I knew I should stop. My eye was already shrinking as it was.
How come it feels so small? my thoughts shouted. I had been in the middle of Taekwondo class when I decided to remove some sweat from my eye. The very moment I touched it, I could have sworn it had suddenly become a size or two smaller.
I ran down to the restroom, my shrunken eye tightly shut, and my cellphone clutched in my shaking hand ready to call a doctor. I finally found the mirror I sought, opened my ailing eye, and saw that it was completely normal. My sigh of relief was heavy and all too familiar.
Just another day.
Hi, my name is Sam, and I’m a hypochondriac. Please pass the Purell.
Hypochondria is the paranoia that even the most insignificant symptoms are signs of the deadliest of diseases.
“I lost fifteen pounds?” I asked in bewilderment after I was weighed by my doctor during a checkup. “I’ve been riding my bike eight miles every day for the past month…” My watery eyes locked with his. “But do you think I have colon cancer?”
There is no cure for crazy. So, there is no cure for hypochondria. There’s only mounting co-pays.
We are on par with conspiracy theorist. Believe me. “I think my stuffed nose is a sign of liver cancer” sounds just as crazy as “I believe we are all minions of the lizard people.” I’ve seen the look on my doctor’s “Are-you-kidding-me” face. (Co-pay: $20.)
But, recently, I’ve come to realize I may have found the cure for hypochondria: not having health care.
August 31, 2009 marked my one year anniversary without medical benefits.
A health care-less hypochondriac. Such a self-contradicting creature can’t possibly exist, can it?
Hypochondriacs believe that every single little tingle, cough, and tan line are out to get us. Conspiracy theorist don’t believe they think in theory at all. They know without a doubt that the government already sold us all over to Scientology experimentation long ago. Us hypochondriacs know that an eye dilating is a sign of inevitable blindness and not just a symptom caused by low light. (Co-pay: $60. Eye specialist. Multiple visits.) I have rediscovered the same little mole on my arm dozens of times, and each time I knew it was a sign of some horrible fate, whether it was a tic, skin cancer, or molenitis- the imaginary disease I feared, after finding a second one, would cover my entire body in moles. (Co-pay: $0, but loss of sanity.)
Like conspiracy theorist, we hypochondriacs need other people to listen to us. Otherwise, we would be forced to listen to our own crazy thoughts.
“There’s this strange noise coming out of my nose every time I twist to the side,” I fearfully explained to my doctor one day.
“That sound is breathing,” he dryly responded. (Co-pay: $20, and the most embarrassing moment of my hypochondriac career.)
Doctors are to hypochondriacs what bloggers are to conspiracy theorist. Doctors actually listen to us. As long as we have health insurance, they will investigate our theories and examine us, even if for only a quick moment to determine that the sole thing wrong is the natural intake of oxygen.
For one full year, I didn’t have one medically trained ear to listen to my theories. This was a year that featured the outbreak of Swine Flu and Joe Biden’s declaration that he wouldn’t want his family to be in confined spaces lest the new flu get them. (I was in a subway car without my hand wipes when I found that out. Thanks, Joe.) I should have locked myself away in a germ free bubble with a bottle of Purell attached to my straitjacket. But, I’m sure access to a germ free bubble requires health insurance as well.
“I’ve been coughing a lot,” my girlfriend once stated with a half smile, as I drove. “Maybe I have Swine Flu.”
“Get out of my car!” I shouted, only half joking. (Co-pay: the doghouse.)
There were instances where I almost found myself back in the doctor’s office. $60 to see if my stuffed nose and the slight twinge in my right side meant liver cancer…again? I’m crazy, sure, but I’m not a rich hypochondriac. If I thought the rash on my hand would eventually lead to amputation (I did…), I had to take a deep breath, let myself think rationally, and realize it was just sunburn. No expensive emergency doctor’s appointment necessary. I had to force myself to see the absurdity in my thought process. That has been the pattern for over a full year now.
Not having health care has brought some sanity to my life, but I still clutch a bottle of Purell everywhere I go. Everyone needs a 99.99% germ-killing safety net. That’s only rational.