Doc, It Hurts When I Do This. Don’t Do That.

I had a doctor once who called me his favorite hypochondriac. That was okay, he smiled when he said it and was my favorite doctor. But other people have given me the same diagnosis, so I must seem like a hypochondriac.

I’ve never really agreed. Everyone worries about his health, I suppose. No one is really enthusiastic about disease and death. I just think I am better at worrying about it, or less reticent about admitting I do so.

I may also be better informed simply because when I run across an article about the latest flu or deadly outbreak traced back to poisoned pork or infected beef or mercury laden fish or e. Coli doused lettuce or hepatitis-spreading restaurants, I read it. Forewarned is forearmed, I figure.

In fact I’m baffled that a lot of people seem a little vague about their health and bodies. They don’t seem to know their knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone or the fact that the stuff they put in their mouths may have unfortunate effects on their heart or liver.

But I am not at the other extreme of people who can go on at length about ACLs and MCLs and Menisci, whatever they are. Or people who only put things in their mouths that didn’t have a mother and are beige.

Still, I’m willing to admit my eyes are attracted against their will to the latest report on how precarious life is and what god-awful pathogen is bearing down on me. But I don’t seek this stuff out; it seems to find me. For example, I was reading a recent copy of the “New Yorker” and hit an article about how the death certificate evolved. (Final Forms by Kathryn Schultz, April 7)

I probably should have quit right there, but it was interesting. First they just kept track of deaths by districts so you could avoid neighborhoods in the grip of epidemics. Then the count of deaths proved useful for actuarial purposes, but only belatedly did the record keepers get interested in the cause of death which proved useful in epidemiology.

See, it was just an amusing description of record keeping changes over time. Or was until I learned that a master list of possible causes or death began to be kept which has now grown to a staggering number, over 8,000. And here I’ve only been worrying about a dozen or two. So many diseases, so little time.

I seem to have begun early in failing to ignore the bad news I ran into. My mother loved to tell a story about when I was eight or nine and she took me to the doctor for the annual winter sore throat, what they then called tonsillitis. When we got in to see the doctor, he asked me what I had. I told him I was pretty sure I had leukemia since I had all the symptoms and therefore had only months to live.

Taken aback, he asked me how I’d reached that diagnosis. I told him that in the waiting room I had read the story in “Reader’s Digest” about the death of Red Skelton’s nine-year-old son of leukemia. The doctor then stood up, went to find the front desk lady and told her to gather up all magazines that weren’t “Highlights” and throw them out. Then he looked down my throat, told me I had inflamed tonsils and sent me home to gargle. I lived.

In fact I lived to hear my mother tell that story at my expense for another 20 or 30 years, but what’s a fellow to do? I didn’t stop paying attention to the world, and you really can’t help running into the latest terror tales of viruses and germs. But I contend that if I were a full blown hypochondriac I’d be rushing off to the doctor all the time.

But I don’t, possibly because half the medications they might prescribe seem to have side effects worse than the disease. And what with MRSA and all the other drug resistant germs now lying in wait at doctors’ offices it is safer to stay home and hermetically seal its doors and windows. And as for visiting a hospital, you might as well just go directly to the nearest charnel house.

Since I am getting older, I do see doctors occasionally about the normal miseries – knees, back, neck, skin worries caused by the sun exposure in an earlier century, GI worries caused by eating and drinking things everyday. But I just can’t stop. Eating and drinking things, that is. My hearing is fading a bit too. But luckily my mind is still…

What was I saying?

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