My name is Susan and I am an intermittent hypochondriac.
For the most part, I have very good health sense - I have a good recall of symptoms and treatments for a number of illnesses; I don't clog the health care system with needless panic; I get appropriate vaccinations for people in my family; I get a physical at least every year or two.
But every once in a while, especially when stress is high, I throw myself into a panic and know for certain that I have, or someone in my care has, a Dread Disease. This weekend it was blood poisoning: I cut my hand on a piece of sharp aluminum while gardening. I didn't think twice about it until the next morning when it was red and very sore and then I thought BLOOD POISONING!! It wasn't long ago that I read a biography of Norman Bethune, the celebrated Canadian thoracic surgeon who served in Spain and China and who died of BLOOD POISONING!! It wasn't pretty. I mean Bethune. Or maybe my panic as I stared at my hand, wondering when the red streaks would start down my arm. I did the wrong thing and looked up cures on the Internet. Apparently a good course of antibiotics usually does the trick, but apparently sometimes it just kills you. I looked up home remedies and discovered a whimsical story -- by someone who clearly had not read about Bethune -- about how his sweet mother cut open an Irish potato and put it against the infected wound, drawing out the poison.
What if my potato isn't Irish? I asked Dave and we laughed our heads off.
The good thing about being an intermittent hypochondria - besides the relief of NOT DYING OF BLOOD POISONING!! - is that one can have a sense of humour about one's madness.
I have a friend who is also usually sane and reasonable who suffers from intermittent hypochondria. Once we talked about the fact that we might have head cancer. And we laughed at that.
Non-hypochondriac sickness continues apace at our house. It's the source of the stress that brings out my worries.
But just yesterday I drove home an acquaintance whose life has been severely curtailed by a serious heart condition and who faces his third open heart surgery, a surgery he must stay awake for. Later, a friend who emailed to say that her fourth and final bout of chemo is over without much promise of it having defeated the cancer it battled.
I feel deeply sobered by these people's stories. I don't know how else to put it. It puts my life into perspective. It suggests a posture of courage instead of willy-nilly panic. What I want most of all these days is two-fold: a night away with my husband and a fabulously interesting part-time job. What I see in my friends' lives, though, shifts my perspective into gratitude and fortitude, an awareness of the crocuses in my garden, the coffee in the pot, the general good health we enjoy.