Death by Hypochondria

April 8, 2011

Children of the Lewis household learned to not fake sick. False ailments were met with threats of strep cultures performed in my parents bathroom; that frightening cotton swab smacking against the gag reflex in the backs of our throats. Spawn of Lewis were hypochondriacs by nature, as our father could diagnose our ailments at the drop of the hat.

My sister, a ballerina (the family diagnosed “house hypochondriac”), and I, a lazy motherfucker slash theater kid, often developed some sort of pain somewhere that our father would poke and prod at. The “does this hurt?” questionnaire would consist on him pressing on joints with his over-sized fingers hard enough that it hurt regardless of if there was something wrong or not. While my sister had several joint strains and muscle pulls, and my brother had the occasional mistep (think he “broke” his knee once while skiing), I was the accident prone one, breaking both of my wrists and ankles over the course of 15 years (in order of appearance: sledding, running backwards on concrete and tripping, learning to skateboard on brick, and rolling my ankle in the first minute of a basketball game.)

Chondromalacia patella,” my father once declared. My sister and I claimed to both suffer from the stiff grinding kneecap tendons and shared multiple knee braces over the years. I thought he had possibly made this up, like my French teacher inventing “poisson d’Avril.” My father was an excellent bullshitter, and even if he had no idea what it actually was, he could probably give it some complicated Latin name and some list of symptoms I had experienced. My mother and I figured out he could probably win “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” regardless of if he knew the answer or not; he was very convincing. For all we know, I was a very sick child. Well, I definitely was a sick – I’ve always been morbid and a serious case of sarcasm – there’s no question there. Maybe my sickness brought out the caged genius in me; My mother occasionally still shows off a watercolor painting of a flamingo I did when I was 7 and home sick with a cold; she swears it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done. I think this is further proof that I do my best work when incredibly uncomfortable.

I was a spoiled hypochondriac as my father indulged our medical needs. I was 19 before I realized not everyone got in and out of an emergency room in 30 minutes. (Except for Tufts Medical Center in Boston, which is still the highest rated hospital in the emergency room zagat I wrote a few years ago.) I remember once entering my hometown hospital on a Saturday – a ghost town – and being submitted to the terrible experience of being tested for whooping cough (there was an outbreak at my high school and one of the sources sat near me in French class. When I came down with a sinus infection, whooping cough was an immediate suspect.) For those of you that don’t know (or haven’t heard my traumatic story already) here’s what happens: they stick a giant metal q-tip all the way up your nose (kind of like the strep culture) and dig around in what feels like your brain and then send that puppy to the lab. Mine came back negative, but it’s the only time in my entire life I almost kicked someone in the balls. Yep. Almost kicked my dad in the balls. That’s how uncomfortable whooping cough tests are. Instead I threw a temper tantrum like a 2 year old. You can do that when your dad is submitting you to terrible medical experiences.

I guess all of this is brought up by the fact that now that I’m stuck finding my own doctors and developing my own medical relationships (and constantly ignoring my own diagnoses), I’m realizing a lot of doctors could be my dad, coming up with an answer regardless of its validity. The feeling of being medically bamboozled came up today, as I’m seeing a new allergist, who determined (after 44 shots beneath my skin and 110 scratch tests over 3 days) that I have zero allergies. Last year, I was diagnosed as allergic to everything except dogs and foods (THANK GOD) and given a variety of medicines, which when mixed with everything else I was taking resulted some suicidal tenancies. (Listen guys, this DOES happen so don’t laugh at your doctor if they ask you if you’re feeling suicidal. It was fucking scary as fuck.) So this year, I tried somebody new, who determined that out of my 23 years of living (age drop!), that only one of those years has been affected by allergies. Well great. So me feeling shitty every spring is just a general disgust for “spring fever” and the PDA landmine, Williamsburg, I live in.

I’m young. I’ve got a good 40+ years ahead of me to hate everything… health related (unless the Mayans are right and we’re all gonna die next year) but I’m realizing the older I get, the faster I’m deteriorating. I’m worried by 30 I’m gonna have a limp or something – which I’m going to tell everyone is a mean street swagger – but between my current ailing respiratory system and my terrible arch support, I’m pretty sure I’m medically doomed. Regardless of some horrible health genetics on both sides of my family, I’ve gotten pretty lucky. I’m putting off all the serious genetic testing (I’m reminded every time I see a doctor that the day will come…) until after the predicted end of the world for my own amusement. (Notes: No, I do not have a predisposition for some untreatable genetic disease that will kill me before I hit 30 and for the record, I also just got my first credit card so that I can establish shit tons of credit and then max that sucker when the world is supposed to end (saving up in the meantime just in case it doesnt…).)

I’ve talked about my medical history in public forums many time. I’ve been able to occasionally diagnose friends and can determine my touch whether your wrists or ankles are broken. Most of you have heard/read these stories a million times by now (see? I’m already becoming a grandma.) I question sometimes why I didn’t follow my father into the medical field… there’s something about being able to help people by being so smart that really appeals to me. Then I remember steak-gate, when watching my father slice bloody steak and talk about surgery scared me off the stuff for 10 years. The time he told me he reinflated lungs like marshmallows kept me from ever putting one in a microwave. I also can’t watch the surgery channel, and watching the film “Taxidermia” made me almost vomit in my mouth. (On a related note: I’ve been planning on watching it again as now that I’m past the gory stuff I might be able to figure out what that movie is really about.) I can’t watch needles entering skin, although watching Intervention, True Life, and oddly enough, Teen Mom makes me want to do drugs. The idea of having a collection of rotating scrubs and crocs (exception: the mary janes) and not being able to show off a pedicure terrifies me. I also suck at memorizing things, so I feel like I would do a pretty shit job. I’m sure my dad would love it, but it’s a lot of pressure there in the medical field. I’ll leave it to the bullshitters and people with steady hands instead. I’ve got my money on the apocalypse that it’ll kill me before a doctor does.


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