I have this friend I met in college who is a little like me in his response to and worry about illness. To protect his privacy I will refer to him here as “Seth.” To further protect his privacy, for his birth date and social security number you will have to e-mail me in person. A few years ago, Seth was experiencing a few sort of weird symptoms and quickly sought medical care to rule out anything serious. His medical professionals did a little testing and called him a few days later to inform him that it appeared that he had multiple sclerosis. Naturally, Seth and his wife, who I will call ”Jenni” were naturally upset and immediately sat down to try and process the fact that Seth had just been diagnosed with a chronic, progressive and, most often, ultimately debilitating condition. They had been thinking about having their first child, but suddenly, all of their plans were on hold. A few minutes later the phone rang- it was the doctor’s office saying “Ooops! We inadvertently switched your test results with someone else’s. Good news! You don’t have MS!” Of course, Seth and Jenni were relieved, but it took a few weeks before Seth was back to his old self. It would not surprise me to hear that Seth has some sort of post-traumatic stress reaction to these events, even today. So whenever you see him breathing into a paper bag in public, you should just assume that he is re-experiencing those events and not become alarmed. I tell that story to illustrate the risks of hypochondria, as well as the benefits- you can’t be treated for an illness you don’t have UNLESS you first see someone to misdiagnose that illness in the first place.
As I have mentioned before, my family of origin is all about seeking immediate medical care. And, as I’ve mentioned before, we have a good reason for this and it’s not because my parents are crazy. In reality, I am not a hypochondriac. I’m in reasonably good health and my primary illness are colds and allergy related things. But my family has a fun tradition of calling our various viruses and injuries something more serious. For example, it sounds much less dramatic to say “I have a headache” than “I think that I have an aneurysm rupturing right above my left eye. Be sure to tell them that at the ER after I pass out.” Why say “I have a low grade fever” when “I have horrible chills. I think I have malaria” sounds even better? I forget that not everyone who knows me has known me since the dawn of time and, consequently, might not be familiar with this habit. My friend Gwen, the P.A. was a little startled, I think, when I called her to let her know that I thought my hacking cough was probably black lung. She was quiet for a minute and said in a really interested voice “I didn’t know you had ever worked in a coal mine. Tell me more about that.”
Just about everyone in my immediate family (okay, mostly Erin and I) will call all of the other members no matter where they are, work, church, a wedding, to let them know if we feel ill or have some sort of pain that we wish we did not. It took awhile for Rob and Elliot to begin to participate in this, but I am pleased to report that in the not so distant past Rob was sitting on the couch after dinner and said “The second toe on my left foot is numb. I’d like for us to call and tell Erin about it.” Another fun family tradition is my mom’s symptom book, which she’s had since I was in high school- you can look up your symptoms and it gives you a graphic description of what might (or might not) be your disease. It was through the help of this book that I learned last winter that an enlarged lymph node in my leg was either an infection in my leg or foot OR prostate cancer. You’ll be pleased to know that it was the former and I seem to have recovered fully. Rob especially roll his eyes when any one of us wants to look up something in the symptoms book, not that he tends to be a lot more supportive when I try to google the possible options. We’ll see who’s laughing when he assumes that a simple rash he’s got on his arm is actually a flesh-eating virus. Oh- well, probably at that point no one will be laughing, because I hear that’s really contagious. Anyway, we were visiting my parents recently and when Rob noted the symptom book had been moved out into the open as part of the décor, we had to take a picture. A lot of people use books this way as a way of being intellectually pretentious, but I appreciate that my parents are not trying to pretend that they sit around reading Thomas Aquinas in the original Latin or whatever- they're just being true to who they are, while having the Symptom book within easy reach:
It seems that our daughters have been observing all of this behavior and that became apparent a few weeks ago. They had just finished their bath and I was putting on their lotion in the living room when E dramatically threw the back of her hand onto her forehead and announced “Eh-wee has a feef-er.” I checked her forehead and stomach and she felt normal to me. So I asked, “You have a fever?”
“Yes. Eh-wee has a feef-er and needs med-sin,” she replied. I suddenly saw where this was going.
“The o-wange mo-twin.” E and L LOVE the orange motrin. It’s a small step from faking a fever to get Equate brand ibuprofen to claiming that one’s stomach pain is most likely their spleen rupturing. I wonder if this is really all learned behavior or if it’s dome sort of genetic disorder. It’s probably the latter. I’ll let you know what the geneticist says about it.
More and better pictures are coming, but in the meantime,here are some pictures of the girls at the pumpkin patch and trick or treating (as butterflies):
L. at the pumpkin patch:
L thinking through her candy options:
The girls with Grammy:
E with the look she had on her face the whole time she was very seriously trick or treating:
Also: if I haven't personally harassed you into watching this clip yet and you are involved with a man who is sometimes sick, please do so now: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mz6DktXFvg4