Tag Archives: Health

The Doctor

Visiting the Doctor: A Hypochondriac’s Perspective

You walk in. You sign in using the communal waiting room pen. This disgusts you.

You hand the receptionist your insurance card in exchange for an annual wellness survey. You mouth “thank you” and scurry to a dark, unoccupied corner of the waiting room.

You glance at the survey. It asks you to circle any ongoing symptoms or general health concerns. You laugh. Because they have no idea what’s coming.

You pick apart the list of possible symptoms as one might a tapas menu. Mood swings? Sure! Night sweats? Why not? You crack your knuckles and begin to unleash a year’s worth of neuroses. Within minutes, you convince yourself that you’re dying, if not already dead.

You’re soon escorted back to the next holding pen. There, you strip down to your moose socks and don the dreaded cotton gown. Honestly, you don’t really think about the other naked bodies it’s touched. Until you sit down.

Days later, your doctor comes in and you chit-chat. You talk about your family, your health, the news, etc. You crack a few good jokes. She laughs. “I’m on a roll!” you think. And for the next few minutes, you smile like a smug little asshole, blissfully unaware your gown is wide open.

You move on to blood work.

You faint during blood work.

You come to in a high chair, doubled over at the waist with a trashcan between your ankles.

A nurse hands you a lollipop. You accept the lollipop. You get the lollipop stuck in her lab coat as she checks your vitals.

You mumble your apologies. She tells you to eat your lollipop. You tell her it touched her lab coat and now you’re scared to eat it. She hands you another lollipop and a small cup of water. You notice that the cup looks just like those used for urine samples, but you say nothing. What’s the point? Clearly, you’ve lost too much blood to live.

I asked the blood tech to take a picture of in case I died. Here it is.

I asked the blood tech to take a picture of me in case I died. Here it is.

Another nurse comes in. She asks how you’re feeling. You say “weird.” She asks if you have children. You say no. She says, “Well honey, then that ain’t ever gonna happen.” You agree. Wholeheartedly.

You sit in the high chair like a small child waiting to be released from dinner. Once you’re able to stand on your own, you’re cleared to go.

At check out, you’re given a printout of your medical conditions. It reads:

Anxiety.
Asthma.
IBS.

“My God,” you say to yourself. “I’m a catch.”

The Flu

Thoughts I had while fighting the flu:

Is this what it feels like to become a vampire?

How did this get through my defenses? Has The Fish Taco been lying dormant all this time?

Joan and James are being so nice to me.

JoanieJoan and James are being too nice to me. Can they sense what I cannot – imminent death?

I am going to die alone. I am going to die alone up here in this attic, in this stupid Megalodon t-shirt. (Dying alone has been a recurring fear of mine ever since I realized I don’t know how to perform the Heimlich — to others, or to myself. Twice I’ve chipped teeth while eating too quickly, so choking doesn’t seem too far fetched.)

When will my cool fever dreams kick in?

I had no idea cats could sleep so much.

Dreads

Fever hair.

Is that a dreadlock?

While hopped up on Sudaphed: Why do people do meth?

While crying in the urgent care parking lot: I really need cat litter. And Feeder Supply is right there. But I can’t be the girl who walks in crying, buys cat litter and leaves.

I am the girl who walked in crying, bought cat litter and left.

Should I call everyone I had contact with late last week? Or is that only appropriate with STDs?

What if my boss thinks I’m lying?

Because really, who gets the flu in May?

Maybe this isn’t the flu.

This definitely isn’t the flu.

While searching my body for ticks: I must have Lyme disease.

While searching my body for mosquito bites: I must have Zika.

While searching my body for claw marks: I must have Cat Scratch Fever. Oh, God. What a horribly ironic way to die.

– fin –

26

A few months ago, I turned the anti-climatic age of 26. And while I realize that this by no means makes me any wiser or more qualified to offer advice, I learned a few things in the past year — both insignificant and slightly significant — that I want to share. Before I begin, I’d like to offer a disclaimer on this post: parts of it are a bit deeper than my usual stuff. You–as my mom often does–might find yourself wondering, “Why are you being so intellectual, Jo?” (She asked me this after I told her I was reading The Red Tent). And to be honest, I’m not really sure. Perhaps it’s a sign of maturity, or perhaps its a chemical reaction from all the gray hairs I’ve forcefully removed from my scalp. But don’t worry, I won’t be an intellectual blogger forever.

Hair pills don’t work.
Sometime around the sprite age of 23, I decided it would be a good idea to cut my hair off. I honestly enjoyed my new ‘do (for about 48 hours), but I spent the next two years of my life looking like Thomas Jefferson caught in a rainstorm. I absolutely hated my colonial bob, and so I did everything (short of extensions) to fix the situation.

Here I am in my company headshot.

Here I am in my company headshot.

This meant taking an obscene amount of hair pills and vitamins that, when combined, promised me Kardashian-esque locks and frighteningly radiant skin. For a couple of months, I convinced myself that the results were worth the investment. My hair felt smoother, my hands looked slightly less scaly, and my breath was only mildly fishy. But one afternoon, my mane-and-tail cocktail didn’t sit too well with my delicate stomach and I ended up getting sick in a coworker’s office. To explain my cold sweat and sudden exit was awkward, to say the least, and so on that very day, I wrote off hair pills entirely.

Yogis aren’t all that crazy.
Until a few months ago, the closest I’d gotten to yoga had been by way of an extensive collection of black stretchy pants. To be sure, I never wore said pants while performing the actual act of yoga (or during any stretching, for that matter), but I appreciated their universally flattering fit and, like any 20-something, how well they complimented my Sperrys.

Then, a few months ago, someone told me that yoga is one of the best exercises for people with anxiety, and that she’d highly recommend it for someone as neurotic as myself (high praise, indeed). While I doubted it would bring forth the peace and tranquility she promised, I figured it was probably due time I learned how to touch my toes. Thus, I began an unlimited package at a yoga studio.

I showed up at my first hot yoga class feeling insecure and skeptical. Not helping my cause was the fact that I was the only person wearing athletic shorts, or that I’d brought an american flag beach towel to dry off with. Everyone else was clad in an assortment of spandex and tattoos, and no one — I mean no one — had a beach towel, let alone a towel as visually assaulting as my own. My skepticism only grew as the class went on, as the instructor proceeded to list the benefit of each pose as it related to the organs. I highly doubted that the compression from “wind relieving pose” (a ridiculous name in itself) would massage my descending colon and flush out my pancreas. Nor was I buying that by placing my forehead on my knee, I’d improve my metabolism and relieve depression. But as I’d already paid for a month in full, I carried on without complaining.

My next few appearances were much the same. With each subsequent class, I learned more about my organs, breath and glands than I had during my sadistic addiction to Web MD. But around my third week (around the same time I stopped wearing athletic shorts), something miraculous happened. I realized that I did feel better. I felt more balanced, more confident and more self-aware. I’m not saying I bought into any sort of lower-intestinal-massage powers, but I recognized a significantly positive difference in my body and in my mind. So, as it turns out, I guess yogis aren’t all that crazy.

And now for the intellectual stuff.

Anxiety doesn’t define me.
For years, I’ve joked about my anxiety. If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I often make light of my germophobia and hypochondria. I get it. It can be funny sometimes. And until recently, I’ve found that joking about it has been the best kind of therapy. But a few things happened this past year that, quite frankly, aren’t all that funny. And they’ve made me realize that my anxiety (no matter how comical it can be at times) has completely run–and at times seemingly ruined–my life.

At the incessant urging of my mother, I won’t go into too much detail about my anxiety. But at some point, I plan to write about it because I think it’s a condition that more people need to understand. Generalized anxiety disorder isn’t worrying about passing a test or being late for work. It’s taking a fear or an insecurity (whether that be rational or completely irrational) and turning it into an obsession. It’s worrying about EVERYTHING — relationships, work, weight, body image, MRSA, germs, receding gum lines, typos, cancer, perfection, social awkwardness, what someone said about you 5 minutes ago, what someone said about you 5 years ago, etc. — to the point where you’re unable to “wake up” and check-in with the world around you. To the point where your mind is so incredibly clouded at times that it blocks any and all external thoughts — no matter how important it, he or she may be. Having anxiety means that routines are religion, and to deviate from them is almost unbearable. It means feeling debilitatingly insecure and inferior and, at times, it means feeling completely detached from everything and everyone. As a result, it means your friends, family and loved ones can’t understand why you’re so distant, so frustrating, so indecisive. They feel insignificant to you, even though they’re anything but.

For 25 years, I’ve done a pretty good job of masking the severity of my anxiety (except for all my bone cancer blood screenings, of course). And I managed to do so, in part, because I didn’t realize the full extent of it. But I’ve recently realized that my anxiety and insecurities have dictated far too much of my life, and that it’s time to make a change. So–with a little outside help–I’m learning that I don’t have to live like this anymore. And that feels awesome. I’m learning that my anxious actions are not who I really am. That they don’t define me. I’m realizing that being open and honest about my anxiety is far better than keeping it to myself, and that laughing at myself has been (and will continue to be) one of the best things I can do.

I’ve debated whether or not to publish this blog post for quite some time. It’s not exactly flattering. But after months of editing, re-editing, deleting and re-typing, I finally said screw it. At the very least, I hope it’ll help people understand me (and why it takes me 45 minutes to pick a beer) a little bit better. But most of all, I hope it’ll encourage those who struggle with similar demons to finally get some outside help, because it truly makes all the difference.

When Thirsty Spiders Attack

Today, I experienced one of the worst things that could happen to a hypochondriac:

A spider crawled out of my mouth and bit my face.

I wish I could say this was a joke — but as I’m writing this post, the perpetrator is sitting on my computer desk, grooming himself without a care in the world. You might be wondering why I haven’t killed him yet. The answer is that I’m keeping him in case the emergency room that I will undoubtedly check myself into needs him for further examination.

Spider trap. Where he will stay pending further investigation.

It went like this:

Early this morning, I had some blood-work done. We hypochondriacs like to do this on a monthly basis, so I was a bit overdue for my checkup. My doctor and I have an understanding — every time I come in, I tell her my symptoms (fatigue, possible over-consumption of milk and cheese, arm pain probably linked to bone cancer, suspicious looking freckles, etc.) and she tells me why these don’t necessarily mean cancer or imminent death. We bicker for a few minutes, and then she agrees to test my blood to prove that I’m fine, if not sleep deprived.

So, after having my blood-work done this morning I was feeling a little woozy (this is quite an improvement from last time when I flat-out fainted on the scene). I came home, fixed myself some oatmeal and a little cup of espresso. I set my cup down by my computer and wandered around the house to make sure Buster was inside on this hot summer morning, as he is in the high-risk group for air quality alerts.

I returned to my desk, sat down and took a sip of espresso. I felt a clump on my tongue, but figured it was sugar that hadn’t properly dissolved. I sort of drooled it out, since it wasn’t settling right in my mouth. I felt the sugar scurry down my chin, which seemed to be traveling a bit fast for a clump of sugar, I thought.

Then my chin started stinging. Again, I figured the espresso/sugar combination must be irritating my skin so I reached out to wipe it off. That is when I realized that this clump of sugar was in fact a spider.

The Perpetrator.

At that point, I screamed and starting gagging. I ran around my room, projectile-spitting all over the hardwood floor in case any of the perp’s friends had also found their way into my mouth. Already queasy and light-headed from my earlier blood-work, I started to stumble around and crash into furniture, violently drooling and spitting like a wild animal hit with a tranquilizer gun.

Thus far, no identifiable marks have shown up where the spider bit me, but I’m assuming his venom is pulsing through my veins as we speak. My chin is starting to itch, and my tongue feels heavier than usual. My throat feels kind of tight and strange, but it could be from all of my gagging. I’m wondering if there is some sort of deal that would allow me to return to the doctor’s office this afternoon free of charge, since it is technically still the same day as my scheduled appointment. Maybe I’ll call and ask. I can’t say they’d be surprised.

Germophobes Unite.

For most of my adolescent life, I managed to keep my germophobia under wraps. While it was stressful at times, I worked very hard to keep up an easy-going, germ-indifferent public persona. But now, as people are slowly catching on to my constant hand washing, inability to walk barefoot and fear of fruit garnishes, I’ve decided to come clean. While I don’t expect to shock many people, I do hope, at the very least, that in writing this blog post I am able to significantly decrease the amount of people who ask for a sip of my drink or to borrow my chapstick.

The first signs of my disease cropped up when I was still a spry young chap on the cusp of Kindergarten. As I did not have much to do after my morning screening of Fraggle Rock, I took it upon myself to police the bathrooms in hopes of instilling a more rigorous hand-washing regimen among my relatives. I’d station myself directly outside of the bathroom door and interrogate people upon exit. Sometimes I’d go as far as to press my ear to the door to make sure I heard the faucet running. How my family must have loved me.

I ended my career as a self-elected CDC official upon entering Kindergarten. At this age, I had bigger fish to fry. Like trying to convince my classmates that my dad was part bear. (To rationalize his coat of back hair, my dad told me that he’d spent his preteen years living as a bear living in Sacramento. I believed him for longer than he had intended me to.)

Anyways, the first event on my Kindergarten social calendar was the Pilgrims and Indians brunch. Coincidentally, it was this event that scarred me for the rest of my life:

I considered the brunch my inaugural ball into public schooling. I usually came to school clothed in Lands’ End overalls and knockoff Zoo merchandise, so this opportunity to dress up was a big deal for me. I gave my mom my costume instructions and immediately organized a trip to Stride Rite. Come Brunch day, I was ready to make an entrance in my homemade pilgrim frock. My only regret was agreeing to wear the bonnet as it completely overshadowed my bowl-cut.

In for a bowl-cut shape-up.

After all of my hard work and meticulous grooming, it was shaping up to be an enjoyable afternoon. That is until one of my female classmates projectile-vomited directly onto my chest. I don’t remember much after that happened — I’m assuming I fainted on the spot.

Things didn’t get easier after Kindergarten. As I got older, I began to fear more than just my peers’ sooty paws and their spontaneous projectile-vomiting. Once lice came on the scene, I successfully planned and executed my first self-quarantine. My sister, who was notably less prepared for such a disaster, was not as lucky.

Over the years I’ve gradually learned how to discretely cope with germophobia. College was a real breaking point for me — I like to think it relaxed me a bit. Only once did I wipe down a tap with hand sanitizer prior to keg-standing. Serving also gave me a crash course in coping skills — I didn’t last long as a server, but the only germ-related trauma I really flipped out about was when a dollop of queso splashed into my eye while I was bussing a table. I quit shortly after that incident, but not before Googling “Pink Eye” and “workers’ comp”.

People often referred to me as a style icon of my time. You’ll notice my bowl-cut here, as well.

And although I no longer accost people in restrooms, I do exhibit my geromphobia in a number of more subtle ways:

  • I avoid all fruit garnishes on drinks as I am well aware of their manhandled filth.
  • I am terrified of walking barefoot — but not without good reason.
  • I visibly panic when people ask for a sip of my drink (it’s hard coming up with a polite way to say “absolutely not”.)
  • I am somewhat frightened of used books. (As a child I found a booger in one my library books.)
  • I thoroughly (and I mean thoroughly) sanitize the elliptical at the gym….before using it.
  • I throw away my chapstick after questionable people harass me into sharing it with them
  • I am giddy at the sight of public restrooms with doorknob-less swinging doors, automatic faucets, automatic soap pumps and automatic paper towel dispensers.

So I guess the moral of this post is, please don’t ask for a sip of my drink. Or to borrow my chapstick. Or for a bite of my meal. And please don’t ask why my hands are so dry — it’s obvious that I’ve over-washed them. And I realize that in writing this post I sound like a serious nerd. But let’s be honest, I think that ship has sailed.

Buckwheat Poisoning

(Disclaimer: I usually try to keep most of my posts fairly PG so that potential employers don’t write me off for any poor decision-making. However, in this case, this story requires that I raise the topic of hangovers. Please keep in mind that I am of age and, due to a hindering 2-3 beer tolerance limit, tend to drink responsibly)

Living with your parents has several advantages, most of which include free dining privileges. However, I’ve recently run into a recurring problem, and I don’t think there’s anything (short of moving out) that I can do to fix it.

In college, most Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings were dedicated to recovery. My roommates and I treated our hangovers like fragile medical conditions. Cold rags, ice packs, french fries, albuterol inhalers (in my case), the works.

Hangovers at home are a different story, although I can’t discount the fact that things have gotten easier since I am now an “adult”. This means that I no longer have to craft a ridiculous story as to better explain why my mascara is down to my chin. Now that I’m a seasoned 22-year-old college graduate, I come home and let my true colors fly. The only bump in the road I’ve run into thus far happened the day after college graduation, when I returned home to Louisville missing part of a tooth.

The downside of being at my parents’ house in such a delicate condition is that they take great pleasure in my suffering and force me to engage in ridiculously painful amounts of social interaction. As soon as my big-toe hits the kitchen floor, my mom launches into a debriefing so intense I often wonder if I should have an attorney present.

“What’d you do last night? Who’d you see? You look like you don’t feel well. Any developments in the rooooo-mance department? I hope you didn’t meet anyone at the bar — seriously, Joanna, every man you meet in a bar has a character disorder (she tells me this every night I leave the house). Does _____  still have a girlfriend? Has Buster been fed? (My dad shouts in reply from upstairs: “DO NOT FEED HIM AGAIN — we’ve got a ralph situation up here!”) Never mind, don’t feed him — he just threw up. Your father wants you to mow the lawn today. Have you washed your face yet?”

Since all of this information is far too loud and far too much to process, I usually squint one eye and try to focus on one question. “No mom, I will absolutely not mow the lawn today.”

I then sit down at the kitchen table and try to enjoy my cereal while pretending to read the paper. This is when my dad walks in and begins his portion of the Q&A.

“Oh-hoh! Well look who it is! You look like you had fun last night (translation: you’re a real mess, Joanna). The lawn needs mowing, Jo. Can I count on you to do that? Also, I need lunch meat. Carol (my mom), do we have any lunch meat? Jo, I’m thinking barbecue for dinner (it’s 10 am). You’ll eat chicken right? (absolutely not) No? You still won’t eat meat? Well you’re on your own then. I can’t go out of my way for you and Jessie just because you’re both weird. What’s for lunch, Jo? I’m thinking smoothies. We’ve got some mushrooms that need to be eaten up (mushrooms that needed to be “eaten up” at least 2 weeks ago). Smell these mushrooms, Jo. Do you think they’re ok?”

All of the above is background information to better explain the ordeal I went through last weekend. Imagine the aforementioned interrogation process of a normal hungover morning in my household, but throw in a parakeet, 2 sleeping pills and a few hives and you’ll have a glimpse of how I spent last Sunday morning.

The morning started out fairly normal. I came into the kitchen to try to eat breakfast with as little human interaction as possible. My mom offered me some buckwheat groats that my dad had made earlier that morning. Buckwheat groats are like oatmeal. My sister and I recently went gluten-free (ish) and buckwheat is supposed to be a great gluten-free substitute. Or so I thought. The groats looked like sautéed fish eggs, so I only took a very small forkful to sample.

The culprit

I sat down and began to eat some cereal. 5 minutes later, my face got very hot. I figured I was just having another menopausal hot-flash, as these often accompany my hangovers. After finishing my cereal, I went upstairs to find Buster. I found him in my bed, which is no surprise since I recently stashed catnip in one of my pillows to secure my place as his favorite family member.

The catnip pillow.

I immediately began petting him while giving him a full recap of my night. After a few minutes, I felt like my ears were going to fall off. I looked in the mirror and realized that my ears were turning an eggplant purple and that my face looked worse than Ron Weasley suffering from a bout of rosacea. My elbow itched and when I looked down, I noticed it was red and swollen — as were my knees, wrists and other elbow. My thigh looked like someone had repeatedly whipped me with a wet rag. I looked like bloated a redhead who’d horribly misapplied their sunscreen while tanning in Cancun. If things had progressed any further — well, I’m honestly not sure what would have happened, but I’m assuming I could have been cast as the new poster girl for sun poisoning and/or the potential side effects of chemical peels.

Being the hypochondriac that I am, I immediately thought I was dying. I ran back downstairs to the kitchen, only to find my sister writhing in pain by the sink with a severe leg cramp. My mom was yelling, “Mag-Cal, Jess! Take the Mag-Cal!” In the background, the pet bird Darcy (who hates me) was screaming so loud that I was certain our neighbors would call in a domestic dispute. All of this was way too much for my brain to process, so I wailed, “I have a rash” and proceeded to strip down to show the world my blotchy, reddening skin.

My mom couldn’t take it. My poor mother thought she’d wash her hands of my sister and me the moment we graduated from college, but no. There we were, her unemployed 22- and 24-year-old daughters, screaming, sobbing and swelling under the roof she’d raised us in for nearly 20 years. She looked to one corner of the kitchen where Jessie was doubled-over, starring in her own personal Midol commercial, and then to the other corner where I was hyperventilating and reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

Finally, she saw my bulbous knees and decided I was top priority. “What did you do today? Did you touch anything unusual?”

Obviously, my first thought was that I’d just touched Buster. I saw him catch a chipmunk the previous day, so I was sure that I’d contracted a rare disease from him — most likely the chipmunk flu.

Tears filled my eyes when I thought about Buster’s (and my) imminent death. At least we’d go together, though. It would be just like The Notebook.

Death by chipmunk flu. (just kidding, he's tanning)

Before I could curse the chipmunk who’d brought this untimely death upon us, I realized that I’d eaten a forkful of buckwheat, which was something I’d never ingested before. My mom got on the computer and began researching “buckwheat allergy.” For whatever reason, she read aloud all of the worst case scenarios, sending me into further spasms of panic.

“If you start wheezing at all Jo, we’re taking you straight to the ER.”

“Wheezing? Why would I wheeze? Am I going to stop breathing?”

“No, but your throat could close. But don’t freak out!”

We were out of Benadryl, so I took two sleep-aid pills that appeared to contain comparable ingredients. I sat in an arm-chair and anticipated the moment that my life would begin to flash before my eyes.

Just then, my dad walked in the room. He saw me sprawled out in the arm-chair, overreacting as usual. When my mom filled him in on the situation, he said, “the things you will do to get out of mowing the lawn, Jo. First, the fainting now this. You know, maybe it would be good to sweat it out in the lawn? Get the allergy out of your system?”

As soon as the pills kicked in, I wandered upstairs and I fell into in a drug-induced slumber. Hours later, I opened my eyes to find my mom standing over me, poking my ankle and checking to see if I was still breathing. I fell back asleep. I later opened my eyes to find my dad standing over me. “You need to go to the doctor and get an epi pen. Also, I’m thinking homemade pizza for dinner. Be ready to throw in 30 minutes.” “Throw” is my dad’s term for “toss the dough,” or make the pizza crust. Throw is also the word my dad uses when referring to Buster’s post-meal projectile vomiting — Throw, as in: “Damnit Joanna, why’d you have to feed him again? There he goes, off to throw.”

When my joints deflated and my skin turned a more friendly shade of pink, I sauntered back down into the kitchen to help make dinner.

In the end, I didn’t have to mow the lawn. But I did momentarily give up on my gluten-free diet in lieu of 5-7 slices of pizza.