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Three score and ten or more

Friday, September 09, 2005

On becoming a hypochondriac.

Most seventy year olds, whether they admit it or not, are hypochondriacs. Vitamin and drug companies make a fortune from this obvious fact. If you don't believe it, look at the TV adds for drugs. A very high percentage are addressed to the geezer, or the geezerette because the approach to seventy brings on an awareness of the fact that one is gradually (or swiftly) wearing out.

I became a hypochondriac well before I even thought of being seventy. (In fact, when I became a hypochondriac, I didn't really think I would make it to seventy, and if I did, I would be wheeling around in one of these electric rolling chairs the guys on TV are pretending to give away.

About fifteen years ago, I was happily working as a theatre, puppetry, and communications teacher and moonlighting by selling a Network Marketing program called Melaleuca (I won't get into it except to say that the company has gained and is still gaining a lot through my hypochondriasis).

One day I was concluding a meeting regarding the products when one of the ladies near by dropped a pencil. I bent over to pick it up and when I held it out to her there were two of her. One stood about five feet to the left of the other. Deciding that this was not totally kosher, I found a seat and waited impatiently for the two of them to get together. (They/she came over to get her pencil, becoming singular as she did this and she asked me if anything was wrong. I explained what was wrong and her husband (who ran a nursing home and was used to this kind of thing) took my keys and drove me home. I staggered into the house, which by this time only had one door (thankfully), and quickly went to bed. When I got up in the morning, I found that my balance was rotten, and that my right foot was dragging a little. As soon as I concluded my morning classes I went to the Doctor. By then my foot had ceased to drag, but I was walking really funny (kind of a duck walk). The Doctor concluded that I had an inner ear disturbance and gave me some dramamine. Taking the dramamine I reverted to a complete stagger and made my way from class room to class room by hold onto the wall.

I went back to the Doctor and he decided that I had better go up to the Medical College of Georgia to find out what was wrong and have them fix it.

This began one of the crummiest periods of my life. I began by seeing a Doctor in the Family Practice Center. One conclusion that came from dealing with a really caring (and cute female) resident was that when one goes into a teaching hospital, and the doctor who examines you steps out into the hall and calls all the other doctors with a "Come on in here, this is really interesting", you are in a whole lot of trouble. I went back and forth to that hospital (eighty miles away) while various folks felt, prodded, cat scanned, MRI'd, and removed blood from me trying to figure out what was wrong. It was pretty obvious that they started out with the idea that I had had a mini-stroke, but the MRI's said no. In the ensuing four months I was diagnosed variously with Guillen-Barre syndrome, Chronic fatigue syndrome, bi-polar disease, chronic depression, multiple schlerosis, and had a cardiologist catherize me and tell me I had a seriously convoluted aorta (he had another term for convoluted, but I can't remember what it was). My lungs were checked, I had three full days of psychological tests (I have referred to that before), and finally they put me in the hands of the Neurologists to discovered that I have an Acquired Polymotor Peripheral Neuropathy. (They test for that with a cute thing called an EMG in which they put an elecrode on your toe, stick a needle into the muscle around your thigh then shoot electrical current through it to see how fast the electricity travels. It is about the most fun you can have without doing a self conducted appendectomy without anesthetic. )

In the meantime I became really, if not clinically, depressed (I wonder why). One day I had gone to the lab and had to drive back to the Family Practice Center. The distance was a block or two, but I ended up sitting at a traffic light on fifteenth street in Augusta, GA. with tears running down my face because I had no idea where I was. Fortunately I noticed, "cattee corner" from my position a Krispy Kreme donut shop. I knew that almost anything could be healed with the right application of Krispy Kreme donuts. I drove over, purchased two cake donuts with chocolate icing (they have since quit making cake donuts, when I discovered that, I sold my stock-- it is still falling) and got directions to the Family Practice Center (It was one of those "see! right over there on the right, the red brick building" sets of directions).

After going through all that crap, what I knew was that I had lost much of the feeling in my hands and feet, fell down a lot, and though they took multiple little cups of my blood for analysis (along with hair clippings) and they didn't have a clue as to the cause. Most people who have neuropathies are diabetic so I have been tested for diabetes more than any non diabetic in history. I also came down with some eye disease (that is typical of diabetics) and had thirteen laser shots in my left eye and six in the right.

To make a long story a little shorter, when you spend a year being picked apart by doctors and the only real result is a neurologist saying "I have bad news and good news, the bad news is that you have a lot of serious neurological symptoms which we may or may not be able to treat with a variety of drugs. The good news is that you don't have any known neurological disease, which is good because most neurological diseases are terminal." At this point I became seriously hypochondiacal (if there is such a word). If there is an antioxidant that is known to man, I probably take it, along with a wide variety of herbs, vitamins, calcium, other minerals. Add that to the prescription stuff and I single handedly keep manufacturers in business. If I hear symptoms of a new disease on television, I immediate begin to feel them. (Some time, if I get really sour, I will get into my treatment for bi-polar disease, which is serious, but I don't think I have ever had a manic or euphoric moment, and except for the period when the doctors were prodding and picking me I don't think I have been depressed)

What I'm looking for now is a pill to cure Hypochondria.


At 7:00 AM, Anonymous Yvonne Lofton said...

Wow, I'm not seventy, but 49. I have the same feelings and here I am online again searching for a disease to attach to my symptoms. Daily narcotics keep me functioning to some degree while my pain management specialist tries to convince me that the cause of my pain is "chronic pain syndrome." Pain is now a disease rather than a symptom, I suspect because it takes less time to diagnose. Anyway, thanks for your blog.


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