Wednesday, March 29, 2006


HYPOCHONDRIAC
Nerve ends tick in flicker book animation. One eye's closed in fear, anticipation. Will it stay shut? Will it ever open? What if? What if? Nerves.
- Bauhaus
I have liver cancer again. Don't worry, I've had it before. This time I'm sure I have it because I can feel my liver inside my body. I can't actually palpate it, and believe me, I've tried, but I can feel it in there when I walk around. But it might also be from sitting in my comfy computer chair with my knees up to my chest when I'm typing, searching websites or watching movies. So maybe it's an out of place rib. Or maybe I'm just crazy.

I'm pretty sure I'm a hypochondriac. I have been since I was little. I have had every disease and malfunction known to man. You name it, I've had it (twice.) This week alone I thought I had liver cancer, a tumor on my sternum (I still think I have that), lung cancer and AIDS. My mom is so used to me calling her in a panic that she doesn't even listen anymore. "MOM!!!!!!!! I have lukemia! I've had a bruise for 2 days and I don't know how I got it." My mom....."Oh yeah? What time are you bringing over the dog?" Not very comforting when you're convinced you're on your last legs, but as she says, if she ever really freaked when I told her one of my latest diseases I would REALLY lose it. She has learned to disregard all my medical claims, and only takes me seriously if there is blood involved or if I'm unconscious. My dad would have to see my death certificate before he'd agree I had something bad. His key phrase is "You're too young to have X." He's been using that since I was twelve (when I was convinced I had bone cancer.) I'm not getting any younger so it's not gonna hold water one of these days. But I assure you, when I'm sixty he'll still be saying that.

I went to the emergency room a few months back when I thought I was having a stroke. And I really thought I was having a stroke too. I had had this insufferable, monster headache for 3 days and it wasn't letting up. I went to work but they sent me home when I started mumbling about not being able to see out of one eye. Instead of going home, I drove (yes, drove) over to my mom's and nearly fell apart. She told me she'd drive me to the ER if I was really dying. I was really dying, so off we went.

When we arrived at the ER, the triage nurse assured me that I wasn't having a stroke ("You're too young for that" she said) and decided it was probably just a migraine but they would do a CAT scan anyway just to double check. As I lay in the ER exam room, awating to be wheeled to the CAT scan department, a nurse came in to assess my symptoms. "She's nuts" my mom happily told the nurse, smiling over the top of her Washington Post. "She thinks she's having a stroke." I was furious! This was a real medical emergency and my mom was laughing at me! Plus, this hypochondriasis is all her fault anyway. Everything is her fault. I'd get her later.

The nurse took my bloodpressure (it was high...see, stroke) and shined a light in my eyes. Then she started feeling around my neck and declared I had a swollen lymph node. Not realizing that she had just diagnosed me with AIDS (again) she left the room, saying someone would be in soon to take me to CAT scan. She smiled reassuringly over her shoulder and disappeared. I was already a disaster. My hands flew up and searched every last inch of my upper torso for the offending AIDS infected lymph node. None were found. I searched again. Still nothing. And believe me, I know the exact size of every lymph node on my body. If one were even 0.000000125 centimeters larger, I would know it. Relieved, I decided this nurse was inept and couldn't be trusted to give me a proper diagnosis. I made a mental note of this and went back to obsessing about my stroke.

Now I was really a mess. "I'm gonna die mom" I moaned. I fell back dramatically onto the gurnery on which I had been sitting straight up and even more dramatically tossed a limp arm over my eyes. I heard my mom turn the page of her WaPo. "What if they tell me I have an anurysm and they need to operate? This isn't the hospital I would want to have brain surgery in." I sighed deeply and felt a tear welling up in my right eye. I shuddered slightly and felt the lone tear slip down my cheek. "Would you shut the hell up" my mom said from behind her enormously engrossing paper. Then "Why in the hell do they have Faux News on in this place? People are already sick. I'm gonna go turn it off." She stood up, carefully folded her prescious WaPo and left the room, disappearing around the corner to see if she could turn off the obnoxiously loud TV out in the waiting area.

Just then the harbingers of bad news arrived to wheel me down to CAT scan. I pretended that I wasn't about to vomit from the fear of diagnosis and straightened out the blankets I had draped over my legs to keep myelf busy (and so they couldn't see me shaking). I stared straight up at the ceiling as they slowly wheeled me out of the exam room, through the ER and into the hospital itself. The smell of a hospital has always made me nervous and the various scents (diseases, cleaning products and.....death) overwhelmed me as I journeyed closer to my inevitable diganosis. I closed my eyes for the remainder of the trip. It was all too much for my poor self to take.

When we arrived in the CAT scan department, the girl who operated the contraption asked me what the problem was, equally out of morbid curiosity and the need to know what, exactly, she was scanning. "I'm dying of a stroke. Or an anurysm. They don't know which one yet" I feebly told her. She looked me over and smiled, "You look pretty young to be suffering from either one." She must have spoken to my father. She set me up on the sliding table (just sitting up caused my head to pound like a drum), put a helmet looking thingy on my head and slid me into the machine. Five minutes later it was over. I was worried I would go into cardiac arrest while in there (from the stroke) and they wouldn't be able to drag me out in time to save me. I was relieved when I was slid back out and reentered daylight.

Back to the ER exam room we went to await the results. While we were waiting to leave the CAT scan department, I listened as carfeully as I could to see if I could hear someone discussing my horrible diagnosis. The radiologists where in a little room to the left and I could see them in there looking at films. I wondered if mine was up there. Without hearing anything that sounded as if it pertained to me, I was wheeled back to the ER. I felt panic slowly start creeping back in. I had brain cancer now, I was sure of it. As we entered, I saw that my mom had returned from wherever the hell it was she had gone. "So you made it, huh?" she sneered as they wheeled me back in, my ashen face desperate with panic. I glared at her with brain tumor eyes. She sat back down and up went the WaPo again. After a few moments of silence (I was choking back tears) I said "Mom, what if I have brain cancer? What if the doctor comes through the door with another doctor, an oncologist? Mom, I swear I'll pass out if she comes in here with another doctor."

I was staring through teary eyes up at the ceiling, contemplating life as I knew it when I heard the crinkling of the WaPo. "So it's brain cancer now? When we got here it was a stroke. What made you decide it's brain cancer?" She was mocking me, I knew it. I was furious. As dramtically as possible, I tossed an arm over the railing of my deathbead (gurney) and turned my panic stricken face in her vile direction. Seething with hurt (and brain cancer) I hissed "You're making fun of me and I'm dying. What a bitch! You'll feel bad when that doctor comes in here with my films and an oncologist." She rolled here eyes and laughed at me (again) and sat back down. "You don't have brain cancer" she declared and went back to reading the paper.

I lay there staring up into eternity for what seemed like 5 hours. In reality, it was probably more like 20 minutes, but remember, I'm a hypochondriac. I was actually convinced they were gonna come in and tell me I had brain cancer. I thought I was gonna throw up. What other reason could there be for the delay in telling me my diagnosis? The doctor was probably confering with an oncologist at this very moment. Then I saw a form in the doorway and in came the doctor. My heart actually stopped for about 5 seconds then kick started itself. I felt the blood flush back into my extremities and into my face. I swallowed hard but the lump in my throat impeded the saliva and it bubbled back out onto my lips. I looked, I'm sure, like a crazy person. Deathly white face, trembling hands, giant dilated pupils and foamy spit all over my lips.

The doctor held a chart in one hand and a beeper in the other. I looked towards the door again to see what the oncologist looked like. I bet he's gonna be asian. The doctor sat down on the little stool that was positioned directly in front of my obnoxious, uncaring mother. I continued staring at the door, awating the white coat of the oncologist to blow through at any minute. "Well Miss X, your films were fine. I think your migraine tensed up the muslces in your neck. The muslces pulling on the back of your head is what's causing you the pain. I'm going to prescribe you a muslce relaxer." My asshole mother laughed, outloud, and looked at me. I was stunned. I sat there, still awaiting the oncologist to burst in and say there had been a mistake and that I did, in fact, have a brain tumor. The doctor wrote me a prescription as I numbly sat up. "So I'm not having a stoke?" I sobbed? "You're too young to have a stroke" she said, placing the prescription in my grinning asshole mothers hands. "The nurse will be in to give you your discharge papers in a few minutes. I hope you feel beter. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to call us." Then she turned and breezed out of the room, her lab coat billowing out behind her in her rush to see a SERIOUS case.

I started getting dressed and decided to ignore, for the moment, my coldhearted mother. I would deal with her obnoxiousness at a later date. Right now I had to focus on this latest diagnosis. So it's not a stroke or an anurysm or a brain tumor. Good. I was feeling better. I did a little "no brain cancer" dance and managed (painfully) to grin at the rude one as we strode out of the exam room and into the waiting room/reception area. I wrote the hospital a check for $100.00 (my sorry copay) and decided that was pretty cheap for a clean bill of health. We walked towards the slidding glass doors and stepped out into the afternoon sunshine.

"Where do you want to fill this prescription?" my mom asked. "Do you want to go back to your pharmacy and fill it?" I thought for a second. I couldn't go back in there after just telling them I was dying. That would be too anti-climatic. I had to let them worry about me. You know, suck up as much sympathy as possible. I'd tell them the diagnosis when they called later to see if I was still among the living. "No, we can go the pharmacy by my house" I said. As my mom drove, I looked out the window at the passing scenery. The sun was out and was warming my face as I gazed up at the clear December sky. Just then it hit me. The revelation struck me like a ton of bricks and I felt the wind sucked from my lungs. The world started to tilt on its axis and I thought I was going to faint dead away. For the second time in one day I felt my heartbeat stop. My hands clenched the armrest and I froze. Slowly, I turned towards my mom. She must have seen the panic in my eyes and noted the pallor of my complexion. "Now what's wrong?" she demanded. I opened my mouth, dry lips pulling slowly apart. My tongue felt huge in my mouth. I swallowed hard, trying to push the panic back down into my gut. "Mom....." I quivered, my voice barely audible over the terror, "what if they MISSED the brain tumor?"