Life in Hypochondria
(c) 1999 by W. Bruce Cameron
I am one of those people for whom the mention of a disease is the same as a
diagnosis. This is particularly true when those public service messages
come on the radio, listing the 14 signs of edema--invariably, I have all 14
symptoms. Like this:
Public Service Announcer: "Do you have skull apathy? Skull apathy
afflicts one out of ten men who were present during atomic bomb tests and
then later fell into the Love Canal. Listen closely to these symptoms:
"Has there recently been an obvious change in a wart or mole, such as
pulsating colors or bird whistles?"
(Ohmygosh, yes! I have a mole I've been calling Bullwinkle, because that
is sort of who it looks like, and lately he seems to have developed a funny
bend in one of his legs.)
"Do you sometimes believe you can see Al Gore talking without moving his
"Do you think you are like everyone else?"
"Do you have trouble booting Windows 95?"
"Do flames shoot out of your eyes when you are driving at night?"
(Yes! Well, sort of.)
"Are you troubled by cold sheets, swooping bats, percussion grenades?"
(Yes Yes Yes!)
"Did you cry at the movie Titanic, even though there were other guys in the
(Yes! Hey wait, I didn't say that.)
"If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is probably too late to
see a doctor. In fact, you probably lapsed into a coma somewhere after the
third question. Have a nice day."
Just great, now I've got skull apathy and I'm about to go coma. I zoom
home and breathlessly dial my doctor's telephone number, assuring the
receptionist that this is a life and death emergency and yes, I have
"This is Doctor Spleensplitter."
"Doctor Spleensplitter! This is Bruce Cameron! Thank God you answered the
"Oh, I'm... I believe I picked up the wrong line."
"Dr. Spleensplitter, I've got the top ten reasons to have skull apathy,
plus I can feel a coma coming on. You have to help me!"
"What sort of symptoms are you experiencing, Mr. Cameron?"
"Well, I have this mole shaped like a moose, only lately it looks like it
has developed a limp."
"Well then. Maybe you should see a veterinarian."
"Plus, I sometimes see Al Gore using Windows 95 without moving his lips!"
"I need some of those same pills you gave me last time."
"Mr. Cameron, those were placeboes."
"Yes, that's what I need, more placeboes! Only more powerful ones."
"More powerful placeboes."
"Mr. Cameron, may I ask you a very important question?"
"Yes, I have insurance."
"No, not that. I was reviewing your file the other day..."
"You were? Why, do you suspect I've got something even more serious than
"No, actually, it's because our staff requested a whole new filing cabinet
to put it in, and I wanted to see if there was anything in there we could
throw out. Mr. Cameron, do you realize you've complained of nearly every
malady known to man?"
"Plus some I'd never heard of before. Wake Apnea. Sudden Shower Syndrome.
Reverse Appendicitis. And now this new one..."
"Precisely. Mr. Cameron, has anyone ever suggested to you that you might
be suffering a bit of hypochondria?"
"Hypochondria? Is it serious? What are the symptoms? Tell me straight,
doc, how much time have I got?"
"No, it isn't serious at all. In fact, a lot of people have it, in some
form or another."
"So I caught it from somebody else?"
"Mr. Cameron, hypochondria is merely a term for people who worry
obsessively that they may have some disease or affliction."
"Well, I am worried! I'm worried I might have hypochondria! Are there any
placeboes that can be used to cure it?"
"You're not understanding me, Mr. Cameron. It isn't a real disease."
"You mean I'm sick with something FAKE?" This opens up a whole new realm
of doom that I hadn't even contemplated before. I swallow, feeling the
first trickle of a whole host of phony symptoms. "What's next, a CAT scan?
An MRI? Should I have my internal organs removed? Doc, I'm too young to
have hypochondria. I was just beginning to live life to the fullest!"
Well, maybe not to the fullest, but I had just purchased fresh batteries
for the TV remote and was looking forward to a night of crisp channel
changes. Now it seems pointless, somehow.
"Mr. Cameron, I'm afraid I'm not making myself clear, here. There's
nothing really wrong with you. You just have a morbid obsession."
He thinks he is fooling me, with his medical jargon, but I know what
morbidity is. From the Greek word "Mortimer," which means death.
Mortician. Post Mortem. Today I mort, yesterday I morted, tomorrow I will
have mortalized. Tomorrow.
"24 hours." I whisper.
"I appreciate you calling me, Doc."
"Well, I didn't call you."
"Whatever. I just... having one more day to at least put my life in order,
maybe catch one last episode of Baywatch..."
He sighs heavily. "I'll call in a prescription for some placeboes right
away. Treated aggressively, you should be well on your way to recovery by
the end of the week."