Wednesday, July 23, 2008

They'll Have to Pry Google From My Cold Dead Hands

Just because I’ve been diagnosed with a serious disease does not mean I intend to give up my favorite hobby: hypochrondria. There is nothing in life so dire that I cannot make direr if you give me a minute or two.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a funny bruise on the back of my hand, which appeared the next day (to my horror!) to be spreading toward my wrist. I went immediately, 0-60 in 1 second flat, to flesh-eating bacteria. Did not hesitate, did not pause, did not for even one moment consider that perhaps I had bumped my hand and, well, bruised it.

I was still researching flesh-eating bacteria on Google two days later and trying to figure out how much of my hand they would need to amputate to save my life, when I noticed the bruise was gone. Another narrow escape!

When the neurologists were recently trying to determine which of several diseases I might have — so many to choose from! — I made the logical assumption that I probably had them all. Or, at least two or three, enough to account for all my symptoms, which ran to two printed pages, in 11 point type, single spaced. Heaven forbid that there should be a twitch on my body left unaccounted for.

Having lived in a medical fantasy land all my life, it feels a little strange to actually have something real, certified as genuine by the medical establishment. But then, as they say, even paranoids make real enemies sometimes.

Once, I not only convinced myself that I had pneumonic plague, I managed to convince a couple doctors, too. I ended up in isolation at the hospital, with everybody who came into the room wearing masks, paper jump suits and shower caps, and disposing of them before they left. It was very dramatic.

There was a logical reason for my assumption, of course. I had recently been to Sequoia National Park, and had observed a sign there reading, “WARNING: Pneumonic plague has been found in some rodents in the park. Avoid sickly animals. If you develop a fever within 10 days of your visit, see a doctor.”

Well, you don’t have to tell me something like that twice.

It has always been my policy to avoid sickly animals unless they’re my own, but I had petted a darling little kitty at the motel, and, wouldn’t you know it, after I returned home, I developed a fever. Reviewing my visit to the park, I decided that the motel cat had seemed perhaps a little on the lethargic side. Then I found I couldn’t breathe very well, so I called my doctor and told him the whole sad story . . . Sequoia, the sign, the cat, the fever of 103, etc.

I was told to head to the hospital, where I was rushed into isolation. As I lay on the hospital bed, the attending doctor told the assembled crowd that I might have bubonic plague. I raised my head feebly and tugged at his sleeve. “No, it’s pneumonic plague,” I gasped, “new MON ick, not bubonic. P-N-E-U-M-O-N-I-C.” I fell back exhausted. He looked a little irritated, and said, “Whatever.”

It turned out to be garden-variety pneumonia, which they quickly cured, but to this day, I still believe that cat was trying to do me in. While lying in the hospital in lonely isolation, I occupied myself by composing my obit, “Cat Lover Dies of Plague.”

I would like to see a medical drama on TV that employs the kind of inane conversations I get into in hospitals, such as discussing whether I am dying of pneumonic or bubonic plague. For another instance, I had a genuine heart attack a few years after my faux plague, and was lying face down on the bathroom floor chewing two aspirins when the paramedics arrived. (One of the paramedics said, “We don’t need a gurney, she can’t weigh more than 120 pounds, I’ll carry her,” and I thought, “There is a God! I’m going to die in the arms of someone who thinks I only weigh 120 pounds.” He picked me up with a surprised grunt — I’m small but I’m dense — and staggered with me out to the ambulance. His estimate of my weight was off by about a stone, as they would say in England. A very large stone. Actually, more like a boulder. But I digress.)

Once at the hospital, the emergency room people frantically started attaching needles and tubes, and one of the nurses said, “Get her an aspirin.” I tugged at her sleeve and said, “I already took two aspirin at home,” and she said reproachfully, “You don’t need two aspirin, you only need one,” and I said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” and she said, “That’s all right, but next time, remember, you only need one,” and I said, “OK.”

Wait. Next time?

Later, while lying bored silly in the critical care unit, I updated my obit yet again: “Heart Attack Victim Didn’t Know Any Better.”