Saturday, September 09, 2006

The confessions of a cured hypochondriac

In the opening page of his classic, “Three Men in a Boat”, the author Jerome K Jerome, describes the turmoil he had to go through whenever he read anything relating to diseases.

“It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicine advertisement without being impelled to the conclusion that I am suffering from the particular disease therein dealt with in its most virulent form. The diagnosis seems in every case to correspond exactly with all the sensations that I have ever felt.

I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch--hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into-- some fearful, devastating scourge, I know--and, before I had glanced half down the list of "premonitory symptoms," it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.

I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever--read the symptoms--discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it--wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus's Dance--found, as I expected, that I had that too,--began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically--read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright's disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid's knee.”

Exactly the kind of thoughts that race through my hypochondriac mind whenever my attention is drawn to one of the many articles that appear in newspapers and magazines, describing, in painstaking detail, the symptoms of the latest virus fever raging in the city or some other ailments affecting the heart, brain or the liver of the upwardly mobile. I need to pause and check out if the symptoms described do not correspond exactly with some of the sensations that I had felt in the recent past. The thing about hypochondria is that you cannot treat it; once you acknowledge that it is a disease that merits treatment, you validate and reinforce the hypochondriac’s belief that he is ill and start a self-perpetuating doom loop.

I therefore steer clear of these articles and make sure that I don’t even make any eye contact with them. Far better to stick to the cartoons, trust me. I may be guilty of escapism, but at least I can be assured of good health.

5 comments:

Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ooh, new description, new profile. Thanks. I mailed you the link to the post I did on JKJ, the very same quote.


I avoid health articles for the very same reason, too.

Usha said...

I friend who studied medicine said they all go through all the symptoms when they do the course on , it called, pathology?
On the contrary I have been stupid to make light of a few symptoms I had read about and suffered.
There 's no way you can win! ( here I got my share of angst!!Feel great!)

Raj said...

Lalita, Usha : Looks like everybody goes through the same sensations ! And I thought it was only me.

Lalita Mukherjea said...

Bah, Raj, don't give yourself airs.

Raj said...

Lalita : Guilty as charged. Will avoid.