Hypochondriac on the loose

Elise T. Chisolm

November 15, 1990|By Elise T. Chisolm

I WANT TO TALK about a disease that doctors deal with it all the time. There's really no cure for it. It's called hypochondria.

I think the reason this phenomenon is on the rise is the media -- people like me who talk and write about it.

Television, radio, newspapers and magazines have what I call "health flashes." TV stations broadcast them at the end of the day, when you're most tired and vulnerable. Media doctors tell us in two-second segments about the symptoms of Lyme disease, or gallbladder pain or the hazards of hangnails.

I'm not sure these "healthcasts" are really good for us. If you're sitting in front of the television and see a picture of a ruptured appendix or an ingrown toenail, you're not only grossed out, but, if you're especially creative, you immediately have the symptoms.

It's sort of a monkey-see-monkey-do mentality.

I am a hypochondriac. I simply see one of those "Maloox moments" on television and I run out and beg my doctor on my arthritic knees for immediate medication.

I'm apt to respond to friends, too. If they call me with a strange ankle problem, I'm apt to start limping.

Veterinarians on television and radio are doing it, too. The other night, while listening to a show about a type of flea that was prevalent on dogs last summer, I noticed that my cats, who also were also watching the show, started scratching.

And listen out there in family land, children can be hypochondriacs, too.

Let your 6-year-old see a story on television about yuppie flu and she'll develop a sore throat or terminal fatigue and will not be able to go to school, especially if she's behind in her homework; "Mom I have a stomachache" is No. 1 on the list.

So it is with great pleasure that I read in October's First magazine an enlightening story about hypochondria.

Dr. Stephen Purcell, a psychiatrist, says hypochondria can be dangerous.


He writes: "When a true illness occurs it may be dismissed as another imaginary ailment so you have to determine whether you are or you aren't."

He suggests that a complete physical will help get the probleunder control.

Then, of course, all you have to worry about is the bill.

Here are a few questions Dr. Purcell proposes to see if you are or aren't a real practicing hypochondriac:

Do physical symptoms constantly concern you? Me? Yes.

Are there several doctors whom you see frequently? Me? Yes.

When one doctor doesn't give you the answer you want, do you go to another? Me? Nah. I just call a friend who has had whatever I think I have and complain.

Have you taken two sick days every month for the past six months? Me? Heavens no, I come in sick and talk about my illness with my co-workers.

Well, how did you do on this test?

I found out that I'm not a complete hypochondriac.

But just as I was feeling better about my body, I noticed that right under the test, on the same page, was an article: "Beware: The YIPS! Researchers have discovered that dystonia -- a cramping of the muscles -- can afflict golfers when the demands of the game exceed the brain's capacity to perform. Known as the 'YIPS,' the involuntary arm twitch sends a putt away from its target. Experts think 20 percent of golfers suffer from the syndrome."

Well, what can I say? I've had the YIPS from vacuuming, now I'll probably get the YIPs from ironing.

Yipes, darn the big-mouthed media.

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