Monday, June 4, 2012

The Hypochondriac's Guide To Life: Or Just Say No To Another ER Visit



At about 11 pm on a summer night last year, as I sat at the computer finishing up a post after spending two hours outside that day pulling up weeds trying to make this house look less like the only haunted house in the subdivision, I felt this lightning shot of twingey pain in the exact middle of  my chest.

Dang it. I thought. A freakin' heart attack. Great. I've got too much to do tomorrow to have a heart attack tonight.

I shut off the computer, ran upstairs and jostled my husband awake.  

Mark. Mark!

What??

Get up. I'm having a GD heart attack. SECONDS COUNT! We gotta get to the hospital before any major heart tissue is damaged.

What? What? What are you talking about?

Me. Now. I'm having a freakin' heart attack. Get out of bed. I have like four minutes to get there before it's too late and you have to spoon feed me for the rest of my life and that's if I live.

::flipping on the light and looking at me:: No offense, honey, but you look too good for having a heart attack. I remember this guy at work had one and it knocked him flat to the floor like he was struck down for some past sin or something ...

Mark. I do NOT have to prove to you that I'm having a damn heart attack. GET UP.

Don't go all crazy now when I ask you this, but, are you still having one?

::.....................................::

See, I think you're fine. Lay down. If it attacks you again, we'll go in. You can ask them for any tests you want. Just lay down. But promise me you won't tell the Doctors that they're wrong again when they try to discharge you. It's getting embarrassing.

I listen to my husband and change into my pajamas and lay down. And I fall asleep. And during the night, there is no left arm numbness or jaw tightness or nausea or breaking out in a cold sweat like my refrigerator magnet "KNOW THE SIGNS OF A HEART ATTACK!" warns. It never feels like there is an elephant sitting on my chest. In fact, I sleep like someone hit me over the head with a 2x4.

Life as a hypochondriac. It's not easy. I've taken myself in to the ER for imagined strokes, hemorrhages, blood clots, allergic reactions, asthma, and skin cancer.

Appendicitis visits deserve a mention of their own.

I was never like this until I had children. The root fear underneath all my imagined demises is that I don't want my children to lose their mother.

I think that if I get myself to the hospital on time the medical staff there will work their magisoso and keep me alive until the next systemic crash three weeks from now.

This is no way to live life, I realize this: panic punctuated with terror with momentary hysteria twice a month.

I decide I need to go see an "excessive health anxiety" therapist. Yes. That is a real specialty. After our sessions together, this amazing therapist's advice to me is something that has maintained our insurance premiums to something that no longer caps us out two months into a new year.

Her strategy is this: Test Your Reality. Examine the actual possibility of what you think is happening and then decide based on your symptoms  --  not your fears -- if you still need to take your eight minute short cut planned out route to your predetermined closest hospital. (surprise ... the one I actually thought would be closer is actually farther. Who says trial runs are a waste of time and gas.) 

This is no miracle cure, I still worry excessively about my health, but at least now I don't feel like I'm walking around waiting for a limb to fall off. I have points in my day where I don't think the pain in my head from when I bend over to pick up a three day old grape under the kitchen chair is the pain from a tumor pushing my brain tissue out of the way.

This Test Your Reality way of life has brought me a wonderful freeing existence. There is also the bonus of a surprise fringe benefit: added hours to my day that were once spent sitting in ER hospital waiting rooms.

Now I get to do what really needed to be done in the first place: find some good burial plots. Something nice in a quiet corner, with some shade ... 




Image

44 comments:

  1. Haha the gravestone is hilarious! (I realize that sentence is somewhat wrong)

    I'm the opposite of a hypochondriac - I'm constantly in denial that something is wrong. NOT. GOOD. Fortunately, my husband is more sensible. He's probably saved my butt more times than I can count.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What's life like that, A? Tell me.

      xo

      Delete
  2. Hypochondria that requires ER waits are off my list. A person could die there, without ever getting in to see a doctor!

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  3. I'm with Alison - that headstone is worth visiting a graveyard for. In fact, I'm also with Alison on the denial thing. My dentist once said something about "periodontal surgery." I had a miscarriage (can't do oral surgery when you're pregnant), another pregnancy (ditto), breast-fed for a helluva long time (breast-feeding/oral surgery, nope), and then moved to the middle east. with some intervening years of avoiding the dentist. I'm the same with doctors. If I don't know about it, it's fine. Right? My grandmother (lived to be 85ish) believed in vaseline and naps. True, she had dementia in her last years, but that's not the vaseline's fault. Basically? I'm a coward. Lily-livered, yellow-bellied, the whole deal. Hypochondriacs are brave: they march in where I'm afraid to tread!

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  4. smiles...oh my....this would be hard for me...the waiting room at the ER is so much fun though....the coughing sneezing and watching all the stuff floating in the air...maybe get a good bleeder sitting in the seat next to you...i dont know how you will do without that...smiles...i am glad though that you got the help you need as well....nice head stone...

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  5. You are the best, and I'm so glad every one of your health scares has been in your head because you need to live to 1,000 so you can keep writing posts like this.

    I have the opposite problem, I'm petrified of my kids getting sick and always think the worst. My husband talks me down from the ledge often. And your husband is Mark? Mine too.

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    Replies
    1. oh.my.gosh.

      Could I write a post ABOUT THAT. Maybe I will, at your place. The concern about MY KIDS and their health blanches the concern with mine.

      Wow.

      Delete
  6. LOL...I've thought I was having a heart attack, too. Even went through a full cario workup just for them to tell me I was exceptionally healthy. I still don't believe them.

    I think we all need a bit of Test Your Reality.

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  7. I so feel you on this one. The only thing that keeps me from rushing to the doctor as much as I initially want to is the astronomical co-pays it would yield. Apparently frugality trumps hypochondria? (Not to mention the conditions that I already have, have me seeing multiple specialists 4 times a year or more.)

    I was so proud of myself for not 100% freaking out the weekend my chest decided to become inflamed. Sure, I had to call Todd to come help me sit up in bed (could NOT do it on my own) but I can still go get my oil changed--all I have to do is sit in the car, right?

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    Replies
    1. I know, right? If it weren't for the money problem, my zip code would be the hospital's. xo

      Delete
  8. HA! This isn't a funny post but you still make me laugh - great way to address a serious topic. I found that having children magnified any and all of my tendencies in this area as well. Becoming a mother magnifies your mortality by a billion. I can't even climb ladders anymore.

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    Replies
    1. No no, you were right to laugh. It is poking fun. My whole family knows I'm so scared my kids will be without their mother.
      Laugh, I like that. THANK YOU!!

      Delete
  9. Human beings never cease to amaze me. Thinking you're in control of when you die? HILARIOUS!

    I had a friend whose entire standup act was about her hypochondria. It was funny but for me? "Thoughts become things, be careful what you think" She was in her 40's when she died of cancer. She's in my episode of Curb as a matter of fact.

    Poor thing.

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  10. I know these situations, those feelings. For me, that is very sad and it comes of uncontrollable anxiety levels. I used to think I am very sick and going to die, but I used to enjoy it and hide my fears so that no one takes me to the doctors. I was sure i was dying and was happy about it

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  11. Alex, you're funny even when you're talking about something so scary and painful. I love your therapist -- Test Your Reality. That can work in a lot of situations. I made an emergency run to the hospital once b/c I thought I was having a heart attack. They're not overly friendly when they think you're wasting their time, are they?????

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    Replies
    1. I know. I don't smoke, I don't drink, my BP is perfect, my weight is within normal range and yet...gaaah! A heart attack!!

      Delete
  12. I need to see an excessive health anxiety therapist. I'm been thinking about taking a trip to the emergency room all day today. My husband doesn't seem worried, but he doesn't really understand what it's like to suddenly experience the symptoms of every disease you read about.

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  13. That tombstone made me laugh so hard. Glad you're seeing someone, spending hours of your life in the ER seems like a special kind of torture.

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  14. ha! i have no idea what you're talking about...

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  15. Oh, bless you, woman -- for not making me the only one who does this shit. A lot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your comment here, why I love you.

      xo

      Delete
  16. In Canada you have to be for serious if you go to the ER.
    If you're not the nurses will look at you and laugh...point to the clock and say "Have a seat. We will call you back into the ER in about 2 days"
    No lie.
    When I was having heart palpitations I waited 6 hours. SIX.
    Ask me how my anxiety was then.
    I thought I was going to die on those hard plastic chairs in front of an audience of drunk people.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I'm a hypochondriac too and every time I have a symptom I panic - not because I fear I might be sick (even though that's true) but because I am afraid of being, and being called, a hypochondriac.

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  18. I totally sympathize! And I don't even have kids to make it have meaning, I'm just crazy. Also, I read an article last week about how most people who have heart attacks actually have no symptoms, so am now rather concerned I'm having one when I feel fine. Which is most of the time, so clearly worrisome.

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  19. When I enter a room, I envision every possible scenario and furniture placement that could lead to an injury or accidental death. Anxiety is a relentless stalker. I'm glad you have some tools to help.
    You make me laugh out loud... mostly because I know of which you speak.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right? That which doesn't kill us, makes us funnier.

      You, me: SOOOOOPER funny ladies.

      See you soon, dear girl. xo

      Delete
  20. This is so, so funny! And true--just called my husband a few minutes ago and told him I was pretty sure I had a blood clot. And love the picture--haha!

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  21. I have health-related anxiety, too. My whole life I've worried about my own health or the health of my loved ones (usually my mom or my son). When my PPD was in full swing, I cried for hours over how I would potentially feel if my son, then a newborn, were diagnosed with some horrible illness. It almost embarrasses me to write that. Wow. Anyway, I think I can relate to what you experience, too. I'm not anxious that often anymore, but when it hits, it hurts. Thanks for posting this, especially the Test Your Reality strategy, which I hope I remember when I need it next.

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    Replies
    1. It really works: I taught it to my 3 boys about all their catastrophic thinking: like, "I'll never get this math homework done." Really? NEVER?

      It's awesome, I try it on everything now...all day long while I clean toilets...

      Delete
  22. Still waiting for the doctor to confirm my suspicion of an aneurysm or brain tumor. I'm certain it's one or the other and I do not understand why she continues to rudely dismiss my requests for a goddamned MRI so I can know NOW. It is debilitating at times, this determination I have to be irreparably ill. It is the fear, as you say, of leaving them all motherless. It makes it worse. I try to laugh it off, brush it off, allow my husband to help me laugh/brush it off, suggest sex to take my mind off it (thoughtful, that one).

    The only thing that saves me now is an outright refusal to Google my symptoms or visit WebMD (because I'll be damned if it won't tell me I've got bronchitis, lyme disease, leprosy, hepatitis, and possibly herpes simplex 268).

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  23. This is hilarious. And also, my mother. You write so well.

    I hope that whole, getting knocked down for a past sin, thing your husband said, is just a saying. I really don't wanna go out like that!

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  24. Glad you're OK. Your husband saved you a lot of time. I had the same thing happen and was told to go to the hospital and make sure it was not a heart attack. I simply wanted an appointment with a heart specialist the next day. Sigh. I was there for 8 hours with two IVs in me. (We had really good insurance.) It was deemed a panic attack although they could never catch it on the EKG again. They even did an MRI. I had always wanted one, but not at the expense of losing a day in my life. Glad the therapist has helped - panic attacks are not fun.

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  25. My husband had a heart attack three years ago--he refused to seek help for FOUR DAYS! He was sure he was having some esophageal episode. He's lucky he didn't die...I WISH he was a hypochondriac!!!

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  26. That gravestone is hilarious. I am glad you are not actually sick. Or at least it has not been proven yet. :-) I am convinced that I have some sort of terrible disease that will eventually plague me, it just hasn't yet.

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  27. New follower via Nyc mama.
    My mom had an anxiety attack in front of me when I was young.
    Pretty scary stuff to watch. Glad you are ok and came across your blog.

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  28. As soon as I started reading this post I thought something about being a mommy and losing that time with the children might have something to do with it. These are some of the crucial fears I think we start to manifest when we begin to have bigger responsibilities in life.

    I'm glad you are okay though, momma. XOXOX

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  29. This makes me love you even more.

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  30. I am so grateful for you!
    I go to the hospital for appendicitis once a month. I really am sure I have it but they keep missing it.
    And? I'm in Canada so health care is paid for.
    This doesn't help.

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  31. I am so grateful for you!
    I go to the hospital for appendicitis once a month. I really am sure I have it but they keep missing it.
    And? I'm in Canada so health care is paid for.
    This doesn't help.

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  32. The only way to cure hypochondria, according to Gene Weingarten, is to not die of a terminal illness. And I don't advise that.

    I'm actually an anti-hypochondriac for the most part . . . I'm convinced most everything is nothing, and will just go away on its own. The problem with that is that, once I'm convinced that it's "something" (like this past Sunday, when I checked myself into the ER because it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest), my mind runs the gambit of stuff. And when a medical test comes back as negative, it means that there's something even more urgent . . . in other words, once I'm convinced I'm sick, I have cancer. Of the everything.

    At least, until I fall asleep.

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  33. It's not unusual for me to remark to my husband before we go to sleep something about a pain I'm having and if I should die in my sleep, it was [insert seemingly harmless, but odd pain resulting in instant death here].

    Just so he can tell the coroner what to look for.

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  34. Mark's response is so caring and patient. G would be calling down the stairs, "Alright, go to the hospital. And take the kids!!!"

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  35. It’s really a great and helpful piece of info. I’m satisfied that you simply shared this useful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I'm not even sure if you're still checking this blog post comment section, but I can totally relate. I have simmered down a tad, knowing that my "false allergic reaction" was just an anxiety attack by doing some calming techniques, but if I get a whopping chest pain --- that's serious. Last night I was in the ER for "suspicious appendicitis" --- which is what the doc told me when he saw my sonogram, but once the cat scan came in, they only found a cyst on my liver (which is very common and hardly anyone feels it). Yet, there I am in excruciating pain ---they had to put me on Demerol. (By the way I hate medications because…..allergic reactions, ha.) I went to a therapist about it too. She said it may be all psychosomatic and that I can actually produce these "pains". WHY would I do that? But, the mind is a tricky thing. So now, I'm living more on the edge --- chest pain, drink seltzer and burp. Leg pain? No clot, just walk it out. Stomach ache on the right? Again, seltzer. But…..my mind STILL goes there. I must be the most frequent ER visitor with the least of diagnosis'. Oh ---- I have been also diagnosed (to appease the hypochondriac in me) with costochondritis. I'm SURE you have heard that term before. I had to stay in the hospital for a few days due to pain management. I was hurting EVERYWHERE --- from my head to my toes and screaming and shaking. I could not walk. My partner had to help me inside the car and I had to get taken out by the ER staff with a wheelchair. Diagnosis? "Myalgia". It was due to my chronic back pain that had my sciatica going wild, but it also had referred pain that just traveled everywhere. But to appease me, "myalgia" was given to me. They actually do this to patients who frequent the hospitals and doctor's office. And if you have a primary care physician who is affiliated with the hospital, best believe they "talk" and warn the doc of the follow up 'fake' visit. It's embarrassing but it's just frustrating to have so much pain. On top of it, to make light or fodder out of our situations is just humiliating enough. I now joke around about my hypochondria, but I have to. There's no other way to deal with it. I have a room reserved with my name on it over in the hospital. ;) Hoping you're feeling better and doing better.

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