By Rabbi Marc Wilson
I do not remember a time when I was not a hypochondriac.
Actually, I think it started at age 3, when I tipped the scale at 60 pounds. My mother shook her head and warned me that if I gained any more weight, I’d “have a heart attack and die.” Nice.
Fifteen years later I lost 60 pounds, then gained back 70, but no heart attack. The only lingering curse was chronic hypochondria. Every morning I awoke knowing that I had a dread illness. When my mother would finally call Dad’s regimental doctor, he would pronounce me OK and tell my mom to “clean me out,” a gnarly euphemism for “administering an enema.”
I would get petrified and run off to school, still sure that I had some horrible disease. This was confirmed when I mastered the encyclopedia and discovered the horrors of St. Vitus dance.
Maladies plagued me through adulthood. I coped with some of them in squeamish denial. One doc was certain that it was “mild depression” and prescribed a teeny dose of Paxil.
Then my hypochondria finally paid off: In quick succession, Dr. Bornstein rattled off the news of Type 2 diabetes, atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease, elevated triglycerides and inexplicable numbness on my right side.
But Bornstein miraculously held my hypochondria at bay. I conveniently overlooked the attentiveness of my doctors, so I trivialized the help they provided. Diabetes, hah, was just a pill or shot. Triglycerides, another pill.
For blockages, uh-huh, just an hour to slip in a couple of stents. Another hour for a pacemaker. Numbness, watchful waiting. Even when I got really sick with sepsis, wise doctors shot me up with antibiotic cocktails, and in a few days I was back whizzing my kids with dumb puns.
So you see, even with lifelong hypochondria, I fortified myself with the axiom of “Hey, I feel OK. I have great docs. No one is saying anything about death. Let’s get checkups a little more often and move on!”
But what about the prescription of “watchful waiting”? Eventually the numbness increased, and my gait became loopier. I would stumble and fall, sleep for hours each day, get helplessly tongue-tied. “Helpless” became part of the vocabulary.
As far as the docs, it was a spate of misdiagnoses from small transitory strokes to “all in my imagination.”
Then a G-d-send: After watching me, my daughter the doc announced, “This sure looks neuromuscular to me.”
“Meaning what?” I asked.
“Well, probably like multiple sclerosis.”
So off to a new cavalcade of neuromuscular specialists. They confirmed Dr. Chanie’s diagnosis.
Today, a terrifying reality beyond hypochondria has set in: MS. It is not going away. It will likely get worse. It may level off or even get better. It may be fatal.
The episodes might be forestalled by shots at a co-pay of $1,800 a month. Now some of the episodes come on day by day, but the rest never go away. I walk with a cane. I need help getting out of my chair or being picked up from a fall on Court Street. I use a great gizmo to pull up my socks. I struggle to tie my signature bowties. I cannot sign my name legibly.
My wife, Linda? Now, as I chant Proverbs 31 — “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all” — I am not sure she sees me weeping. How can one be a lover and a caregiver all at once?
I dread my kids seeing me deteriorating and my grandchildren not understanding why Zayde needs a cane to walk.
Of course, humor is still intact. I tell dumb puns. I can hold cogent conversations and learn my beloved Torah and Talmud.
I ask your prayers and Psalms, as I have always wished them on you. But now, thank G-d, it’s farewell to hypochondria. Now it’s just my strongest will to live, whatever blessings the Lord pitches my way.
Finally, a brazen hint: Since I am cane-bound, that aluminum thing makes no statement. I just saw a very cool one for “only” $54. Contributions may be made to the “Hobbling Rabbi Fund.”
Former Atlantan Rabbi Marc Wilson is a community organizer and Bible teacher in Greenville, S.C.