Is Being a Hypochondriac Contagious?

Is Being a Hypochondriac Contagious?
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

As veteran parents, my wife and I have quit worrying about illnesses. We give the kids their medicine, tell them where to find the 7-Up and Saltines, and let them watch as much TV as they want. Not like when we were new parents, when Oldest Daughter (known as Only Child back then) would get sick.

Back then, a childhood illness was cause for a major freakout for us. At the first sniffle, we would look at each other with horror and race to the "So, You're a First Time Parent?" emergency home medical guide. We hovered so much, the local TV station asked us to do the morning traffic reports.

"What do we do?!" my wife would wail to her mother at 11:30 at night. Her mother was an expert at childhood illnesses, and I was sure she knew every instant cure in the book.

"What'd she say?!" I'd ask. "What sort of expert advice did she give?"

"Just give her plenty of liquids and rest."

"Liquids and rest?! What's next, blood letting and leeches?! There's got to be a cure. What about chicken soup? Or green tea? Or lemons?"

Truth be told, I wasn't that worried about Only Child. I knew she would be fine. She barely even knew she was sick, and was annoyed when we made her lay down, because she had to stop playing.

I was more worried about me. I knew that if Only Child was sick, I wasn't too far behind. I didn't want the personal suffering and agony that often followed my daughter's illnesses.

I'm a wuss when I'm sick. The problem is, I can't act like one, since my wife handles her illnesses like a tough guy. She only gets bed rest when she's at death's door. I, on the other hand, start whining and fussing as soon as I enter death's zip code.

But I've gotten much better since the time I nearly had meningitis.

It was 1991, and I was a residence hall director at Illinois State University. We had heard on the news that a student from the University of Illinois -- just down Interstate 55 -- was in the hospital with it. And as everyone knows, killer germs will often travel the freeways, looking for unsuspecting victims.

A day or two later, I began feeling a little sick. I was a little warm, my head hurt, I was coughing a lot, and my sinuses felt like they had been sprayed with lemon juice. Plus, we had just been advised that residence halls were perfect breeding grounds for meningitis, and as the guy in charge, I was Target Zero. I had never heard of this mystery disease before, but I was pretty sure that's why I was feeling so lousy.

"I think I've got that thing that kid from the U of I has," I said to my friend, Heidi.

"What thing?"

"You know, the kid in the hospital. They said the symptoms were a headache, coughing, and a fever. I've got it."

"You don't have it."

I pleaded with her to go to the school health center with me. "What if I collapse on the way there?" I whined. She went.

"What's the problem?" the nurse asked. She had just come out to see why I was bothering her.

"I think I've got that man thing," I said.

"What man thing?"

"The thing that kid at the U of I has."

A look of understanding flashed across her face, followed by a much longer look of annoyance. "Do you mean meningitis?"

"Yeah, that's the one. Will I need to go to the hospital?"

She clapped her hand to my forehead, rather more forcefully than was necessary. "You're not very hot."

"My girlfriend thinks I'm handsome." Even at death's door, I was still witty.

"Do you have a productive cough?"

"No, I've been coughing so much, I can't get any work done."

She sighed. "I mean, does stuff come out when you cough?"

"No. Is that bad?"

"It means you have a cold, not meningitis. Go home and get plenty of liquids and rest."

Know-nothing quack, I thought. I could be dead by morning.

But ever since I became a dad, I've had to learn to suck it up and quit complaining. When my own kids won't even stop playing for a major illness, I can't start whining for "crackies and drink" whenever I get the sniffles.

But if I ever die from a sinus infection, I told you so.