can you really die of hypochondria?

Growing up, my sister had this debilitating fear of blood.  It didn’t matter if it was hers or someone else’s.   The minute one drop was spilled; she would bolt from the room like she was shot out of a cannon.  It was as if she could smell it!  And if it WAS hers—look out!  She once got a deep cut on her knee that miraculously didn’t bleed.  She was calm as could be despite the fact that I’m sure it hurt.  But the minute our mother told her she would need stitches, she freaked out!  Her fear?  That it would bleed! 

Fast forward thirty odd years and this same sister now favors slasher and horror movies over all others.  The more blood the better.  All I can say is…what the hell?  This is someone we warned against going into nursing for fear she would faint on her patients, and now she would rather watch the Ring or Scream 17 than enjoy the romance of Twilight.  I’m not sure exactly when this change occurred. But I’m certain there is something genetic involved.  It’s in the bloodline.

And it just might be contagious.

I’ve always been a little OCD.  I don’t really like other people’s germs very much.  I don’t like the thought of touching stripper poles after someone else’s skin may have slid down it.  I don’t like strangers using my phone or my keyboard at work.  And I don’t like touching the door in a public restroom.  But mostly my OCD is balance related.  I don’t like when things are out of balance.  When the sofa isn’t perfectly lined up with the coffee table, or when the lampshade is turned so the seam is visible from the front.  I couldn’t care less if there is dust on the shade.  And I don’t worry about the germs on my dogs’ tongues when they lick my face.  I probably should, but I don’t.  My OCD just doesn’t work that way. 

However, another of my close family members has a terminal case of exactly that kind of OCD.  And she has the added complication of having a life threatening case of hypochondria on top of everything else.  Florence Nightingale (not her real name) is so terrified of catching something that she can easily be manipulated by her fear.  I once convinced her not to travel by telling her that the “bird flu” was rampant in that area.  In fact, she got so afraid of contracting “bird flu” that she wouldn’t linger outside for weeks.  

We have a large supply of nurses in my family, so it’s not unusual for any one of us non-medical people to call one of them in the wee hours of the night with medical questions.  I have personally been known to call my mother well after midnight to inquire about strange symptoms or illnesses in my children.  Florence called her just the other night to tell Mom that she was certain she had colon cancer.  My mother asked Florence if she’d seen a doctor, and Florence said, “No, I was reading WebMD, and it said I have colon cancer.” My mother talked to her for the better part of an hour, finally forbidding her to search for symptoms on WebMD ever again.  And this wasn’t the first time she was convinced she was dying.  She once got a paper cut on her tongue licking an envelope and used a cotton ball to clean the cut.  Not more than a few minutes later she was running through the house, screaming and crying for help because she’d gotten cotton stuck in the wound, and she would certainly die of toxic shock syndrome.  Cooler heads attempted to explain to her that having cotton in an open wound was not how one contracted toxic shock syndrome, to which she replied quite vehemently, “I know how you get toxic shock!  I’ve read warning inside the box of Tampons!”  And I’m certain she had read the warning on the box of tampons.  Probably more than once as she once believed she didn’t have a vagina because she was having a hard time using said tampons.  Admittedly, it is a challenge for first time users, but to question the existence of one’s vagina is taking things to the extreme, even for Miss Nightingale.  She required a trip to the gynecologist to convince her that time. 

It really wouldn’t be that big of a deal if Florence hadn’t just decided to change her major to follow in the footsteps of so many others in our family to become a nurse.  I can’t even imagine her being that close to bona fide sick people.  I fear she may actually die of hypochondria.  It might give her some satisfaction to know she was right all along.  Then again, maybe if I tell her that hypochondria is fatal she will stay away from medical journals and steer clear of worrying about her health constantly.  I suppose it couldn’t hurt!

Until the next time…I’ll be contemplating going to the emergency room.  According to WebMD, my stiff neck means I might have meningitis!

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Posted on April 25, 2010 .