I realized this at the age of about 8, right around the time that hypochondria set firmly in. It started with a pretty consistent fear that I had a brain tumor, likely stemming from watching too much “Days of our Lives” and “General Hospital” on the button-tufted chairs at my grandma’s.
I’d wake up in the middle of the night pretty sure I could feel the tumor growing, prompting me to wake up my mom and ask her to palpate my scalp in case she felt anything. She was pretty patient about this, really, and soon everyone I knew became aware of my premature mortality fears.
This is largely because I started asking people about the looks of my general wellbeing.
“Think this freckle’s getting bigger?” I’d ask my mom’s best friend Jocelyn, splaying my fingers and pointing to a dot beside my pinkie. “Looks jagged-edged to me.”
“Sometimes my index finger moves without me meaning for it to,” I’d confess to my gym teacher and then somberly add in a hushed tone: “The beginning of Parkinson’s.”
Interestingly, my ailments usually echoed what I’d seen on the news or heard about from a friend.
On one occasion, whilst enjoying a lovely sleepover in my basement with my best friend Kristin, I woke up in the middle of the night to a fresh mosquito bite on my calf. I became so convinced the mosquito had just infected me with a horrible disease that I had to go sleep upstairs in my own bed, which apparently had healing powers.
But before I did, always the hostess, I wrote Kristin a note explaining my absence.
“Dear Kristin,” it began like a tragic Jane Austin missive. “I got bitten by a mosquito and I think it gave me AIDS. Signed, Tara Paule.”
Given this propensity for medical melodrama, I naturally started to love going to the doctor and emerging with a clean bill of health.
To this day, going to the doctor is still as relaxing to me as a massage. More so, actually, because there is no expectation that it should be stress relieving. When I feel the squeeze of the blood pressure cuff, when they ask me to take deep breaths as they press the cold stethoscope on my back, and especially when they thwock my back or hammer below my knee, I can suddenly breathe deeper than at any other time of the day.
My doctor is Dr. Weigel and he is a trip. He’s extremely well trained and he’s extremely intense. He’s also extremely strict. He’ll come into the room, take a seat on his roller stool, and start peppering me with questions. When I answer, he squints and I know he is really listening. This makes me extremely, extremely honest, kind of like when I get stopped for speeding and I start over-explaining myself.
The time I admitted to Dr. Weigel that I smoked, he drilled me on it so hard that I looked forward to telling him for the entire next year how much I’d cut back.
Of course, when he told me that I didn’t actually need to come to see him every year, I was pretty upset. In Canada, going to the doctor once a year is very commonplace. But Weigel said I was so healthy (knock wood) I only needed to come every five years. That’s a long time to wait for a hypochondriac.
But luckily, I’m married to a doc — don’t think I didn’t consider the convenience of that when we started dating — and god knows he’s put up with it all: bumps for no reason, bruises that take too long to fade, coughs that won’t go away, mini-heart attacks. Usually, he just takes my pulse and says I’m fine. Then, if I’m still not convinced, I’ll ask Kristin or my friend Sarah, which my husband doesn’t appreciate very much at all.
But today he won’t be bothered. He’ll come home to a nice, relaxed wife. Gotta get my list of questions ready for her. Gotta get my insurance card. Gotta shave my legs. Because as you can imagine, I’m one prepared patient.