But the moral of the story is that sometimes hypochondriacs actually are sick. Gene Weingarten covered that topic pretty thoroughly in his book, “The Hypochondriac’s Guide to Life. And Death.”, in which he chronicles his lifetime battle with hypochondria, which basically ended when it turned out that he actually had a chronic disease, Hepatitis C.
And as the 11 faithful readers of this column will likely recall (yeah, right), the 19 Minutes staff has been a long admirer of the hypochondriac lifestyle, having believed to have had any number of fatal conditions, including heart attacks that have lasted two weeks, any number of strokes, cancer, etc.
Of course, at the core of it all has been years of intestinal distress, which on good days I ascribed to having a nervous stomach; and on bad days, well, I ascribed it to having any of a number of diseases. And in retrospect, there have been plenty of bad days – including about nine months’ worth in the late ‘90s, when I dropped around 35 pounds and had roughly zero energy for long stretches. And I wasn’t really very happy. I’ll spare you the more gruesome details, but basically, my body decided it wasn’t going to digest certain foods. (“Uh, thanks, Mitch, but I’ve decided not to convert this food into anything. Thanks anyway….”)
And yet, I got better. And progressively more content with life. Leading me to believe that it was depression making me feel sick. For the last eight years or so, I’ve felt pretty good, except for the occasional stroke, diptheria bout, bubonic plague, etc., all of which – amzingly – my physical exam failed to catch.
But for the last couple of months, I’ve been a little off my game. It was a stressful move to Wisconsin, I have a much faster-paced job than before, raising a 2 ½-year-old takes a lot of energy. It seemed to make sense that I was having a little trouble adjusting. And, of course, my digestive system decided it was having trouble adjusting to the land of beer and bratwurst, too.
So I didn’t really think too much of it, except for the hypochondriac in me, who figured he was dying.
My latest physical came and went. My blood pressure was a little high, which it somehow always manages to be in a doctor’s office. My heart rate was good, and showed no signs of the 17th heart attack I’d had, just that morning.
Then, my blood work came back, and there was something screwed up. Really screwed up. My doctor ordered a retest. You know something’s seriously bad when your doctor calls with test results at 7:00 in the morning, which she did. Anyway, she thought a colonoscopy was in order, given my history of intenstinal infortitude. She thought it should be done within a month and a half, which she meant (I think) as reassurance that I wasn’t about to drop dead, but which naturally gave me 6 weeks to obsess over what it could be.
And obsess I did, especially over Thanksgiving in Minnesota, which for many people was about food, and for me was about agonizing over what kind of food would be least likely to kill me. Even better (from an anxiety standpoint) was the knowledge that waiting for me at home in Wisconsin was the prescription equivalent of a toilet plunger, designed to get me ready for an unpleasant procedure.
That was yesterday. The medical team chatted with me for a little while before they went in to look for the lost miners.
“How long have you had these symptoms,” the resident asked.And, as has been the case several times before, I really enjoyed the experience of sedation. I remember vague glimpses of my interior on a TV monitor. And some time later, I ate a muffin and had a brief conversation with the resident. I remember almost nothing about the conversation, except that they’d figured out what’s wrong with me.
“Um, well, let’s say 15 years,” I replied.
“Huh,” he said.
Crohn’s disease, as it turns out. Pretty long-standing Crohn’s disease. In fact, probably long-standing enough to explain almost every digestive issue I’ve had for 15 years or more. Apparently, the patty melt at the Perkins Restaurant in Coralville, Iowa did not give me food poisoning after all, and I sincerely apologize if I’ve dissuaded anyone from eating there since 1991.
I’m sure I’ll blog more about the disease itself in the coming weeks or months. I’m still learning about it, myself. Suffice it to say that it’s an auto-immmune disease. Suffice it to say that my body has essentially been trying to systematically eliminate my intestines. (Which you probably would too, if you knew what I had eaten in the last couple decades.) Suffice it to say that you wouldn’t enjoy it very much.
But after 15 years of worrying, it’s actually a major weight off my shoulders - to know that all I have is this auto-immune disease for which there is no cure, varyingly successful treatments, and which will cause me periodic discomfort for the rest of my life. And really, that’s not so bad. I don’t intend to let it kick my butt.
And so, with a lighter heart, I'm back.
Now will somebody please tell me what the deal is with Michael Richards?