x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Suffering from an unhealthy look at health

The next thing I remembering waking up lying on the floor in a confused state and wondering how I had gotten there.

February of this year marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, and November 24 celebrated the 150th anniversary of the publication of his influential book: The Origin of Species. I actually have something in common with Darwin, although it has nothing to do with evolution, but rather everything to do with introspection. What Darwin and I have in common is our ability to diagnose every small ache and pain as a horrible and life threatening illness. Yes, Darwin and I are devout hypochondriacs, and our club has other prominent members such as Florence Nightingale, Howard Hughes, and even Adolf Hitler!

You too may be a hypochondriac and not know it. Do you get up every morning and do a thorough survey of your entire body to see what new and ultimately incurable disease has struck overnight? Do you worry that every minor discomfort that you suffer throughout the day is the presenting symptom of an undiagnosable and untreatable illness? Are you smugly confident that when the doctor tells you there is nothing wrong with you that he is either hiding the awful truth or unable to diagnose what you definitely know is the beginning of the end?

If your answer to any of these is yes, welcome to the club. Howard Hughes, the reclusive multimillionaire who developed such a fear of germs that he cut his hair and trimmed his nails only once a year, had the right idea. He kept a team of doctors in his house at all times. This would definitely make me feel better! His problem was that he rarely listened to the doctors, I suspect because they kept telling him there was nothing wrong with him. He sure showed them when he ultimately died of kidney failure, something I'm sure the doctors never considered.

One of my father's best friends is someone I have great kinship with. While he was in medical school studying for a big exam, he read about a rare disease called tularemia. It was the middle of the night and he had been studying for many days and nights by then.  He was exhausted, and when he read that this was one of the symptoms of tularemia he hurried to the emergency room of the nearby hospital and announced to the medical staff that he was suffering from the disease. 

To this day my father's friend has to avoid that particular hospital, and needless to say he never bothered to apply for a job there. One of the things that make it so easy to be a hypochondriac these days is the internet. In the past budding young hypochondriacs had to trawl through libraries and obscure medical tomes to diagnose their catastrophic conditions, as their loved ones and doctors, who should all have taken their complaints much more seriously, tended toward patronising and ridicule. 

But now, with the internet, just type in any one of your twitches and spasms and in milliseconds you will have a long list of potential pernicious pathology that you know is the beginning of the end.  With search engines you don't even have to be too detailed, as they will propose lots of interesting things that are probably wrong with you that you never even knew about.  Yesterday I googled "spasms" and was offered 10 places that you can have spasms. I didn't even know you could have spasms in some of these places, but I know now, as I've begun experiencing spasms in all these places.

In December 2005 I accidentally poked myself in the eye with a pencil at school. A small tiny red dot appeared on my sclera and my friends began to over-exaggerate by telling me that my eye was bleeding. I started to panic, convinced that this tiny red dot would inevitably lead to the loss of my eye - even to my death. Horrifying scenarios of extreme possibilities began to fill my thoughts as I imagined my eye bleeding into my brain.

The next thing I remember was waking up lying on the floor in a confused state and wondering how I had got there. Another thing that perplexed me was the throbbing headache which I was suddenly experiencing. It turns out that I had fainted from the thought of a dramatic eye death and I had hit my head on the floor, causing my body to twitch. Hearing this, I was not only in fear of the tiny red dot in my eye that was sure to kill me, but also now dangerous intracranial conditions.  

I was taken to hospital to make sure everything was OK and had an eye exam and a CAT scan to determine if I had any serious injuries. The doctors said everything was normal and I was given a clean bill of health. However to this day I believe that they are hiding something. You know you've finally made it as a hypochondriac when your own father, a doctor no less, buys you a book titled The Hypochondriac's Handbook for your birthday. 

I recommend this as required reading to any hypochondriacs looking for the real diagnoses behind their signs and symptoms. Trust me, the doctors aren't telling you the truth! Zoya Zajac is a 17-year-old student in Abu Dhabi.