Hypochondria for Profit
I went to the doctor the other day for my post-op follow up. Everything is good, though my blood tests showed some little things that need to be investigated. Nothing serious mind you, just an overabundance of caution on the surgeon’s part.
Of course, no one likes to hear that there’s anything wrong with them, especially me. So when I got back to my car I found myself worrying about what might be going on in my body. When you get into your forties things start breaking. I’ve had three root canals, my gallbladder sucked out, high cholesterol that only responds to medication a bum knee, bad hearing and stronger and stronger eyeglass prescriptions. Of course all of this is fairly standard stuff as we age and people are dealing with far, far more serious problems. I had a friend who never made it out of his thirties. But what did that song say? People may have greater problems than you, but your problems are still your problems. So it behooves us to attend to our health and it’s okay to have reasonable worries regarding our physical well being.
A couple of months ago I noticed a strange vibration in my butt. So when I went for my annual physical I told my doctor about it and he told me he had the same thing from thirty years of carrying a beeper. Turns out my ass got used to my cell phone buzzing in my back pocket and missed it when it wasn’t there. And after I stopped carrying my iPhone near my keister that phantom buzzing went away.
But before I went to the doctor I made the biggest mistake anyone having strange symptoms can do – I went on the Internet. Oh boy, when you listen to people without medical degrees squawking about their health woes in Internet forums you walk away convinced that you have some terrible disease that will put you in the grave within months. So I stopped doing that. Now when I have a concern I talk to a doctor – knowing full well they’re not omnipotent gods.
Now people with actual disorders have on-line support groups and that’s a great thing. And the Internet is also actually helping physicians solve our health problems. When I worked in hospitals I heard doctors say, “I have no idea what the hell is going on with this guy.” So when they’re stumped they can put their problem out on the web and gets some feedback from a doctor who’s had the same issues and solved them. Very cool.
But as I tooled through some health websites today I noticed that almost all of them advertized some kind of supplement, quack treatment and, of course, drugs from the pharmaceutical industry. These guys aren’t out to make you feel better. They’re out to make a buck. And things aren’t much better in the mainstream media. Everyday we hear about some kind of new illness making the rounds, health concerns regarding certain kinds of foods and constant reminders about our mortality. Then right after we hear about these things there’s a friendly advertisement hawking drugs for better hardons, cholesterol lowering drugs, psychotropic medication, botox, sleeping pills, dry eyes, arthritis pain, irritable bowel syndrome, irregularity, breathing problems, stroke prevention, obesity and, my favorite, getting rid of toe nail fungus. And have you seen that advertisement where a hospital gurney follows a patient around while trumpeting some kind of drug? I’ll bet the guys on Madison Ave would have turned that gurney into a coffin if given half the chance.
You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out what’s going on here. The media loves scaring the shit out of us because it scores ratings and it’s no accident those Big Pharma ads come right after they’re through scaring the shit out of us. If you ask me, the biggest mistake we ever made was letting these companies hawk their wares on television.
Of course there are people who do suffer from the above-mentioned problems and benefit from drugs. I take statin medications so my genetic predisposition to heart disease doesn’t screw me up one day. But you’ll almost never hear these ads asking you to find out WHY you’re having these symptoms and how to manage them without drugs or make healthier choices. Out of legal obligation they just rattle off all the significant side effects these drugs can cause. One pill is known to sometimes induce nymphomania! (Maybe I could get behind that.) And there’s a large segment of the population who see these ads and start pestering their doctor to give them these medications. Trust me, it drives a lot of MDs batshit. My doc’s advice is always the same – lose weight, exercise, eat right and try not to worry so much. Stress, he always says, is the biggest killer.
But some people are absolutely in love with their illnesses. We all know people like this. All they talk about is their problems, doctors, symptoms and medication. Now don’t get me wrong here, support groups are valuable – but sometimes too much is too much. For some people their illness defines them and that’s sad. And let’s face it, a lot of their nervous jabberings are attention seeking behavior. Just go to an Internet forum to see what I’m talking about. But despite what the people pulling the media strings might tell you, we’re persons with lives to live. We have families, jobs, passions, hobbies and good causes to attend to. We are more than what afflicts us. And I’ve met a good number of people with real problems who refuse to let them slow them down. Have you seen those double amputees come back from Iraq and play basketball on their prosthetic legs? And we freak out over toenail fungus? Please.
One of the principal components of hypochondria is seeking constant reassurance that our bodies are not betraying us. And a good reason that we can be like this is that we don’t have people, or well functioning people, that can provide healthy reassurance when anxiety about health or life itself strikes us. So we turn to doctors. But the best way to live a healthy life is not to be alone. We need family, friends and significant others to be healthy. We all need a life. And as I’ve gotten older I’ve discovered loneliness maims us terribly.
As my doctor said – stress kills. And stressing out about your health is a good way to wreck it. And I’m not talking out of my ass here; I’ve had to struggle with this issue myself. And the best cure for that will always be a gentle health regimen and people who surround us with love. Despite the fact that many good people develop drugs to improve the quality of our lives, don’t kid yourself – Big Pharma isn’t your friend. To them you’re a profit center. Don’t be that. Now have some ice cream and sex – at the same time if you can.
You’re not dead yet.