I have always been a little bit of a drama queen. If it was slightly chilly, I’d stiffen all my limbs and claim to be frozen still. If I saw a daddy long legs spider I claimed it was definitely a black widow or tarantula. Airplanes at night were UFOs, stray dogs were coyotes. This led me to exaggerating my sickness playing hooky. I was a pro at getting out of school and my mom was a tough one to fool because she was a school teacher.
“I’m sick mom,” I’d say.
She would check my temperature with the back of her palm and check to see what color my face was. If it was flushed, I had a fever. If it was pale I was dying. I learned three tricks, thermometer to the lamp then shake the temperature down to 101, blow dry my forehead, and slap the shit out of my face until it was beet red. Amazingly all three tricks worked in my favor even though I usually wound up with a headache. Claiming to have the flu or a bladder infection only worked for so long before my mom caught on to my game. One day I was lying on my mom’s bed waiting for her to bring my results of the thermometer when I came across a medical thesaurus. I quickly skimmed through the 865 page book. It had every disease on earth, symptoms, treatments, photos and diagrams. Most of it I couldn’t read nor understand, but it intrigued me to know a headache could be a tumor, and bug bite Malaria. This book would soon become my new best friend, my secret retreat. My mom came back and tossed me my backpack, “Nope, no fever, time for school.”
I squinted as I held the sides of my crown and said, “I wouldn’t have a temperature mom. I have cancer.”
“What? No you don’t, don’t even say things like that. Come on you’re going to be late for the bus.”
I tried to convince her if I was to start chemotherapy soon she probably should let me go straight to the airport and send me on a flight to my aunt who lived a half an hour away from Cedar Point Amusement Park.
“I think it would be the best for both of us,” I said.
While my antics never worked, my curiosity of death and disease heightened. I couldn’t stop reading the book. For the next eight years I probably read the thesaurus front and back over fifteen times. It wasn’t that I had a natural desire to practice medicine, I just needed to know the diseases and how they might kill me. While all my best friends planned their future weddings ripping out the pages of their JC Pennies catalog, I was planning my funeral. Not because I was sad, or abused, or depressed at age nine, but because I felt funerals were just as important as weddings. The same people showed up. My funeral would be the event of the year. I wanted great music that represented me like Bon Jovi, Run Away Train, Wind Beneath My Wings. Maybe I’d even throw in a little bit of Madonna into the mix to shake things up. I wanted all black roses, and everyone had to wear white. I had to have a green coffin and champagne passed out as everyone stood around the coffin and said a few inspiring words about me. As I got older through high school my hypochondria changed. I became much more introverted about it. I wouldn’t go around telling friends I had cancer or Toxic Shock Syndrome, but I knew deep down I had it or it was waiting for me right around the corner from the beauty section in Wal-Mart. Instead of talking about it I began researching more. I would look up poison ivy, then I would skip to Bextra and see how long I had to live. I even looked up hypochondria to see if I had that too. The bad thing about hypochondria is you always think the worst. When I moved to New York it began to slowly fade away. I had too many other problems to worry about to even take the time to cross examine what disease I might have. It was alright that I might have lupus and I only had six months to live, because if I didn’t grab the 6 train in three minutes my boss would have my head on a platter in thirty five minutes for being late again. That changed the day I got health insurance through my job. I was in a union that had full medical coverage. The kicker was there was no co-pay, zip, nothing. I could get cat scans, and MRI’s like I was getting my nails done, except the cat scans were quicker and cheaper. We had every specialist one could think of at our disposal all in the same building. My friends thought there was something wrong with me. Janice asked me every Tuesday, “Emily you want to do some yoga or take a sailing lesson?”
I replied, “I’d really love to. Thanks for asking again, but I got a doctors appointment.”
“But I thought you had one last Tuesday,” she’d say confused.
“Oh I did, but that was a different doctor. "
How do you know when you go to the doctor too much? When the whole staff knows you, and your personal life. The janitor even knows details of the last brawl I had with my boss. How did I know that my hypochondria is increasing? I walked into the doctors office, told him what was wrong with me, and showed him the treatment plan I should take. By age 27, I’ve had a cat scan, MRI, colonoscopy, breast exam, stress test, every blood test in the book, sonogram, asthma test, allergy test, sinus surgery and hearing tests. They all had one thing in common that disturbed me the most, the results showed I was 100% healthy. I would ask the doctor one more time for confirmation before moving on to the next ailment. I had some pretty interesting line of doctors at the clinic. While they all did their job exceptional, some were complete characters. The fun thing about a work union medical center was that my co-workers and I all shared the same doctors so we could talk about them. My good friend Natalie and I shared the same fat, Jewish, middle aged gynecologist, Doctor Frankfurt. Frankfurt was a bit too personal during his check up. He always looked very pleased to see me.
“Well hello Miss Turner,” he’d say with a huge shit eating grin on his face. “It’s always great to see you.”
I didn’t blame him because 85% of his clients were the hotel maid staff, or grannies over 75 years old. We’d first get down to the basics, any weird discharge or pain? I’d squeal yes as he’d give me my pelvic exam. I swear he stayed in their longer than he was trained. Then he’d ask me how my sex life was, and what was new.
“Oh you know it’s ... what it is,” I’d say reluctantly my sex life was like afternoon thunder showers it came and went, very unpredictable, but normally dry. “I did go to Cancun for a week,” I said changing the subject. “It was fun.” It was a girl’s trip packed with spa days, and early nights in watching movies as if we were kids again having sleep overs.
“Cancun?” he said as he snapped on a glove for my exam. “I bet you got in to all kinds of trouble.”
I laughed it off, “So doc can we do a testing for STD’s along with my pap smear?”
“Oh you were a naughty girl in Cancun weren’t you?”
“No! I actually didn’t have sex, I just thought while you were already giving my pap you could do the whole thing.”
“You in Cancun? Yeah I bet that was a good time.”
Me in Cancun normally was a good time. By the second hour all the Mexican boys at the hotel knew my name, Amelia. I had a habit of drinking all day at the beach, leading into a night out. I harassed the Mexican police for pictures, and all the other stuff obnoxious tourists do on vacation. I once had a fascination with being in a cover band. I snuck up on a stage over looking a crowd of a thousand tourists. Just as the lead singer of a Kiss cover band went to grab the microphone for his first song I ran over and snatched it before he could grab it. He couldn’t start the first set of songs with out his microphone, so he chased me around the stage as the band played. I finally tripped over a cord, and fell down the staircase as the whole crowd gasped in unison, “ooohhhh.” I couldn’t believe Dr. Frankfurt called me a naughty girl as he grinned. My friend Natalie had a similar experience with Frankfurt. He gave her a very thorough exam and assured her everything looked fine, but she could come back in a few months if she wanted to. Five minutes after her forty minute exam she found herself in the deli behind Dr. Frankfurt. She cringed as he happily ordered a tuna fish sandwich just minutes after giving her an exam. I once went into the walk in medical emergency floor. It was flu season and the room was jammed packed. I was going away on a long vacation and recently had a broken condom. I tried explaining to the doctor who spoke broken English, I needed some medicine just in case I had chlamydia or something, not that I did but I was always overly paranoid.
“I no gynecologist,” he said sternly. “I don’t give you exam.”
“No exam,” I replied back in broken English so he could better understand me.
“I am on period. I go away. I need medicine in case of chlamydia or something.” He got frustrated at our mis-communication and opened the door. He looked down the hallway across from the waiting room and screamed at the top of his lungs in his Eastern European accent, “Need doctor for chlamydia! Patient chlamydia!”
I sunk down into my seat. I was pretty sure everyone all the way to Jersey heard him. I looked around to see if there was a back window in his office or heating vent I could exit from. That taught me a quick lesson of guessing what was wrong with myself before I was properly diagnosed. Before a two month vacation in Costa Rica I had to do one more quick pop into the doctors office to get my last quick fix. My doctor agenda was birth control, and malaria pills. I signed up in the emergency walk in front desk. I hoped to have a nice understanding doctor and be in and out of the office in less than an hour. I still had to skim the summer sale racks for dresses in December and meet up with friends for lunch before work.
“Emily Turner,” a tall, skinny, man with white hair and a fluffy caterpillar mustache called from an exam room in a Polish accent. I quickly ran into the room. He stared at his computer as he said,
“What can I do for you Miss Turner?”
I quickly explained I needed to refill my birth control and I was off to the jungle where there was a high risk for malaria. He looked at me and stared for a minute.
“Malaria, I’m not familiar with this subject. Let me call my friend. He’ll know what to give you,” he said. The doctor slowly dug through a pile of numbers on papers and business cards. He finally found the number and dialed. “Hi, yes this is Doctor Romanski,” he said with his thick accent. “I like to speak with Doctor Kimble.” He looked at me and rolled his eyes. “He’s with a patient. We just wait on hold. So you need birth control?”
“Yes, just a refill and an extra month if you could. I’m going away for two months.”
“Wow two months in the jungle? Your boyfriend is lucky man.”
I laughed, “Oh no boyfriend. I’m going alone.” T
he doctor looked at me astonished as he began talking medicine to Doctor Kimble. He hung up the phone and said, “I prescribe you preventive pills for malaria.” He began typing on the computer as he explained the directions on how to take them.
“Ok you are ready for the jungle!” He exclaimed as he pounded his fist into the air.
“Yes, but I still need my birth control.”
“I can not believe a woman like you will be alone in the jungle. Wow and no boyfriend? Don’t worry I prescribe you pills. You don’t know what to happen. Having sex with cheetahs,” he said as he laughed to himself.
“Yeah I don’t want to have a monkey or cheetah baby,” I said jokingly.
“Ah the jungle is wild! You will be crazy women,” he said as his eyes lit up”
“Yeah that is possible.”
“All the men they will chase after you. Maybe you need a man like me to protect you,” he said with a smile.
I looked at the skinny sixty year old man, he couldn’t protect an egg let alone the both of us in the jungle. “I can picture you in the jungle,” he said. “You wear a little bikini?”
“Oh yeah,” I said being distracted, “I just ordered five new ones!”
He sat deep in thought. Oh come on, where are my pills grandpa? I need to go! “I don’t understand all of this shaving nonsense. You ladies take all the hair off down there.”
“Well yeah, it’s better that way. I’ve been doing it since I was 14.”
“Oh my daughter is 15. She want to shave the legs, but I tell her no.” “You don’t want people to make fun of her, maybe you should let her.”
“Then she want to shave her privates. I tell her to grow it, just grow it long. Then she be having sex.”
The doctor got into a long conversation about his daughter and her up and coming sex life. I couldn’t believe I was talking about all of this with the doctor, we certainly weren’t talking medicine anymore. He couldn’t imagine his daughter having sex, and he really didn’t understand the shaving fetish. He shaved everyday driving in his car on the way to work.
“I never shaved my balls,” he said as he spread his legs and motioned a shaving technique. “Is this what I should do?” he asked.
“Well maybe. I mean if the girls do it, the guys should too.”
He thought to himself for a moment and said, “Maybe I’ll do it one day.” He told me sent my prescriptions to the pharmacy upstairs. He asked if I needed him to accompany me to Costa Rica three more times before releasing me an hour and half later. “Watch out for the monkeys,” he said. The only monkey I had to watch out for was his hairy Polish one. At the pharmacy I found out Doctor Romanski forgot to put in my prescriptions. Apparently he was too distracted by me. The pharmacist smiled and said, “Yes doctor she is very attractive.” I went home that day with a bag full of malaria pills and three months of free birth control. I guess he really thought I was going to have some jungle fever down there. It took some time to shake off the image of the old man driving down Fifth Avenue shaving his balls. Going to the doctor is getting kind of old. It’s much more fun to play doctor at home. I think the best bet for me, the hypochondriac is to marry a hot doctor, that way we could cover the whole spectrum from start to finish.