Monday, October 17, 2011

Hypochondriac... or HYPERchondriac? Eh? Eh?

   Yes, yes, I am always of some ill. My dad loves to roll his eyes at me, because there seems to be a neverending list of medical interest happening upon my biology at any given time. Allow me to illustrate.

   My sister and I had our tonsils out when we were youngish- I'm terrible at guessing periods of time, or years in the past (we'll get to that), so I'm going to guess I was about 13 or 14, she about 10 or 11. When we had our initial appointment with the Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, he assured us that the only thing that could possibly go wrong was a certain complication where the empty tonsil sockets could start bleeding about a week after the surgery. Do not worry- he told us in bold and no uncertain terms, smiling the "Trust Me, I'm A Doctor" smile that had probably paid for his summer home in Gordon's Bay- he had never, in his entire career, had a patient experience this. I, in my infinite newly-teenaged wisdom, knowing myself unequivocally to be the single star role in the movie of my life (how else could it be?), sat there knowing to my soul that I would be the first. I did not dread it; in fact, once we left the office I promptly forgot he had uttered such a thing.
   When I woke up after the surgery, never having come out of anaesthesia before, I was unclear on whether or not I was actually alive. I felt a little shaky on my existential principles in that moment, truly believing myself to have crashed through some fourth dimension only accessible to the recently departed. I was also informed afterwards by my mother that I swore at her rather loudly and expertly on how FUCKING SORE MY THROAT WAS. I reckon I saw a gap in the market and went for it.
   One week to the day after the surgery I woke up feeling like there was spit in my mouth that I could not swallow. I tried and tried to swallow it down, but it was persistently there. I went to the sink to spit it out, and found it to be GORE. I have no earthly idea how much blood I managed to pitch into the bathroom sink, but I believe it to have been Tarantino-Litres. Kill Bill volumes of blood. I was rushed to the hospital, and to my jolly fae delight, skirted around in a wheelchair. I think I may have tried to look extra grey as I passed people in the corridors, just so they could know how very close to actual grim death this little girl really was. I got a private room (I think there weren't any other available) with M-Net long before our household had seen such a thing as a satellite dish, so I was already contemplating which of my toes I liked the least so I could lop it off to earn my next stay. Two nights I got, and my mom and sister brought me brand new jammies on top of it.

   At round about the same time, I was prescribed sleeping pills for my long-standing sleeping problems that persist like some leering Greenday song to this day. My body clock resets itself by little bits every day, and eventually I find myself on what I call "Tokyo Time," where I sleep during the day and irritate the begeezus out of the normal people by clanking around in the kitchen like a 400lb Godzilla at night. If I force my schedule, as one needs to do to work, for instance, I tend to feel like last week's veggie and soy mince lasagne that's been re-heated in a faulty microwave just once too many times. I can't function. Thusly, the miracle pills.
   Oh dear lordy lordington, the pills. I've been on them for ages, so they hardly make a dent in my considerable exoskeleton by now, but back then was another matter entirely. I floated on air, I by god I loved you so fucking much, and look at the pretty lights, and-
   Like that, only for hours. It was very hard to physically get me into bed once they had kicked in, so it was a race to get all the night-time ablutions done before the fireworks started in earnest. I would sit for veritable hours just watching the grain of the wood in the bathroom door, seeing all kinds of little friends there, having all kinds of little animated adventures. Having always been something of a pyromaniac, I would light a candle, and stare at that- one time I wrote a dissertation of about 8 lined pages ("FRONT AND BACK!") about how convinced I was that fire must be the only thing that existed in both this realm and the one on the other side, which obviously (obviously) meant that faeries and such shit were attracted to the flames and so on and so forth. No really. I still have those pages in my cupboard somewhere, and in the moment I was writing them, I was entirely serious. Even now I will swear to you I wrote that in about five minutes, but when I checked three hours had passed. THIS STUFF IS LEGAL, Y'ALL.
   There was also the very real danger of drinking (my pill) and dialling. At very small hours in the unreasonable morning, I would get up out of bed MUTHAFLIPPING CONVINCED that Wolf neeeeeded me to call him rightnowrightnowrightnow, because, you know. Stuff. Lucky for me he had a pretty good sense of humour about things, but even though nowadays my body has totally made friends with the little bad boys, and I make sure to take them at most about 30 minutes before I climb into bed, I still wake up the next day realizing I have managed to invite someone over to come visit while under the influence and would never have remembered if they hadn't phoned or smsed- or even until they simply showed up. It's like a lucky bag, or Bert Bott's Every Flavour Beans. Sometimes it's raspberry, sometimes it's balls.

   A few years ago, maybe about two or three, I started having torso pains and acute nausea that would have had me biting through leather, if anyone had had enough of a sense of drama to put a leather strap in my mouth for me to bite down on. It was unlike anything I had ever felt- no cramp, no bean, onion and cabbage induced vapour, no food poisoning or flu had ever done anything like that to me. It wasn't simply the sheer brass set of balls this pain had, but the exact nature of it. Even now, though I can dimly recall the sensation, I would never be able to describe it to my satisfaction. The nausea was frequent, but the pain only came a few times a week- it was enough though. There were no obvious triggers and no pain pill alive could man up against this mother.
   One night, it struck again, and I was doubled up crying. I didn't want anyone to take me to the hospital, because I was so afraid it was going to be nothing and then I would have wasted everyone's time and money- especially since it was my favourite AM; number 3. But Faaa-huuuuck, it just kept getting worse, and nothing would help. My mom decided enough was enough, and being a empathetic hypochondriac she was taking me to the emergency room. I was still just plagued by images of this goddamn pain disappeared like a fart into the wind the moment we got there, but the thought of being scanned and x-rayed thrilled me always so off we went.
   Turns out, my gallbladder was a fucking mess. There were something like 17 gallstones in there- that's what had been causing the pain and nausea each time, and I was told with the kind of angst reserved only for the heroine of her own story that the only option was to yank the damn thing. I even memorised the proper name for the surgery- it's called a cholecystectomy. It wasn't going to get better of its own accord.
   Unlike you nice, mentally healthy people out there, I sighed a silent sigh of relief, because that meant a) I hadn't wasted anyone's time b) I hadn't been imagining or fabricating the whole thing and c) Hospital stay! They had that bad boy out the next day and I WAS UNPREPARED. I was not warned that when people cut the fuck into your abdomen- even laparoscopically, thank-you-very-much- you cannot even pull yourself out of bed on your own steam. This time I shared a room with a very nice lady who wanted nothing more than to set me up with her son- and considering the state my hair and face must have been in, added to the irresistibly charming draining back hanging out of my side and the hunched-over, old-lady walk I was rocking, I can't imagine what the poor boy had been bringing home before to make me seem like a step UP.
   So that hurt for weeks. Even once I got home, I couldn't get out of bed properly for a long time, and everything felt like it was pulling apart where it had been stitched up, but I got some cool scars out of it man. I just wish I had a cooler story to tell with them than "Oh these? That was from where they took out my gallbladder." At least when I'm in the old-age home one day and everyone is comparing inevitable cholecystectomy stories, I'll be almost certain to win for "youngest" gallbladderless senior citizen. Small victories.

   Now I tell you all this because there is one story in particular that I have been urged to share. This is a favourite among people who like to laugh at me loudly and repeatedly, and I wanted to give some context.
   I am not a hypochondriac. "Chondriac" tells you there's a patient or a sufferer of some condition, and "hypo" implies that this is a patient suffering of buggerall: thusly, someone suffering of their own mind. I am what I am going to insist be called a "hyperchondriac", fully imparting the fact that here is a patient truly and quite generally suffering multiple woes and ills, verified by medical science. Besides for the above mentioned outstanding incidents, I could also tell you about my terrible teeth that are prone to being riddled by holes like a cello-case fired at by a 1930's movie mobster, despite rigorous oral hygiene. In fact, I could stress that one tooth in particular is killing me right now and that the sister whom I love dearly always and who is so close to my heart (FUCK YOU, SIS) was born without wisdom teeth AT ALL, and mine are ever encroaching on the rest of my mouth bringing with them pain and pain and pain. And suffering, and pain.
   Then I could tell you how, whenever I need to scratch an itch on my back, the simple act of scratching somehow manages to leave me with a deep-tissue type pain that stays there for about five minutes before going away, and can be invoked by anything from brushing up against a door handle to receiving a hug from a particularly bony person. It hurts, people. No one believes this, and when someone playfully punches me on the arm and it brings tears to my eyes, I pretend I'm playing along with my "ow"s. No, those are real fucking ows and I'm not mentally handicapped for crying after a round of "Punch Buggy!!".
   I have astigmatism, and have glasses I ought to wear more often. For a while, my doctors thought I had PCOS, but this is a diagnosis now being reassessed in order to figure out what it really is. I'm synaesthetic, shit-scared of anything with two wings and a pointy end, and I get migraines. I'm dyscalculic, meaning I am to numbers what dyslexics are to words, and I've even considered having a ruler tattooed onto my left arm since I can't tell you what three centimetres should look like. All of these things I will still tell you of properly in the future, because all of them are hilarious in serving their purpose to making me look like a jackass.
   Seriously yo, I'm badly broken. But somehow, through all of that, I've managed to avoid things like broken bones and bee stings, sticking only to the more exotic bullshit. That brings me to the story I would tell if ever I was in the chair at the end of the Graham Norton show. I bring it to you greatly enhanced and in superfluous detail, as is my wont.

   Earlier this year, me, my dad, my uncle Eric, my sister, my almost-brother-in-law Barend, family friend Boet and family friend Boet's girlfriend Joanita went on a camping trip to a place called Borakalalo just outside Gauteng. You must understand that to get me into what can only be described by the blanket term "nature", one would have had to know exactly where the bodies are buried.

   Uncle Eric has a Safari business up in Botswana that he mans for half the year, so we all clambered into his handy 4x4-esque all-ish terrain vehicle and off we went. Estelle and Barend were especially looking forward to doing some fishing by the expansive lake we had been promised, whilst my dad and I looked especially forward to drinking alcoholic beverages and watching them fish from a shady distance. It was a long drive there (and an even longer drive back, since the car broke down in rainy East Bum-Fuck Nowhere and all of our cellphones were dead, but I digress), but it was worth it. Before we even got there we got to see donkeys and sheep freely walk among men in the small towns we passed to get there. The place was gorgeous, and almost immediately upon arriving were we rewarded with wildlife more exotic than, say, my good friend Lord Engelbrecht from the other day, or Mr. Ed in the road.

   It was chill, and it was awesome. We were going to braai some meat, drink some of whatever there was to drink, and go for a leisurely, late afternoon safari drive in the 4x4ish. There were about four bajillion monkeys up in those trees right by our tents (semi-permanent tents with actual beds in, thank the gods, or I wouldn't have been moved to attend), and they were constantly trying to steal all our shit. As me, my dad, Estelle, Barend and Eric drove out of the camping site for our drive, Boet (in the red shirt) headed back into his own tent, and we had to shout for him to come back because a very brave little soul had dared to sneak a little dark hand right into an open potato chip packet and ran off with a handful of Lays. That little dude is still my hero.
   It was the next day that we went fishing.
   We arrived once again on blissful holiday time at the beautiful lake, set up for much of nothing.

While the fishing silliness was happening (there're like whole stores devoted to catching, killing and cleaning your food for you, has no one ever explained this?) my dad and I sat in the shade much as anticipated, and basked in the glorious lazy day. Plus there were only enough fishing poles for four people anyway, so you know.
   I was doing something productive, at least- hopping around with my phone that took such excellent photos, making sure we had enough pictorial evidence of our trip to suffice in the stead of real memories (hey, some of our party was getting up there in years already, and had managed to forget the firewood for the braai by our first night.) As I was dancing around like a true photographer, finding my angle and setting up perfect shots one after the other, disaster struck.
   As I mentioned before, this was a wildlife preserve type place where the animals could roam as free as their hearts desired, and steal as many deep-fried stoner snacks as they could lay their hands on. There weren't really so many fences and things keeping the part that was us from violently merging with the decidedly them. I, camera phone in hand, pivoted on one heel to find damn near right behind me emergent from the bushes; a wildebeest.
   I Fucking Panic, Ladies and Gentlemen: a play in one act.
   Without giving thought to the brave man known as Bear who repeatedly puts his own safety- nay, comfort even- on the line to bring us such shows as, um... something about Surviving, I run like I'm being paid to endorse Nike. This turns out to be what Animaniacs would have called a "Bad Idea", because the godforsaken creature GIVES CHASE. No, please understand me fully while I try to convey the full horror of the scene. No one else seems to even have noticed that anything is amiss, and I am being motherfucking purposefully chased by a wildebeest.
   This whole thing becomes true comedy when I lose my footing and suddenly find all that momentum propelling me violently forward towards the red dirt floor. Again, with that little part of my brain that like to answer to Logic switched off, my instinct seems to be to speed up in order to regain some measure of balance. Having seen many a drunk try and fail this particular little feat of Cirque du Soleilery, I have no idea what made me think I stood a dog's bumhair of a chance that day. I only managed to rocket myself even more explosively into the ground, and brought up my hands to- I don't know, protest strongly to this sequence of events? Sure as shit wasn't going to keep me from falling any more than I already was- I skid along that dirt like I was going for home base. I scraped so much genetic material off of my arms and legs (it having been a hot summer's day, me awesomely having been wearing a tank top with a super-short skirt) that you could have put together a spare Loraine just from what I left behind. Of course, diving into the ground like I did my skirt blew in a decidedly upwards direction, giving anyone who cared to look at the screaming, flailing woman rolling around in the dust a money-shot of the pink undies I will never forget I choosing to wear that day.
   Yes, by then, they had noticed. And even better, much like I had feared that abdomen pain would do should I have called any action down upon it, the wildebeest had genuinely, truly, I'm-not-making-this-up vanished into thin air as though it had never been. I would later find out that I had actually given myself temporary nerve damage to my upper left thigh, having skid along the ground like that, and I really was bleeding quite impressively from a large cubic area of exposed, stinging skin. It was superb and sublime in the way that few things ever are, and I remember being more shaken and upset by the fact that I hadn't chosen to wear better underwear that day than the fact that I couldn't feel the top of my damn leg.

   Now that I've told you this story, I want you to think deeply on the niceties of my pain, fear and humiliation, and consider this last but crucial piece of information:
   Every single word I wrote above was 100% true, except for the wildebeest.
   It was a wasp.

   And with that, I bid you a fond goodnight at 6 AM as I contemplate having this damn tooth ripped out of my head sometime before lunch today. And from now on in your future dealings with me will you know that I am the kind of person who would inflict nerve damage upon herself before she would allow a wasp to come close enough to chance a mere sting- and moreover, would most likely make the choice again if asked to.
   You may call me the world's first Hyperchondriac.

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