10.21.2010

M√ľnchausen Syndrome

When I went to Indiana for my grandpa's funeral, I started breaking out in nightly hives, mostly under where clothes might rub or fit tightly. One night, even my lips swelled up to Jolie proportions. Was I allergic to Indiana? To my family? To the water? The wine? The detergent? The nostalgia? In any case, I undertook an investigation of the deepest order upon my return home.

I typed "hives at night" into Google's powerful search engine, clicked around, added quotes to my query, and finally diagnosed myself with delayed pressure urticaria. So I had a diagnosis, a prognosis, and a treatment plan (which just happens to be "do nothing") within minutes.

This is unlike the olden days, back before the Web made it to our behind-the-times household, the same that refused to get call waiting until long after I moved out. When I was a child, one of my favorite games was play hypochondriac with The American Medical Association Family Medical Guide:

Revised and updated in 1903.

It contained a dizzying array of outdated health information, from the four food groups and amorphous drawings of anatomy to the most popular prescription drugs of the day and tips to avoid black lung disease (called "pneumoconiosis" in the future):

 Mmm, look at that healthy rib-eye!

But "Part Four: What Are Your Symptoms?" was the most dog-eared section, containing the "popular and always-helpful symptoms charts":
"Organized like flow charts, the symptoms charts direct you through a series of questions with yes or no answers from a specific symptom to reach a possible diagnosis or recommendation."
Here's how to play: You scan the index to find a symptom you were experiencing -- dizziness, for example:

Emergency situation! You've hit the jackpot!

From there, it's simple: Follow the flowchart to self-diagnosis! The book really talks up these charts, saying, "The charts help you decide when it's important to call your doctor about a problem, when to go to a hospital emergency department immediately, or when to take care of the problem yourself at home."

But here's the best part: This game can't be won. You never landed on that last option, where it might recommend, "Just pop a few Advil, and you'll be right as rain by the morning!" The best you could hope for was, "See your doctor immediately!" Nine times out of 10, you got saddled with, "Emergency situation! Call local emergency number! Possibilities include sty, heart attack, SIDS, or Three M Syndrome!" You'd be in denial. "No way," you'd say. You'd run through the flowchart again and again, hoping you had exaggerated your responses or followed the wrong arrow. The game ended when you'd inevitably break out in a cold sweat, panic, beg your mom and dad to take you to the hospital, get denied, and go to bed resigned to fate, convinced that the concerned face of your stuffed monkey, Pete, would be the last thing you'd ever see.

Nowadays, they have all these newfangled self-diagnosis tools anyone with an Internet connection can access. They have links to all possible implications of your symptom, alternative remedies, message boards about the symptom, and entire communities founded on real or imagined disease. It is truly amazing and in my experience, often a better resource than your physician.

But where's the fun in that? 

On my next trip home, I'm hijacking my family's copy of this book so I can be a hit at parties. Heck, you could probably call me for (mostly unsolicited) medical advice now and get similar accuracy! I'm pretty sure my PayPal link shows up on here.

xo,
s

10.04.2010

DEAR INTERTRON: A Letter to Grandpa

My grandfather died recently. We were rather close. I wrote a letter to him the night before he died, stamped and addressed it, and was ready to send it off in the mail the morning my dad called to break the news. I'm kicking myself for not writing and sending it earlier as I had planned to, but it will make me feel better to put it out into the blogosphere. I had handwritten it, but here is the transcript in its entirety.

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Dear Grandpa,
I wanted to write you to say goodbye as I can't be there and I know how hard it is for you to talk on the phone right now. As I contemplate what I'll write, I walk myself through a lot of memories.

I remember playing you in HORSE on the miniature plastic basketball goal at my parents' house. I remember your praise when I won the "jackpot" on your slot machine as well as your endless supply of nickels to keep the thing running. I remember how you told us cousins to keep it down in the basement. I remember rolling down the backyard hill at your old house. I remember the generous gifts you and Grandma showered on us at birthdays and Xmas, no matter the cost. I remember the time you scolded Devin and me for picking a bunch of flowers out of your yard in an ill-fated attempt to make a perfume for April. I remember how you took care of Colin when he got poison ivy all over his legs, covering him in calamine with your bare hands. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to sounds of a train and asking Grandma if you were working on it. I remember interviewing you about your childhood for a school paper on the Great Depression. I remember creaking floors, a dishwasher running, and orange rolls early in the morning. I remember sitting on your couch covered in blankets and struggling to stay awake even though you were watching golf. I remember how you always had snacks waiting for us and how you started making me macaroni and cheese at every family gathering once I stopped eating meat. I remember you slipping me rolls of quarters to do laundry in college. I remember always having at least five options for dessert, be it pudding, ice cream, or pies, after every meal. I remember never leaving your house without a cold pop to drink on the way home. I remember your laughter when you opened an Xmas gift from my family, a pair of shoes, one shoe at a time. I remember seeing your face in the crowd at basketball games, piano recitals, swim meets, and graduations. I remember calling you every other weekend after I moved to San Francisco and begging you to come visit. More than anything, I remember simply your quiet, stern, selfless presence in our lives growing up, and I'm not sure what life will be like without it.

Reading through these memories will, I hope, bring a smile to your face, and that is how I'd like to bid you farewell. I love you!

<3
Sarah

P.S. Sorry for my handwriting; I know you always said it was horrible.

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xo,
s