"Oh no, my ankle! I'm going to die!"
©monkey business / Adobe Stock
The scratch that almost killed my husband – Or so he thought.
“I think it’s infected,” he said to me.
I looked at him, perplexed. That would be horrible news indeed! We were in the middle of nowhere, and in the middle of our camping trip. The nearest hospital was far away, and quite unpleasant, and closed on a Sunday. An infection would have been terrible news… were it not for the fact that his injury was only a few hours old.
We were on a fantastic adventure, roughing it through the mountains in Transylvania, hopping village to village. He saw a couple of kids playing football, and couldn’t resist.
“Is it ok if I go play a bit? Please?” He gave me the puppy eyes.
I couldn’t say no. “Put on your sneakers though.”
“Nah, if the kids can do it barefoot so can I!”
A few hours later we were staring at the gigantic holes on the side of his ankle, gained during an epic dive to save the ball that got the kids cheering.
“No, seriously.” My laughing only made him look more concerned. “I think I feel a fever coming on.”
As hard as I tried to convince him it couldn’t possibly be infected, he didn’t seem appeased. He thought I wasn’t taking his concern seriously, and it’s true, I wasn’t. I’d cleaned and dressed the injury and drenched it in antiseptic. I just couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
He’d asked me if I was sure another hundred times before dinner. I was building a fire, trying not to kill us by salmonella poisoning. My patience wasn’t at it’s best so after the hundredth, “but how do you know,” I decided to take action.
I picked up his ankle, took off the dressing and said
“Look. See? It looks normal. If it’s infected, you will see thick red lines radiating out from the injury. There’s nothing there, so it’s fine.”
Yeah, I know. I lied. Of course, there’s no such thing. I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe he believed me. The fact that he still trusts me to care for him when he is ill is a testament to his love. But I was desperate and exhausted, and I just wanted him to calm down for five minutes.
And it worked! He kept checking it out, sure, but he was visibly reassured each time. I didn’t give it another thought. The pine-trees and the river and the sunset kept us company throughout dinner, and we were about to go blissfully to sleep.
And then it stopped working. I found him sitting down and looking at his ankle. He was sweating, breathing heavily, and generally freaking out.
“I’m going to die.”
Surely not? “What happened?”
“Look, it’s just like you said. I can see red lines around the injury. See? It’s infected. I’m in trouble.”
I blinked hard a few times to clear my vision, though what I was clearing it for I’m not sure. Is he really telling me that the symptoms I invented are coming true? No way.
I looked closely at where he was pointing… and saw nothing at all. In fact, the only worrying symptom I could find was the genuine terror in his eyes. And then it struck me! I knew what was wrong! I had seen signs and symptoms of it all along! My daredevil, adventurous, reckless husband was a hypochondriac!
“You’re going to be fine. I promise.”
I summoned every meager bit of authority I could and tried to make that sentence sound definitive. I needed him to hear that I was sure. It was obvious there was no way to reason with him, and he sure as heck wasn’t going to calm himself down. His mind was telling him, in no uncertain terms, that it was time to meet John Bonham in the sky. The only thing I could try to do was get him to trust me more than he trusted himself.
I think it worked. I hope it did, but I’ll never know for sure if he got any sleep that night. I slept like a rock, utterly exhausted. We made it through the night though, and then through the rest of our vacation. And no, his injury never did get infected. He still bears the scars of it though!
Man, have we learned a lot about controlling anxiety since then. Looking back, I can’t believe we made it out of a two-week camping trip without genuinely dying. But we did figure out where the line is between his normal worrying and a severe hypochondriac attack.
You can tell because it goes from “honey, please cuddle me and make me chicken soup” to “I’m going to die” pretty quickly.
“I'll admit unless I'm absolutely certain he's being crazy, I'll never tell him he's being crazy”
The funny thing that nobody seems to mention about it, though, is that hypochondria is somewhat contagious. Not in the way that most diseases are contagious, certainly, but in its own twisted way. For one thing, I’ve noticed that some of his attacks cause me to panic too. After all, can I really always be sure he’s ok? Do I want to be that wife that tells her husband “it’s nothing” when his arm is falling off?
I’ll admit unless I’m absolutely certain he’s being crazy, I’ll never tell him he’s being crazy. He knows that if he really feels he needs it, we can go to the hospital at any time. No judgment. Perhaps in some way that thought in itself provides some comfort. And we’ve surely had our share of awkward doctor visits over the last few years.
I’ve figured out that “let’s do some blood tests, and in the meantime, take these vitamins” is doctor code for “THERE’S NOTHING WRONG, PLEASE STOP COMING.”
“I'm on to you, you sneaky bastard doctors”
And we’ve had a lot of scares. One of the more notable “I’m going to die” experiences was when he said his legs were tingling and he couldn’t feel two of his fingers on the right hand. To be fair to him, that would have scared anyone, and it sure made my shorts shiver when I heard it. What was it, you ask? Nothing. It went away by itself. And in the meantime? He got to take vitamins.
So what if we’re chummy with our doctor, and drinking buddies with our physiotherapist, and practically having a menage-a-cinque with three of our four village pharmacists? It’s good to make new friends!
So what if I keep every medicine they will legally sell me in my bathroom? I know how and when to use every single one of them.
So what if I took first aid lessons for both people and canines? I’ve expanded my mind and gained new knowledge!
And, in the end, so what if my husband thinks for sure he’s going to die on a weekly basis. Maybe that’s what keeps him so happy to be alive.
And in the meantime? He gets to take vitamins!