The 99th Monkey

One man's spiritual quest—and his continuous and utter failure to find the answers.

Hypo-Hypochondria, Or Is It Me?

When nobody else will listen.

 

Comedian Richard Lewis once began a performance by saying, "I just came from spending a weekend with my family; I can't tell you how glad I am to be speaking in front of 20,000 strangers."

I don't like to whine and complain about my various physical ailments to my friends and family... much. Though when you're feeling miserable, sometimes you can't help but leak the information, even if it's only through your tone of voice:

"How are you?" someone might ask me, and instead of the expected, "Fine, and you?" I might accidentally have, if not a Freudian, than possibly an "old Jewish guy" slip:

"Miserable. The MRI of my knee revealed a possible torn meniscus. The MRI of my shoulder showed a rotator cuff injury. The MRI of my lower back pointed to mild stenosis of the spine but is 'likely not the source of your pain.'" (The MRI of my brain was completely normal, which I simply don't accept, and nor do my friends.)  "I haven't had any cartilage in either of my big toes since 1994"—seriously—"and I have some sort of viral/systemic, undiagnosed disease coursing through my bloodstream, as if I drink battery acid for breakfast every morning, that makes all my muscles and joints ache on a cellular level. And how are you?"

But since I no longer want to burden my near and dear ones with that sort of kvetching, I thought that you, kind reader, might be the perfect substitute. Nothing like a few thousand strangers to vent to if you don't want to keep perseverating to your loved ones. I have one friend, to remain nameless, but let's call him "Michael." Michael is a very famous hypochondriac—world renowned—and his wife literally will no longer permit him to even mention his physical symptoms. Some of his friends are more patient than others, and I count myself among that group. I listen. And I am the only one among a group of us that were once coerced into feeling the lump on Michael's inner thigh that have not long since quietly withdrawn from all medical conversations with him. (My diagnosis was a spider bite; others said cyst; Michael himself leaned toward terminal, cancerous growth. In the final analysis, his dermatologist declared it to be, in no uncertain terms, a pimple.)

At least Michael's symptoms are in a state of perpetual flux. Rarely do we have consecutive phone calls discussing the same set of ailments. He moves rapidly from random chills running up and down his spine to a bright red flushing of his face, suspicious moles expanding exponentially on his back, shooting pains down his left side, slightly blurred vision, a coarseness in his voice and vocal chords. He regularly sees an acupuncturist, a Tibetan medicine doctor, an internist at Kaiser Permanente, a skin lady, and he also consults with a group of disembodied guides that speak to him over the phone through a woman "channel" in Germany. The guides seem especially fond of the products at Vitamin Shop, and regularly prescribe a long list of new supplements for Michael to spend loads of money on but which he invariably never actually takes more than once or twice. I personally don't think anyone needs a dead person from outer space to tell you to buy Glucosamine and Omega 3 fish oils.

Then, of course, there are the "numbers." Blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, all of them off the charts, and Michael radically reforms his diet regularly, often sticking to it religiously for hours at a time. He recently eliminated all red meat before breakfast, and limited his sugar intake to between-meal snacks and desserts only.

But enough about Michael. Here is where I stand, as of today: I no longer have any faith in Western medicine. Not my internist, whose best suggestion was to take Tylenol and drink less water; not my osteopath whose spinal injection offered no pain relief; not my orthopedist who wanted me on the surgical table the next day to fix my shoulder, when the truth is, it really only bothers me when I use it. You'd be surprised how much you can get done in a day without using your right shoulder, if you're a lefty. It's like a vestigial organ.

I am also done with Eastern approaches to healing. I put in my three-days a week at the acupuncturist, three days-a-week at the chiropractor, and spent huge sums of money on an out-of-network, myo-fascial release bodyworker whom I loved, with the sole exception that his work relieved none of my symptoms even a little. I'm also finished with the Reiki people, the energy workers, the psychic readings and the medical intuitives.

The worst are the combination people: the Integrative Medicine guy and the Naturopath M.D. They combine the worst of both worlds, drawing on both Eastern and Western modalities in order to solve none of my problems. And please, please don't talk to me about any new supplements, herbs or vitamins. My brother is thoroughly convinced that they are the cause, rather than the cure, for everything that is bothering me. In his words, "You're destroying your body with all that crap."

Given that I've eliminated Western and Eastern approaches, I am now actively in search of Southern medicine. Is there such a thing? The best I could locate on the Internet was a dietary recommendation for Cajun-style, blackened catfish. What about Northern medicine? Surely they must have come up with an approach to healing by now? What do the Eskimos do? I'll try anything. A friend casually mentioned the "Edgar Cayce 3-Day Apple Fast" over dinner last week.  I'm on day two. Mostly Fujis, a couple Granny Smiths for variety.

Anyway, I just had to get it out of my system; at least you have the patience to listen. I rejected a new family doctor last year because after going through my litany of complaints, her comment was, "Well, maybe that's just how it is." If I wanted a Zen doctor, I would have gone to a temple in Kyoto. But now, 18 months after seeing her, and about seven practitioners later, both East and West, maybe she was onto something; maybe this is just how it is, now that I'm about to cross the line into "Senior Citizen" status.

Another favorite comic, Louis C.K., says that when you're in your 20s and something's wrong with, say, your ankle, the doctors will perform unbelievable, unnatural feats of medical engineering: "We'll just take a piece of your right earlobe and graft it onto your ankle and you'll be good as new." Once you're older, though, and you show up with the identical complaint, the best response you can hope for is often, "Yeah, that's tough. Whew. Wouldn't want to have that. You could try stretching."

"Why, will that help?" 

"Nah. It's just what you do now."

***

A completely unrelated subject, but I have to get it off my chest: I watched the Super Bowl for the first time in my life this year, and was perplexed that on two occasions, one of the teams was penalized for having "too many men on the field." Twelve, to be precise. I simply do not understand how this happens. You never hear this in baseball. "The Yankees are being penalized three runs because there appears to be some extra guy just standing around behind the second baseman; who is that guy?" Can't the NFL teams afford to hire one person whole sole job would be to count how many men are on the field? And if it ever goes over the requisite 11, he would jump up and down on the sidelines, gesticulating wildly, and shouting at the extra idiot to come back to the sidelines and just sit down. Even I could do that job. I would like to do that job. Except all that jumping up and down would hurt my back. And my shoulder. And my knees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eliezer Sobel is an author, musician, and retreat leader.

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