Friday, August 25, 2006

The hypochondriac

So it's 1977 and I'm screaming while a doctor with a big pair of pliers proves that a local anaesthetic and a tourniquet don't make an iota of difference when you're having a poisoned nail and pieces of bone pulled out from your finger. When the bandages come off I have a three-quarter length claw with two malformed pieces of nail growing vertically away from the bone. I even laugh when they tell me that it's a good job I'm not a girl since looks don't matter to boys. But I don't think it's remotely funny because they hadn't been in that operating theatre and, anyway, appearance is important to me too. I'm only twelve but I'm shocked and furious.

Nobody could understand when I hadn't said anything earlier. Hadn't it been painful, what with my flesh festering and everything? Although (technically speaking) I had told someone. Which is why I went around for two days wearing my father's crazed sugar-and-soap poultice concoction which might have done some good if the soap had been of the type used in the the 1940s, but which just provided a cosy breeding ground for bacteria to gnaw away at my bone. You might have thought going to Hethersett Surgery would have been a better idea but that was all of four hundred metres walk and, frankly, my father just couldn't be bothered.

But I'd put up with the burst of pain with every heartbeat partly because I'd thought it would get better soon but mainly because I was desperate not to be known as the kid who keeps pretending he's ill.

Rewind to 1976 and I've just told Miss Girvin that I feel sick and she tells me that I'm a hypochondriac. I'm only ten but I know exactly what that word means. And I'm devastated because the only plus side of moving schools every year or so is that you can shake whatever reputation you might have had before.

Mr McEwan at my previous school was the first person to call me it, in 1974, when I told him for the umpteenth time that my stomach was hurting and I had a headache. He was totally unmoved, even though I was worrying I was going to spew up on his desk.

Thanks to the likes of Miss Girvin and Mr McEwan, I learned that real illnesses had spots and temperatures and anything else - even if I had just sicked up my lunch in the school toilets - was just pretend. So I learned to shut up and ignore the nausea and cramps and flatulence and eczema and knitting-needle-in-the-eye migraines. Only the healthy are popular.

At fourteen I realised my mother's chips made me ill and started cooking for myself, but it was much later before I stopped eating even tiny quantities of potato. In 1998, wondering why only one of two nearly identical packets of Lebkuchen gave me heartburn, I started looking at ingredients and saw that one had potato granules in it. Post-beer stomach ache went away once - most sadly of all - I said goodbye to crisps, alarmed at the way eating even a few left a tingling on my lips, now that I had learned about anaphylactic shock.

I have a potato allergy, and I was fed them every single day of my childhood. If you're being poisoned for a decade, you'll have endless stomach aches, an intimate knowledge of the inside of toilet bowls and sometimes - just sometimes - you'll probably want to tell someone else about it.

So can I suggest, Miss Girvin and Mr McEwan and anyone else who's contemplating it, that the next time a nine-year old says they feel sick, you don't call them a hypochondriac? Just don't do that.


Blogger googum said...

I had a boss that I was, um, slowly poisoning by eating peanut butter sandwiches at her desk on my breaks. Eventually she realized what was making her sick, and politely requested I take my toxic food elsewhere, which is fair enough.

To the best of my knowledge, I have no allergies, although I suppose I could stumble upon one someday. That's my family history though; like an old car that you can drive for years with no problems and no maintenance, then it'll throw a rod and be junk.

6:51 pm  
Blogger Disintegrating Clone said...

Peanut butter allergy is as bad as it gets. They can die on just a trace - as happened to an athlete a few years ago. Bloody scary.

The trouble is that crisps taste so nice after a couple of pints...

4:37 pm  
Blogger lee said...

Yeah, I was sick all my life from corn and didn't know it til a couple a years ago.What a drag!!! My sister's boy has the thing with peanuts. A child over here died because his school mates dared him to eat peanuts when they knew he shouldn't -scary stuff.

2:36 am  

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