Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hypochondria

Woman taking blood pressure at pharmacy machine

You know that I’m often slow to seek medical attention when something is wrong, even if the problem could be serious. Remember that rash on my arm that resulted in a hospital admission? How about my recent adventure with C. diff? I tell myself the symptom will pass and I’ll be fine.

But sometimes my rose-coloured glasses come off, and out comes my darker side. I’m speaking of my deep-seated hypochondriac. Once I was diagnosed with cancer, every symptom, ache, and pain became potentially life threatening. If I missed the signs of cancer the first time, I’m sure to miss them the next time around, unless I’m acutely attuned to my body. Every twinge could be a sign I’m dying, couldn’t it?

True confession: My hypochondria long predated my cancer. I’ve always been overly concerned about my health, as many anxious people are. Most often, I could calm myself without involving the doctor, but occasionally I would book in, only to learn I was the picture of health. No doctor ever thought to ask me about anxiety, or health anxiety specifically. Since I lacked insight, I never would have mentioned it myself.

Then I got sick. Since I believed I could live a long time with polycythemia, I didn’t give it much thought, except when I did, and then I’d start visiting hospices. Throw in the blood clot and the resultant liver problems and I’d start writing my obituary. And then comes cancer, and with it the best excuse ever to worry about my health. Any new symptom now and I’m choosing my pallbearers. It’s an ugly task but somebody’s got to do it.

Speaking of ominous symptoms, I had quite the bout of dizziness last week. (Or maybe it was vertigo. I don’t really understand the difference, to be honest.) The last time I was that off kilter, I was diagnosed with leukemia. Internal bleeding–probably unrelated to the leukemia–caused my blood pressure to drop precipitously. My blood pressure is normally low, so when it tanked, I knew something was wrong. I needed support to stay upright.

Trust me, if your blood pressure ever drops sharply, you will know it. You too may feel tired and woozy and your mind may get foggy. You may even faint. But low blood pressure is not normally indicative of cancer. Because my very low blood pressure co-occurred with my cancer diagnosis, I falsely associated the two.

As I was stumbling around last week, Pollyanna reappeared just in time. I was ready to book in with Dr. Family when I recalled that my previous episode of dizziness was much more severe. This blip was probably nothing, I told myself. Turns out it was–nothing, that is.

How did I figure that out? I took my blood pressure at the pharmacy, only to learn it had dropped, but only slightly. I’d had a busy weekend away, a few bad sleeps, and was mildly dehydrated, all of which likely contributed.

After some heavy water guzzling and a few solid sleeps, I am back on track, even without medical intervention. I’m glad I didn’t call the doctor this time. Cancer or not, I hate it when she tells me it’s all in my head, even if it is.


2 thoughts on “Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hypochondria

  1. I love this post! It really is a thinker, especially the last line.
    Earlier this year, my new family doctor told me it was all in my head, handed me a prescription for Xanax, and sent me packing. I felt so devastated, not to mention, I did question my sanity. I was misdiagnosed for weeks. Doctors do make mistakes, but for them to make the patient feel that it is simply in our head, is just not right. Just my humble opinion and the reason we also suffer for weeks before heading to a doctor.

    Thank you for writing this post with honesty and not making me feel alone.

    Big hugs. xo


    • Marnie: I’m so glad to hear from you and to know that this post may have been a comfort. I’m sure many people will resonate with your comment. Your new doc sounds dismissive and blaming, and that wouldn’t build my trust. I hope that either she came to listen better or that you found someone that did. Doctors don’t realize the impact their responses can have on us, do they? Thanks so much for this comment. XO


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