I have an immense fear of kidney stones. They seem absolutely terrifying in their suddenness and intensity and are caused by things I love, like coffee, dark teas, and red meat. Any stitch or twinge anywhere near my kidneys is immediately followed by 72 hours of stressing that dominates my thoughts. Each trip to the bathroom will be the one where I end up on the floor, writhing in unforgettable pain which has been compared to childbirth. I have fever images of Joey from Friends spending hours on a hospital bed or Phil Dunphy on Modern Family shouting at his daughter “go get your mother a glass of water and a piece of gravel from the driveway and see how she likes it!” Even now, writing this, I fear looking up an interesting statistic or fact about kidney stones because I know the spiraling scene I’ll spend the rest of my day in. Would anyone find me before I bled internally? Would it be the first of an annual ritual of passing a sugar pea through a hole the size of a drinking straw? Would I be in so much pain I couldn’t get to my phone and call 911? Where’s my phone? WHERE’S MY FUCKING PHONE?! Oh, it’s in my pocket. Oh god, have I been sitting too long or is this it? This is it, isn’t it?
Not that kidney stones are the only medical issue I fear. There’s also throat cancer which I’m convinced shows itself as any slight itch in the throat. That hasn’t stopped me from smoking, though. I’m not the germophobic hypochondriac who takes a litany of vitamins and guards their hands from public exposure. In fact, I’m nearly jealous of those people as they take the safeguards I don’t and then hate myself for being lazy about. I’m not the trendy hypochondriac either, convincing myself I’ve had SARS, avian flu, swine flu, or drug-resistant flesh-eating bacteria. No, it’s the everyday tragic illnesses I obsess over: the diabetes, the liver failure, the Stage 4 Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Perhaps my fear would be more irrational if I had not suffered some surprise minor medical issues. In high school I developed orchitis, a painful form of E. coli which targets the blood vessels in the testicles and is cured by antibiotics (I actually had my balls under an ultrasound for that one and got to hear the Formula 1 race that evidently occurs down there). Also found out I have a slight heart murmur and a varicocele. In college I developed a small potpourri of medical issues, from polyps in my gallbladder to gout to Bell’s Palsy. All of my medical issues have had the same sudden onset, much like a kidney stone. The symptoms were the discovery. And that frightens the living hell out of me.
The simple solution a lot of people give me is to please shut the hell up about my bowel irregularity and go to a doctor. However, I have no insurance. Haven’t had it for three years and have no parents to piggyback on. There is a discount clinic in my area, but I also fear going there and finding absolutely nothing. The actual health issues I’ve confronted were significantly off my mind the moment I knew what they were. But I’ve had as many visits that result in nothing. Then not only am I out the cost of the visit, but I feel like an absolute lunatic that is talking himself into symptoms. That’s the central point of my hypochondria. I know I’m panicking outside of rationality, but that doesn’t help me. Pains and aches have come and gone. In fact, they usually do. But what if this is the time I die while my girlfriend’s out? What if the neighbors can’t hear me scream or assume I’m watching a Saw film? What if I piss blood, pass out from the sight of it, and knock myself unconscious on the sink, bleeding to death from my bladder while my jeans are still unzipped?
It’s an insanity, one that no amount of rational calming from friends or loved ones seems to heal. I can guzzle cranberry juice and take a Daily Men’s vitamin and have the nurse triage on speed dial, but nothing calms it. The fear is far more frustrating than any symptom I come upon. While having the world’s information at my fingertips is usually a fantastic miracle, any knowledge I gain from Googling “slight abdominal ache” is only ammunition for the fear. I have shingles. I have a blood clot. I have NFLD (Non-Fatty Liver Disease).
Perhaps it stems from my parents own shoddy medical histories. Perhaps it stems from leaving that boarding school that payed for all my medical needs and being stranded in the private insurance market. Perhaps the adolescent clinical depression I was positive I had rid myself of is tunneling into the psyche of my body and punishing me. It doesn’t matter. When I get paranoid about my car, I can eventually park it and go on with my day. When I get paranoid about the straits of my life, I can venture into escapism. But with this, there is no avoidance. There is only the fear my own body, full of neglectful meal decisions and late-night benders, will have its quiet, sudden revenge.