Getting sick is not anyone’s favorite thing to do. Nonetheless, some people manage to do it gracefully. Take my friend Ruchy, for example. She just had a baby, has a bad case of bronchitis, has three kids under the age of five who are also under the weather, and is still unfailingly perky and full of energy. I always look at people like that and wonder: What are they on—and how can I get some? You see, I have an incredibly low tolerance for pain, so whenever I don’t feel well I end up totally out of commission. Thankfully, I don’t get sick very often, but whenever I do, I make sure that everyone hears about it—family, friends, neighbors, even the guy who delivers my groceries. And if it gets to the point where I actually have to go to a doctor, he will invariably go into retirement very soon afterward or change his specialty to one that involves dealing exclusively with male patients or animals. After much contemplation, I have formulated three truths about my personal relationship with all things medical.
1) I hate going to doctors’ offices. For one reason or another, I always end up disliking any doctor I visit. My husband says that I’m unreasonable and work myself up over nothing, but I think that’s because he grew up in Israel, where doctors do all kinds of strange things, so I think he’s just more used to it. I can have a complete fit over something, and my husband will say, “What’s the big deal if the guy didn’t wear gloves after he wiped his nose and then ran his finger across the inside of your eyelid during the exam?” If I ever start doubting my sanity, I get all the validation I need by calling one of my sisters in the US. I tell her what happened, and she screams, “Ewwwww! He did what?” That is why, in light of all my delightful experiences, I prefer to self-diagnose. Though I don’t claim to have very much medical knowledge, I have become something of a pro at determining when I or one of my kids has strep or an ear infection.
Therefore, I usually just call the doctor’s office and ask them to phone in a particular prescription to the pharmacy. My personal philosophy is that all of that poking around, answering questions and medical tests are a waste of time. This belief was reinforced last month when my baby was cranky, feverish and had diarrhea, which almost always means he has strep. My husband took him to the pediatrician. “Just tell him to do a strep culture,” I instructed him. He came back from the doctor and informed me happily that there was nothing wrong with our child. When I inquired about the culture, he said that the doctor had looked in the baby’s mouth and declared that it wasn’t strep, so he didn’t see any point in doing the test. Let me get this straight. Every other doctor in the world takes a culture, but ours is an amazing psychic who can simply look at someone’s tonsils and rule it out. So I did an at-home rapid culture, which tested positive for strep. Then I picked up the phone and asked my brilliant diagnostician (who must have been absent from medical school the day they were explaining the importance of strep tests) and had him call in a prescription.
2) The best way to calm myself down when I’m not feeling well is to call my parents. This is because they usually get more bent out of shape about whatever it is that ails me than I do, which for some reason has a calming effect. Sometimes, though, they get a little too hysterical, which can boomerang. For example, I’ll call my mother, and if I sound congested she’ll say, “What’s wrong with you? Why do you sound like that?” Even though I tell her it’s just a cold, she’ll try to convince me that I really should see a doctor. Of course, since I hate going to doctors, I try to change the subject and move on to the next topic of conversation. We’ll hang up, an hour will pass, and then the phone will inevitably ring. This time it will be my father. “Mommy tells me you have a cold,” he’ll say in his no-nonsense, I’m-your-father-and-you’dbetter-do-what-I-say voice. “I want you to have it checked out.” That’s when I promise to call my sister Baila, who’s a nurse.
3) The worst thing to do in any medical situation is call my sister Baila. Baila is a brilliant woman and has an encyclopedic mind. You know how you can type your symptoms into the computer and it generates a list of possible conditions? Let’s say you have a swollen finger from a paper cut. You type in “swollen finger, red, warm to the touch,” and the computer tells you that you’re suffering from lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, gout and interstitial lung disease. So instead of covering the wound with Bacitracin and putting on a Band-Aid, you tell your children how much you love them, write your will and prepare to die. That, in a nutshell, is Baila’s approach. I can call about a disturbing rash my infant has on his bottom, and she’ll tell me it’s probably nothing; at worst it could be hives, in which case he might go into anaphylactic shock, which could mean that he has about eight minutes to live without medical intervention. I end up running to the emergency room, screaming frantically that my baby needs an EpiPen, and the nurse is like, “Hey, lady, your kid has a diaper rash. Here’s some Balmex.” Well, this week I had a stye. For those of you who have never had one, it’s basically an inflamed oil gland on the edge of your eyelid that looks like a pimple and can be very painful. It starts out as a tiny bump, but in some cases it can really swell and make you feel like you’re going to die.That’s what happened to me. When it first appeared, I did all the right things, like applying a warm tea bag several times a day and not wearing contacts or eye makeup.
After a few days of smelling like tea all the time, wearing my glasses (which make me dizzy), and forgoing eye makeup (which makes everyone who looks at me dizzy), I was definitely not pleased when the stye was bigger and redder. It was as if the thing liked the tea parties and decided to stick around for more. I called my parents. As usual, they were nervous wrecks and insisted I go to a doctor. “You can’t mess around with your eyes,” my mother scolded. Then my father called. “Mommy tells me you have an eye infection…” So I promised to call Baila. “Worstcase scenario,” she said in that delicate way of hers, “is that you end up with a meibomian cyst or orbital cellulitis. In really bad cases the infection could spread to your brain.” Great—I’m feeling much calmer already. I spent the next few days on a painkiller rotation, complaining to anyone who was within hearing distance. I felt the need to justify this thing that had taken over my face to everyone I encountered. Some overly polite people pretended they couldn’t tell that anything was amiss. I know they say that styes feel worse than they look, but even I was skeptical when my next-door neighbor said, “You really can’t even tell that it’s there.” Really? You think one of my eyes is always four times the size of the other one? After four nights of lying awake and listening to me complain, my husband decided he’d had enough and insisted I see an eye doctor. I gave in and went.
Although I was pleasantly surprised to find that this particular doctor wore gloves, he was still delusional if he thought I was letting him anywhere near my eye. Given that inadvertently getting a drop of water in my eye in the shower can almost make me pass out, if the choice was to allow someone to touch my eye or to spend the rest of my life looking like an advertisement for Nestea, I was going to choose the latter. So I patiently explained that unless he offered to give me an epidural on my face, there would be no touching. Although he kept insisting that there was no such thing as a facial epidural, I wasn’t convinced, thinking that perhaps this was like the strep-test thing all over again and maybe he was just too lazy to give me one. Either way, we agreed that he wouldn’t actually touch my eye. At the end of the visit, the doctor suggested that I keep warm compresses on the affected area and avoid wearing contact lenses and eye makeup. He assured me that the situation would resolve itself within a few days. What would we do without modern medicine? After two days without improvement, I called to book a follow-up appointment with the same eye doctor. I was told that the guy had recently switched specialties and is now a veterinarian.