My hypochondria is legendary. Actually, I don’t call it hypochondria. I call it being ill but you can make up your own mind on that one. I have a different ailment for each day of the week and am never too far from a packet of over the counter pain killers, anti-sickness drugs or non-prescription sleeping pills. Nothing herbal though. I prefer a chemical. You know where you are with a chemical. Pills are so pretty at times. They come in such lovely colour palettes. My migraine pills are lilac and pink, which is inspired. I like the names too, such poetry; Tramadol, Temazepam and Trimethoprim sound like strange and lovely holiday resorts to me.
I have pills in all my bags, my desk drawer, my bedside drawer and in the overflow pill drawer. Not to mention my TENs machine, heat pack and various lotions which I keep a good supply of. I take an extra toilet bag on holiday, just for pills. I never leave the supermarket without 32 Paracetamol. Why only this week I’ve had a small melanoma, a pleural fluid collection and a nasty bout of spondylosis. They’ve cleared up now, luckily but I had the right pills to hand in case they turned nasty.
I was always a delicate, sickly child, prone to headaches and abdominal pain, plagued by hay fever and recurrent temperatures and a bit of mild asthma. I was fantastic at car sickness and could hurl for England too. I was also rather good at the accidental injury, being a clumsy boy; the fall downstairs, the crash landing on the t.v. after slipping on a discarded novel and famously the swallowed rosary beads and the fishing hook in the back of my head which necessitated trips to Accident and Emergency.
My mum always seemed to notice us more when we were ill and to give her credit, would have made a superb nurse. She believed in the school of a pill for every ill and would hand out Junior Disprins like they were Smarties. She always had some Buttercup Cough Syrup handy and was a dab hand with a cold compress for the fevered brow. My mum also set a fine example by never leaving the house without a handbag stuffed with prescription drugs. She was generous and shared her stash with me too and doled out vitamins and herbal remedies by the handful. I may not be able to ride a bicycle or drive a car but I can swallow two Paracetamol dry, to this day. It’s a handy skill.
One of my favourite games was playing grownups, with a glass of Dandelion and Burdock as my sherry, a few sweets as my pills and a candy cigarette clamped in the corner of my mouth. I was learning well.
I have happy memories of the 1970s, propped up on the brown settee, in the brown and orange living room, under a brown and orange duvet. I’d lay down, happy to be off school, with an Enid Blyton, a glass of Lucozade and a single boiled egg for lunch. There was no daytime t.v. in the 1970s so it was schools programmes, if I was up to it, in my lacklustre state. My favourite program was called “How We Used to Live”, a strange history drama about Victorians or war time London. The Lucozade was considered expensive and only allowed to be drunk as medicine during a bad feverish bout. I loved its sickly taste and sugar overload and the crinkle of the orange cellophane coming off would rouse me to prop my pitiful form up on my elbows and let a few drops be placed on my tongue.
There were down sides to being sickly too, of course. I was often unpopular when a nasty headache meant an abortive day trip or my poor mum had to take time off yet again. The painful headaches weren’t fun and although I got used to vomiting and sweating out fevers, I never really liked it. Who would? I must confess that I did have a toy hospital, though. It had little doctors and nurses and pallid patients in their beds with the alpine temperature charts on the ends. Endless fun.
During my teenage years I progressed to hideous migraines, vertigo, nervous tension and a lingering bout of glandular fever which left me weak and watery for months on end. I’ve managed to get both Salmonella and Campylobactor and more Norovirus than I care to mention.
Being a student nurse was a difficult time. We lurched from placement to placement, changing specialities every two months. I managed to have a minor case of emphysema on the chest ward, my kidneys failed on renal, appendicitis on surgery, a congenital bone disorder on orthopaedics but drew a blank on maternity, until I managed to develop a small haemorrhoid and a stretch mark.
I’ve managed to have most of my organs imaged and investigated, though not through choice really. It just seems to happen. No one would choose the camera up the bladder, believe me. I’ve had MRI scans, ultrasounds, endoscopes and enough blood taken to transfuse a small elderly lady. Naturally, I’m always mostly normal.
I’ve managed to go temporarily blind for a month, be crippled by a slipped disc, laid up in hospital with a testicle the size of a hearty jacket spud and develop a sinister limp. I’ve been prodded and poked by urologists, ophthalmologists, neurologists and gastroenterologists. I’ve paid good money to physiotherapists, osteopaths and hypnotherapists. Let’s not even mention the mental health professionals’ input. They’re too numerous to list.
The other week a nurse specialist in skin cancer came to spend the day shadowing me at work to see what we do and the poor girl had only been in the office 5 minutes before I had my trouser leg rolled up and was showing her a small lesion. She didn’t seem to mind and I repaid her by reassuring her about some of the ailments that she had developed that morning.
Maybe I’m what they used to call “the creaking gate”. I hope so, as my rusty old hinges have a lot more noise to make yet.