Hypochondria: pass it on

We're going to discuss something near and dear to my heart today: hypochondria.

I've been known to wake up around 3 a.m., look at the clock and just know I'm having a heart attack.

I'm not suffering any chest pains, shortness of breath or pain down my arm radiating up to my jaw. It's simply the fact that I once read that paramedics call the hours after 3 a.m. Heart Attack City or something to that effect. Consequently, in my warped little mind, that can be the only reason I'm awake. I must be in the throes of cardiac arrest. A little knowledge is a very dangerous thing, especially in my hands.

When I took abnormal psychology in college, my professor warned the class that as we studied various mental illnesses we would believe we had most of them. It was true! I discovered that I was schizophrenic. It didn't matter that I barely had enough consciousness at that young age for one personality, let alone two; I was convinced that I had this disease. After all, my two favorite flavors were chocolate and - are you ready for this? - vanilla! How could that be? I had TWO FAVORITES! Institutionalization could not be far away.

I was right. The institution of marriage is where I've been incarcerated for the past 18 years. It hasn't been entirely against my will, and I've been given day passes out on occasion, but still. An institution is an institution, even if this one does come with better food.

I'm only kidding. It's been entirely against my will.

But let's get back to hypochondria. Everyone knows one or has one in their family. They're the ones that provide the entertainment at family gatherings. The Internet has only increased our numbers. They even have a new name for our malaise. We have Cyberchondria, or Internet Printout Syndrome. This comes from being able to use the resources so readily available online to ferret out new diseases to match our concerns. Now our symptoms are just a click away.

We used to have to scour books for information on symptoms, or ask expert medical advice on the stomachache that was most certainly cancer. Not so any longer. At any hour of the day or night, cyber-chondriacs worldwide devour band-width at alarming rates in search of the name for their current pain. We routinely kill entire forests to print out reams of paper from Web sites claim-ing to be able to cure our current disease. Doctors love it when we come to our appointments already knowing our diagnosis before they do.

I've come to believe that my daughter has contracted flesh-eating dandruff. Never heard of that? Me either, but I'm sure it's out there. She scratches her head constantly, and only in one spot. No, it's not lice because we've looked for those alarming little creatures. It has to be Flesh Eating Dandruff. Either that or it's a simple personality tic. I'm placing my bets on the former, and I'm searching the dandruff Web sites for information on a cure.

What's fun is that you can be a cyberchondriac for everyone around you as well! Especially your co-workers.

you: "Walter, you don't look so good."

Walter: "I don't?"

you: "No. How long have you had that ... that thing on you face?"

Walter: "Thing? I've got a thing?"

you: "It looks like a terminal case of Dingle-Boogeritis!"

He has no idea that you've just made up a new name for his brown-nosing behavior. Tell him to check the Internet for help. Congratulations, you've just created another cyberchondriac.

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