In the early years of our marriage, my wife decided that she would go back to school and complete the nursing degree that she had started years before. During this time that she was attending classes, she would come home every night with an armload of books and plunk them down on the dining room table. One particular book that was part of her armload was what I referred to as the Huge Book of Horrifying Diseases.
The Huge Book of Horrifying Diseases was about four inches thick and weighed around ten pounds. Contained within its pages was a highly detailed description of nearly every disease known to man, and it included all the symptoms and had many large pictures of each disease.
One boring evening, out of morbid curiosity, I picked up the book and began to look through it. The images and descriptions of the diseases described within the book frightened me to my core. As I read page after page of medical horrors, I began playing out in my head the agonizing death that I imagined each fully illustrated disease would lead to. The images haunted me. It was then and there that I decided that I would start my disease vigil.
Over the next few evenings, I developed a system by which I would take the Huge Book of Horrifying Diseases into the bathroom, and then with the aid of a handheld mirror (for those hard to see places), I would perform my disease check. To be thorough, I would go through the entire collection of pictures and symptoms and compare them each to my respective body parts, making sure that the deadly clutches of disease weren’t sneaking up on me.
But as is the case with many of my more genius ideas, I found that the performance of my daily disease vigil made me the target of my wife’s ridicule. I didn’t care. She could laugh all she wanted. I had no intention of just waking up one morning to find out that I was suffering from scurvy or bubonic plague, and that it was too late to avoid succumbing to it. I was not going to let her mockery discourage me.
One day, shortly after establishing my routine, I realized that I couldn’t hear out of my left ear. I had just left work, and I was on my way home, when I turned on my truck stereo for some after-work rocking out. The music pounding out of the speakers seemed different than normal. It seemed to be unbalanced. After a few minutes of trying to adjust the balance between the speakers, I suddenly realized that it was not the speakers that were the problem at all. It was my ears that were unbalanced!
I COULD NOT HEAR OUT OF MY LEFT EAR.
I tried not to panic, but the long lists of symptoms mentioned in the Huge Book of Horrifying Diseases kept flashing through my mind. I repeatedly told myself to stay calm, as I drove home as fast as I could, periodically pounding on the left side of my head in case it was just a bad left ear connection…but to no avail.
When I arrived home, I ran straight into the house. Without explaining, I grabbed the Huge Book of Horrifying Diseases right out of my wife’s hands and ran to the bathroom, locking the door behind me.
Through the door, I could hear her yelling, “What is wrong with you? I’m trying to study that book, you weirdo!” but I didn’t care. This was an emergency.
Feverishly, I scoured the pages to find what agonizing fate awaited me. But I could find no disease with the symptom of “sudden hearing loss in left ear.” Maybe I was the victim of an undiscovered disease!
I knew I needed medical attention, so without even telling my wife where I was going (who would probably make jokes), I rushed back out the front door and drove myself to the hospital.
At the hospital, I described to the doctor my symptom of hearing loss in my left ear, and how I could find no mention of such a symptom in the Huge Book of Horrifying Diseases.
With a raised eyebrow, and having checked a few vital signs, he looked into my left ear with his lighted ear-looking device.
“Hmmmm…I see,” he said.
“What is it, Doc? AM I DYING?” I asked frightfully.
“Mmm…no, seems like you are suffering from a simple case of idiocy,” he replied while reaching into my ear with a pair of tweezers and pulling out an earplug that I had apparently forgotten to remove after at work.
An earplug? HA! A wave of relief swept over me. I wasn’t going to die, after all.
I was a bit embarrassed over having accidently left the earplug in my ear. But at least I was not the first person to have done such a thing. Apparently, enough people had accidently left earplugs in their ears that they had actually come up with a name for the condition…“idiocy.”
Upon returning home, my wife demanded to know what all the panic had been about and where I had run off to. I explained my sudden hearing loss, and how I thought I might be dying from an unknown disease, but that it turned out to be a simple case of “idiocy” (which I had to explain to “the nurse” wife was the condition caused by accidently leaving an earplug in your ear).
Once again, I had to suffer her mocking remarks as I wandered up to bed.
While I was lying in bed, reflecting on the day’s events, I kept flashing back to my moments of panic over my whole medical crisis. Although this particular scare ended up being nothing, the terror of the whole incident had left a mark on my soul.
I decided to become even more proactive with my disease vigil, and made an appointment with my doctor for a thorough checkup.
A week later, I arrived at my doctor’s office for my checkup. For over an hour, I was subjected to poking, prodding, measuring, and inspecting. I did my best not to let my imagination get away from me. I blocked out the notion that the doctor would find some fatal disease that I had missed during my daily self-examinations.
Finally, at the end of the appointment, the doctor came in and told me that everything looked good, and again, a wave of relief settled upon my brain.
He also recommended that as a further precaution, I should look into my family’s medical history. I could then get myself tested for any cancers or heart problems that were present in my family genetics. This seemed logical to me, so wanting to leave nothing to chance, I decided to call my mom to find out about our family’s health history.
The next day, I called my mom and explained to her about my having decided to raise my level of health consciousness. I asked her if our family had any health problems that I should be concerned about.
The phone was silent while my mom thought. After a minute or two, she told me that the only medical problems she could think of involved Great-Grandpa Morris, who seemed to have an aversion to wearing pants, and my aunt Sarah, who had cervical cancer in 1985.
The aversion to pants didn’t seem to be a life-threatening condition, but the mention of cancer set off an alarm in my head. Once again, the now familiar horror began to sweep over me…I was going to die from cervical cancer, and the only thing left to do about it was have it confirmed by being tested for it.
I now had my doctor’s office phone number on my speed dial, so I was able to reach his receptionist within seconds of hanging up from the call with my mother. I frantically explained the situation with Aunt Sarah’s cervical cancer, and how I needed to schedule an appointment to be tested for it immediately.
There was a long pause on the other end of the line followed by, “Are you telling me that you want to schedule yourself for a Pap, sir?”
“If that’s what the name of the test for cervical cancer is called, then yes…I want a Pap.”
Again, there was a long pause on the other end of the line, and what I thought might be the sound of someone laughing. Finally, the doctor himself got on the phone and explained that I didn’t need to be tested for cervical cancer because I didn’t have a cervix. Relieved once again, I thanked him for his time and patience and hung up.
My wife, who had caught the tail end of the phone conversation, asked me what the call had been about. Reluctantly, I explained about Aunt Sarah and the cancer. I told her about my conversation with the doctor, and how he had said I don’t need to be tested for cervical cancer because I don’t have a cervix. Then I told her that I assumed that my cervix must have been removed when I was a child, and that the doctor must have seen it noted in my medical chart.
At this point, I had to stop talking because my wife was laughing hysterically. Disgusted, I grabbed the Huge Book of Horrifying Diseases and headed off to the bathroom with my mirror in hand.
I had had enough of the mockery. If my wife couldn’t be supportive of my disease-detecting efforts, then I wouldn’t be supportive of her when she came down with some sort of necrosis or any of the other horrible diseases that were in her book. In fact, I wouldn’t help her in the slightest bit, even if she came down with leprosy and all her limbs fell off…I wouldn’t lift a finger…no pun intended.
Author Notes: This and many other short, humorous stories can be found in a book called Single Family Asylum. You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01BNRBM5A