Many maladies have come to my attention recently. Whilst training to become a healthcare advisor, I would read a selection of my own symptoms daily, and self-diagnose with all sorts of delights. In the skincare section I decided that my scalp and face must be suffering from seborrhoeic dermatitis and that my elbows were displaying signs of potential psoriasis. I read the eye and ear health section, and realised that my eyes were watering suspiciously and copiously and that my ears were actually a bit itchy inside and definitely full of excess wax and possibly even the beginnings of an infection. I made myself pretty under-the-weather by reading about meningitis warning signs on the train home, and when it came to the sexual health section… well. I was sure my balls were swollen and I don’t even have any.
I thought I might be alone in my unrelenting accidental self-diagnosis. I thought it might be a personal failing (and if there was a medical name for it I’d have added it to my personal records) but it turned out that the other people in my job were largely doing the same! And I have a theory for this. I think it is no coincidence that we are all Arts or Humanities graduates, soft sorts with an interest in everything. We are the ones who never took Science at school because it was for people who wanted to go into medicine and we were a bit too squeamish for that, but now we think of it, we would actually quite like a career in that side of things… I think I can safely say that each of us, when doing one of those online aptitude tests presented by the government job shop will have been told that we should go into some sort of caring role, because we’re all such good sympathisers. And there it is. The only real sickness we have come down with: sympathy. And we can’t help it. I would really love to go into some kind of caring role- counselling perhaps or nursing or midwifery (hospital phobia aside), but I’m afraid of the affect on my personal wellbeing- would I suddenly contract depression, pains in some invisible wound or start looking for the baby I gave birth to earlier?! I just don’t know. Maybe better stick to healthcare for the moment…
Anyway, last week I decided to try and conquer the sympathy nonsense and get a grip (it’s the only way to get anywhere when you’re prone to sympathy). So when my eyes started to get really gritty and annoyed, I thought- ‘Calm down, it’s nothing. You’ve served several people with eye infections this week and you’re doing that sympathy thing again! Stop it.’ Even as I was serving these people I was looking at their red drippy eyes and listening to their tales of morning gunk, and my eyes began to water in sympathy. I was so (sym)pathetic that I had to dab my eyes with the back of my hand. After handling their money, receipt, eye drops… Oh what kind of an imbecile does that? (me) A few days later I was watering nicely and getting a bit gritty, when my eyelid actually tried to flip itself inside out. I decided it was drying out with all the air-con. Hypromellose would solve it. It was nothing. My colleague saw that my eyelids were a bit puffy and suggested an antihistamine. But hypromellose didn’t solve it and chlorphenamine just made me sleepy, until eventually I woke up with my eyelids nicely glued together. This time, it was genuine conjunctivitis.
Several lessons can be learned from this. Firstly, I vow to always use hand gel in between customers displaying bacterial warning signs (or anyone looking particularly grotty). Secondly, I will not touch my eyes/ face/ mouth until my hands are safely sanitised. But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I will endeavour to understand the difference between sympathy reactions and genuine unprovoked physical symptoms; I will get a grip on what is reality and what is imagined. Woah, that sounds more serious than I thought… Maybe I should get my head checked out… I’m sure there’s a name for that.