Oxford Dictionary defines a hypochondriac as a person who is always worried about his health and believes that he is ill even when there is nothing wrong. The person is so health obsessed that he is almost neurotic.
I know of a few people who can be classified under this category. A close relative would start complaining about his health the moment he meets someone. It is impossible to have a normal conversation with him because any talk invariably would lead to his health problems.
`This back pain is killing me yar`; ` yesterday I ate something and today I have not stopped purging`; `I am just unable to do any work because of the nagging headache I have for so many days.`; ` I think my eyes are failing me` ; The list is endless.
Many of them naturally are regular visitors at the neighbourhood clinics or hospitals. Even if the doctor tells them that there is nothing wrong with them, they would not be convinced. Their response; `What does the doctor know... I am the person undergoing the pain.` It is not unusual for such people to display signs of depression. Even if they genuinely are suffering from a problem, they exaggerate the symptoms so much that people stop believing them. That makes them even more miserable and they complain even more. They are forever trying to win the sympathy of the listeners.
I almost became a hypochondriac in my teens! I was only thirteen when I accompanied my family,( we were living in Bombay at that time), on a visit to Pudukottai in TN. We had gone to see my aunt who was suffering from T.B., which was a sure killer those days. Not only did she pass away because of the disease but her younger brother ( my uncle) also died of the same disease within a couple of months. This had a very negative impact on me , making me fear that I may have also contracted the disease, during my visit to see them. Even if I had simple cold, cough or fever I would imagine that it was TB. I had become so neurotic that I made my parents` life miserable . My father had to regularly take me to a public hospital nearby as we could not afford the fees of private practitioners. I would not believe the doctors in the hospital even when they told me that there is nothing seriously wrong with me. The problem got sorted out only after my father took me to a well known doctor in the neighbourhood, who was also good at understanding the psychology of his patients. After going through my laundry list of complaints and after physically checking me, he opined that I only had a mild attack of `Bronchitis` which could be easily treated with medicines. I felt much better when the doctor clearly indicated that I was not suffering from TB but had a condition which could be cured. Within a couple of weeks I became absolutely normal. I was saved from becoming a potential hypochondriac for the rest of my life!
While I escaped, most hypochondriacs end up suffering the problem throughout their life making the life of their near and dear ones miserable.
No wonder the tombstone of a die -hard hypochondriac had these words engraved: `I told you I was sick`
This article appeared in the Adyar Times issue dt.5-11th Feb.,17 under my column `Rajan`s random Reflections`