With a loud thump, my wife dropped a huge pile of books on the kitchen table. She had just started her first semester of nursing school, and the huge pile of books was required for her courses. From the size of the stack, and the titles on the books, I had not a doubt in my mind I would never become a nurse –– or any other practitioner of anything medical. I shivered to think of even reading that many pages, let alone learning them.
“I’m beat,” my wife sighed, “I’m going to bed”.
“Goodnight, my love,” I called after her, feeling sorry for her exhaustion. The amount of reading, studying, and memorizing Latin medical terms that were to come in the next four years seemed insurmountable to me, and she had only completed day one.
After she’d gone upstairs, I remained on the couch watching television and trying to remember what a Patella was. . . the only Latin body part term I could remember from high school Biology (other than the ones used in dirty jokes like sphincter and the sex organs).
From the table, the large pile of books kept grabbing my attention. I was curious about what could be in them. The human body was a very complex machine, but there had to be twenty thousand pages, or more, contained within the tall stack of books. By my estimate, that would mean there had to be at least a few hundred pages on the pinky toe alone –– what could one possibly write about the pinky toe to fill up a couple hundred pages?
Another ten minutes went by before I could stand it no longer. I had to know what was in those books. . . and where on the body a Patella resided.
Looking through the volumes stacked on the table, I picked out the one that seemed the most interesting. It was the biggest, thickest, most medically daunting book in the pile. . . an encyclopedia of diseases. I pulled it out of the pile. With monstrous book in hand, I plopped back down on the couch, and grabbed my soda.
“Kneecap!” I announced triumphantly, proud that I had remembered what a Patella was before having to consult the medical book.
Then, I sipped my soda and opened to the first page. . . My eyes grew big, my jaw dropped and I nearly let go of my glass. I was not prepared for what lie waiting within.
I thumbed through the first twenty pages –– fear, terror. –– I’d never seen anything like that in my life –– not even in a horror movie. Inside the humongous book was every single horrifying, appalling and shocking disease known to mankind . . . and with graphic descriptions and full-color pictures.
There were hundreds, maybe thousands of photos showing swollen, infected body parts. Body parts with pocks and blisters. Body parts that were oozing and mangled. Missing body parts, extra body parts. There were so many diseases and symptoms that the chances of me not having at least one, if not a dozen of them, had to be zero. If even only one person on the planet had each disease in the book, it would still take up a good chunk of the population, I reasoned.
I couldn’t put the book down.
With trembling hands, I rifled through another fifty pages. Around page thirty-two, I had started a list of diseases that the book’s descriptions would indicate I had. Tumors, I had several suspected tumors, and liver failure . . . I was sure I could feel pain in my liver. Skin cancer didn’t even belong on the suspected list – it was a sure thing, and possibly in more than one location. It wasn’t a matter of if I was dying, it was just a matter of which disease would win out over all the others and claim the prize.
Flipping another page, I leaned in to focus on a picture of a hand with six fingers (Polydactyly) and suddenly became aware of a presence on the couch next to me. I turned to find my four-year-old daughter, Natalie, had at some point, come down from her bedroom and sat down on the couch next to me. I must have been too engrossed in the book of horrors to notice. She sat wide-eyed and tearfully holding up her hand . . . counting her fingers.
“Natalie!” I shrieked, “Don’t sneak up on people like that.”
“I’ve been here a long time, Daddy. What is that?” she asked, pointing at the picture of the polydactyl –– hand with six fingers.
“Nothing for you to worry about. Now go to bed.”
She held up her hand and pointed at the bump on her thumb that was made by her first knuckle. “I think that’s another finger growing,” she said with trembling lip.
“Don’t be silly. That’s your knuckle.’
“I think it’s another finger growing . . .”
“No, it’s not. Now go to bed. Daddy is doing something very important.”
She didn’t seem convinced but hopped from the couch and scurried back up the stairs.
For privacy, and to utilize a hand-held mirror to better inspect the hard to see body parts, I moved my disease search into the bathroom and locked the door.
Page by painful page, I continued my morbid research late into the night, with my list of suspected diseases growing . . . and the creation of a list of diseases that were a sure thing. At 2 a.m., I could no longer keep my eyes open. I drifted off into a world of shriveling, blistered, puss-filled nightmares.
“My Suspected Diseases?”
The voice was my wife’s, and it startled me. Opening my eyes, I noticed it was daylight. I had fallen asleep on the couch with the huge book of horrifying diseases and sickness lying open on my chest. My wife was now standing over me clutching several pages of my frantically scrawled disease lists.
“What is this?” she demanded.
“Oh, nothing . . .” I murmured in my still foggy state. . . probably an effect of the brain tumor I now knew was festering within my skull.
She looked down at her book on my chest, and then back at my lists in her hand.
“Skin cancer, Diabetes, Polio, Tourette’s?” she continued.
“Give me that,” I grumbled, lunging at my papers, but failing to get a hand on them.
“Cervical Cancer? You have Cervical Cancer on your list of suspected diseases?”
I gave a worried frown, “Oh, yeah. . . I should probably switch it to the sure-thing list, huh?”
“You’re a man. You don’t even hav–– , she started to say but then rolled her eyes and stopped mid-sentence. “And this paper is titled Last Will and Testament?”
Dropping the lists, she grabbed her book from my chest and began stomping out of the living room, but then stopped suddenly.
“Wait a minute . . . does all this have something to do with Natalie telling me that she is growing a sixth finger?”
She was mad now.
“Well, I didn’t see her sitting there. . . and that bump on her thumb is a bit suspicious.”
“NO MORE,” my wife shouted, pointing at the evil book, and then continued stomping out of the room.
I was amazed, she had only been in nursing school one day and had already grown so callous to the pain and suffering of others it didn’t even bother her that her own husband was dying.
My wife now keeps her books under lock and key when not studying –– as if me not reading them will stop the legions of disease from ravaging my body. My wife was obviously more concerned about a daughter growing a second thumb than her own terminal husband. But I didn’t need her or her gigundous stack of books to save my own life . . . I have discovered an even more efficient method of self-diagnosis . . . Google.