Five tips for dealing with your Mystery Illness, which probably isn’t cancer.

About that mystery illness of yours – I have good news….and bad news. The bad news is that nine years ago,  I too had a mystery illness, which turned out to be cancer. Now for the good news. Ever since, I have had at least twenty-two mystery illnesses which have turned out to be absolutely nothing of consequence at all. So whilst I’ve certainly had the worst case scenario when it comes to mystery illnesses which, happily, I survived, I’ve also had numerous best case scenarios ever since. Many more best case than worst case. Touch wood.

I’ve actually just gotten home from the doctor myself, because I’ve been sick for the last 36 hours. You’re right – It’s probably nothing. But you’ll have to forgive me…old Dr. Do-Nothing told me that for seven months in 2003 before I was finally diagnosed with late stage lymphoma, the bastard. I should have sued.  No thanks for the anxiety disorder, jerk.

Anyway, being as I am the expert when it comes to dealing with mystery illnesses, here are my top 5 tips:

#1 – Never,  Ever Google your symptoms.

Even though I do this myself every single time, I strenuously advocate against it. I’ve found that when it comes to the internet, when it comes to horrible diseases matching your symptoms, you’ll inevitably find precisely what you’re looking for. In the last twelve months, I’ve diagnosed myself with nasal cancer, labyrithitis, vocal cord nodules, multiple sclerosis and migratory arthritis. I’m fairly certain I could also diagnose myself within the next fifteen minutes with mid-life crisis, a panic disorder or three and most certainly leukaemia. Don’t try this at home. Just take yourself off to a doctor and tell him everything.

#2 – Make a record of the illness.

Write down exactly what’s happening to you in a diary, and include the date and other details such as your temperature, whether you vomited, had diarrhoea and any other relevant information. This will help if the illness is recurring and you can’t remember what exactly happened before, and help you remember how long it’s been going on. It may transpire that your illness has something to do with environmental or seasonal factors, or even with other cycles going on in your body, and a diary or journal will help you to recognise this. It can also help when you need to check exactly how many times before this exact same set of problems turned out to be nothing. But don’t show anyone your illness journal unless they are your very good friend, or they may think you are plotting munchausens-by-proxy. Google that.

Hint #3 – See your doctor soon. And see the same doctor as you’ve been seeing.

Your doctor has a record of things you’ve been to see him about in the past, and when you saw him about them. Many illnesses take time to develop into something nasty, and if you stay away from your doctor, or go to see another one because you didn’t get any action last time, you’re interupting the continuity of your medical record. True, I went to see a doctor for many months with serious symptoms, and he didn’t diagnose me with the cancer I had, but the cockles of my heart are warmed no end knowing he has on file a record of my determination to find out what was wrong with me, a record which is available to my current doctor, should he need proof I am not an insane hypochondriac. And I like to think that file keeps my old Dr. Dumb-Dumb awake at night wondering what he might have done differently.

Hint #4 – Be honest

Don’t exaggerate or your doctor will think you are actually an insane hypochondriac.

Hint #5 – Take Paracetamol and wait 24 hours

Don’t bother presenting yourself to the emergency department after you’ve just been feeling a bit off colour for three hours. You have to be expelling a lung out of your mouth and bleeding from every other orifice for them to even show an interest in you in the first place. I went to the hospital once with a couple of broken ribs, and it wasn’t until I had been hyperventilating in the waiting room for three hours and actually passed out on the floor they even noticed I was there. And it wasn’t the staffs fault. They had a waiting room full of everything from the sniffles to fractured ankles to deal with in order of urgency. I’d have been better off unconcious in the comfort of my own living room, except that fainting in the waiting room conveniently got me some morphine.

NOTE  – Traumatic and accidental injuries, anything which causes loss of conciousness, slurring of speech, bleeding and/or chest pain must be seen as a matter of urgency. In the event you experience these symptoms, call 000 (Australia) or 911 (USA), and present to your nearest hospital as soon as possible.

Most other problems can wait until you can get to a doctor, and may even pass within twenty four hours. So don’t panic. In fact, not panicking is actually number 6 on this list, and should perhaps be number 1.

Today, my doctor – I changed doctors after my cancer diagnosis, by the way – ordered some blood tests, which he very well knows is one way to make me feel much better already. I’m blessed to have a GP who is understanding of both my real and very colourful medical history, and my penchant for illness-related anxiety.  He’s patient, and very firm with me. I’ll get my blood tests, but he’s told me more than once to get on my bike when I’ve asked for CT’s, biopsies and a radioactive iodine scan, or two. Besides, if I have one more scan, I’ll probably be responsible for my own leukaemia.

Good luck 🙂


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