Jewish World Review May 16, 2003 / 14 Iyar, 5763

Jerry Della Femina

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Consumer Reports

Still crazy after all these years | Did I ever tell you when I had Leprosy?

It was really not that serious. Cured it with Pepto Bismol.

The fact is, I have had every disease known to mankind. Thousands of imagined heart attacks.

Gall Bladder problems? Sure. Typhoid Fever? Naturally. Malaria? NyQuil cured that.

I'm a hypochondriac. A hopeless, helpless hypochondriac. There is no known cure for hypochondria.

But I can't tell you how happy I am these days.

Thanks to modern communications . . . the Internet . . . cable television's insatiable hunger for new stories . . . my insanity is in season.

Every summer for ten years I was sure I had Lyme's disease. I spent countless hours searching for ticks. No, I never looked on my property. I was sure there were no ticks on my property - they were all on me.

Every night I would go on a tick hunt. Then there was the eternal search for the bulls-eye red rash that everyone tells you is evidence of Lyme's. I would stare for hours at a bite and think. "Maybe it's just the center of the bulls-eye that's showing and the rest of the bulls-eye will come out tomorrow." Spider bites were my favorite because they were so . . . so . . . dramatic.

Then something came along that took my mind off Lyme's. Let's hear it for West Nile Virus! Wow! Who wants to think that they're merely crippled and miserable with Lyme's, when one can imagine they'll be dead as a doornail with West Nile? What was so threatening was it was spread by birds that, I guess, gave it to mosquitoes. I don't even want to think how those great big birds infected those tiny mosquitoes. Suddenly every mosquito became a potential killer. I would lie in bed at night listening to the mosquitoes dive-bombing my large but handsome body. Which one was carrying West Nile?

But, hypochondria is a fickle thing.

Today West Nile can't get arrested. Last week was the official beginning of the West Nile season. No one noticed. I must admit that I thought on opening day of the West Nile season that Mayor Bloomberg should have thrown out the first dead bird. But, West Nile is last month's disease for those of us who belong to the Disease of the Month Club. We've got a new darling - SARS.

SARS, quite frankly, is sexy to those of us who are filled with fear. It's exotic. It comes from China. You can believe SARS because it's on the front page of The New York Times. It's just a bigger threat. I have friends who have already purchased those white surgical masks that are the rage in China. These people are a disgrace to hypochondria. Real hypochondriacs like me don't wear no stinking masks. Masks take the sport out of SARS.

Last Sunday night I ordered take out. In New York City on a Sunday night there are thousands of hard-working Chinese men, wearing dark clothing, riding on bicycles, delivering food for those who have survived the trip on the Long Island Expressway from the Hamptons.

It is a dangerous job, and more Chinese have perished on those bicycles than have died from SARS.

The bell rang in my home and when I answered the door, a very nice Chinese man said "Derivery!"

"SARS!" I thought. "Why isn't he wearing his mask?" I thanked the man and was handing him a handsome tip for his efforts when he coughed. Actually, in the spirit of accuracy, he didn't exactly cough, it was sort of a half-cough half-clearing of the throat. I did not cover myself with glory at this point. In fact I jumped three feet back and made a little cowardly sound like YIIIIPPPPPES.

I dropped his tip and bent to pick it up. Unfortunately, he bent to pick up the money at the same time and we hit heads. "I'm dead." I thought and wondered if SARS could go through a brown paper bag and infect $63 dollars worth of egg rolls, Won Ton soup, etc., etc.

A few hours before the SARS Chinese food delivery incident my hypochondriacal insanity had reached a peak that had made me the laughing stock of my family. With one admission I became the object of ridicule by my wife, the beautiful Judy Licht, and lost the grudging respect that two teenagers give a parent as flawed as I am.

On Sunday we packed up the car and faced the Mother's Day traffic on the way to New York. From the minute I got into the car I was aware of a cold feeling on my right side just below my hip. "Nerve damage." I thought.

The more we rode on, the colder it felt.

I had packed four bags and carried them out of my home and packed them into the back of my car and, perhaps, I had thrown out my hip and, maybe, this was the beginning of a problem that would eventually lead to a hip replacement.

Then, again, the ice cold feeling below my hip could be a signal that my brain was sending to my body. Brain surgery crossed my mind. Was it the beginning of a kidney or liver condition and was this "referred" pain?

By Manorville I stopped the car at McDonalds so that I might go in a check the source of this feeling of freezing cold on my hip. I stepped gingerly out of the car and decided to see if I could feel anything through my pants pocket. I wondered about a living will. I wondered about irreversible nerve damage. I put my hand in my pocket fearing the worst.

Then I felt it and took it out of my pocket. An almost melted Fudgesicle. I had put it in my pocket as I left the house to eat on the road. In the rush of packing the car I had forgotten it was in my pocket. I debated telling my family but then I thought "What the hell. What good is it having a nutty father if he can't give you a laugh every once in a while?" Judy and the kids laughed all the way home.

I was happy, too. Once again I had cheated death

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JWR contributor Jerry Della Femina was recently named by Advertising Age as one of the 100 Most Influential Advertising People of the Century. He's perhaps the most sought-after advertising expert in the country, there is no network, no publication and no organization on which, in which, or before which Mr. Della Femina has not appeared. He is also the author of two books, From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor (a best-seller), and An Italian Grows in Brooklyn (a non-seller). Comment by clicking here.


05/09/03: The updated secret of life
04/10/03: THE WAR OF WORDS: Did we get him?
03/27/03: Spoiled 'peace' brats
03/21/03: What we must do
03/17/03: Turn your cheek and get another fist in your jaw
02/25/03: In New Yawk, they are finally muzzling celebs
02/06/03: Media empowering terrorism?
01/31/03: Outed at McDonalds
01/24/03: Fresh ink
01/10/03: Will his political career go up in smoke?
11/07/02: Here's a dirty little secret: Most Italians sort of like the Mafia
10/17/02: Bloomberg for Honorary Italian of the Year

© 2002, Jerry Della Femina