Read the texts, explain the underlined words in English or give the synonyms:
How many hypochondriacs are there? Can anybody in the great social science industry tell me? Even to the nearest ten thousand?
I doubt it, and I think I know why. The trouble about being a hypochondriac (and I speak from a lifetime of practice) is that you feel silly.
My rational mind tells me that, just because the cut on my finger has been throbbing for two days, I am unlikely to die of gangrene; but in a hypochondriacal mood I can see the gangrene creeping up my arm as my finger turns black. My hypochondria is fed, in constant doses, by half the scientific knowledge I need, and twice the imagination. I know enough anatomy to identify the twitch in my chest as the first spasm of coronary thrombosis, and to point to my duodenum with the authority of a second-year medical student.
Of course, like many hypochondriacs, I enjoy (not exactly the word) sound health. My fat medical file contains very little of substance, though there is a fine selection of negative barium meal tests. In fact, the only spell I ever had in hospital took place when I actually had something. What I thought was a cold turned out to be pneumonia. So much for my diagnostic accuracy.
Hypochondria lies between the rational self which says, “Nonsense, you’re fine,” and the deeply pessimistic self, which fingers a swelling discovered under the jaw as you shave and converts it into the first lump of a fatal cancer of the lymph gland.
These feelings are embarrassing enough but they are made worse by the brisk treatment I get from the many overt anti-hypochondriacs about: people like wives or editors, who say, “Get up! There’s nothing wrong with you”, or “Never seen you looking better, old boy”, when the first stages of a brain tumour have begun to paralyze my left arm.
Such persons know nothing. They are capable of astonishing acts of self-forgetfulness. They walk about with lips so chapped that a penny could fit in the cracks. They go so far as to forget to take medicine prescribed for them. For these creatures of the light, the world is a simple place. You are either well or sick and that’s that, categories which admit of no confusion. “If you are ill,” anti-hypochondriacs say, “you ought to go to bed and stop moping.” They remind me of the story told of the economist, Keynes, and his Russian ballerina wife, staring silently into the fire. Keynes asked, “What are you thinking, my dear?’ She replied, “Nothing.” And he said, “I wish I could do that”.
There is not much comfort to be had from other hypochondriacs, either. I had lunch once with a distinguished writer whom I very much wanted to impress. He greeted me with the words, “Please excuse the condition of my nose.” During the next few minutes, fascinated but trying not to be caught staring, I established two things: first, that he had a small inflammation by his right nostril, and second, that he was a fellow-hypochondriac. The combination meant that I could been three other people for all he cared. As we parted, he again apologized about his nose. I was furious.
From an article by Jonathan Steinberg in New Society