Jerry’s Ink: I’ve Got Whooping Cough. I Think.


I woke up the other night, cleared my throat, coughed once and – still half asleep – jumped up and screamed, “Whooping cough! I’ve got whooping cough!”

Whooping cough, for those of you who aren’t watching the evening news, is this year’s hot disease. It’s an oldie but a goodie. Brian Williams ran a piece on NBC the other night and they had a series of doctors soberly shaking their heads and proclaiming that we were in for a wave of whooping cough that will have us all dropping like flies.


I was happy to hear the news. I had found my disease du jour.

I’m a hypochondriac. A hopeless, helpless hypochondriac. 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. Did I ever tell you about when I had leprosy? It was really not that serious. Cured it with Pepto-Bismol.

There is no known cure for hypochondria. 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 30 years I was sure I had Lyme 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 bull’s-eye red rash that everyone tells you is evidence of Lyme disease. I would stare for hours at a bite and think, “Maybe it’s just the center of the bull’s-eye that’s showing and the rest of the bull’s-eye will come out tomorrow.” Spider bites were my favorite because they were so … so … dramatic.

Then about 15 years ago something came along that temporarily took my mind off Lyme disease. Let’s hear it for the West Nile virus! Wow! Who wants to think that they’re merely crippled and miserable with Lyme disease 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 about 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. One month ago was the official beginning of the West Nile season. No one noticed. I must admit that on opening day of the West Nile season I thought that Mayor Bloomberg should have thrown out the first dead bird. But West Nile was out years ago when it was replaced by — SARS.

SARS, quite frankly, was sexy to those of us who are filled with fear. It was exotic. It came from China. SARS even made it to the front page of The New York Times. I had friends who purchased those white surgical masks that were the rage in China. My friends are a disgrace to hypochondria. Real hypochondriacs like me would never wear no stinking masks. Masks took the sport out of SARS.

I remember one Sunday years ago when I ordered Chinese take out. In New York City, on a Sunday night, there are thousands of hard-working Chinese men, wearing dark clothing, riding on bicycles, going the wrong way on one-way streets. Just like in World War II, when American pilots had tiny zeros painted on their planes to show how many enemy planes they had shot down, these Chinese delivery guys have pictures of tiny hips painted on the side of their bikes to commemorate how many hips they have broken on people who were merely attempting to cross a New York City street. It is a dangerous job, and more Chinese driving like zombies in the middle of traffic have perished on those bicycles than have died from SARS.

When the bell rang in my home and when I answered the door, a very nice Chinese man said “Derivery!” “SARS!” I remember thinking. “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. I immediately took three Advil which, at the time, I was convinced was the cure for SARs. I was right. I didn’t come down with SARS.

Ten years ago my hypochondriacal insanity reached a peak that 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.

It was a Sunday when we hurriedly packed up our car trying stupidly to beat the traffic to New York City. 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? Near Manorville I stopped the car at McDonald’s so that I might go in and 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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