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  • Writer's pictureJerry Della Femina


Did I ever tell you about 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.

I’m as happy and as satisfied as a pizza delivery guy in a porno film.

Last month I passed by a group of cute Hasidic Jewish children walking on 55th Street and Lexington Avenue and I thought, “MEASLES! These kids are going to give me measles. It’s their parents’ fault that they haven’t been vaccinated and I’m going to die. What a disgrace it’s going to be to die of measles at my age. I guess it beats dying of whooping cough or mumps at this age. Why can’t I die like a grown-up?”

It never ends. Every summer for God knows how long 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 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 disease. 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 is that 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. Last month was the official beginning of the West Nile season. A few cases were buried in the back pages of our local newspapers. No one noticed. There’s nothing sadder than an old washed-up disease. I must admit that I thought on opening day of the West Nile season that dopy Mayor Bill de Blasio should have thrown out the first dead bird. But West Nile is last decade’s disease for those of us who belong to the Disease of the Month Club.

And let’s not forget SARS, a wonderful disease that started in China’s Guangdong province. In fact, I believe Donald Trump is planning to put a large tariff on SARS coming from China. I was sure that 15 years ago I was going to get SARS from a Chinese delivery guy.

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, wonton soup, etc., etc.

Then there was the “green feet” incident.

One day I looked down and noticed my feet were green. I rushed to my doctor and went in muttering about gangrene.

He looked at my feet and he became alarmed. They were green. But when he checked the circulation in my feet, it was perfect.

My doctor thought for a while and said, “Bring me your shoes.” He looked into the shoes.

“Do you ever wear these shoes when you go into a pool with chlorine?”

“Yes,” I said. “I have slipped them on after being in a pool.”

Then my doctor, who was a good friend, smiled and said, “Jerry, I love you, but you’re an idiot. Look inside these shoes. You’ve dyed your feet green.”

But my low point for my hypochondria came about 15 years ago.

My hypochondriacal insanity had 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 children would give a parent as flawed as I am.

It was a Sunday night and we packed up the car and faced the August traffic on the way back to New York City.

Ten minutes after 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 large bags and carried them out of my home and packed them into the back of the 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?

At Manorville I stopped the car at McDonald’s so that I could 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 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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