I think everyone fears death at certain points in their lives, but I had an extraordinary obsession with it starting at a young age. It’s not because I experienced many deaths in my family. In fact, all of my grandparents lived until ripe old age, and I was an adult by that time.
I blame Dr. Joe Gannon.
Before Doctors McDreamy and McSteamy flashed their biceps on network television, there was blue-eyed heart-of-gold Dr. Joe Gannon, of the television series Medical Center. Medical Center, a medical drama that aired on CBS from 1969 -1976, featured plenty of personal conflict in the lives of the doctors and nurses at Medical Center, and dared to take on controversial issues of the day like abortion, the Vietnam War, the Generation Gap, drug addiction, rape, homosexuality, and racism.
But they focused on what doctors do best, diagnosing and treating illness. Of course, it wasn’t run of the mill colds and flus Drs. Gannon and Lochner confronted. The diseases were usually terrifying and fatal.
I watched Medical Center faithfully every week. This was probably not the best television viewing for a seven or eight-year old. I recall watching Sesame Street and Mister Rogers Neighborhood, but my favorite show wasLaugh-In, the Saturday Night Live of its day. I used to swing on my backyard swing set and recite Laugh-Inmonologues to the peach trees. You can see my viewing habits were not especially scrutinized by my parents. I was also high-strung and a pretty weird kid. But that’s another story.
My first ‘health scare’ was multiple sclerosis. I was convinced I had it, since my ankles had been hurting at the time just like the lady Dr. Joe treated that week. She had unexplained tingling and pain in her legs. I was dying.
Every headache became a brain tumor. Or possibly blindness would overtake me that week. One time I was afraid to go to sleep, because when I woke up I wouldn’t be able see anymore. I got a real sickness one winter, bronchitis, and I recall asking the doctor if he would do tests for lung cancer. I don’t recall his answer but I’m sure he must have been amused. I wasn’t. I was going to die, in a thousand horrible ways.
I don’t know how my mother put up with all the ‘medical conditions’ that made up my hypochondriac playlist, but I guess she never made the connection between my imagined maladies and the television shows I watched.
After a while somehow I figured out that since I kept living day after day, maybe I didn’t have all these diseases after all. However, I continued to watch Medical Center until one episode put me over the edge. The patient had a disease none of the doctors could figure out. One doctor decided the patient was suffering from a voodoo curse. A voodoo curse! Someone could cast a spell on me and make me sick? That was the end of Dr. Joe Gannon – for me.
I avoided medical shows until my teen years. Then I went through a mini-version of my hypochondriac hell when I started watching St. Elsewhere. Great show, scary diseases! Being older and understanding the world better didn’t assuage my conviction that I would contract some terrible disease and die before I was twenty. You can imagine how fun I was at parties.
Then I had my twentieth birthday. And my twenty-first. After my twenty-fifth birthday I started to worry less and less about things that I had no control over. What a waste of energy. As life continued, I have had my share of health concerns, some rather serious, but I continue to work hard at controlling fear and imaginations. Life is done best by focusing on living it. Death happens sooner or later, but there’s too much living I have left to do, and I especially understand this as the years fly by. This is one of the reasons I am a recovering pessimist.
I don’t give a lot of thought to my hypochondriac tendencies anymore, but I avoid watching medical dramas so as not to feed them. Although there was that one small blip where I thought my organs were melting inside me. Thanks, Dr. Gregory House.
Kristin Nador has been a military wife, SAHM, homeschooler, and animal rescuer. In her current reinvention she’s an aspiring novelist. She blogs at kristin nador writes anywhere, where she talks about writing and creativity. She lives in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma with her husband and Pinkerton the Cat.