Commentary and Philosophy Non-Fiction posted March 21, 2021

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How to Care For and Feed Your Hypochondriac

Simple DIY Guide to Hypochondria

by Jay Squires

Saturday, March 13th.

I was on duty last night. It was a different kind of guard duty from the one six decades ago. Back then, I was a 17-year-old recruit, guarding the door of my barracks at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, July 1957. The alleged enemy was anyone who might foolishly attempt to enter my barracks during my watch: alleged, because, in the 15-year history of Lackland Air Force Base, no one had ever attempted to gain access to the interior of one of these barracks.

The actual enemy, though, the real enemy back then, which could so stealthfully slip around and past my watchful eyes, was sleep. Each of us recruits had heard the horror stories of the consequences of falling asleep on guard duty, the least of which was thirty days in the brig, followed by the ongoing humiliation of an Article 15 summary discharge. In wartime, as we were told by our D.I., the consequences would be worse: death by firing squad.

But at three or four in the morning, these stories became as toothless as nursery rhymes. They didn’t prepare the young, stalwart guard against the true enemy, sleep, which snuck up on cats paws, and before the guard could say, “Halt—Who goes there!” buckled his knees, and loosened the fingers that gripped the barrel, letting the rifle clatter to his feet. If the sponginess of his knees didn’t awaken him, hopefully, metal against the concrete walkway would.

Yet … stories circulated among recruits, and became part of the D.I.’s horror portfolio, about Miliary Police patrols spotting that unfortunate young guard, lying in the fetal position in front of the barracks door; in some stories, hugging his rifle like it was his mama or the girl he left back home.

*     *     *

Last night, my guard-duty was different in one most significant way: I was guarding, protecting, encouraging, the very thing that had been the other guard’s mortal enemy—a desperate need for sleep. For the better part of a half-dozen years, I have not slept well—five hours being a reason to applaud! At the approach of every bedtime, sleep was something I craved.

Last night, my internal D.I. had prepared a wholly new set of reasons not to sleep.

Staring up from my pillow, I rehearsed how yesterday morning, at 9:00, I voluntarily allowed a mysterious, little-understood and hastily-concocted serum to dock into the muscle of my upper arm and board ten thousand tiny ships, as it were, to scuttle off to every centimetered outpost of my body. Each vessel manned and womaned by a thousand drunken sailors whose sole job it was, at the end of their journey, to dump their portions into my body’s awaiting capillaries and hungry cells.

So it was that at 9:00 A.M., in the Kaiser Permanente nurses station, I received my second dose of the Moderna Covid Vaccination. Unlike the myriad of other vaccinations I’d had in my lifetime, after this one I was required to be detained for fifteen minutes before they released me to the world.

What were they looking for, these nurses who hovered over some twenty of us like anxious hens over their flocks of chicks? Like Dr. Frankenstein over his Prometheus. How are you feeling, Mr. Squires? Light-headed, nauseous, sweating? How’s your breathing?

By the time I got home, Roseana was calling me from her trailer in the Tehachapi mountains.

“Did you get your vaccination yet, Sweet?” “Just got back.” “How you feeling?” “Hungry. I only had a fig bar before I left.” “Well, you be careful.” “Why? How?” “Watch for the aftereffects. The second one’s supposed to be a doozie! You’re not dizzy or anything?”

That was around 10. At about 11:30 that morning, I got a text from Joe, my 48-year-old son. He lives about a half-mile from me, and by secret agreement with the rest of the family has, I’m sure, been assigned as the old man’s watchdog. He texts daily. Then, about once weekly, unannounced, he’s unlocking my front door, complaining, “Well, if you’d answer your texts ….” He’ll visit for an hour, seemingly impervious to my asides about interrupting my writing, my meditation, or my Spanish lesson. He’ll nod vigorously, thinking, I know: old people bitch. It’s what they do. As a former career military man, Joe takes his watchdog duty seriously. He’ll be the one someday to stumble over the body.

He texted: How you feeeling, Perps? Perps for Pops. Pops for Pop. Pop for Dad. Both my sons, David and Joe, have unconsciously sought the diminutive for Daddy, always modifying the latest moniker just short of it becoming too familiar, too intimate. Just this side of a verbal hug. Both sons exhibit that vague unease in engaging me in a physical hug. I’ve never seen them hug each other. I believe they got that odd reluctance from their Dad, as I had from my Dad; Daddy. Any side effects? I texted back: It’s only been two hours. He waited 10 minutes, and then: Don’t forget confused thinking is one of them. If you’re not thinking clearly, you may miss some. I answered: That’s why I have children. But this son has a degree in Philosophy. True, Perps-a-Ninny, but if it comes in the middle of the night?

Oh, I needed that!

I fluffed my pillow and flopped to my side. The overnight has a zealous guard on duty. I flick my wrist and squint at my Fitbit: 3:27. My stomach is suddenly seized by a deep, churning gurgle. Serius glances up from his pad beside my bed. Was nausea second or third on the list the nurse gave me? No, it was lower. First and second were tightening or swelling of the throat, and worst of all, inability to breathe. I raised my fingers to my throat. Choking death. That would be a helluva way …

I had a rehearsal for that eventuality last week. Alone, eating a taco salad, a partially masticated glob of lettuce, meat, and cheese lodged in my throat. I took the needed short breath to cough it into my palm, but instead, I felt it slide farther back. Instinctively knowing I needed more air to propel it out, I tried to take in a full gulp but all I managed was a stuttery wheeze. For some reason, I raced to the bathroom, bent over the sink. My legs already were rubber. Flickering spears of the brightest light crisscrossed my field of vision. I knew in that instant that Joe would discover me, lying on my back on my bathroom floor, my face a mask of horrified rictus. But out of some inner guidance, I balled my fist under my ribcage, and with the aid of my other hand, pushed that fist in and upward with all my might. A globule, the size of a large marble, popped into the sink.

A little of me died that evening.

I never told my family. To what end? I do go through a conscious ritual of chewing my food at every meal. Counting my chews. Every meal.

I turned to face the other wall, letting out a long exhale into the darkness, realizing the luxury of it. My stomach distress had passed. I considered the week-old egg salad I’d made into a sandwich for lunch. But the bowl had passed the sniff test. …

As nearly as I remember, at some time during a cautionary prodding of various parts of my belly, the guard simply vacated his post.

The alarm woke me at 7:00 A.M.

I had survived the first night of Moderna’s second-dose aftereffects!

*     *     *

In defense of the hypochondriac I had painted myself as being, as of this writing, a week after that horrendous first night, I’ve shown no Moderna aftereffects except a mild soreness where the sailors had begun their voyage. And that only lasted two days.

On the other hand, I can’t tell you how liberating this all feels—and how proud I am to have contributed my small part toward helping the world achieve herd immunity.

Speaking for myself, I encourage all FanStory readers and writers to not hesitate—not one moment!—when you qualify for vaccination. Covid has caused so much craziness in the world. Or did the pandemic act as a catalyst to bring to the surface a craziness that was already bubbling below?

No freaking matter! Now’s not the time to pick nits off the heads of the trendiest craziness. Now’s not the time to incline our ears to Facebook’s latest conspiracy theory. Now is the time to take a stand on the side of sanity.

Roll up your sleeve. Take it in the arm for the old Gipper! Get vaccinated! 

Se faire vacciner! 
‘akhadh alliqah! 
Geimpft werden!




Photo courtesy of Mahdi Bafande on Unsplash.
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