Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The web makes Mr Woodhouses of us all

Reading books can make you ill - if you're a man
Michael Gove in The Times

There is one condition for which you can never receive enough medical attention — hypochondria. As someone who has suffered from this debilitating ailment for most of my life I have learnt that it is no respecter of age or background. But there is one biological quirk that governs its spread. Women, for some reason, are immune.

I’ve spent many years discussing my hypochondria with fellow sufferers. No official support group exists but you can easily find others similarly afflicted in specially designed environments that help us to cope with the symptoms. They’re called pubs. And in all my years of comparing notes with fellow victims I’ve found they are all, to a man, men.

I’m not sure what protection the Double X chromosome gives to its bearers that insulates them from the effects of hypochondria but it appears pretty comprehensive. Traditional perceptions of masculinity would suggest that it’s we men who suffer pain in stoic silence, displaying an insouciance towards our physical welfare which recalls the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Arthur: “You’ve got no arms!” Black Knight: “Just a flesh wound.”).

The assumption that men are, at best, insensitive to their wellbeing is reflected in efforts to persuade us that we should overcome our natural reticence, examine ourselves regularly for all sorts of curious flaws and then visit the doc at the first sign of trouble.
In my experience very few men need a second bidding when it comes to seeking medical advice on discovering something untoward. Admittedly, that pursuit of expertise may just be restricted to googling “malaria symptoms” when feeling a little woozy after a flight back from Vietnam or e-mailing Dr Thomas Stuttaford to ask what might be causing repeated night sweats (answer: sleeping under a winter- weight duvet in the South East during a heat wave).

But some take the pursuit of reassurance even further. Because among the many hypochondriacs I have met there is an amazing ability, which most Hollywood screenwriters would envy, to construct a terrifying narrative out of the slightest pretexts. A persistent headache which does not, immediately, seem to be caused by either a cold or a hangover can quickly become either a nascent tumour or the first signs of meningitis.


Because hypochondria is clearly linked to an over-active, and ill-disciplined, imagination the sufferer is well advised to avoid reading biographies of any famous figure who was prone to illness. I know a friend who felt he was succumbing to a cardiac incident while reading vivid details of a famous (and tragically short-lived) statesman’s heart attack.

Forget home-made bomb instructions and the proliferation of porn, by far the worst by-product of the internet is the habit of googling your symptoms.

No man should have to confront the dizzying range of horrific diseases that it's not technically impossible he might have.


Blogger Oroborous said...

It's amazing how many potentially-fatal diseases initially present with "flu-like symptoms".

As for bomb-making instructions on the internet, that usually takes care of itself, as the chief problem with bomb-making isn't constructing devices which will explode, it's keeping them inert until needed.

August 02, 2006 6:27 AM  

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