Hypochondriac’s Handbook – Ian Landau

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Reviewed by Mary McConville

Ooh! I feel sick. What’s wrong with me? Let me check the Hypochondriac’s Handbook. Panic! Maybe it’s the Plague. The better known bubonic version starts with flu like symptoms – fever, headaches, muscle pain and chills. The victim than develops buboes (swellings) in the lymphatic glands which are located in the armpits, groin and neck. It killed thousands of people during the Middle Ages and changed the shape of civil society. It is now very rare. If you do get it book into quarantine and start pumping in the antibiotics. You may also need oxygen and intravenous fluids.

The Hypochondriac’s Handbook also contains other ancient, almost mythical ailments. One can suffer from hypertrichosis (Human Werewolf Syndrome). This is a problem where someone has too much hair for their age, gender or race. It can be localised and perhaps hide able, or general and cover the whole body. It is usually genetic and can affect several children in the same family, both boys and girls.

Another ailment that may have contributed to the folk tales about zombies is Cotard’s Syndrome. With this ailment the patient is convinced that they are dead and decaying. It is a neuropsychiatric problem often caused by or accompanied by severe depression. Medication is not much help but electroconvulsive shock therapy has sometimes helped. Is that what happened to Frankenstein’s Monster?

The nightmare figure that keeps on coming through the rain of bullets may have Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis (CIPA). This is a genetic condition with a damaged nervous system and an inability to sweat (that’s what anhidrosis means). These people often die young because they are not good at recognising danger.

Many years ago a rather overdone character called Deadly Ernest hosted horror movies on TV. He regularly battled “Claw”, his own hand that constantly tried to strangle him. He probably had Alien Hand Syndrome. The sufferers often say that the hand has regular feeling and can be pinched or patted but it doesn’t feel like part of the whole body and often acts as it has a mind of its own. For one patient, the alien hand would keep trying to change the TV channel. Though there is no cure for Alien Hand Syndrome some relief can be found if you give the alien hand something to do, such as hold a walking stick.

There are some less dramatic ailments in this book that are too disgusting to contemplate. One might have Human Botfly Meiosis or Necrotizing Fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria) or Dracunculiasis (Guinea Worm Disease). All these disgusting parasites will creep you out.

The most embarrassing ailments you might have are Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome (for women) and Priapism (for Men). It sounds like fun. It isn’t.

Read this book for fun, not for information. The information is reasonably accurate but does not go into great depths. It’s not a good idea to read this when you’re feeling depressed and suggestible. If you really are feeling sick, go to the Doctor!

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