The Big Bald Wolf

Unfortunately, I’m going bald, and it really sucks. No one has really noticed yet, because I’m on Propecia, but I’m telling you, it’s only a matter of time… While the “receding” nature of my appearance bothers me way too much, what has—and will continue to—really set me apart has little to do with my looks, and lots to do with my neurosis. I have one of the most absurdly ferocious cases of hypochondriasis this side of the Mississippi. And this is why my friends laugh in my face when I tell them I have cancer (again (only a different type this time)) or that I’m losing my hair.

“Andrew, have you ever heard of the placebo effect?” a friend recently teased after I entrusted him with the sensitive information that my head would look like George Costanza’s were it not for my popping pills.

“Yeah, but I’m telling you, man, it doesn’t apply here. I really am going bald.” I usually try not to offend people, so I opted not to put the second part of my thought to words: WebMD is my fucking homepage, you condescending prick; of course I’ve heard of the fucking placebo effect.

But, really, I have no one to blame but myself for others not believing me anymore about any of my various health issues—even those, such as male pattern baldness, with mere cosmetic consequences. After all, over the last decade or so, I have miraculously survived about 37 terminal illnesses.

I guess I’m like the boy who cried wolf, only not a bastard like him, because I really do think I see the wolf each time. Or at least I hear him, er… Maybe I just sense his presence or something. But I swear, he’s there. And, I’m sorry, but he’s scary. I’m too young to die, and, I don’t know, I just don’t want to be maimed or anything. It’s bad enough that I’m going bald.

As petrified as I am of the wolf pack lurking in the dark corners of my body and mind, waiting to sink their fangs into my jugular, I really do see the humor in my neurosis when I’m with my friends. They get such a kick out of it, and we laugh about it all the time. It’s therapeutic for me, it really is. Which isn’t to say, though, that even in the throes of our belly laughter, I don’t forget about the fact for one instant that any fun we’re having is a mere band aid—not a cure—for that faulty valve in my heart or those rapidly multiplying cancer cells in my pancreas.

Only God knows how many years I’ve pissed away (and taken off the end of my life) for worrying about afflictions. I’m 33 and so far I’ve had Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease* (that was a tough 3 years), MS, ALS, various cancers (of the penis, testicles, lungs, brain, and throat), Liver Disease, exercise-induced asthma, a mysterious heart condition (manifest in palpitations and an array of other sensations), Lyme’s Disease** and, most recently, Sarcoidosis.

My battle with Sarcoidosis wasn’t quite as tough as the others because I was wise enough to limit my research into the malady***. And although it was a paralyzing fear (not disciplined restraint) of a devastating prognosis that prevented me from learning more about what I was up against there, it was a brilliant move not to study up on this illness as I have on countless others. My lack of knowledge on Sarcoidosis helped me keep my fear of it in check (And while ignorance wasn’t even close to bliss, it at least enabled me to hold out hope for that slight chance that the illness would at least give me a few more years to tidy things up in this life and make preparations for the next.).

Thanks be to God, my fear of Parkinson’s and a few of the cancers I’ve claimed have been put to rest by the fact that I’m still alive and don’t yet seem to be incapacitated (though, like my first neurologist (who I fired) infamously said: “I see no evidence of Parkinson’s. But… Everything starts somewhere****.). With my Sarcoidosis scare, though, I actually caught a bit of break. Five or so months into my bout with this obscure ailment, my fear of it was mercifully stopped in its tracks by a few young MDs in Boston.

The docs were pals with my brother, who I was visiting in Beantown. The four of us went out to dinner one night. The plan was to get a bite to eat and then hit a few clubs. I was psyched; (I’d rather club myself in the face with a nine iron than go clubbing, but) I love hanging with docs. I could pick their brains until the cows come home.

Anyway, before we entered the restaurant, my brother stopped me outside the front door and made me promise not to get all weird again. I don’t know, I guess one time when he was in law school and living with a med student I got really drunk and pulled down my pants because I had this little freckle on the head of my rod that I thought might be something serious. (But that’s neither here nor there.) I promised my bro I’d behave and we headed inside.

An hour or so into dinner, once the docs were good and liquored up, to a point where I figured they might not notice how crazy I am, I made my move. And I have to give myself credit; it was pretty subtle.

We were on the topic of football, and I smoothly inserted the following remark: “Hey—by the way, did you guys hear that Reggie White’s fatal cardiac arrhythmia was induced by his Sarcoidosis? D’you hear anything about that? That’s a pretty rough disease, eh? Sarcoidosis, I mean?” I took a deep breath and waited to hear how much longer I had to live.

The docs looked at one another, baffled, and then at me (like I had three heads).

“How the fuck have you heard about Sarcoidosis? Are you studying for Med School?” one of docs asked.

“Oh, no, I just um, I don’t know, I—”

Then my brother sold me out. “Andrew’s a bit of hypochondriac, and he’s convinced he has Sarcoidosis, among other things.”

The other doc chimed in: “That’s pretty impressive that you’ve even heard of Sarcoidosis. But I can all but guarantee you don’t have it, because…”

He went on to list about 10 reasons why I don’t have Sarcoidosis, but I can’t remember what they are. I was too elated to hear anything he was saying. But I did catch the cherry on top.

“And even in the highly unlikey event you do have Sarcoidosis, all you’d have to do is go on steroids and you’d be just fine.”

A miracle. I could not believe it. I took a deep breath, and all the stress left my body. My muscles limbered right up as a wave of relief massaged me from head to toe. And then, just as I was flagging down the waiter to order a celebratory round of shots, the doc continued: “But you really need to chill out, my man. All that worrying is going to make you lose your hair.”

Epilogue: If after reading this piece you don’t believe me that I’m going bald, you are as insane as I am. Some people look great bald. Heck, they look better bald. But the shape of my head is ridiculous—not to mention I have moles, birthmarks, and scars galore. The scars, by the way, are from pre-cancerous growths removed by one of my first dermatologists (and, really, Lord knows if he got it all).

*Michael J. Fox remains a hero and inspiration to this day.

**I was actually hoping for a positive diagnosis on this one as it could’ve helped explain away various symptoms that are also associated with serious neurological disorders. Unfortunately, not one of my Lyme’s tests has ever come back positive.

***Upon my inaugural visit to the official Sarcoidosis website, I was greeted by the imposing figure of the great Bill Russell, arguably one of the best basketball players of all time. Frankly, it scared the shit out of me. Bill Russell is a legit dude who wouldn’t be wasting his time advocating for just any pansy disease. So I slammed my laptop shut and chucked it out the window before reading another word.

****Really, guy? Why not just leave it at “I see no evidence of Parkinson’s?” Why even mention the second part? It’s called “bedside manner,” you numbnut.