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Am I the Only One Tired of Hearing About Everyone's Health Issues?

Please, spare me the details.

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illustration of health related emoji coming out of phone
Erik Carter
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The human body is fascinating, and as the owner of one, I’ve spent years observing its remarkable capabilities. But lately, a lot of the bodies around me are not operating up to par. I know this because reports keep pouring in.

“How are you?” is no longer a polite greeting; it’s an open invitation to unload a litany of health problems. It seems we hit a certain age and suddenly we’re all into illness porn.

My husband Randy’s monthly poker group used to talk politics and sports. Now they discuss PSA numbers and prostates.

Dinner parties have turned into round robins of prognoses. Nick’s hernia during the soup course. Nancy’s shingles during the salads. And it’s not just the diagnoses being shared; it’s all the accompanying details. I was eating breakfast at a pancake house when I tuned into the conversation at the next table: “They took a quart of pus out of me!”

That visual does not go well with maple syrup. I have seen X-rays and scans posted on Facebook that make me blanch. What am I supposed to comment? Congratulations! No polyps!

It wasn’t until 4th grade that I really had any clue as to what goes on inside a body. For my birthday, I received The Visible Man. He had a see-through plastic body revealing anatomical parts: his skeleton, his intestine, his liver, all his vital organs.

After years of pledging allegiance to the flag with my hand over my heart, I was amazed to discover that my heart wasn’t on the left side of my chest. I loved my Visible Man. You could paint the organs and glue them together. But after the novelty of this see-thru boy toy wore off, I didn’t pay much attention to inner body parts — until now. I can barely keep up with what does what. So much can go wrong in so many places.

What’s a lamina? Where’s a T7? My Visible Man never had herniated discs. Dwelling on medical malfunctions is understandable. Any monster under the bed is less scary if we talk about it. But when all the talk-talk-talk starts to feel draining — and unhealthy — here’s what I prescribe:

Don’t get sucked into competitions.

I’ve had cancer three times now. I can hold my own in most any discussion but count me out to getting drawn into bad-health one-upmanship. Unless you’re gunning for the sympathy sweepstakes, what’s the benefit?

“You’re only stage 2? I’m stage 3.”

“You think your blood pressure is high? Listen to this …”

It’s no great honor to win the Potential Stroke Contest. Or any contest.

“I’ve been given a year to live.” “I’ve been given half an hour.” Puhleeeze.

Realize that sometimes it’s none of your business.

My husband was on the phone the other night with a former high school buddy. I could hear him on his end saying, “Wow. Awful. The worst.”

“Who’s sick?” I whispered.

He muted the phone and said, “Cal’s neighbor’s cousin was on the operating table for over five hours.” He returned to the conversation. “I’m so sorry ... that sounds terrible.” The conversation was going on for almost as long as the operation until I blurted out: “Is this someone you even know?”

You probably already have enough people in your life to worry about. There is no upside to getting emotionally caught up in the health woes of strangers.

Set time limits. 

This one requires some discipline but it’s doable if you own a watch. It goes like this: “Okay, we’ve spent 20 minutes on Brad’s dental implants; let’s move along to Tracey’s acid reflux.” When everyone’s had their say, change the topic. Or go play pickleball. 

Just for fun, see who’s paying attention.

Everyone is so involved in their own symptoms and surgeries that I sometimes wonder if anyone’s even listening to anyone else. To test this theory, offer up an outrageous occurrence. “After the doctor completely removed my rib cage, he gave me a lollipop.” Hope the response isn’t: “That reminds me of something that happened to me.”

Don’t be your own worst publicist.

Watch out for anyone relaying stories clearly not meant to be shared. (Hmm … I wonder if it’s OK that Chrissie’s discussing Wendy’s tipped uterus.) Be careful not to tell your stories to these blabbermouths. Unless you want to be topic number one for their next audience. 

Maintain crowd control. 

If you’re the recipient of a serious diagnosis (and I certainly hope you never are) consider my wise friend Ronnie’s advice: “Talking to a few nonjudgmental friends is therapeutic. Talking to dozens of friends? Brace yourself for a slew of conflicting opinions. That’ll just increase any distress.”  

Add “but the good news is” to any medical bulletin.

If you do find yourself heading down a rabbit hole of health chronicles, pause, smile and say something positive. The needle didn’t hurt! My insurance covered everything! There must be at least one good thing that happened.

Empathy and compassion are important, and when a friend is really up against it in the health department, dive in and be a big help. Hold a hand. Listen well. Express caring and concern. But for day-to-day ills and pills, how much healthier would we all feel if we focused on the hale and hearty conditions in our lives, instead of the falling-apart ones? The way our bodies work — or stop working — is a source of wonder. The challenge is not letting inevitable health snags become a daily source of drama. If you want drama, subscribe to Netflix. Or try what might be the most efficient way to avoid nonstop talk of sickness: Hang out with healthier friends.

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