Three days into my honeymoon, I felt a slight tickle on my right side. By the time our cruise through the Caribbean was over, I had shooting pains in my stomach and a slight bulge just below my rib cage. I instinctively knew that this was something serious, but I decided not tell my wife for two reasons:
For one, my wife had been with me for several years and had seen me go through several illnesses already. I'd had a brain tumor, hepatitis and Lou Gehrig's disease, and although these ailments were very different, they all shared one thing in common: They were all fake. My actual diagnosis was hypochondria. This issue went all the way back to when I was 12 years old. I had an abrasion on my penis and was certain I had penis cancer. In despair, I went to my father, a physician, who examined it and then advised, "Why don't you try leaving it alone for awhile," which turned out to be an excellent course of treatment.
The other reason I didn't tell my wife is that we'd only been married a week. I was determined to give her as much happiness as I could before she would have to tend to my slow death. I decided I would stoically endure for as many months as possible.
The next day, I told my wife that I way dying of pancreatic cancer. I'd learned this by self-diagnosing online which, believe me, if you're determined to have cancer, is the place to go.
My wife remained unconvinced and asked if I could just relax for a week to see if I felt better and for her, I agreed. The next day I was too sick to go to work, which was unfortunate because I'd just started a job as a consulting producer on "The Apprentice," the absolute wrong job to be sick for. It's a real macho, manly workplace where they frown on eating salads for lunch, let alone taking a sick day.
On our third day back from our honeymoon, I was completely bed ridden. Apparently, I was dealing with the fastest-growing stomach cancer in the annals of medicine. I languished away until my gastroenterologist finally called me back. "Doctor," I moaned, "I'm in really bad shape. I haven't been able to eat anything all day."
"That's not true," my wife interrupted. "You ate a whole bagel with cream cheese for breakfast."
"Honey, please, I am talking to my doctor," and with that I closed myself into our bedroom. I gave the doctor my litany of ailments: weight loss, inability to eat, inability to sleep. I finished with, "Also, I have a great amount of gas, but it's a smell I'm unfamiliar with. It has a thickness to it ... a rich eggyness that can stay in a room for hours."
On the other side of the door, I heard my wife of two weeks say, "Oh, God..." and walk away.
I hung up with the doctor and came out to my wife, "Honey, the doctor wants me to go in for tests tomorrow, but I'm not going."
"Because we just got married and I want us to have a some happiness before we get this terrible diagnosis."
My wife let out a sigh, "You know, honey, I have to tell you, I'm not real happy right now. Please get the tests."
This set off a new round of worry for me. If I got a bad diagnosis, how would I tell my friends? My mother? My wife had an excellent idea; we'd just received a new video camera for our wedding. She'd heard that sometimes gravely ill people leave a tape for their loved ones. Maybe I could do that? It seemed a little soon for such a thing, but I was so grateful that my wife was finally seeing the gravity of the situation that I agreed.
The next morning we went to the doctor together. A battery of tests were done with needles and sonograms and uncomfortable probing. After about six hours, the doctor finally came in. "Pete," he said, "We've found something..."
I looked at Jen with an assuring face that said, "Honey, we can make it through this..."
"You have high levels of acid in your stomach. Acid indigestion. Easily treated with over-the-counter antacids. You also mentioned that you just got married?"
"Well, it might be that this is causing you a great deal of stress, which can lead to acid indigestion. Sometimes we get married and suddenly realize that we're not just looking after ourselves, that all of our choices and decisions will now have a great impact on another person. It's a big responsibility."
This was about as accurate as my father's diagnosis 30 years earlier, and much like that one, I was healed almost instantly. As we walked to the elevator, my wife said to me, "So it seems that marriage has made you sick."
The irony of this is that just the opposite was true. Marriage is what cured me. I have not had a hypochondriatic episode in the eight years hence. The reason is that every time I feel sick, my wife pops in that video that we made. She's edited it down to just one sentence where, on the verge of tears I say, "And I want you to know Mom..." and then the tears come, "I love you..." and the camera freezes on the most pathetic image of me ever taken.
What I've learned is that the most precious thing about marriage is that it gives you a witness. Somebody to keep you in check when you're veering into madness. Somebody who, when you say, "Honey, I don't want to alarm you, but I've had a runny nose for almost two weeks," will turn back to you and say, "Wow, that sounds bad. Why don't you call the doctor and describe your farts to him again."
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