A tactic I have learned from my lack of knowledge with auto care (much to my dad’s chagrin and the mechanic’s delight) is to simply ignore the issue. If there’s a squeak or a wheezing sound, turn the radio up. If it’s a small problem, it should sort itself out. If it’s a big problem, eventually the issue will become more obvious. It is easier to tell a mechanic “something is on fire,” than to try to explain the weird grinding noise that happens every time I turn left.
I apply the same logic to my body. I understand that on a biological level I need sleep, but I also understand that I can simply choose to distract my brain with a dose of caffeine. I am positive I am always dehydrated because of all the caffeine, but iced coffee technically contains water, and that’s probably close enough. I think the ringing in my ears is from listening to music too loudly in my car, because I have a lot of left turns to make. If it’s bad enough, my eye will start twitching or I’ll get a foot cramp or I will adopt the UPS method of only turning right.
Part of this willful negligence is due in part because I have a high-deductible insurance plan and, like my Buick, my body will have to be in clear outward distress if I’m going to put in the effort to get a checkup. Secondly, my family has an amazing sense of worst-case-scenario syndrome and if I even allow myself a moment of indulging in the thought that I may be sick, I end up with a terrifying range of ailments. Here are some things my sister and I have diagnosed ourselves with, thanks to WebMD and watching "ER" in the '90s: diabetes, rhabdomyolysis, carbon monoxide poisoning, lactose intolerance, tuberculosis, cancer, bronchitis, cerebrospinal fluid leak, lupus, meningitis, anything vaguely related to the digestive tract, schizophrenia, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, paranoia (obviously).
I recently discovered you can watch old episodes of "Rescue 911" and "Unsolved Mysteries" online, and I now recall that they are what convinced me as a child that spontaneous human combustion was a valid concern.
It’s not as if all this worry is completely unwarranted. Our family history is plagued with genetic oddities: double joints, wonky spines, dentist-perplexing teeth formations, hair that is exceptionally good for retaining braids and hiding bobby pins and other objects (once when I was in the lathering portion of shampooing my hair, a penny fell out). So adding another medical oddity to the inventory is always possible. Which is why the past year has been especially hard for an in-denial hypochondriac.
Every sniffle or cough felt like it could be COVID. Or allergies? No, no. COVID for sure (it never was). Later, having received the vaccine, waiting for potential side effects to appear was a special exercise in dread. “Have you felt anything kick in, yet?” someone asked me after my second Moderna dose. Which reminded me of the time in college I ate a space cake in Amsterdam and I had no idea what I was supposed to be feeling or how long it would take to feel it (the instructions were in Dutch). It tasted like banana bread and then I took a nap. The vaccine also resulted in me taking a nap, but I didn’t crave stroopwafels when I woke up. It was still very much worth it.
I recently began medication for my ADHD, which is kind of a mind-twist in itself because it’s supposed to allow me to be less distracted, though I continuously distract myself by checking in to see whether or not I am currently distracted. The dose is certainly helping, but no substance on earth will turn off the “check engine” light in my head.
In a year defined by illness on a mass scale, I feel extra silly for my hyperfixation on all the little aches and pains. I’m so thankful that my car and I, though slightly used, are in fine working order and that I live in a time where vaccines and reruns of cheesy '90s TV shows are so easily accessible. I can’t wait until the moment all of my anxiety-induced medical concerns are once again outlandish and laughably unrealistic, like an episode of "Walker Texas Ranger." I’m ready to neglect my body on my own terms: losing sleep from a coffee-fueled late-night TV marathon binge. Grab that vaccine folks. It’s just what Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman ordered.
Kayla Schmidt is a freelance writer and creative collaborator with The Good Kids. She's a North Dakota boomerang: originally from Minot, she took a detour to study in England before settling in Bismarck.