The Vicious Toe

My hypochondria has been pretty bad lately.  Every year there are a few solid months where I have at least three life-threatening ailments.  Sometimes it’s a heart problem, other times it’s sepsis, one time it was hantavirus.  This yeah I have five illnesses so far.  All cancers. 

It began with a new mole on the side of my toe that I found after a hiking trip with my friends.  A month later, my side began to hurt and I assumed it was either liver or pancreatic cancer.  That is, until I developed chest congestion and a cough, which obviously led me to believe the cancer had spread to my lungs.  And on top of that, I suffered a few headaches here and there, which is typically a strong indication that my brain cancer is flaring up again.

So now, at least until somebody tells me otherwise, four of my vital organs are in a race to see who can kill me first.  My skin is no longer one of them.

After I found the new mole, I became obsessed.  It was located on the side of my big toe.  It was smaller than the width of a pencil eraser, but had no definitive edges and wasn’t very symmetrical.  It was a couple different shades of brown.  Most importantly, it was a mole I had never seen before.

As any medical website will tell you (and I’ve read all of them), any new mole after the age of 30 should be checked by a doctor. 

I’m 28, but I round up.

Also, and I swear I read this, melanoma of the foot is supposedly the most vicious type of melanoma because the friction of every step causes it to spread faster.  Apparently skin cancer of the foot doesn’t like to be walked over and has no time for your shit.

Every night after its discovery, instead of curling up with a good book or watching Netflix in bed, I stared at my toe.  I really stared at my toe.  I stared into the soul of my toe.  I “toe inspection and chilled.”

I even took a few pictures.  I had a photoshoot with my toe so the next night I could compare it with my toe a day later to see if there were any changes in the color, shape or size of the mole.  For awhile, the photo library on my phone was an unhealthy mixture of fond memories and foot.

I thought about calling my dermatologist, but I figured she still hadn’t gotten over the purple patch on my arm that she diagnosed as “you being a dumbass.”

After a month and a half of worry, I took a trip to Massachusetts to work and visit my parents.  That was when I told my mom I was being murdered slowly by a sneaky appendage. 

“You can’t worry about every stupid thing.”  She told me.  “Shit is gonna happen.  The best we can do is just enjoy the time we have.”

It made me feel better and worse at the same time.  Better because she’s my mom and she’s always right.  Worse because my version of “living life to the fullest” had been 90 days of nighttime toe porn.

Yet even still, every time my sock came off, I couldn’t help but glance to see the tiny, brown mark of death looking up at me.

That is until one day after a long shower.  I was sitting on the edge of my bed, putting my pants on when the toe caught my eye. 

The mole had changed.

The skin around it was crusty, flakey, and hard.  Like all melanomas of the foot, it spread super fast while I wasn’t looking.

I started to panic.  I started to sweat.  I began peeling the dry skin away with my fingers to get a better look at the monstrosity.

And it was around this time that I pulled the mole right off of my foot, realized it was a tiny blood blister, tossed it in the trash, walked out of my room, and vowed never to say a word of what happened to anyone ever again.

How I Killed Chivalry

On a flight from Tampa to Akron, I encountered a woman with a big, red bag that was almost twice as large as as she was.  She was about forty years old and 5’ 2” with dark hair, glasses and very little patience.  I was walking behind her when boarding the plane, giving me a front row seat to the discomfort of having to watch her cram all of her worldly possessions into the overhead bin.

At first, she had no trouble at all, lifting the bag well over her head and slamming it into the tight compartment with ease.  But one of the pockets was bulging out a little too far and suddenly nothing was moving.  Without taking a moment to figure out what was causing the problem, she began to beat the gargantuan obstruction into place as though it had once murdered her father with an ice pick in a previous life.  I became captivated with the one-sided boxing match that was unfolding in front of me.

I’m not sure why I didn’t help her.  I could say it was because I felt bad for her abused baggage.  I could say there was simply no room for me to move in.  In the end, I blame my social anxiety and inability to be comfortable in most everyday situations.  With all eyes already trained on this pissed-off passenger, I found myself frozen in both fear and fascination.  She noticed relatively quickly.

After a sharp glance in my direction, she turned over to the woman she would soon be sitting next to.

“Look at this guy.”  She muttered, almost inaudibly.  “Just watching me.”

Now I was directly involved in the situation.  The passengers in the back of the plane, who had once been eagerly waiting for an annoyed traveler to have a mental breakdown, were now staring directly at me.

In another socially awkward moment brought on by fear, I decided to do something without actually doing anything.  I just smiled, took a few steps towards the struggling woman, and raised my hands as if to help her push the bag in.  I was still at least two feet away.

The view from the back of the plane was priceless.  A middle-age woman ferociously pounding on a red bag with her fists while a grinning, twenty-something male stands behind her, groping a forcefield.  Had I not wanted to crawl into the overhead compartment myself, I may have chuckled at the absurdity of it all.  Then it got worse.

“Well this is just great.”  The woman shouted, this time ensuring that no passenger on the plane couldn’t hear her.  “I didn’t realize we were living in an age where a man won’t help a woman in need!”

Everything fell silent.  If you listened carefully enough, you could hear the faint sound of a hundred travelers stabbing me with a broken bottle in their daydreams.  I made eye contact with a woman in her late seventies a few rows back who just shook her head at the decline of modern society, otherwise known as me.

My first instinct, which is testament to how sick of a person I am, was to pretend to be deaf.  With a few clever movements of my hands I could have instantly become the most misunderstood person on the flight, and this angry passenger would have to live forever with the guilt of having verbally castrated a person with a disability.

Yet another large part of me wondered why I remained frozen.  Perhaps the embarrassment and shame of having not risen to the occasion to help a fellow traveler in need was something I deserved.  At the very least, nobody in this situation was correct.  Maybe had the woman asked me to help, I would have been less reluctant to move in.  Then again, I should have seen the signs and offered without hesitation.

Before I could do anything, an older gentleman in another seat stood up and, with one successful push, fit the bag in the overhead compartment once and for all.

“Thank you very much, sir.”  Said everyone on the plane.

“Yes, thank you.”  I said, handing him my testicles and making my way down the aisle to sit next to the bathroom and wonder how this became the best seat in the house.

Tooth and Nail

It’s embarrassing to tell the truth,
Of how, last week, I chipped my tooth.
I was answering emails of high demand,
When my mouth clamped down upon my hand.

I was munching away when I heard a crack,
I pulled out my thumb to examine the snack,
It appeared I had an epic fail,
When my tooth came down upon my nail.

While that sounds a bit deranged,
I promise you, it’s not that strange.
This reasoning should do it service;
I bite my fingers when I get nervous.

Last week, as you can probably guess,
I was under a lot of stress.
And it wasn’t just me who who felt scared,
The news of the world left us all impaired.

An Ebola patient decided to fly,
to a city that is real close by.
The panic we felt was impossible to measure,
the one time someone went to Cleveland for pleasure.

The stock market outlook was murky,
as ISIS drew closer and closer to Turkey.
There was just so much news that we feared,
We didn’t realize Kim Jong Un reappeared.

The good news was that my tooth was okay,
There would be no filling, there would be no decay.
The tiny piece that broke and fell out,
was small enough to do without.

I decided it would be best,
to give my senses a rest.
With plenty more teeth to lose,
I picked up the remote and turned off the news.

Limericks on Hypochondria

I found a strange lump on my limb,
At the doctor’s I showed it to him.
He said, “Just to recap,
That lump is your kneecap.”
And now my condition’s not grim.

My girlfriend was sharing her Coke,
When she started to cough and choke.
I spit out the Cola,
For fear of Ebola.
She was only laughing at a joke.

I awoke to a real dreadful scare.
I saw herpes had started to flare.
How did this emerge in
these parts of a virgin?
Turns out it was just ingrown hair.

Me and My Purple Patch

A month ago, I was conducting my usual morning routine of admiring my pasty whiteness in the bathroom mirror when I noticed a small patch of lighter skin on my upper right arm.  It was purple, but a lighter shade of purple than my skin tone.  A small child might have thought it it was a kiss mark from the tooth fairy.  A normal adult would have thought nothing of it and continued their life in peace.  Being anything but a calm and logical person, I jumped straight to the conclusion that it was malignant melanoma.  A hickey from the angel of death.

I did my best to not let it bother me.  That lasted almost halfway through my drive to work.  Once I hit my first red light, my sleeve was up and my eyes were locked to the mysterious skin lesion like a tween glued to a smartphone.  I stared more at the purple patch than I did the road as I continued on towards the office, not realizing that I could have been the first person to be pulled over for performing a skin inspection while driving.

“Maybe it’s a patch of thin skin.”  Maggie said when I entered her cubicle and shoved my flabby arm in her face.  “You know how some people are thick-skinned?  Maybe this is your one weak point.”

In order to test her theory she tried calling me an asshole directly to my purple patch and then to my other arm for comparison.  I took the same amount of offense to each.

“Wait, let me try calling you an egotistical, misogynistic shit head.”  She pleaded as I walked away.

I needed my primary care physician to set me straight.  I’ve never left her office without feeling a sense of relief and confidence.  Like the time she told me my large amount of excess fat was nice and evenly distributed over my vital organs.

Every time I have unrealistic health concerns about rare diseases and conditions, my doctor examines the situation, tells me why I’m full of crap, and sends me out into the world to continue living my life as I was before.  Every time my doctor has realistic concerns about my weight and eating habits, I examine the situation, tell her why she’s right, and go out into the world to continue eating my way through life as I was before.

I expected her to take one look at my arm and tell me it was it was a small fat build-up on the top layer of my skin that was slightly discolored from a tiny, minor blood vessel leak on the surface level of my vein roadway.  And that this extremely natural and common series of conditions was nothing to worry about.

Her actual answer didn’t thrill me.

“That’s odd.”  She said as she inspected my arm closer, poking the patch with her finger to see if she could wipe it off.

“I hope that stands for Ordinary Dermatitis Disease.”  I replied.

“I’m going to refer you a a dermatologist,”  She went on.  “It’s probably nothing, but I just can’t say with confidence that it’s benign.”

I took her advice and scheduled an appointment two weeks down the road.  For those two weeks, the only time my eyes ever left the purple patch was when I was online reading about other people’s purple patches.  It bothered me immensely that I couldn’t find anyone with a similar situation.

Typically, when I frantically research a symptom online, I’m able to diagnose myself with almost one-hundred percent accuracy.  It’s amazing I’m still living considering all the illnesses I’ve had in the past fifteen years.  I’ve had a touch of skin cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, brain cancer, throat cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma, several bleeding ulcers, liver cancer, liver disease, herpes, AIDS, bird flu, and a broken foot.

I remember each scare vividly.  Some led to sleepless nights.  Some led to tiny bruises on my stomach from extensive tumor searches.  Many of them led to the acceptance of death as an inevitability.  All of them had me repeating common sense to myself late at night, lying in the dark.

“If I spend every moment of my life fearing death, isn’t that like being dead already?”

But every time one condition clears up, another begins a few months later.  Another cold.  Another minor foot injury.  Another headache.  Another purple patch.

And I will worry and beat myself up for worrying so much, especially once I find out for sure that the life-changing symptom I’ve been wasting my life panicking about was…

“Definitely not cancer.”  My new dermatologist assured me.  “In fact you have very healthy skin.”

“Thank you.”  I replied.  “I play video games all day in the dark.”

“Good for you.”  She said.  “Now you and your purple patch can run along.  I’m sure you have important stuff to do.”

I didn’t.  I thought about taking the rest of the day off to celebrate my survival.  But my purple patch had a job to do.  He had to stay right where he was and stand guard.  So that every time I roll up my sleeves and look at him, he can tell me to quit being a pussy and get back to whatever it is I’m doing at the time.

Straddling Death


A couple years after graduating high school, my senior year Spanish teacher passed away.  I was home for break and and decided it would be best to pay my respects.  I was taking a shower in preparation for her calling hours when I felt an unusual lump near my groin.

As it turns out, both sides of my groin had the same lump in the exact same place, but I swore that one side was more lumpier than the other.  I studied it enough to know.  I spent at least an hour in front of the bathroom mirror running the fingers of both hands over each side at the same time to get a comparison.  One lump was definitely larger.  But maybe it was my imagination.  Nope.  One lump was definitely twice as big.

Years later the doctors would tell me that these “lumps” I was feeling are natural parts of my body.  Like the time I was 16 and thought I had early-onset colon cancer until I learned the definition of a hemorrhoid.  Or the time I had a pimple that was too close to my mouth, but didn’t have any ex-girlfriends to courtesy call.  I’ve always been known to be an irrational hypochondriac, so on this particular morning as I crouched on top of the bathroom counter, gliding my fingertips over my inner thighs, I was certain I was on death’s door.

There is no worse time to have a health scare than the morning of your Spanish teacher’s funeral visitation.  In fact, standing in a line of crying people to say goodbye to somebody for the last time is a great way to come to terms with your own mortality and the fragility of life.  Nowadays these types of emotions can be avoided with a well-placed iPhone.  A simple round of Angry Birds or a glance at a Twitter feed to forget you’re depressed.  Unfortunately, I only had a flip phone and therefore had no choice but to deal with feelings.

My Spanish teacher was well-loved.  You could tell by the way the line of people stretched all the way around the building.  A sea of people in black, standing below a grey sky, too mournful to notice or be bothered by the light drizzle.  There were old people with faces of stone, having been through this too many times before.  There were young people tugging on the shirtsleeves of their parents, asking questions about the purpose of a finite life.  And then there was me, my hands in my pockets, fidgeting with my private area and caressing my imaginary tumors.

There are many places in life you don’t want to be caught stealthily poking around in your pants.  The playground is a good example along with a school play or a dance recital.  On this particular day I shamefully added funeral home to that list.

It took forever to reach the front of that line.  At one point I almost wished I was paying my respects to an old drifter I met on the road somewhere between Massachusetts and Ithaca.  A kind, gentle man with very few friends or family.  It would have been the same emotional experience, but in the duration of a much shorter line.

Standing in these circumstances for a half hour gave me too much time to think.  It’s not often we take the time to reflect on the fact that life ends.  We tend to put death in the back of our minds for a reason.  On one hand, it might be freeing to make every day count knowing you have an expiration date.  On the other hand, nothing puts a damper on the holidays, relationships, having children, working, traveling, buying a puppy, and enjoying the beauty of the world more than the thought that everything is going to die someday.

So we place that thought in a little lock box that we only open when somebody actually does die or you feel an abnormal growth near your junk.  As a hypochondriac, I probably open this box more than most.  Never for very long.  But enough to get a nice glimpse.  Then I quickly shut it until the next wake or funeral.

When I made it to the front of the line, I stopped touching myself just long enough to pay my respects to the family of the deceased.  Then I met up with a few friends at our favorite restaurant down the street.  We told our favorite drunk stories from college and laughed about old high school memories.  It was so engaging, I forgot to touch myself.  Later that night, I discovered that my groin was bruised from excessive rubbing and I would worry that it was because my tumors were starting to bleed and I was going to die a lot faster than I originally anticipated.  I laid awake at night, praying to return to school whereI could party and drink and learn and love and life would seem so infinite again.

This Space for Rent

Last Wednesday, I arrived at my apartment around nine o’clock at night.  I’m young, full of energy and still able to work for long periods of time without becoming too exhausted.  That being said, I still greet the end of a thirteen hour work day with the emotion one might exhibit after being liberated from a concentration camp.  This particular day was no different.

Routinely, I entered my living area, tossed my computer bag on the couch, kicked off my shoes, let out a long sigh of mental exhaustion, and spent the next several minutes making out with my living room carpet.  Only after I got down on all fours did I feel the strain of several cups of coffee, two Diet Cokes, and a Hazelnut Macchiato tugging away at my bladder.  I made my way to the bathroom, flipped on the light, and looked in the mirror.

Looking back at me was a young man bearing the weight of a stressful month.  His eyelids drooping with lost sleep.  His hair beginning to grey far too early in life.  His skin dry from rubbing his face with his hands.

And on the wall behind this man was a three-inch monster spider with curved legs and hair longer than my facial scruff.

We noticed each other at the same time.  There was a brief moment when you couldn’t tell the difference between me and the arachnid.  We both stood frozen, staring at each other through the mirror.  Once we had the chance to analyze the situation, our reactions differed quite a bit.  He responded by crawling a few inches up the wall and I shit myself.

I don’t remember how I left the bathroom, but it probably involved hands being thrown into the air and a high pitched squeal.  The next thing I knew I was in my living room, scanning my bookshelf for a murder weapon.  Me Talk Pretty One Day?  I wouldn’t dare.  Fahrenheit 451?  Far too ironic.  The Death of a Salesman?  Too short to do any damage.  The Days of the French Revolution?  Hmm…

I purchased The Days of the French Revolution because the topic interested me, but I found it way too dense to be enjoyable.  After struggling through the prologue, it became nothing more than a prop to pick up smart girls at Starbucks.  When that didn’t work it became a bug smasher.

I stood in the bathroom again, clutching the large book in my trembling hands.  My nemesis hadn’t moved since I left.  I carefully planned my strike.  It would have to be quick.  It would have to be hard.  It would have to leave no chance for survival. I drew the book back behind my head.

“What are you doing?”  Asked the spider.

“Putting an end to you.”  I announced.  “You don’t belong in this apartment.”

“I live here, remember?”  The spider explained.  “You sublet this place to me.”

“You lie!”  I shouted.  “This is my home.  I still live here when I’m not at the office…but I guess I have been at the office quite a bit lately.  Come to think of it, I haven’t spent much time here recently…”

I lowered the book, realizing that the spider was right.  A month ago when work started getting crazy, I decided that, if I wasn’t going to be using my apartment, somebody else should.  So I put the word out and, sure enough, this spider showed up.  He did a good job keeping to himself.  In fact, this was the first time I’ve seen him since he moved in.  He only roamed around the house while I was gone or asleep, shooting little webs across my raised ceiling and making babies in the back of my closet.

It’s not the first time I’ve sublet my apartment to a bug.  When I returned home after two weeks in Massachusetts last April, there was a smaller spider hanging out next to my towel rack.  This one was far less scary.  As things got back to normal after a hectic travel schedule, I killed him and got on with my life.

Work has been constant lately, but it won’t be that way forever.  It will die down.  Everything will get back to normal eventually.  The stress will end and my reflection will go back to normal.  In the meantime, I came to the realization that I’m not ready to surrender my personal life to eight-legged critters.

“So listen…”  The spider started.  “While I have you here, we have got to do something about the thermostat.  You’ve been leaving it at a constant 72 degrees which is a little cool for my taste….”

But before he could finish, his life came to a sudden end.  Splattered under the full fury of the French Revolution.