Eternal hypochondria of the thoughtless mind

There’s a memorable scene in Hannah and Her Sisters where Woody Allen, while sitting in a doctor’s office awaiting the results from his skull X ray, gets the news that, as he fears, he’s packing an inoperable brain tumor. The punch line is, of course, that what we’ve been watching is nothing more than Woody’s nightmare, which is promptly popped as the doctor tells him everything is fine.

It’s a memorable scene because (a) I can still remember it, and (b) everyone who sees it knows that one day, he or she will be sitting in that same office, waiting for the word on those same X rays, conjuring up that same non-stop mental stream of doom-drenched scenarios.

My time in the Woody Allen Ward of Relentlessly Unstoppable Hypochondria began innocently. I had noticed something was off with my swallowing. Nothing major, or painful, but yet, I couldn’t ignore the fact that something wasn’t quite right.

“Well, what we should do is have you go in for a barium swallow,” the doctor said. Say what? “That’s where you swallow this barium-laced milky stuff, and the technicians watch it go down your gullet on an X-ray machine, just to make sure there’s no trouble down there.” Oh, fine. The appointment made, I left the office, and while driving home, I realized what “trouble” meant, exactly. The doc was referring, slyly enough, to your basic ping pong ball-sized death-to-Bruce tumor. As soon as the thought took shape, it landed in my mind like a Buick-sized meteorite hitting Sand Mountain, making a huge crater that would stay put until the results of “the swallow” were known.

Great. Swell. And hey, dude, say aloha to a good night’s sleep! Sure enough, at about 2:30 a.m., I’m staring at the ceiling, trying like hell to get back to sleep, but finding it difficult, since the sheep I’m counting look more like ping pong ball-sized tumors hopping over a fence, so I try to tell myself that I’m being insanely silly, that it’s probably nothing more than a grape-sized tumor, which should be easy to pluck out with some new-fangled laser tweezers, but then again it could be larynx cancer, and if that’s what’s going on, it’s really gonna be weird for the old radio career when the doctors say they gotta take my voice box out because a boss jock without a larynx is sorta like a hooker with Ebola, and hey, maybe I could be the Stephen Hawking of radio with one of those nifty vocal thingies so I could wax metallic like some kind of jive robot, yeah, right, sure, and I’m just gonna have to face facts that there are some serious changes comin’ down, and goddammit how the hell did this tumor get in there?

So you can imagine, after five nights of that action, it was very nice to have the X-ray techs tell me everything looks fine, lighten up, and smell the damn coffee while you can.