I'm in the orthopedist's waiting room, typing away, as several pairs of crutches and the obvious aftermath of a drunken incident pass by. When my name mispronounced, I shut my laptop and grab my things.
The nurse says hello. Her name is also Catherine. We chat. Things are good.
I tell her my symptoms (this part hurts) and what yoga pose caused it (one aggressive down dog). She hands me an ungodly pair of shorts made out of cheese cloth-like fabric. I wait.
When the doctor comes in, he shakes my hand, and I repeat my story.
Then, my hands start shaking. I start sweating. I tell myself I'm fine but my sweat glands are clearly not on the same page. I lift one hand to wipe my brow. My feet dangle off the edge of the table and I look down at the floor. You are so far away, I say to it. At least there will be doctors around if I pass out.
I start looking around for the trashcan. Please don't let me barf on the doctor. There's the trashcan, but it has a swinging lid on the top, that could be kind of gross. Anything else nearby? I survey the room as my vision goes in and out. There's the medical-waste disposal box, but I'm not going near that thing. I start thinking about "The Grinch." I wouldn't touch it with a "twenty-nine and half foot poleeeeeeee." I'll have to go with the trashcan and just clean the top of it later. I wonder if I'll have time to remove the lid? What's cleaner: Touching the lid of the trashcan or cleaning it up post-barf?
My doctor hasn't noticed my distress. Harvard Medical Degree, my a**.
When I'm about to leave the doctor's office, (vomit-free), they say the paper work isn't quite ready yet. Can I wait for a minute? Thank God. I return to my room and lie down on the table, holding my purse like a teddy bear. (It's brown, close enough.)
Back home, I confide in one of my best friends about this newly developed character trait.
"You have white-coat syndrome," she says.
"What? What the hell is that?" I'm already Googling before she can answer.
It's true, I have White-Coat Syndrome: "A phenomenon in which patients exhibit elevated blood pressure in a clinical setting but not in other settings."
It's also known as White-Coat Hypertension, which sounds slightly less ridiculous, so I'm going to stick with that. If I hadn't been sitting on the floor in front of the doctor's air conditioner an hour before, I wouldn't have believed this "condition" exists.
A certified dive instructor, I've handled my share of medical situations: Heart attacks, seizures, wounds, and one near death incident involving a scorpion fish and anaphylactic shock. I can handle medical situations. As long as it's not mine.
Eight odd years ago, I went into the ER thinking I had a bad flu, and instead was diagnosed with a deadly illness. (All right, because you're curious, it was bacterial meningitis, but let's leave that for another article.)
I am extremely fortunate that I only have two consequences from this illness:
1. The occasional migraine
2. A bizarre fear of a piece of white clothing.
When I walked into my doctor's office with an injured hamstring, I imagine they are going to have to amputate everything but my head.
At least I'm not alone in my absurdity. According to WebMD, "As much as 20 percent of the population suffers from "White-Coat Hypertension." Which, "is perfectly NORMAL because most people associate hospitals and clinics with sickness and injury."
I associate it with imminent death.
What can I do about it?
The "White-Coat Syndrome" Wikipedia page features a picture of a medical coat (really?) and recommends GOING TO A DOCTOR TWICE A YEAR.
Hello, Catch-22. WebMD's tips, while mostly useless, are more official:
1. Identify what worries you.
I worry that someone is going to tell me I'm going to die, pronto. Is this realistic? No. I told myself this. It didn't help.
2. Confront anxieties and deal with them rationally.
Next time I will bring my own barf bag, just in case.
3. Ask for sedatives or anesthetics.
Also known as masking the problem.
4. Ask for a preview of what pain you might feel and how long it will last.
This sounds awful. I only need to feel the pain once, but let's do it twice, just for fun!
5. Seek a new doctor.
See number four.
6. Try cognitive behavioral therapy.
Possibly. Could be overkill, but possibly.
7. Take someone with you.
I wonder if this qualifies me for an emotional-support dog.
I'm 26, and next time I sprain my ankle, I'm going to have to take my mommy to the doctor with me. How embarrassing. But at least I'll have someone to hold my hair back when I barf.