I’m not sure how one goes about declaring the discovery of a new disease, but I imagine describing its symptoms comes near the front of the train. The other night, sitting in a meeting, I mentally coined a word, alcohypochondria. While playing with the pleasing sound of it, I realized I had hit the triple crown: I’d created a word, discovered it was a disease and found I was Patient Zero. Let me explain.
As an alcoholic with no desire to moderate or, silly boy, cease my drinking, I found I had quite a few physical maladies and ailments. Had I been a rational scientist or doctor, I would have tried to determine the cause of these problems; as an alcoholic, I needed to protect my ability to drink. In the battle between reason and booze, liquor always wins. (Before you rationalists get too hurt, alcohol also triumphs over family, friendships, self-respect and food. Drink trumps all.) Given my need to avoid examining alcohol, I still needed to find reasons for these newish medical problems. Let me give three or four examples, along with my diagnoses, to illustrate:
My best adult friend had hemophilia, so I’m aware it’s a genetic disorder apparent from birth—until I needed to discover its late-onset (say to a man in his mid-40s) variety. This was the only explanation for the amazing number of unexplained bruises all over my shins and forearms. It wasn’t that I drunkenly walked into tables and chairs or lost my proprioceptic senses while flailing my arms about—I had an elegant, even royal disease that hadn’t started until I was middle aged.
During the day, I had no problem standing upright, but come the evening I found myself falling fairly often. Not daily, but often enough that I needed an explanation. I had acquired a particularly rare form of vertigo that manifested only after dark. I’d be walking, say, from the kitchen to the living room, my 12th or 14th glass of wine in my hand and without warning I’d find myself falling down, sometimes hitting my head, making this disorder co-occurring with late-onset hemophilia.
Horizontal Cranial Blood Pooling
I have only the vaguest idea of how the human body works, which I suppose is a shame, but it does make it much easier to identify new disorders. For the last 10 years of my drinking, I woke up every morning with a King-Hell pain in my head, like my brain pan had been scooped out and filled with a a diseased egg yolk. My explanation for this was that when I lay down at night, blood was somehow pooling in my skull, causing pressure on my cranium leading to headaches. As I stood, my blood flowed back to where it belonged and the headache was relieved. Toward the end of my drinking, I discovered swallowing blood thinner helped quicken this process, so I should reveal to the world that vodka, wine and even a large bottle of vanilla extract are excellent blood thinners. I do hope this doesn’t put the manufacturers of Coumadin out of business.
I’m adopted, and my biological mother had diabetes so severe she’d lost a foot before she was 20, so this was a natural. I had inherited only part of her diabetes. I didn’t have increased thirst or hunger, blurred vision, tingling or numbness in my extremities. Instead, my single symptom was increased urination, particularly in the late evening. Often, this urination would continue throughout the night even as I slept. I accepted this condition with aplomb, glad I could live with wet sheets and wouldn’t need to have it treated.
I realize much more research needs to be done into Alcohypochondria, primarily by those in the field of psychology. It’s not likely to appear in the DSM until DSM-VIII or IX, but I trust the process will begin today. I also understand I’m not likely to be given credit for its discovery, but I do ask, Constant Reader, that you remember this:
I saw it in me first, and you saw it here first.