I always found the old adage “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” quite illogical. My silly classmates would recite this verse while I was left to ponder their intelligence. Since any educated person knows that sidewalk fissures and female vertebrae share no commonalities, I preoccupied myself with much more probable scenarios. “Touch a public doorknob and catch methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus and die,” for example.
It wasn’t until my tenth year of life that I was clinically diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but I recall the debilitating fear long before my first meeting with the shrink. I was reading on the couch when an episode of 20/20 featured the Ebola virus in Africa and its transmission via monkeys.
My mind (which is similar to a hamster on a wheel while under the influence of speed) immediately went to my last visit to the Scovill Zoo. How close did I get to the monkey cage? Do the zoo owners import their primates from Sudan? Did any of the monkeys sneeze?
Twenty years later, the questions may be different, but they are just as merciless and unrelenting. My husband finds it irritating that I have no medical degree to show for all the hours I’ve invested in the research of diseases, disorders, and contaminates. We constantly engage in a game of “let’s remove WebMD from the homepage and see how long it takes for her to freak.”
I’ve learned over the years to avoid certain OCD “triggers.” Particular fears and obsessions are worsened by events and circumstances, so I’ve made myself aware of what might “set off” my anxiety. For example, if salmonella was on the rise, I avoided salmon (cut me some slack, I was nine). If the country is on an elevated security alert, I avoid airports, train stations, and the White House. What I was not prepared for, however, was the biggest OCD trigger of them all: a positive line on a pregnancy test.
Pregnancy brought with it a whole new realm of medical conditions and predicaments. I was now susceptible to a range of illnesses that could harm my unborn child, and in due time, I honed in on Listeriosis and studied it nightly. All of my research led me to believe I could avoid this nasty little food-borne pathogen if I abstained from deli meat, soft cheeses, pate, and raw fish. Done.
During my fifth month of the longest pregnancy on record, the news reported a listeria outbreak originating in Colorado, but no source had yet been named. I followed this story hourly, even waking in the middle of the night to check for updates. On a Tuesday evening, I sat down in front of the television set with a giant bowl of pre-cut cantaloupe and a bottle of Hershey’s syrup and turned on CNN. Breaking news: listeria source identified!!!
If you knew me following the days of this announcement, I apologize. After calling every Kroger in town, interrogating the produce managers, and sending my friend Jessica to ask the Kroger “fruit preparer” if they washed their produce before shelving it, I was still convinced I needed blood work and antibiotics. I called the nurse at my gynecologist’s office, explained my situation, and pleaded for a test. Not understanding the urgency of my request, she simply told me I was “fine” and that the outbreak was not in Central Illinois.
Since I’m quite a natural at thinking on my feet, I conjured up a little white lie and said I’d been traveling around the country eating cantaloupe – a cantaloupe tour, if you will.
She told me to call back if I had symptoms. Nurses these days …
I’ve filed away listeria in my bottomless database of OCD obsessions (along with Ebola, melanoma, bird flu, MRSA, and that strange Benjamin Button ailment). I’m sure it will resurface during my second pregnancy, as all of my fixations eventually do, but for the time being, I have momentary peace. That’s the thing with this OCD business – you just have to ride out each wave and wait for a brief reprieve. It ultimately arrives, and then it’s on to the next obsession. But today is a good day – a peaceful day – so I plan on enjoying a pleasant walk with my daughter … as soon as I disinfect her stroller. I hear influenza’s making one hell of a comeback.