Important note: this blog post was written after watching the show and I’ve left it exactly as written at the time, but please see the comment from Shaun (a participant on the show) below. He’s not happy with how his comments were edited by Channel 4, and I’m very thankful for him contacting me to set the record straight.
I am not well.
It’s a virus, or a weird skin thing, or very possibly both. I need to leave it alone and it’ll get better and I need to hurry to Clinical Photography and get pictures taken to aid diagnosis. I need to continue life as normal and I need to stop using soap, cut myself off from all contact with humans and animals and never even look at another kiwi fruit for the rest of my life.
It’s very confusing. All I know for sure right now is that I am not well and whatever it is remains a mystery to all. Even Dr Google. I’ve discounted skin cancer or lupus because that shit is very, very rare, despite making it into the top three search results for what is a fairly benign condition.
So with all this on my mind I decided to catch up on one of many Channel 4 health programmes – sort of a spin off from Embarrassing Bodies – hosted by Dr Christian Jessen, he of the impossibly perfect pecs. House of Hypochondriacs (Channel 4) took people struggling with serious anxieties about their health and tried to fix them with exposure therapy. I’ve got an anxiety disorder, mystery symptoms and ready access to the internet. I wonder why I’m not a hypochondriac too?
I realised it was going to be difficult to watch early on. These people were AWFUL! A miserable, rotten, stupid, selfish bunch of people. But was that their true nature or just how anxiety had moulded them? Angela and Shaun were the worst offenders for pure disregard for the general public and the NHS we all rely on. Angela said “I didn’t know what a lymph node was until I joined a group on Facebook. The more I check, the more I find.” And Sean had me fuming when he said “I don’t care how much I’ve cost the NHS. It’s my right to use it”. Most people go to their GP five times a year. Shaun and Angela go to their GP up to five times a week! And Shaun in particular was off to A&E for any symptoms that seemed to him more serious. Truly in this case a little misplaced and misunderstood knowledge is a very dangerous thing. I would have thrown my hands in the air and left them to it, but thankfully a) I’m not a doctor and b) Dr Christian is a much nicer person than me.
So the programme immersed these two repeat offenders into the working life of the NHS – watching patients interact with their doctors in the surgery, cleaning instruments, working on reception and portering in a large hospital and going on calls with ambulance drivers and paramedics. They both seemed to turn a corner when they were kept busy for the day – they didn’t have time to worry about themselves, and slowly began to see the difference between worrying about being ill and really being ill.
Deep down they were overcoming a paranoid fear of death which was heart-breaking as Shaun finally opened up to the deep personal grief of the death of his father and baby son. If you’ve been through something like that it’s only natural to want to wrap yourself and your loved ones in cotton wool. Anxiety can keep you safe, to an extent, but when it takes over it destroys your quality of life.
Angela out with the West Midlands Ambulance Service was so kind and reassuring to the patients “You’re in the best hands”. What a turn-around from the start of the show. And they both came away from meeting Claudia, a cancer patient, with a much better, much healthier point of view. She was a delightful woman, really kind and relatable, who reassured them (and us) that everyone worries about cancer and ill-health but those worries shouldn’t stop you living life.
A classic cheesy feel-good ending, even for the more complicated people who weren’t able to live in the house. Realistic progress and pats on the back all round. Not life changing for the viewer, but maybe something better to focus your thoughts on at 4am, instead of anxiously self-diagnosing horrific diseases every time you sniffle.