Do you remember that song that kids sang on the playground, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms…?” We used to sing this song because a) singing about worms was the height of cool in third grade and b) the idea of a worm sliding down (or up) your throat was about the grossest thing we could think of – which, after all, was the point.
Last week we received a lecture entitled “Introduction to Parasitology.” Over the course of the hour the professor illustrated in glorious full-color detail the perils and ramifications associated with the many parasites that afflict humans, from the really really tiny ones (some of which are currently clinging to your eyebrows and eyelashes – don’t bother trying to wipe them off, they’ve got quite the grip) to the alarmingly large, wormy ones that will eventually and upsettingly exit your person through whatever orifice they deem most desirable. Ew, right?
Beyond being devious, parasites are also alarmingly prevalent. Our professor hammered this point home in the following exchange:
Professor: “How many of you ever swim in fresh water?”
(About two-thirds of the class raises their hands)
Professor: A parasitologist would never swim in fresh water….
(pause for effect)
Professor: “How many of you eat fresh vegetables”
(catching on now, only about half the class take the bait)
Professor: “A parasitologist would never eat fresh vegetables.”
It went on like that, to include touching or consorting with dogs/cats/small children, visiting the beach (which is of course the domain of said dogs/cats/small children), drinking water, urinating outside, eating fish, going to tropical countries, eating meat, etc., etc., etc.
(By the way, when a brave student asked the professor what parasitologists do in fact eat, the response was “I am very very careful. Mostly red vines and lifesavers.”)
Since the lecture I have experienced a heightened sense of paranoia about, well, everything. It is far too easy to imagine giardia (an intestinal bug that your vet may have mentioned) lurking unseen on my baby carrots, or an opportunistic hookworm lying in wait for my bare feet. This worm is particularly clever; after wriggling in between my toes it will get into my blood vessels and make the journey up into my lungs (by way of my heart) to my windpipe where it will be just irritating enough to cause me to cough and swallow. This maneuver will be enough to propel the worm into my other pipe (esophagus), down to my stomach, and finally to the land of plenty, aka my intestines. All without my knowledge. Again, ew.
I am sorry to say that I am getting used to this kind of paranoia. I am not sure if other medical students suffer from this, but it seems that one result of knowing a lot about a little is the irrational belief that all those nasty things you are reading about are actually happening in your body right now. Do you have a cut that’s taking too long to heal? Immunodeficiency! Does your heart seem to be beating too fast at the moment? Atrial fibrillation! And oh my god was that a flash of chest pain? Never mind the excessive coffee, stress, and lack of sleep, this is obviously a heart attack, which will lead to clot formation, which will cause bits of the clot to break off, travel to my brain, and give me a stroke! Gah!!
I am exaggerating of course, though only a bit. I recognize the absurdity of these fears. And I am getting better at dismissing them. Nevertheless, medical school continues to make me ever more careful of my daily habits. For example, I now unashamedly wash all fruits and vegetables at least twice, if not more. Some might call that obsessive, but I figure that if I have to play host to worms I at least want them to be clean.
“…long thin slimy ones, short fat juicy ones, itsy bitsy fuzzy wuzzy worms…”