When I was very young, reading Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, I came across the passage where he’s left alone with a medical encyclopedia for a few moments, and becomes convinced he suffers from every possible disease excluding only Housemaid’s knee.
Since then, and particularly in my household since I got married and formed my own family, the name for any unspecified and most likely imaginary malady of the type that prevents kids from doing homework and adults from going to work when there’s a snow storm out is “Housemaid’s Knee.”
Apparently, due to google, a lot of people are suffering the same syndrome as the main character of Three Men In a Boat.
Imagine my delight when this Telegraph article refers to precisely that passage in Three Men in a Boat:
The finest medical advice in literary history comes in the opening pages of Three Men in a Boat. The narrator recounts how, on going to the British Museum to read up on some passing ailment, he starts flicking through the pages of a medical dictionary. To his consternation, he discovers that, in every instance, the symptoms correspond exactly to his own. From ague to zymosis, via cholera, gout and St Vitus’s Dance, it turns out that the only disease he has escaped is housemaid’s knee – an omission he cannot help but find rather vexing.
In something of a panic, he visits his doctor, and informs him of this melange of maladies. He is given this prescription: “1 lb. beefsteak, with 1 pt. bitter beer, every 6 hours. 1 ten-mile walk every morning. 1 bed at 11 sharp every night. And don’t stuff up your head with things you don’t understand.”
The hypochondriac impulse is universal. We don’t all take it to the extremes of a Florence Nightingale, who spent a good two thirds of her 90 years confined to her bed, convinced she was at death’s door. But who hasn’t felt the temptation to translate a fevered forehead into a full-on case of swine flu, or – if you’re Norman Baker – a conviction that the men in dark suits have finally resorted to the old polonium cocktail in an effort to silence you for good?
While there’s no doubt they’re right, and that there is a bit of hypochondriac in all of us — a reason they warn medical students of this tendency — if you’re levelheaded and scientifically literate, you can usually narrow down your possible ailments for your doctor’s consideration. On the other hand, you’d best make sure your family doctor knows you very well, or he’ll roll his eyes and think you’re suffering from housemaid’s knee.