“I Coughed? Do I Have Covid-19?”: What It Means to Be a Hypochondriac in the Time of Coronavirus


“I Coughed? Do I Have Covid-19?”: What It Means to Be a Hypochondriac in the Time of Coronavirus

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

The first time I realised I might be a hypochondriac, I was a 22-year-old being laughed out of the room by a (rather unprofessional) lung specialist. The incessant cough that I had thought was a sure sign of swine flu — the raging pandemic back in the day — had turned out to be a mild case of acid reflux, and the swelling that I was so sure was a tumour, had turned out to be a rash brought about by an aggressive mosquito bite.

So I was ushered out of the hospital which was “too busy” to deal with something “so silly”. Still, despite all my doctor’s mirthful assurances, I wasn’t fully convinced: Back home, it took only a few minutes before I was googling “chances that mosquito bites turn out to be cancer”, and “swine flu first symptom reflux?”

If you’ve never been tempted to do the same, chances are you aren’t familiar with the habits of the average hypochondriac (or how websites like WebMD make money). Every ache and pain must be googled at least three times — even the smallest coughs, or the most minor bout of hiccups must be examined by a health professional who no doubt has a hundred better things to do at the time. This is the life of the hypochondriac — every illness is fatal until proven otherwise.

The first thing any hypochondriac worth their imaginary tingling sensation will tell you is that symptoms start appearing everywhere they look.

A “pandemic”, meanwhile, is a combination of every doomsday scenario imaginable — basically aliens riding an asteroid bang into the midst of a zombie invasion. So as Covid-19 achieved top-disease status, one that promises to spread as much misinformation online as it does respiratory issues, it’s been getting harder to self-diagnose. It doesn’t help that over the last few weeks, the fear of contracting the novel coronavirus has peaked with reports of entire countries being put under lockdown, and the world’s biggest economies crashing before our eyes.

So naturally, the first thing any hypochondriac worth their imaginary tingling sensation will tell you is that symptoms start appearing everywhere they look. A vague sense of unease sets in, building up to the first hesitant google — “Do I have coronavirus?”

Now with any other illness the answer would usually be pretty straightforward — either you suffer from a few things mentioned in the list of symptoms, or you don’t (and imagine them anyway). But the novel coronavirus is no common cold, or mild fever, at this point. The symptoms in some cases are barely noticeable, in other cases require the assistance of a ventilator, while the fatality rate is proving to be higher than earlier anticipated.

So like a hypochondriac’s nightmare brought to life, the best answer you’ll probably get to the question, “Do I Have Coronavirus?”, is…


Great so according to more than a few articles Covid-19 is a something we’re all almost certainly going to contract. But, at least the article does bother to mention that most cases are not life-threatening, and goes implies that symptoms will be closer to the common cold than the previous pop-epidemic, Zika.

Still the hypochondriac in you — much to the frustration of the thousands of doctors across the world who are urging everyone to remain calm — must persist in your endeavour to uncover the truth. So you soon find out that…


Oops. Apparently there was a reassessment in the 20 days between the two articles quoted above and the novel coronavirus is suddenly not as benign as we once imagined. Plus, as this article goes on to mention — a point that’s very relevant to hypochondriacs — it’s also more contagious than previously imagined, meaning it’s time to avoid all public gatherings altogether, and the 10 hours we’re called in to work with our eyes peeled for anyone who shows signs of a cough or sniffles too loud.

This paranoia builds until we turn into one of these nervy travellers:


At this point in the hypochondriac’s journey to discovering a new pandemic, anyone whose voice sounds a little low, or even so much as clears their throat, is to be viewed with great suspicion and must be warded off with industrial grade sanitiser, and spoken to only through a mask. Meanwhile, just to make sure that the virus doesn’t indeed pass through sanitisers and masks, it’s also important to read as much as we can about this curious strain, leading us to a wonderful list of cures, such as:


Well there we have it. Finally something we can trust in this madness! But just as I stumble out of bed to look for the nearest UV lamp store, there’s apparently been a slight change in plans:


Granted if this was the actual cure, even the most paranoid hypochondriac would brush off the symptoms. I mean, where are we going to get access to all of that anyway?

Oh, only here, of course!


Thanks a ton. Hindu Mahasabha!

Sure, that last one is clearly not legit, as are several of the other theories floating around. And hypochondriacs are nothing if not thorough. So in a last-ditch attempt to figure out where Covid-19 comes from, we attempt to find out the source of this widespread virus. Maybe if we read enough about where it comes from, and what parts of your body it attacks, it’ll be easier to diagnose. Unless…


Warning: Reading that entire article is a slippery slope that leads you straight to 7000-word WhatsApp messages like:


(Read the full forward on www.readsomethingelseinstead.com)

Okay, okay sure. No one should believe anything they read on WhatsApp? How about something from a high-ranking official of the country in which the virus originated, like:


Great. If it isn’t bad enough that my rickshawalla’s telling me there are 10 new cases reported in Maharashtra every day, or that a neighbour knows a friend who knows a friend who knows someone who died of coronavirus. There are now thousands of theories on the internet talking about how coronavirus randomly affects people depending on its mood or whatever. Meanwhile thousands of people are contributing to sharing these theories, because I guess, during a pandemic, everyone’s a bit of a hypochondriac. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. It’s better to be paranoid about an illness, than ignoring it, lying about it and infecting another city, in any case.