Grace Notes, By Nancy Kennedy

Recently, I had a raging flare up of my chronic, terminal hypochondria.

It always hits on a Friday after regular doctors’ and dentists’ hours are over, which only increases the intensity of the flare up.

I’ve died many times from hypochondria, if only in my mind.

This recent attack came as a result of using too many new dental hygiene products at once. I had seen a commercial that warned: If you’re not whitening your teeth, you’re yellowing them.

Sounds ominous, right?

Plus, I realized I hadn’t flossed in a while, so I went out and bought super-deluxe floss with power-boost, ultra-sparkly, minty freshness or something like that. I also got whitening toothpaste with added baking soda and peroxide for maximum cleaning and some super-amazing mouth rinse with even more added stuff guaranteed to make my mouth and smile super-charged with extreme healthiness, or something like that.

I gathered up all my dental hygiene products Friday afternoon and got to work, feeling good about myself, even a bit self-righteous, anticipating a mouth filled with pearly white pearly whites.

However, when I brushed my teeth before bed, I hit a nerve at a spot on my lower gum and a lightning bolt of searing pain went directly into my brain.

“That happens,” I told myself. “I’ll ignore it and it’ll go away.” After all, I have ridiculously healthy teeth. My dentist of 21 years laments that he can’t get rich from me as his patient.

By Saturday morning the “lightning bolt of super intensity when touched by a toothbrush” had spread to my entire gum area, top and bottom.

Well, it might not have been all that bad, but remember — I’m a hypochondriac. And a tad melodramatic. Also? I know just enough about a few things to make me a danger to myself and possibly small children and dogs.

For example, I know that poor oral hygiene may lead to gum disease, which may lead to heart disease. That, as my husband would say, is a known fact.

It doesn’t guarantee heart disease; it just may lead to it.

Enter the thinking of a hypochondria-afflicted person. I convinced myself that I was moments away from a fatal heart attack and I added brain cancer to the mix. To my knowledge pain in the gums while brushing your teeth doesn’t cause brain cancer, but there’s always a first for everything.

Now, I’m not your typical hypochondriac. I tend to avoid calling the doctor at every little twinge, preferring instead to suffer in silent dread, saying my prayers, planning my funeral.

But early Monday morning, as my life energy ebbed away, I finally called the dentist for an appointment and prepared myself for the worst — an emergency total gum transplant, if the impending heart attack/brain cancer didn’t get me first.

Actually, I was feeling better, but often dying people rally just before the end.

I got an appointment for the first thing the next morning. In the meantime, I had stopped using all the super-deluxe dental products, got a new toothbrush and went back to my usual toothpaste.

The dentist took all of five minutes to diagnose my teeth and gums as ridiculously healthy and said it was the combo of products that caused a reaction, which I had already figured out, and that it happens to people all the time.

Death averted — this time.

I walked away $70 lighter in my checkbook, but nonetheless relieved. Until the next thing that sets off my fret-o-meter, of course.

All this reminded me of my propensity to magnify imaginary conditions to the point of obsession, yet trivialize and discount what’s really wrong, namely my sin.

Sin is the lethal disease, yet so often I brush mine away.

A tiny lie here and there, a smidge of laziness, a dash of over-indulgence, a bit of self-righteousness and pride.

Ignoring the voice of God pointing out my sin, or urging me to do something and ignoring it, that’s my true demise.

Something is, indeed, wrong with me.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached via email at

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