His hands were damp. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead as he desperately held onto his chair. The physician rifled through his medical file. He would most certainly give an awful diagnosis soon. He might have a severe illness, for instance, malaria. Had he not been stung by a mosquito on his recent vacation? Yes! He worryingly rolled up his sleeve and observed his arm, where the bite had been. Perhaps he did not notice that it was swollen like a balloon. But no, he could not see anything.
“Mr. Morrison, were you not already here last week?“, the doctor looked at the man with an amused expression. “Umm yes.” The patient expected the worst case.
“But Mr. Morrison, did I not tell you that you are absolutely healthy?“ the physician pressed on.
“You did, but I just watched a terrible report. I believe that I have malaria. One of my neighbour’s friends died painfully after a mosquito bite. Do you know how fast you can contract malaria?”
Doctor James suppressed a smile. Matthew Morrison had been his patient for eight years now and he had never actually been sick. He was one of the healthiest and most stable young men the physician had ever met. However, Matthew visited the medical office nearly every week, convinced that he suffered from a life-threatening disease. He was a real hypochondriac.
“You definitely do not have malaria or any other disease,” Doctor James replied, but Matthew did not feel reassured. He never calmed down. It was so easy to become infected with a dangerous illness.
“But Doctor James, I sneezed this morning and I usually never sneeze except when I am getting sick. Isn’t that a sign of malaria?” Matthew dissented.
“It is not. You should stop doing research on Google and trust your studied physician.” Doctor James sighed. Because of Matthew’s obsessive behaviour, his girlfriend Alice was the only person who still spent her time with him. Doctor James did not understand how Alice could bear her boyfriend’s irrational fear. She was a very patient, young lady who worked as a doctor’s assistant in his office, and he was sure that she could have found another man immediately if she would let go of Matthew. Her beautiful smile and her bright blue eyes had already turned many male patients’ heads. But for some reason Alice fell in love with the hypochondriac. When they first met in the doctor’s office she was taken by Matthew’s attractive, tall figure, his charming smile and his sense of humor. Little did she know that there was another, very different side of him which would drive her to distraction. Nevertheless, Alice did not want to give up. She was optimistic that Matthew would put aside his fears some day and would completely turn into the man she fell in love with when she did not know about his health anxiety. Every time when she came to visit him, Matthew wanted her to disinfect her hands and to change her clothes, because he feared that she would bring germs into his apartment. Alice never said a word, but endured all the craziness of her boyfriend, hoping he would awake from his strange nightmare. But even her patience knew an end.
“Don’t worry, buddy. You’re fine and you should be happy instead of being controlled by your fears all the time. I heard you and Alice are having a date night today? Enjoy!” Doctor James shook his patient’s hand and said goodbye. Matthew left silently. He could not think of a date night with Alice without being stressed inside, because he was worried about the bacteria in a restaurant or the risk of infection because of a coughing child on the next seat in the cinema. He knew that he was probably a little bit too scared, certainly more so than other people, but life was dangerous, wasn’t it? He needed to make safety arrangements to protect his life. And Alice’s too, of course.
“I’m sorry, honey. I was stuck in a traffic jam,” Alice apologized when Matthew opened the door. She tried to give him a kiss, but he avoided her and held a garbage bag out instead. “Would you please put this on?”
She stared at him aghast. What was going on? Did he get a terrible disease that made him insane after all?
“I cut a hole in the bag for your head and your arms. I realized that if you change your clothes in the bathroom when you get here you may scatter all the germs around the apartment before. Can you imagine how many bacteria you’re bringing into my clean house?”, Matthew crinkled his nose. “Loooooots.”, he seemed to feel very confident about his new idea. But Alice just stared at him. “You are serious, aren’t you?”
„Does your head hurt? I mean, are you doing well? This sounds very odd to me.” she asked him, still hoping her boyfriend was only kidding.
“Yes, you know, I always feel kind of sick. It is such a burden to live in this world with pain and diseases…,” he said with a serious voice.
“You don’t understand what I’m trying to say, don’t you?”
“We can talk about that later, dear. Would you just put this bag on so that I don’t have to worry about all the germs you’re carrying with you?”
“You’re such an egomaniac,” Alice flashed her eyes at him.
“I am not. I care about you and I want to protect you,” Matthew tried to explain softly.
“No, all you want is to protect yourself. You’re worried about your health and your clean house.”
“That is not…,” he paused. He really wanted to disagree, but he couldn’t find the right words. He was not an egomaniac. That was such a foolish lie. How could his girlfriend think such a thing about him?
Alice sadly shook her head. „Matthew, I always hoped that you would turn into the man I fell in love with again. I didn’t know about your fears back then, but you were still a different man, and I believe that this Matthew is somewhere inside of you. He is the man my heart belongs to. But the Matthew who stands in front of me right now is not the one I want to spend my future with. I never said a word, but I can’t handle this anymore. It is just too much.” She turned around and disappeared into the night.
Matthew only stood there, lonely and sad, staring after the woman he loved.
Alice and Matthew had been very happy together once and he was already making plans to propose. How could he not see how much Alice had been hurt by all the things he required of her to calm his fears? How could he have been so self-centered? When he closed the door and went into his apartment, he suddenly felt very repelled by all the obsessive cleanness. He had not even put up pictures of Alice and him; instead several sanitizers decorated the living room. Alice was right. He had used her and manipulated her completely to protect himself from diseases. He was an egomaniac, and he did not even realize it until she left him.
Matthew tried to follow Alice, but when he arrived at her house she was not there. He called her several times and left at least fifteen messages on her answering machine to apologize, but he still could not reach her.
The next morning he ran to the doctor’s office. This time he did not want to see Doctor James because he was worried about his health, but because he wanted to win back the beautiful doctor’s assistant. Naturally, Alice had called in sick. Again, Matthew tried to reach her at her apartment. There was light in her room. She must have been there. He kept ringing the bell and knocking on the door. Finally, he heard Alice’s voice through the intercom.
“Alice! I need to talk to you!“
“I’m sick,” came the cold and distant answer. “Aren’t you afraid of getting infected?”
“Alice!” he implored. „Please open the door!“
But Alice wouldn’t hear of it. “Do you know how many germs are in my body right now?” she asked disdainfully.
“No, I don’t and you know what? I don’t even care. The only thing I care about is my love for you! It doesn’t matter if I get deathly ill and get put on a drip in the hospital. I could suffer everything if I could only talk to you once again.” Matthew was desperate. During the night he could not stop thinking of Alice, and he realized that it was actually impossible to win her back after all the mistakes he had made. But he did not want to lose her.
“You’re talking to me right now.” Alice said sarcastically.
“Alice, I thought about you the whole night and I know that I failed many times. You deserve much more than only an apology and I understand if you can’t forgive me. I screwed things up and I can’t tell you how sorry I am. You were right. I am an egomaniac, but I want to change. I would do anything if I could only get the chance to see you once again and to tell you how much I love you.”
Suddenly, the door opener made a sound. Matthew pushed against the door. It was open! He ran upstairs and saw Alice standing there in her pink bathrobe. She wore her long, blonde hair in a bun and her nose was red. She seemed to have a fever. But Matthew did not pay attention to any of it. He saw only her.
Just before reaching Alice’s apartment he stood still.
“I am so sorry! I will change everything and I will be the Matthew you felt in love with again. I promise!”
Tears ran down her cheeks. “Stop it! I don’t want to hear any of your apologies anymore!”, Alice laughed and Matthew pulled her close into his arms. “I love you, Alice!“ he whispered into her ear. “I love you, too.”
They both knew that it would take a long journey for Matthew to become completely free of his obsessive fears. But he wanted to fight his hypochondria, no matter how challenging it would be. The important thing was that he had Alice back in his arms. The beautiful young woman he loved with all of his heart and he would do everything in his power to keep his promises. Now he only needed to look for the perfect engagement ring, and nothing would ever separate him from Alice again. Nothing, until death do them part.