Having one physical problem is a challenge, but what must be avoided, at all cost, is having two. The specific comorbidity I fear most is dandruff; which I will attempt to explain…

When I first heard the word comorbidity I was attending one of those joyful hospital admission interviews. If I recall correctly it was quite late in the evening and a young and overworked resident was working through volumes of paper and a hundred questions.  Momentarily she slipped into medico jargon and out popped this arresting new term, comorbidity. My flash of instant insight was that it must mean dying of two things at once, which sounded like a tough gig.  Do you have a comorbidity? I did not know how to answer, there being no small uncertainty right then that I might be dying of one thing; let alone two!

Merriam Webster sheds some light:
Comorbid – existing simultaneously with and usually independently of another medical condition.

That was at least five years ago, and in the interim I have discovered that I can actually cope quite well with a couple of things going wrong at once; indeed most grownups are dealing with a stew of big and small dramas all the time. The great challenge, however, is not how I deal with two problems at once, but how everyone else deals with my two problems.

Which is where dandruff comes in. Picture the scene: you meet someone, let’s say it’s me – just for fun.  I have a wheelchair, but so what? No problem, right?  You offer me your hand to shake; you are eager to greet and maybe even meet a new friend.  But at that very moment, your hand mid way across the void, your eyes fixed on mine, your sharp peripheral vision kicks in, the ocular function at the animal core of survival, and a subliminal alarm registers deep in your brain’s occipital lobe. DANDRUFF!  Your gaze instantly narrows, your outstretched hand slows fractionally in space, you falter, tense nanoseconds pass as your gaze darts hither and thither seeking the confirmation you inwardly dread: Comorbidity!

My God! This person, who came so close to entering your sphere of existence, is a leper! It doesn’t stop with the unsightly dandruff dusting his jacket either; involuntarily you catalogue with stunning rapidity the range of defects he possess. The wheelchair, yes, but now you see the small, faint food stain on his shirt cuff; you notice a patch of unsightly lint balling slightly on his jacket; there’s that odd breathing mask; his glasses are grossly out of fashion; and, come think of it, there’s something unsettling, disturbing even, in his smile. But you are committed now, and the handshake must go ahead. You hope to goodness that he doesn’t notice you frantically scanning the room for hand sanitiser.

So, I have become a scrupulous consumer of anti-dandruff shampoo (the strong stuff with the boring label). Am I a complete nut job, or do all of us have dreadful thoughts like this at times?  Do we share this readiness to judge, to categorise, to confirm our prejudice; do we all have that constant urge to peg everybody against our own superior normality?

Antidandruff shampoo is part of an elaborate defence shield that I have recently recognised around my public persona. I watch myself being vigilant to present as somebody in tip top physical and mental condition; a veritable specimen of wellbeing. I expect I do this because I have experienced the opposite: occasionally I have been written off, judged incompetent, and it’s no fun at all. So I scrub my scalp, I look people confidently in the eye, my wardrobe drifts towards primary colours, I’ve grown a very trendy beard (so I tell myself), and my glasses are sharp!



Normal is a supremely hard act to sustain, but we try, don’t we?





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