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  • Christina Fotinelli

Dear Tamara,

Tamara Horland fell in love with Benjamin Stark-Harriman late one Saturday night in the A&E. She had rushed there when the deboning of a branzino at a dinner party went awry. Leaving her guests with a handful of carmelised onion crostini and a few sardine rillettes, she wrapped her gushing finger in her grandmother’s finest linen serviettes (reserved for guests) and promised to be back in a jiffy. Benjamin discovered her five hours later laying across the only four chairs in the waiting room that were unoccupied and not stained with vomit or urine.

 

A regular to A&E, Ben recognized most of the usual suspects: the drunkards, the brawlers, the kids with ear infections, the grandpas passing kidney-stones but it was the petite brunette with the messy bob that made him forgot about the spasm in his left calf. This was the spasm that startled him awake and triggered a frantic hour of internet browsing. The very same spasm that could be an early symptom of mild stroke, Myasthenia Gravis or influenza. A fourth more plausible cause was a lack of potassium but one could never be too careful so Ben had hobbled over to A&E to put his mind to rest.

 

By the time they were discharged, with a medicated band-aid for her and a banana for him, they had fallen in love. Six months later Ben proposed.  

Dear Tamara,


Welcome to the family! It’s been so lonely being the only daughter-in-law. I am so excited to finally have a ‘sister’ to hang with. The Stark-Harriman's are a wonderful bunch - warm, loving, loyal and generous to a fault. I don’t know you that well and Ben and I are not close but having been married to Pete for the past four years I can say, hand on heart, these are good folk. 


SPOILER ALERT


Before you make it official though you might want to consider the small issue of the Stark-Harriman medical condition, or maybe it’s better to call it a mental affliction. Whatever you want to call it, all I know is that everyone in the bloodline has it and if you're not careful you will catch it too!

 

You see, the Stark-Harrimans are hypochondriacs. They don't try to hide it, treat it or cure it. They bear it with pride! They flaunt their hypochondria the way some families flaunt wealth. They hold it close, they nourish it, they distribute it like ATMs dispense cash and they partake in it the way other families tuck into fondue.


The Stark-Harrimans carry their hypochondria with them everywhere they go. X-rays, prescriptions, scans, test results are stuffed into pockets, they’re folded into cookbooks, they gather dust in glove compartments, they get stuck in the gaps between sofa cushions. Cafes, offices, trains, restaurants are all deemed appropriate locations to discuss the daily charting of blood pressure, temperature, weight, oxygen levels, the color and frequency of urination and the state of their bowel movements – no place or subject is off limits.


A DIAGNOSIS A DAY KEEPS THE (REAL) DOCTOR AWAY


At family gatherings they try to outdo one another with outlandish symptoms and exotic diseases. There is no limit to their suffering nor apparently to their medical expertise. For did you know, that unbeknownst to any medical professional or medical institution that every single person in the Stark-Harriman clan is a celebrated doctor? Took you by surprise didn't it? Uncle Steve is an impressive diagnostician; he’s everyone’s first port of call for the sniffles, an upset tummy or the odd headache. Auntie Letty is an expert in the inner workings of the digestive tract (FYI she poopoos the current obsession with the gut biome. Says it's a fad. You heard it here first!). There is no one more knowledgeable about both the ocular and the musculoskeletal systems than Auntie Kitty. Young Darko is your go to for any ailment relating to the bladder and Great Grandma Sophie is the undisputed authority in conditions of the lymphatic system. All these are trumped by your Ben who holds encyclopedic knowledge – and a frightening amount it must be said - of almost every Western medicine there is plus a fair share of potions, ointments and dubious powders in color coordinated plastic baggies.


You think I'm kidding but they will suck you in. Over a casual family brunch you may innocently offer up a few medical details, like you had your tonsils out when you were seven, you got mono from sharing a soda with Fliss Jefferson in junior high. You had the odd bout of IBS in college. Your mom was treated for frozen shoulder last autumn. To you, it's just idle chat but they will grab it and gnaw on it, dissecting your medical history, your appearance and your mannerisms right dow to the way you chew and before you know it you will be terrified and booking an MRI, a CAT scan and a colonoscopy!


My advice is run. There are plenty of handsome junior law partners out there to marry if a girl really puts her grind to it. What’s a few months on Bumble compared to a lifetime with the certifiable Stark-Harrimans?!


Of course, if you do go ahead and walk down the aisle with Ben I’ll welcome you into the family with open arms.


Diane x


PS. Ping over your latest eye exam. I noticed you were squinting a lot when you came over on Sunday and I’ve got a couple of theories that I’m batting around with Aunt Kitty.


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