For years I believed it was women who were the real hypochondriacs — the ones who sat around discussing their favorite diseases du jour. Sickness was not a guy thing ... until I met Marvin.

Marvin fell into my life without warning. He was housesitting next door for a few months, during which time I learned more about medicine than I did reading the Merck Manual. Marvin was a walking medical encyclopedia, who took illness to a new level. We first met when he knocked on my door asking if I had any Advil.

“I might have some Tylenol,” I said.

“No,” he replied. “I never use products with acetaminophen.”

It was then I knew that Marvin and I were destined to be friends.

My fascination for medicine dates back to my adolescence when I would lock myself in my cousin Edwin’s bathroom, poring through his medical books, examining the glossy photos depicting in graphic detail every anatomical orifice. While other girls my age were hooked on Nancy Drew mysteries, I got my kicks reading texts on the reproductive system. Now, years later, when Marvin came calling, I knew I had found a soul mate.

Marvin had the answers to all medical questions. When my friend stopped by complaining of lower back pain, Marvin — who was in my kitchen whipping me up a glass of carrot and beet juice puree — paused to lend advice.

“The spine,” he told her, “is made up of 26-bones, stacked like blocks, and separated by a shock absorber or intervertebral discs. These vertebrae are divided into areas of the body, five of which are the lumbar spine. That’s where all hell breaks loose.”

My friend stood spellbound. “So, what should I do?”

“Go home immediately, and take a hot bath with three glasses of red wine.”

“Should I pour the wine into the tub?” she asked.

“No, sip each glass slowly and consecutively. After 15-minutes you should feel no pain. But, make sure it’s a good Cabernet. The cheap stuff will only give you a headache, although I do have remedies for headaches, but why look for trouble?”

When I complained to Marvin about my clogged nasal passages, he immediately came to my rescue. “A nose is nothing to sneeze at. This can be serious.”

“I have a common cold,” I said.

“Don’t kid yourself. What you have is swelling of the mucous membranes. If left untreated, rhinitis medicamentosa may develop. Mix warm soy milk with an egg yolk, sugar and a dollop of vanilla followed by three finely-ground vitamin C tablets, and make sure you don’t blow your nose. Blowing is an irritant.

“Thank you, Marvin,” I said, emitting a loud sneeze.

“And watch that sneezing. Sneezing can give you an inguinal hernia. The best thing to do when you feel a sneeze coming on is to hold your groin.”

There was no doubt that Marvin knew his stuff. For the rest of the summer, he and I exchanged medical minutiae. We analyzed the nervous system, ophthalmic ailments and kidney disorders. Marvin could even turn appendicitis into an art form. Baffling diagnostic symptoms took on new meaning. But, his favorite area of expertise was modern clinical psychiatry.

One particular morning, I was feeling somewhat glum, and told Marvin.

“Glum my foot. What you’ve got here is a full-blown mental disorder resulting from an advanced case of borderline malfunction of a neurotic syndrome. In other words: something is eating you.”

“You are, Marvin,” I yelled.

By late December, Marvin and I had cornered the market on all varieties of illnesses. Not once did I need to consult my own physician. I had Marvin, the neighborhood MD. who enjoyed practicing medicine without a license. When it was time for him to pack up and go back to Manhattan, I felt uneasy.

“Keep calm,” he said. “I do phone consultations.”

A few weeks after Marvin left, I phoned him complaining of flu-like symptoms.

“Stand over a boiling kettle and inhale deeply. Then take some Echinacea with Goldenseal.”

“Thank you, Marvin,” I said, sneezing into the receiver.

“You are holding your groin when you sneeze, aren’t you?” he asked.

“How long should I hold it?”

“Until I return to Connecticut,” Marvin said. “Sometime around Valentine’s Day.”

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views monthly in the Westport News. She can be reached via email at or at