DEAR ABBY: How do you deal with a hypochondriac? My brothers and I lost our dear mother to cancer when we were in our teens. Daddy has recently been diagnosed with a pernicious form of melanoma, which has a low survival rate.
Our father has been married to his second wife, "Doris," for 20 years. Doris is a textbook hypochondriac. She denies it, of course, and insists that her health is bad. So bad, in fact, that she didn't see the irony of telling my sister-in-law, who was undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma, that "no one understands what it's like to live with a chronic condition." Doris was referring to her allergies!
Now Daddy is battling cancer. He and Doris came to visit his three children and multiple grandchildren. Doris talked about her head cold the entire visit, and our time with Daddy was cut short because she needed to be driven back to the hotel. (No one else could detect her symptoms.)
I'm sure Doris loves my father, and after 20 years of marriage, they're certainly used to each other. But now that Daddy is facing death, I'm having trouble supporting Doris' emotional needs because her hypochondria is so irritating. Still, Dad wouldn't want us to abandon his second wife, despite her psychosomatic quirks. What do you suggest? -- NEEDS HELP UP NORTH
DEAR NEEDS HELP: You can try talking Doris out of her hypochondria until you're blue in the face, but it will only make her try harder to convince you that she's sick -- so stop trying. Instead, every time you see her, tell her she looks TERRIBLE; you've never seen her look worse. It's what she's "dying" to hear, and she'll love you for it!
DEAR ABBY: My women friends have all known each other more than 25 years. One of our group, "Dottie," (age 76) was a very astute businesswoman when she worked with us years ago before we all retired.
About three years ago, Dottie began behaving oddly. She couldn't remember what she ordered at lunch in a restaurant and lied to us about bizarre things. (She claimed her doctor made a house call in the middle of the night and gave her an IV.) She also became argumentative. Recently she has withdrawn from our group dates.
Now she no longer answers her phone and, on the rare occasion that one of us has gotten hold of her and offered to come over, she refused to answer the door.
Dottie is quite wealthy. She likes to drink at her neighborhood bar every night, and once when one of us called, we heard a man in the background saying, "That's enough. Hang up now," which she did.
We're concerned because Dottie has no family, and there's no one to contact. We're worried about her. What options do we have? Is there anyone we can contact in order to help her? -- WORRIED IN NEW YORK
DEAR WORRIED: Because Dottie appears to have become not only forgetful and delusional but also reclusive, you have reason to be worried. While her entertaining a male guest -- or having a boyfriend -- is a good sign, when that person takes over her life and isolates her, that's another cause for concern.
Because Dottie has no family, contact your nearest Area Agency on Aging (it's listed in the phone directory) or the Department of Social Services, and tell them what's going on. A social worker should be able to determine if your friend is in trouble, and get her the help she needs if she is.
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