Uh oh, I feel good: Something must be wrong!

The “placebo effect” is what happens when you take something with no actual curative powers but suddenly feel better because you think you’re supposed to feel better.

What, then, is the opposite of the placebo effect?

Whatever it is, it took a'hold of me: a few days ago I took a shot and started imagining I was sick because some people said I was supposed to feel sick. They'd felt sick, they insisted, so something must be wrong with me for not feeling sick, right?

After two covid shots and a booster with no side effects of which to speak, I had every right to feel the second booster last week would be no big thing.


But it was a big thing.

After being inundated by stories of anti-vaxxers who swore they “knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody” who grew a third eye in the middle of their forehead after receiving the vaccine, I began to wonder if this – my second booster – was the one where I’d turn into Cyclops.

Driving home after receiving the shot, I was on high alert for ill effects. I monitored my breathing and my thoughts and panicked upon realizing that I couldn’t taste the pistachio nuts I was munching. (I soon realized that was because they were stale from having lain, unwrapped, on the floor of my truck for weeks.)

By the time I reached the crib, I was in a state of high anxiety, convinced that George Soros, George “The Kingfish” Stevens, George Strait or whichever nefarious person is supposed to be behind the vaccine plot had finally got me.

Like a character from a Victorian novel who has just received bad news, I “took to bed."


This is at least the second time I’ve experienced this - for lack of a better term - “oppo-cebo effect.”

Several years ago when I was a reporter in Gary, Ind., I flew into Memphis for a newspaper job interview that required a physical exam.

If you think I’m a magnificent physical specimen now, you should’ve seen your boy then. I knew there’d be no issues with the physical exam.

Only, there was. A day after the exam, a nurse called from Memphis and dispassionately informed me “You need to go see your primary care physician right away.”

Me: What’s the problem.

Nurse: I can’t tell you. Just go see your Primary.

Me: Can you give me a hint?

Nurse: No. You need to go see your primary care physician.

Me: Well, can you at least tell me how much time I’ve got to live?

Nurse: Click.

Did I mention this was on a Friday, which meant I now had an entire weekend to worry and wonder about what the heck was killing me?

I called my doctor’s office, made an appointment for Monday and – yup - took to bed.

Imagine an entire weekend spent fretting that every sniffle, cough or twinge spelled doom, and wondering to whom you should leave your Z.Z. Hill album collection.

When, 48 excruciating hours later, Monday rolled around, I arose from the bed – and promptly fell back onto it. For the first time in my life, I’d fainted. I had literally worried myself into ill health.

The Memphis doctor had forwarded my paperwork to Indiana, so when I finally arrived at his office, Dr. Tucker knew about my obviously terminal condition.

Oh yeah, about that:

“Your triglyceride level is slightly high,” he said.

Say what?

After he’d explained what that meant, I was relieved and enraged at the same time: relieved that I apparently didn’t have to bequeath my Z.Z. Hill records, enraged that such emotional duress had been unnecessarily inflicted onto me.

A high triglyceride level is nothing to poo-poo, but a doctor recently said it ranked about 312 on the things I should’ve had to worry about.

It’s a good thing for that nurse that I grew up in the Baptist church or else I’d have called down to Memphis and said some things that would have woke up Elvis.

After my second booster last week, I automatically took to bed in dread, waiting for the waves of fever, incapacitation and delirium to wash over me.

After about an hour, I realized that I felt fabulous.

I sprung from bed - and didn’t fall down - and drove over to UNC to watch an entertaining August Wilson play.




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For over 20 years, Barry was a columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. He also wrote for other publications, such as the Atlanta Constitution and the Richmond County Daily Journal. Often described as powerfully honest and illustratively funny, Barry's writing is both loved and hated by readers- sometimes simultaneously.  

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