If Somatization Disorders Existed Outside of Medicine

Like many couples, my husband and I have different ideas about optimal household temperatures. I have gotten through entire summers without using the air conditioner more than a handful of times. Alec, on the other hand, becomes very uncomfortable at any temperature above arctic blast.

Recently our region has been experiencing temps in the high 80s Fahrenheit, with humidity ranging between 70% – 90%. I still sit happily without A/C. When Alec comes home from work, he is near the point of drawing an ice bath to avoid bursting into flames.

Saturday, after he got home from his second job, he opened the front door and dragged his already partially liquified body directly to the thermostat. He punched down the dial and air started to blow. He waited impatiently. His pained expression said that segments of his very soul were being boiled from his body by the Kansas heat. The A/C unit turned on, and air started to blow through our vents.

He sighed with gratitude and headed upstairs to change clothes. A few minutes later I was startled by his shouting.

“This damned air isn’t even blowing cold!” he exclaimed.

Thank goodness! I thought. Usually when he turned the air on my skin turned blue and my fingers stopped working. I forced a troubled look instead. “Oh no. I guess we’ll have to call the service people,” I said.

I could see that the heat had permeated the essence of his civility again. Action had to be taken before he was completely devastated by his sweltering surroundings. Unfortunately, a holiday weekend intervened and the heat continued unabated. My miserable, melting husband was surely on the brink of death! He somehow survived the ordeal and made it back to the air conditioned haven of his cubicle this Tuesday morning.

I met the A/C repairman, Eric, at the door this morning. Eric introduced himself cordially. He wore neat little booties to protect my not so meticulously swept floor from dirt and footprints. He inspected the outdoor air conditioning unit, twiddled with the thermostat, flipped things in the furnace room and reset breakers.

He pronounced his findings with confidence. “I’ve checked everything. I don’t see any problems. You have to keep it on during the day to keep the humidity low,” he said. “How cold were you trying to set it?”

“Um, I think my husband was trying to set it around 65,” I guessed.

“Oh, well, it can’t do that. It isn’t meant to go that low. It could burn out,” he informed me. “But it’s working fine. Just keep it on. If there are any issues within 30 days, give us a call and we won’t charge for another service visit.”

“Okay,” I agreed. Sounded reasonable to me. I paid the service fee and Eric drove off in his bright yellow van.

I read the medical record…I mean job order, that Eric had created.

System is working properly at this time. Capacities are within tolerance. Refrigerant level is ok. Recommend setting t-stat at 70 or above.

He had put it so kindly, but it was clear what had happened.

My air conditioner had conversion disorder.

I dug through the previous diagnoses given to my unit by other providers.

Unit functioning, but has exterior damage caused by lawn equipment. Also, disconnect has broken leg – had to use plyer’s (sic) to kill power.

Surely Eric had seen these things. He must have been too sensitive and considerate to mention them. He was truly a compassionate serviceman.

About five years ago, something had happened to my A/C unit that would change its life forever. While trimming the edges of my yard, I had accidentally sliced into the casing of my A/Cs exterior. I was horrified by what I had done. The weed eater slipped from my hands as I considered the scene of the crime.

Had I broken it? Didn’t they cost thousands to replace? How should I tell my husband?

I didn’t even consider the emotional toll that kind of trauma must have taken on the air conditioner itself. But clearly it had suffered in silence. After all of these years, it continued to live in the yard, uncomforted and with its wounds untreated. Until this fateful spring, when the burden of cooling the home of its abuser simply became too much. Its deep seating feelings of inadequacy and self doubt had affected its ability to simply sit back and chill. Eric had used the words burn out. Surely my unit was doing just that.

Thankfully Eric had done what had needed to be done. While he stated he couldn’t find a physical reason for my unit to be non-functioning, he had spent a good deal of time at the side of the house with it. I had assumed he was inspecting parts, but I know now he was engaging in Dialectical Dehumidification Therapy with my traumatized unit.

I appreciate how he didn’t confront me about my unit’s trauma. My guilt was already profound. I had thought I had gotten away with it.

What happens in the side yard stays in the side yard.

Or so I had hoped. He wrote up the ticket in a way that assigned no blame. Right now my A/C is quietly purring, and I feel the cool air puffing from the vent across the room. I know now that all appliances can heal. They just need the right encouragement.

Update: The A/C experienced complete mechanical failure a few weeks later because conversion disorder doesn’t exist, it is merely the catchall strategy employed by incompetent service people or physicians to blame the victim for diagnostic shortcomings.