Uneasy Living

updated 03/27/2000 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/27/2000 01:00AM

Telephones. Roses. Nose picking. Do these ordinary things terrify you? "If not, they should," says Melinda Muse, 53, author of the morbidly fascinating I'm Afraid, You're Afraid: 448 Things to Fear and Why. Hatched during her stint as a medical writer, the eye-opening guide posits that danger lurks everywhere. To wit: About 14,000 people a year land in the emergency room from such phone-related injuries as bonking themselves with receivers. Rose thorns transmit sporotrichosis, a fungal disease. And probing your proboscis can rupture the mucous membrane, "causing an infection that may find its way to your brain and create a blood clot," she says.

"The world is more dangerous than it's ever been," adds Muse, who is single (marital spats elevate blood pressure) and lives (carefully) in a roomy old apartment in a Maine coastal town. Indeed, from aluminum foil (the dispenser cutter is bloody sharp) to croquet mallets (instant wrist-sprainers), it's a regular jungle in there. Even things that seem healthful can be hazardous, such as quitting smoking (nicotine withdrawal may be disorienting), toothbrushes (bacteria farms) and eating alfalfa sprouts (hello, salmonella!).

Not to worry. Muse, who spent two years researching the book, says her purpose is not to alarm people but to make them laugh at their most absurd anxieties. Even so, knowing the risks of yo-yos (shooting the moon might break a tooth) and sugar-free gum (can cause diarrhea) can have value. Says Muse: "Ignorance is far from bliss."

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