Friday, April 8, 2011

Dr. Internet M.D.

At a fairly young age I decided that I would not be pursuing a career in medicine. Outside of the long and expensive educational requirements, and the responsibility of literally taking someone’s life in your hands, was the fact that blood and guts are just icky.

So I fell in with the masses of people who have no medical expertise and who happily rely on a physician to care for them when they’re ill.

But then in the 90’s Al Gore invented the Internet and things began to change. The Information Age dawned and now people had unprecedented access to seemingly unlimited knowledge at the touch of a button. While the impact of the Internet on our society is far reaching I wish to focus on one tiny phenomenon I call the Internet self diagnoses or the Google Doctor.

You know when you get sick and it’s more than the common cold but you’re not exactly on deaths door and you wonder, ‘Should I even bother going to the doctor?’ Well it used to be that’s where your options ended, either go to the doctor or don’t. But hold on right there my friend; now you’ve got a magic third option thanks to Al Gore (did I mention he invented the Internet?). You can type a couple of key words into a search engine and viola! You can diagnose your own medical malady.

The problem, of course, is that you have no idea what you are talking about and the information you find is a summary at best that would require expertise and testing to come to any certain conclusion. No matter, you are now certain of what you have because you found all you need to know online.

Over the years I have openly mocked my wife, friends and neighbors for this practice. Going to the doctor with your own diagnoses is akin to taking your car to the mechanic and telling him exactly what’s wrong with it and how to fix it. Well if you’re so smart then why don’t you do it yourself? Oh that’s right, because you can’t!

This brings me to Hypocalypse 2011: Return of the Hypocrite. I fell ill Tuesday and came home from work early. [Warning: boys and girls it’s about to get real. Please do not continue to read this if you have just eaten, are currently eating or are about to eat.]

I spent most of the rest of the day on the couch accept for all too frequent trips to the bathroom. I was suffering from a fever, a pretty bad case of diarrhea and painful gas that tasted of rotten eggs when I burped. After a long sleepless night my fever had broke but my stomach was still a tumultuous situation. I called in to work and wondered, ‘Should I go to the doctor?’ And then it happened, Al Gore’s miraculous invention sprang into my mind, I hobbled to the computer, typed my symptoms into the field Google provided and clicked search.

Within moments I was reading about a feces dwelling parasite that lives in the small intestines and is passed along through humans and animals. Symptoms: abdominal pain, diarrhea, gas and bloating, loss of appetite, low grade fever and last but not least sulfur tasting burps. Check, check, check, check, check and check. There it was. I had a parasite. I was sure of it. I even named it. Norman. Storm’n Norman the parasite.

I read further and found a website where people posted their experiences with Norman’s tiny relatives. Several said they had gotten it while camping. I coupled that information with my earlier reading that it can take up to three weeks from infection for symptoms to appear. I went camping with the kids three weeks earlier! It all made perfect sense.

I skipped all the signs and test stuff, I didn’t need that I knew what I had; I needed a treatment. I formulated a scheme to get metronidazole, the most effective drug for combating my parasitic friend, from my south of the border contacts. That plan was quickly scrapped when I remembered that I didn’t have any contacts south of the border and I settled on the lone FDA approved drug. I scribbled furazolidone on a piece of paper as I waited for my wife to return home from dropping the kids off at school so she could take Norman and I to the doctor and I could tell him what I needed.

When she got I home informed her that I had a parasite. She laughed and gave me the looked that I had given her so many times. You know the one, the 'you are so cute but that’s the funniest/dumbest thing I’ve heard in quite a long time' look. [Note to self: be more conscious about not giving that look because getting it really hurts.]

I explained to her what I had read and that I had all the symptoms. I told her that Norman would not stop unless he was treated. She said, “Who’s Norman?” I shook her off and told that I knew what I had and needed the unpronounceable word I had scratched on this piece of paper.

She sat me down and spoke gently and slowly like she was explaining calculus to a four year old. She reminded me that the flu had been going around the neighborhood and even right here in our own little home and that I had probably caught it from someone in the family and that’s all it was.

I started to protest again and then it hit me. What had I done? These symptoms could easily have been associated with the flu. I completely dismissed that I had read most instances of this particular parasite happened outside the United States. I totally skipped over the stool samples or intestinal biopsy required to determine if I actually had it. I disregarded the paragraph warning that even with tests it was a difficult thing to diagnose, not to mention that fever with infection was uncommon. I was really going to go and tell my doctor what I had and what I needed. If I were my own doctor I’d have open hand slapped myself.

When it all set in how easily I had gotten sucked in to this delusional cycle my head began to whirl and my brain hurt.

It’s not a tumor!

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