Trusting the Experts, Not the Internetz
I’ve been knocked down with the stomach flu for the past few days and spent yesterday afternoon in bed foggily staring out the window, dozing off, and surfing the web. The surfing started innocently with a relatively highbrow TED talk about what makes us love our work (feelings of forward progress and purpose), deteriorated into mindless social media scrolling, and further progressed into the worst of the worst ways to spend time on the Internet: obsessive Google searching about weird medical conditions.
I’ve always been super interested in health and remember being a little kid and loving the “Human Body” special edition of our Encyclopedia Britannica and reading my Harvard Guide to Women’s Health for fun in college. But all of this was informational and disconnected from my own body. It felt academic…even clinical, and it satiated my generalized curiosity versus my internalized paranoia. It was safe, fueling my knowledge base, but not my hypochondria.
Then came the Internet, and with it, a wealth of information about health…and disease. I love the web for the health information I can access, and I hate it for the disease information I can so easily uncover. Yesterday was the perfect example. I have the FLU. The PLAIN OLD FLU. I am certain of it. But, concerned that my abdomen was quite sore (along with every other body part), I consulted Google “just to see” what else it might be (part curiosity, part hypochondria, part boredom). Search terms: “vomiting, sore abdomen, fatigue.” Google’s results: every kind of cancer you can imagine, weird bacterial infections you can only get in a far-off rainforest, ulcers ectopic pregnancy. Rather than closing my computer as I knew I should have, I added “sore neck” to the mix, returning a slue of articles about meningitis. I was engrossed in what could be…what might be…not what actually was.
I’d love to say this was the first time that this has happened, but that’s obviously (and embarrassingly) not the case. When I’m honest with myself, my search history from the past year includes things like “wrist pain, toddler with short legs, neurofibromatosis, Achilles tendinitis, ankle reconstruction, dairy allergy, and kids with freckles.” YES, FRECKLES. Did any of this result in a diagnosis…a cure…peace of mind…or anything positive? Of course not. It just led to an intermittently worried mom missing out on the constant beauty and the good fortune of a blissfully healthy family.
I love the Internet for all the information and connection and power and joy it gives us…and I can’t stand the comparison, the time sucking, and the unnecessary worry that it can bring about if misused. Just as we can set parental controls to restrict our kids’ usage, I wish we could have “crazy adult controls” to keep us from searching for weird amorphous symptoms and self cures. In the absence of that, my resolve is to stay off the internet if I’m even slightly worried about a medical condition and leave it to the professionals….to either let it go or visit the doctor.
So with that, I’m going to go back to recovering from the PLAIN OLD FLU. The flu that 100 years ago people would have taken at face value, simply waiting for it to pass. The flu that will remind me (hopefully by tomorrow) how amazing it is to have a healthy body and a clear mind. And the flu that, for better or for worse, is forcing my body to do what it probably needs…rest.
Does health information on the Internet empower you or make you paranoid? How do you steer clear of the Web when you’re under the weather?