When doctors couldn’t determine the cause of my sickness, I decided to do a little research on my own. And then things began to really go wrong
A few months ago I became very ill. Usually, when I’m sick I prefer to stretch out on the floor and yell for people to stay away and beware of the plague. I’ve found that if you’re not dramatic enough, people won’t understand how terrible it is to have a cold.
This time I was sick enough that I ended up in the hospital three times in ten days. Luckily, the residual effects are only being felt in my bank account. (Note: based on the fees, ambulances should be Lamborghinis—made of gold.) But I learned a lot during my weeks bouncing around emergency rooms and doctors’ offices—for example, it’s apparently inappropriate to make jokes about heroin when you’re getting an IV.
Prior to becoming sick, I’d been under the impression that all doctors were clairvoyant diagnosticians—like that guy on House. It was a huge disappointment to discover that doctors are just regular people. Well, regular people who are significantly more educated than me and occasionally control life or death situations. Yet in weeks of hospital visits, I didn’t meet a single cynical, limping genius. And while we’re on the subject of television shows, it’s probably as good a time as any to dispel the all-doctors-look-like-George-Clooney-or-Patrick -Dempsey myth. I know, I was sad too.
During each hospital visit, the physician on call concocted a completely different explanation and cure for my illness. I was prescribed so many medications that I began filling them at different pharmacies for fear that the kind, lab-coated lady at CVS would think I was a drug dealer. Finally, when one doctor suggested I eat graham crackers to help with my blurred vision and the shooting pains in my abdomen, I decided to resort to the one thing that no sick person should ever use: Google.
It’s well known that not everything on the Internet is correct—despite what my grandmother thinks about the emails she forwards to me. But I had high hopes that WebMD might be more helpful than actual MDs. The first night after I began my search, I called my family to share the bad news: I was dying. Granted, I hadn’t even clicked on the links, but I didn’t need to. As soon as I’d typed in my symptoms, the top search results all indicated fatal diseases. There might as well have been a flashing skull and crossbones on my computer screen.
My family didn’t seem to be as alarmed as I was about my impending doom, and when I related some of my Internet-born theories to my doctor, he shared their skepticism. Actually, what he said was, “No one has had smallpox in more than forty years” and that it seemed unlikely that my dachshund could have given me rabies.
As it turned out, his medical training was ultimately more helpful than my online searching. Don’t get me wrong—he never actually determined what was the matter with me. However, doctors have an edge over the Internet in their ability to just keep trying drugs for months on end until something works. I learned a lot from the entire experience—and not just that the apocalypse-inducing Krippen Virus in I Am Legend is not a real disease and therefore unlikely to have infected me. Most important, I learned the value of a physician who will not only cure you but will never once—ok, maybe once—question your sanity while doing so.