Thursday 19 March 2015

Me vs Online Self-Diagnosing

I tend to be a bit of a hypochondriac. I get the flu, and I’m probably dying of consumption. So I’m not coughing blood yet, but I’m convinced it’s coming. I get a cramp, well that probably means a hernia and will likely result in a trip to the doctor (which is surprisingly difficult to do in a small town) and a terribly painful procedure to fix it, and then I’ll probably get an infection which will eventually lead to my untimely death. Or it’s cancer. Or I didn’t drink enough water today. 

Suffice to say, it’s possible that I jump - just a teensy bit - to the worst possible conclusions about my family’s health. Unfortunately this doesn’t stop me from eating terribly, getting too little sleep, and 
getting less exercise that I should, but nobody’s perfect. Don’t judge me.

The difficulty that I’ve faced in the past is that while I become ridiculously paranoid about non-existent ailments (no, you’re right, I probably don’t have leprosy), I don’t relish going to the doctor on a regular basis. I don’t want to be THAT person. And while I know it’s unlikely that I have encephalitis, some part of me just wants a more qualified person to tell me that.

~Enter the enchanting world of online self-diagnosis websites~

At first glance, these seem like a great idea. You have a concern? Look it up and the sites will tell you if it’s benign or something that you should probably see a professional about. Great!

The reality: Oh, you have a stomach ache? It could be overeating, constipation, gas, or you might have STOMACH CANCER. You have a headache? Might be stress, you need to get more sleep, but it’s more likely a BRAIN TUMOR!!!!

Stub your fucking toe? Yeah, you have toe cancer now.

It’s pretty much reached the point where Husband has vetoed my use of these websites if I’m ever, you know, curious about a lingering cough or what a possible case of the plague might look like. This prohibition includes my health, my kids, and the pets.

Did you know that a change in your cat's appetite can mean they’re dying of kidney failure? You do now. Or they're full. But it's probably kidney failure.

The tipping point came when I totally convinced myself that our baby had cystic fibrosis.  Why? Because he wasn’t gaining weight and I made the critical error of looking that up online.

Failure to thrive is an actual problem, and he actually did have that. He didn’t gain any weight to speak of for the better part of 2 months, and his hands turned a creepy colour blue at random intervals. This was legitimately concerning. That said, there are a multitude of non-CF-related reasons why this could have been happening.

If you start at the beginning of the list of causes for lack of weight gain in infants, what you get is that your baby may be tired and is falling asleep before he gets enough milk( 

This is perfectly reasonable and completely straightforward. 

This same list follows with reasons like incorrect formula preparation (I may be paranoid, but I can read), a cleft palette (pretty obviously wasn’t the problem), and not enough milk production on the mother’s part (yeah, that’s never been my issue).

Nearer the bottom of the list is where they keep the stuff of nightmares….cerebral palsy, lung problems, heart defects, and good ol’ cystic fibrosis.

I have no idea why I decided he had cystic fibrosis (perhaps it was that the cleft palate and illiteracy reasons were obviously not applicable). He was otherwise healthy and thriving in every way…just really, really small for his age.

Now to be fair to my fixation, we did get him tested for a number of health issues, as a child that doesn’t gain weight is having some sort of problem. The paediatrician, however, did look at me like I was touched in the head when I mentioned my fear of cystic fibrosis.  

This was....messy
In the end it turned out that he just wasn’t eating as much as he needed to. We figured this out by increasing his caloric intake and literally feeding him butter. Yes, our doctor recommended butter. Once we started him on more solids and he decided that was better than breastfeeding, he put on the pounds. Well, ounces.

Basically, the online pseudo-doctor is now totally off limits for me. If I am really desperate, I can apply to Husband to do the online research for me and weed out the parts that are totally insane and completely unrelated to what is actually the problem. He provides a rational set of eyes, as compared to my worst case scenario goggles. It means I’m less panicked, and he doesn’t have to talk me down off the proverbial ledge. He alone likely saves our health care system thousands of dollars in unnecessary doctor visits.

So to summarize, I am no longer allowed to use the internet to look up anything that could be in any way related to the health of any member of my family, human or otherwise, because if you read far enough down the page, everything is cancer.

My guess is that if I had a fish I wasn’t particularly attached to, Husband may make an exception to this rule, but that hasn’t happened yet. Probably for the best.

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