There’s a saying I use, stolen from a website of the same name, that fits what I do – “Let Me Google That For You.” Google has become the easiest way to find the answer or solution to any of my problems. Unfortunately, though it is great for finding information from the most trivial (such as song lyrics) or the most useful (such as research information) it is dangerous territory when you are ill. There is a reason doctors and other medical professionals spend years in school despite the ease of search a database for symptoms to effectively diagnose and treat symptoms. The reality is that individual symptoms to not manifest into unique illnesses. Have a runny nose? You could have the cold. Or you could be dying.
And that’s the problem with people like me – people who Google everything, including symptoms of a developing illness. TIME refers to these types of people as “cyberchondriacs.” They are the types of people who go into the doctor with stacks of printed out illnesses that could be their problem. Or, who Google a symptom and decide they are on the verge of dying, thereby going to the ER.
Three years ago, that’s exactly what I did. After developing pain in the lower left side of my abdomen, I Googled the crap out that symptom. It wasn’t the appendix (it’son the right side). What else is there? I’m a woman, and was in a relationship. A search result for “pain in lower left abdomen” generates thousands of search results, but this is one of top search results. The potential diagnosis?
It was right there. An ectopic pregnancy? You mean I might blow up at any second and DIE?
10 minutes later I was checking in to the ER (which is also one of the top medical schools in the country), and 20 minutes later past triage and getting an ultrasound. It wasn’t until 2 hours later, with half of the medical students on the case at some point, that I was sent home without any diagnosis. You see, I just had some really bad gas.
2 months later, I received the $5,000 medical bill. (Thanks for nothing on that one, by the way, Regence Blue Cross.)
This weekend, I almost did the same thing after experiencing some minor eye irritation that required a trip to the urgent care room Saturday morning for some prescription eye drops. The doctor mentioned I might have some cornea damage. I went against my better judgment and started Googling the possible problem. Luckily, I stopped before I lost any sleep, and a visit to an actual optometrist revealed my eyes are fine…albeit a bit small. I’ll take that as a compliment.
Google is great. It answers many questions I have, especially when I’m too embarrassed to ask them. However, if you’re sick, try asking someone who knows – like your doctor. Self-diagnosis of an illness that doesn’t exist will only lead to things that really could harm you – like wasted time, anxiety, and an outrageous bill from the hospital even if you have insurance. If you must use Google when you’re sick, use it to find a clinic that is open, or a 24 nurse hotline for advice.
And whatever you do, don’t use WebMD. Even if all you have is a hangnail, you will walk away from your computer convinced you will die within hours.