As is this the case with pretty much any subject you may care to investigate, you can just pop a few words into a search engine and within seconds (depending on the level of cooperation that both your computer and internet provider wish to extend to you), quasi-information is at your fingertips. The wealth of information, opinion and apparent expert advice that appears can be more daunting than a minefield, laced with inaccuracies and idiots. So are our lives enriched or merely complicated?
What happens when you’re searching for medical information? When a loved first received a diagnosis, well, that often just was a life sentence in some abstract words and very little information followed. Knowledge was the power that the gods in white coats kept to themselves. Your medical story was something that only came to your ears through raw personal experience and the odd trickle of fact that came your way.
We can search for medical information and have it in front of us immediately. Conditions that we never knew existed pop up when we put in the most innocuous of symptoms and we can convince ourselves of our imminent demise within just a few pages.
Is this a good thing?
Are we fast becoming a culture of hypochondriacs, whipped into paranoia by over information?
Or are there benefits?
When that loved one receives that diagnosis now, is it the life sentence in isolation that it would have been former or does the internet empower?
We can type those alien words into a search engine and find a wealth of information, picking our way around the idiots and inaccuracies, carefully corroborating each so-called fact and weighing it against the most treasured faculties, reason and common sense. Nor is it just information, but help. It is not just the story of your medical future but a guide, a map to that future with hints and tips that may make your journey easier. We can find recommended equipment and supplies a click of button rather than having to traipse and trawl around the all the local pharmacies in the hope of just one, tucked in the back of shelf and overpriced through lack of demand. We can even access entire communities, a village of support, of the similarly diagnosed. We no longer suffer in silence with a condition that no one has ever heard of.
Is this a good thing?
The internet is what you make of it.
But, if you type in your elusive symptoms and find a name does that make you a new species of hypochondriac? Are you chasing some whim or folly of your own making? Alternatively, are you just putting a name to something that’s plaguing the heck out of you? Is it wrong or weak to want to know what the matter is?
A few months ago, on the ever-informative Hummingbird Foundation website, I found a lot out about cardiac symptoms in ME. Have I suffered with cardiac symptoms? No, not I. I do remember one time having an asthma attack (back in the days when I was unofficially asthmatic, I’ve since been downgraded to wallow in the helpful label of ‘it’s just your ME’) and after applying inhaler vigorously, discovered that actually it wasn’t my lungs that were wheezy. This discovery probably just made me feel even wheezier and I spent a long while trying to get my heart back in pace.
But since reading those descriptions, have I suffered with cardiac symptoms?
Surely this makes me a weak-minded hypochondriac?
Or is it the benefit of knowledge and understanding?
I now know that my lungs are not always the reason my chest is sore, why I ‘wheeze’. I do something and when I listen with informed ears, I don’t hear the rasping wheeze of poorly lung and I don’t see the rough shuddering of lungs desperately trying to get a whiff of air into them. It seems my lung problems aren’t quite what I assumed they were.
Lung was a problem that I recognised and was trained to watch for since childhood because of poor genetic lung history; however, heart was something for the elderly. Heart problems are the reserve of a certain demographic and always mysteriously vague. I had no vocabulary for my symptoms; I attributed it according to my own limited understanding.
But because I read of my symptom on the internet, does it make me a hypochondriac and my symptom just a figment of my imagination?