Don’t quack up on the net


Kalgoorlie Miner - - OPINION - Tim Sadleir

I used to be — and if you ask the peo­ple clos­est to me, they may tell you I still am — some­thing of a hypochon­driac.

It never used to take much for me as a child to start both­er­ing my mother, telling her this or that part of me was hurt­ing and maybe some­thing was wrong.

This only got worse when a friend of mine had ap­pen­dici­tis and my tiny brain be­came con­vinced I was go­ing to get it in the mid­dle of an exam, and that, be­cause you weren’t al­lowed to speak in ex­ams, I would prob­a­bly die.

To this day, ap­pen­dici­tis is some­thing I of­ten dwell on.

Ly­ing in a tent, far from the near­est hospi­tal, for ex­am­ple, I am apt to won­der what would hap­pen if the tick­ing time bomb that is my ap­pen­dix were to burst ... right ... now.

The mod­ern hypochon­driac knows the in­ter­net is his or her best friend and worst en­emy all in one. Weird rash on your arm? Blocked ear? Slightly sore fore­arm?

Dr Google is there to un­set­tle you and, de­pend­ing on your anx­i­ety lev­els, get you jump­ing in the car to the near­est emer­gency depart­ment (but re­ally, should you risk the drive in your con­di­tion?). There is a good side to this. I re­cently earned my Tues­day night pub quiz team a point by know­ing where in the body the Eus­tachian tube is, thanks en­tirely to the afore­men­tioned blocked ear. We didn’t win, but it’s mo­ments like th­ese that con­vince us in­for­ma­tion is never a bad thing. But there’s the prob­lem.

The in­ter­net, as you may have no­ticed, is full of in­cor­rect in­for­ma­tion and bad ad­vice.

At best, Dr Google will lead you to some­thing vaguely in­for­ma­tive and kindly tell you if you’re re­ally all that wor­ried, maybe you should take your swollen an­kle to a GP.

At worst, it will con­vince you lit­er­ally every­thing is can­cer and then, when your ail­ments turn out not to be se­ri­ous, that pretty much noth­ing is can­cer, and will set your mind at rest about some­thing which is, in fact, in need of ur­gent med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

The peo­ple on Ya­hoo An­swers may well think the three-day headache ex­pe­ri­enced by an in­ter­net user in 2009 (which sounds a bit like your own com­plaint) is noth­ing a cou­ple of Panadol can’t fix, and maybe they’re right.

But you and I both know you shouldn’t be Googling your symp­toms in the first place, be­cause hon­estly, it usu­ally does noth­ing to set the hypochon­driac’s mind at rest, and in­ter­net user Ga­ga_4EVA236 might not have at­tended the very best of med­i­cal schools.

For bet­ter or worse, the in­ter­net ex­ists, and pes­simistic souls with sus­pected carpal tun­nel syn­drome will prob­a­bly con­tinue to fire up Google Chrome ev­ery time they feel a bit of a twinge.

But there are times when the in­ter­net is re­ally not your friend and you would be much bet­ter off talk­ing to some­one who can tell you that you have bubonic plague to your face. Tim Sadleir is a sub-editor with West Aus­tralian Re­gional News­pa­pers.

The in­ter­net can be your best friend or worst en­emy when it comes to med­i­cal ad­vice.

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