Don’t quack up on the net
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.