Monday, March 29, 2010

The Mixed Blessing of WebMD

So I'm sick again. Bronchitis this time, just to mix things up a bit (having already weathered H1N1, pneumonia, seasonal flu, strep, and a myriad of sinus infections). I'd say thank goodness my pancreas has been fairly quiet, but since I'm clearly a walking medical curse at the moment and there's no wood around to knock on, I'll just keep my mouth shut.

I got sent home sick from work this morning and ordered (affectionately by a couple of my wonderful colleagues) to make an appointment with the doctor. (Incidentally, I find it pretty comical that teachers get sent home by the school nurse too). Anyway, I had about an hour to kill between when I got to the doctor's office and when my appointment was scheduled, so I did the stupidest thing I could possibly have done: I went on my BlackBerry.

Okay, in my defense, I was going to read my book. I had about thirty pages left in the fourth Dark Tower book (which I'm reading for, like, the eightieth time), and I figured I'd just sit in the car, watch the rain fall, read, and try not to cough anymore. Tragically, I'd forgotten my book at work and, since I didn't want to infect an entire waiting room with my pestilence, I figured I'd catch up on the news, celebrity gossip, do some research for the new WIP, whatever.

And then I started (this is gross--feel free to skip this part) coughing up blood and, consequently, freaking out. Instead of going into the doctor's office or even calling my mom or something that would have calmed me down, I went onto WebMD to see what they had to say about it. Dumb idea. Like, really dumb idea.

The thing is, going onto a "symptom checker" site opens up a can of worms. By the time I got out of the car and went into the doctor's, I was convinced that I had leukemia ... or scurvy ... or something. It's crazy! And I'm not exactly what you'd call alarmist; I'm sure that medical sites like WebMD must really cause some sleepless nights for a lot of people, and that's really sad and scary.

I think WebMD does a lot of good. It's always good to be educated and to be proactive and involved in your health, but is it healthy (no pun intended) to have so much information at your fingertips that it's nearly impossible for a layman to fully understand what's being said? I wonder sometimes how many hysterical phone calls are fielded by secretaries and medical assistants and nurses from people who have self-diagnosed using WebMD. I would think that would be very annoying for medical professionals.

I kind of hate myself that I jumped on the "freak out due to WebMD" bandwagon, but at the same time it really reminded me of the importance of leaving some things to the experts. Self-education is great, and being informed is never a bad thing. However, does the internet make it too easy to interpet things the wrong way (and this isn't just the medical field ... I can tell you from personal experience that there are some ridiculously shoddy "education" sites on the web)?

I'm thinking yes ...