The Internet Says I'm Dying Or I Might Just Have a Headache

When I was a kid, my parents had this book called The Reader’s Digest Family Health Guide and Medical Encyclopedia. They kept it on the fourth shelf of our built in bookcase – which, if you’re a 10-year-old nerd-hypochondriac, like I may or may not have been (read: I totally was), is a perfect height: just high enough to wonder what was in it that prompted it to go on a shelf not easily accessible by elementary school-aged hands, and just low enough to reach if I stretched my guts out on my tip-toes.

When my parents were out (because guys, I was 10 and where I grew up and in my time, 10 was an a-okay age to stay by yourself, so no judgey-pants here, okay?), I didn’t run for snack food or immediately flip to inappropriate television. No. No. As soon as I knew I had the house to myself, I would run over to that book, open it up and flip through page after page of illnesses, pains, diseases, first aid instruction and possible home-remedy treatments because that’s what some 10-year-old nerds do (10-year-old nerds can come in many forms).

In fact, my favorite section in that 1000+ page book was a flow chart (I still love flow charts). It was somewhere in the middle of the (eventually dog-eared) book and if you could locate your symptom at the top of the chart, by the bottom of the chart, you had yourself a “possible diagnosis”.

Guys, for a brief moment a few days a week, I became Doogie Howser, M.D.

Sometimes I’d just make up symptoms just to see where the flow chart would take me:


…”Hmm, last week when I got hit in the head playing Dodge Ball in PE, yes.”


… “Let me see: well, it is when I squint my eyes.”


… “Hold on, I’m spinning… yup, yup, now I am dizzy.”


…”What’s a brain tumor? Ooh, wait, there’s an Index at the back…”

Flash forward 20-some-odd years – like what happens to most adults, things on me have gotten bigger: my boobs (sort of), my feet (they’ve actually shrunk), my height (okay, not really), my brain (debatable), my nerdiness (yes), my anxiety disorder (yes) and my hypochondria (completely).  All bigger.  Waaaay bigger.

So even though now I could easily reach The Reader’s Digest Family Health Guide and Medical Encyclopedia on fourth shelf of my parents’ built-in bookshelf way easier (okay, who am I kidding? Probably still barely), I don’t need that book anymore.


I have something way better.  It’s called Google search and it will tell you everything you ever need to know to make your hypochondria blossom to epic proportions.  One Google search of a single symptom and it’s like Doogie Howser M.D. grew up, became chief-of-staff and then became a paranoid and delusional freak.

As in, yesterday I woke up with a headache, (… and I’m sure my headache has nothing to do with the fact that I stayed up until 3am drinking red wine and watching every episode of Homeland‘s first season).  I Googled it and:


Oh my God, The Reader’s Digest Family Health Guide and Medical Encyclopedia on the fourth shelf might have been telling the truth!  This can only be bad news. After reading that article, I spent the day pretty much convinced that today was my last day and by mid-afternoon, I realized I had a stomach ache.  Like, the bad enough kind that makes you stop and admit to yourself, “Eh, I have a stomach ache” (…which was totally not caused by the three cups of coffee I had to drink before 2pm in order to off-set the red wine/exhaustion from the night before, coupled with possible brain-tumor/headache anxiety, I’m sure of it). And because I needed to know the cause of it – the very medical cause of it – I Googled it:

Inflammatory bowel? Appendicitis?  Irritable Bowel Syndrome?  An Ulcer?  Gastroenteritis? Is it possible to have all of them at the same time? Because if it’s possible, then that’s what I must have:


The first thing I did?  I called the doctor.  But I hung up when I heard the receptionist’s voice because you know why?  A little voice inside my brain (that same brain that most likely does not – God-willing – have a brain tumor) slapped me across the serotonin.

I sat for a moment. I thought back to that flow chart. And then, I called my sister. See, because here’s the great thing: though she’s younger, taller, has bigger feet, bigger boobs, blonde hair and a baby, the great thing is, the one thing my sister and I share is the exact same anxiety/hypochondria disorder. In fact, most of our phone bill is spent talking each other off of possible-terminal-illness-related cliffs.

She answered the phone with: “I was just about to call you. Can my baby be allergic to me? Because I think she is and WebMD says it is possible.”

And I laughed. I laughed because 3,000 miles apart we were both in full-on Anxiety Attack mode thanks to using Google self-diagnoses. And then my headache went away and my stomach ache went away and I realized, “Yup, The Internet is definitely trying to kill me, but at least if I’m going down, death by search engine, my sister’s coming along for the ride, too.”   …

…And hopefully there’s Google Search in the afterlife.

Featured image via

  • Liz Haebe

    My sister and I always look up symptoms on WedMd. We always tell each other, ‘whatever you do, don’t go on the internet! Before you know it, you’ll have Stage 4 Cancer!’ But, we do it anyway. You and your sister aren’t alone, Vanessa!

  • Jessi Gold

    You would think it would actually get better to have medical knowledge but there is a thing in medical school that they actually call something silly like ‘medical students disease’ and it’s literally us thinking we have every disease we learn about…even the insane things like Ebola. My nose is bleeding…I must be dying…what’d I learn about last week…that’s what I am dying of! It’s a stressful way to live haha

  • Angela Donette

    Love it! Dr. Google can be the greatest and the worst. If you ever decide you want to go back to your childhood and find something really helpful, even for adults, get Barton Schmitt’s book Your Child’s Heath. It breaks things down to emergencies, when to call the doctor NOW, when to call during office hours, when to treat at home. Not quite as much fun as calling your sister but relieves some of the anxiety.

  • Sarah Braun

    I so needed this article right now. This past week I’ve been convinced I myself have a brain tumor. I’m a hypochondriac myself. It comes and goes like a bad one night stand. My right pupil being ever-so-slightly larger than my left (even though convinced by many a friend that they’re the same size, and even a trip to the doctor in the past to hear that can be normal since your left and right sides develop separate from one another), my headache that stuck around for a few days (even though I had been sleeping with my head cranked up on 2 giant pillows) joined together to convince myself that I would have to go in to the doctor soon to receive my death sentence. I’ve found the best way to counteract this is to try (TRY) to forget about them. At least not focus on them. It helps. And stay away from Google!

  • Jaime Hammer

    Wow, I thought I was the only one! My boyfriend is kind of like this too, but not as bad as me. I think I’ve actually gotten depression for a couple of months before because I was convinced I had diabetes (but the depressed feelings went away, thankfully, and so did the diabetes anxiety. Although it still rears its ugly head sometimes). And every so often I convince myself (with Google’s and WebMD’s help) that I have leukemia or a brain tumor or something else.

    It’s definitely nice to know that none of us are alone! Just look at these posts when you start to worry. All of us are still fine. :)

  • Allyson Kate Mcardle

    I’m a hypochondriac too! But I have an autoimmune disease (even though I haven’t had any symptoms at all) everything is related to that, it makes the anxiety so much worse :L

  • Jessica Lesaca

    I had the SAME book at my house! Anytime my sister or I would feel sick, my mom would make us use the flow charts in the back of the book to figure out what we had. Thanks to my mother, we are both full-fledged adult hypochondriacs.

  • Sarah Elkotbeid

    “I’ve got a pain in my pinky, lemme Web MD this….”

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