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:
DO YOU HAVE A HEADACHE?
…”Hmm, last week when I got hit in the head playing Dodge Ball in PE, yes.”
IS YOUR VISION BLURRY?
… “Let me see: well, it is when I squint my eyes.”
ARE YOU DIZZY?
… “Hold on, I’m spinning… yup, yup, now I am dizzy.”
CALL A DOCTOR, YOUR SYMPTOMS INDICATE A POSSIBLE BRAIN TUMOR
…”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:
WHEN A HEADACHE IS REALLY A BRAIN TUMOR!?
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 thatswhatthatmeans.tumblr.com