Hello. My name is Rachel and I am an online hypochondriac. I spend way too much time looking up phantom symptoms on WebMD and Googling random medical questions, in an attempt to disprove my worst fears. If you’ve ever entered a medical question into an Internet search engine, then you know that the results are never comforting. In fact, they usually make pains—that may or may not exist—feel even worse.
Do you realize how many doctor’s appointments I’ve gone into and opened with, “Well, I Googled. . .” and then I tell the doctor exactly what the Internet told me, and then why they probably need to operate on me right away or I’m going to probably lose a limb.
Last summer, I was bit by this awful bug, and in my mind it was a radioactive bug just like Spider-Man’s radioactive spider, and a week later when my leg had swelled up to five times its normal size, I Googled, “what do infected bug bites look like?” Hey friends, don’t Google that phrase. Don’t wish Googling that phrase on your worst enemies, because no one should have to see the image results that pop up. But I Googled it. And then I went into the doctor’s office and I told the doctor that an unknown bug had bit me, and I could feel its poison slowly seeping through my bloodstream. The doctor thought I was being over dramatic, but I was serious. He prescribed some medicine to make the swelling go down, but honestly, I’m like 90% certain it’s still dormant in my body and one day I’ll wake up with the ability to shoot webbing out of my foot.
Two weeks ago, I was drying my hair and I got something in my eye. I assumed it was a fuzzy. Twenty minutes later I had this weird blurred vision, and it was like this thin wavy line that cut straight through everything I looked at and I couldn’t shake it. Then, I claimed I was losing my peripheral vision. It was right around this time that I Googled “loss of sight in left eye help SOS” and I spent the next ten minutes full-on believing I was going blind, and this is why I’m so much fun at parties.
Then, I got this awful headache, and it was like riiiiight behind my eye. So I Googled “pain behind my eye what’s up with that?” And Google told me it was either cancer of the eye or a brain tumor. Google couldn’t tell me, “hey dummy, you have a headache, drink some water.” That would have been nice.
Honestly, I try to stay away from WebMD as much as possible. If they’re asking me symptoms, yeah, I probably have all of them, regardless of the fact that I don’t have any of them. As soon as the idea of pain pops into my mind, I’ve got it.
To make matters worse, I’m the worst patient ever. On a scale of one to ten, my pain is always an eleven, even if it’s just a paper cut. I once locked myself in a bathroom at my pediatrician’s office because I didn’t want a shot, and the nurse had to get the spare key to pry me out. It’s not that I’m difficult. . . yeah, no, scratch that, I am difficult. Acceptance is the first step towards recovery. Whenever I go into the doctors and meet a new nurse, I usually apologize upfront about how much I’m going to squirm and wiggle away.
My fear of coming down with every ailment under the sun, combined with my fear of being poked and prodded with metal instruments, do not make a fun combination. This doctor once told me, just before she stuck a giant needle into my arm, that the injection would ‘burn.’ If you ask me, she set my arm on fire. When I had stopped crying she asked me, bluntly, “Have you ever considered having children?” I nodded and said yes, and she said, “We’ll all hear you scream with the epidural.” I Googled epidural on my phone sitting right there and ohmygosh that needle is huge.
I wonder what people like me did ten years ago, before the Internet was brimming with medical oddities, symptom checkers, and terrifying answers to terrified question-askers. Back then, people who were in pain actually had to go to the doctor; meanwhile I sit here and type what I think might be wrong with me into the search bar and hope for the best. It’s the worst.
WebMD is right up there on my list of known enemies. I know I’m not the only one out there who navigates to their homepage and then has a complete mental freak out because what do you mean salt might be slowly poisoning me? There have to be others out there like me, and thankfully because of the Internet, I don’t feel all alone. If I’m searching “runny nose + strange itch on right side of body + am I allergic to the exotic cheese I just ate?” and I get an answer, that means someone else had that same question at one point, too.
I’m happy that all of this information is out there for the masses, but I wish I could put a hypochondriac lock on my browser. So next time I get heartburn, I’ll accept that it’s heartburn and move on, and not Google “what do you do if something is burning inside of you, asking for a friend.”