Five minutes into that first jittery meeting with the gastroenterologist in Beaune, after I had scarlet cheeked and sweating profusely listed my worrisome barrage of symptoms, the good doctor Claude peered at me in silence for several LONG seconds over steepled fingers.
Oh my God! I said to myself. I was right – I AM dying and he’s trying to find the words to break it to me!”
What he said instead took me by surprise.
“And have you been looking up all of your symptoms on the Internet?”
I glanced at Franck furtively, who was doing a bad job of hiding a smile behind his hand.
“Well, of course,” I answered.
Lying didn’t cross my mind for more than a split-second. I am such a complete paranoid spaz in medical situations that a few years ago I gave up trying to pretend that I was the opposite – i.e. a cool cucumber. Sadly this hasn’t stopped me from continuing to be a paranoid spaz, but at least I don’t expend useful energy trying to (unsuccessfully, for the record) pull the wool over a doctor’s eyes.
The gastroenterologist smile knowingly. “Vous voyez, I knew the answer to that question before I even asked it.
Hmmmph. I am intelligent enough to know that trawling the Internet to self-diagnose an illness is a Very Bad Idea, especially for someone with an overactive imagination such as myself. Yet somehow during those black days when my stomach problems were on a downhill slide I was nevertheless nailed to my office chair by some sort of mysterious centrifugal force and spent hours typing in every imaginable variation of my symptoms into Google and reading the pages it spat out with an increasing sense of doom. And yes, the miracle of modern technology meant that I had every bit as good access to these medical sites from here in France as I would in Canada – talk about a double-edged sword…
My only consolation was that I discovered from my little sister’s emails during those weeks that she too suffers from the addiction, though her favored angle is auto-immune diseases instead of cancer. Her husband has even banned her from a series of websites i.e. Web MD, The Mayo Clinic, etc. which she is no longer, under ANY circumstances, allowed to visit. This gave me some vague hope that maybe I wasn’t torturing myself purely because I was a masochist, but maybe there was a hereditary gene or something I could partly blame.
I think the paradox of the health-related internet searches for me, and probably most people, is that initially the reason I embark on them is to search for a scrap of hope. Of course what I ended up with was a terrifying catalogue of stories of people repeatedly hemorrhaging, hospitalised on liquid diets, and undergoing multiple surgeries and blood transfusions. I guess the Internet is a particularly good place to find worst-case scenarios, as the milder cases of well, just about anything, do not drive someone to post something on the Internet.
Of course during my Internet-trawling phase I didn’t have the objectivity to rationalize things in this way. Instead I spent black hours upon black hours projecting myself in the place of those poor victims, and crying in the shower so the girls wouldn’t see.
Things started to improve of course when I; a) finally saw the specialist, and b) gathered up the strength to ban myself from any further health-related Internet searches.
However, just like a recovering alcoholic I’m pretty sure that I will be tempted and will probably even cave some time in the future to an Internet health search binge. Maybe I should ask my Brother-in-Law about how to install those blocks on my computer.