Monday, April 4, 2016

Paging doctor google

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Information was available everywhere, yet information was available everywhere. You have a need for information? It's likely a click a way. But how to appropriately access and use such information, the lament of librarians everywhere (including myself). 

I should have known better. To be fair, when I started feeling sick I did go to the doctor. He diagnosed me with GERD (acid reflux), prescribed Prilosec, and sent me on my way with an order to return for a CT scan if I didn't improve rapidly (this guy knew something was up). I took the medication as directed and started feeling better, though still not great. Acid reflux is extremely common, so I attempted to explain away my symptoms through Googling "GERD" and combing through the various ways GERD manifests itself depending on the sufferer. Ultimately, I found what I was seeking, justification that I was just suffering regular acid reflux coupled with the stress of working and parenting young children. I also found that my symptoms could be explained by a multitude of other more serious conditions, including pancreatic cancer. As the weeks passed, I continued to consult Dr. Google. As the weeks passed, I kept seeing the words "pancreatic cancer" as part of my search results. I told myself I was crazy, that there was no way I could have pancreatic cancer. I wasn't jaundiced and I was only 33 years old. A couple of months after my initial doctor's visit, I had the CT scan that was originally recommended. Within an hour of receiving the CT scan, I was telephoned and notified of "pancreatic changes" and that it was "unlikely to be pancreatic cancer." The nurse who delivered the news had no other information to share, and it was evening time, so my questions would have to wait until the next day. So what did I do? I asked Dr. Google. Let me tell you that if you use the search terms: "pancreatic changes," you don't come up with anything promising. 

If you've been reading or you know me IRL (in real life), you know that my story has a happy ending. I'm alright. I didn't have pancreatic adenocarcinoma. However, to accurately portray my story, I need to share my obsession with seeking information about my illness. It began with the seemingly benign symptom of heartburn, continued throughout diagnosis, and still continued throughout my recovery, until I sought medical help for this obsession. I thought that if I just knew a little more, found the right piece of information, I'd just feel better. I'd somehow know that this disease was not going to return, or if it did, I'd somehow be more prepared. I found the right counselor at a Cancer Resource Center, who helped me realize that while it is my job to advocate for myself, I should leave the diagnosis to the doctors. I am not a doctor, and no amount of Google searching is going to give me an M.D. That's why I have a general practitioner, a gastroenterologist, and an oncologist (among others). Google cannot replace those experts. 

My point? Mostly that having information does not an expert make. I have read dozens of peer-reviewed articles (read: reputable/valid/scientific/etc.) on my illness, but it will not change any potential outcome, nor will it make me a doctor. If you aren't feeling so hot, seek medical help, as tempting as Dr. Google might be. My other point? It's OK to admit you aren't coping well. I wasn't coping well, spending hours on end reading about pancreases and crying, no, sobbing, at the thought that my pancreas might be the end of me, even months after the tumor was kicked out. I have kicked my Google habit, at least when it comes to diagnosing what ails me or my family. I still use Google to answer questions, find lesson plans, shop, and end arguments of a trivial nature. I know madness lies in the never-ending search for the final word on my illness. I'll never find that last bit of information that makes me feel better, that assures me my tumor will never return. I don't know that, and neither does Google. Instead, I have redirected my energy and focus to simply living and enjoying this life, and leaving Google to answer only the answerable questions. 

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