So this is a musing on how the Internet has changed our lives, particularly with medical information – for ourselves, our children, and our pets. It seems as though the media is excellent at telling us all about all the things we should be worried about, even many things we really shouldn’t worry too much about. At the same time, I notice more and more how I rely on it to get the information I need to solve problems – before I talk to my doctor. This takes some work of course – there’s a lot of misinformation on the Internet with a lot of really good stuff mixed in. Any good researcher should be able to tell the difference, though it may take some practice. The advent of Google seems like one of those things that’s changed my world.
For example, (stop reading if personal health is TMI) I’ve been feeling kind of sharp pains under my left breast and armpit area for a while. As any woman knows, the very first thing that leaps into our minds is breast cancer. It’s just so scary on so many levels, and something we’re taught to worry about pretty much from teen years on. And now that I’m 40+, it’s an even bigger concern. So this morning I felt it again. I had just sent an e-mail message to my doctor on another topic (yet another health care innovation that I love), and didn’t want to bother her again unless I really had to. I mean, I just had a mammogram and everything was fine. Still, fears persist. So onto the trusty Internet I go. Come to find out that there is almost never pain associated with breast cancer, and that this kind of pain is NORMAL for women heading into pre-menopausal years.
What a relief… and it took me all of 5 minutes on the computer to find that out, and another 5 to confirm that my initial research on it was accurate and consensus-based. This is a good thing – it took something that could have become a significant nagging worry and just took it off my plate. Sometimes I think that we have far too much to worry about in the world today – many things we can do nothing about. To the extent we can use the Internet to relieve these anxieties, that’s a real gift.
The Internet has been essential for all the research I’ve done on new treatments for migraines over the years, which prepare me for office visits with neurologists who don’t have a lot of time to spend on each appointment. I work hard at making sure I don’t over-react to media, or base any medication decisions on advertising. But it sure is nice to be able to look up original research and evaluate it for yourself – especially if you’re trained to do so.
Then there was the time my kitten horrified me by peeing on my bed, the very first week I got him home. I had no idea what to do, or why he would do such a thing. A little time on the Internet convinced me that he probably did it on purpose to try to tell me something important, and I should take him to the vet. Sure enough, he had a UTI infection. And here I thought (at first) he was being bad, was scared, or just poorly trained, when neither punishment nor training (or even comfort) would have helped a bit.
There’s something immensely comforting about all this – I could give a lot more examples, but I’m realizing how I’m coming to rely on this information source – used carefully and with discrimination. I’ve received good advice more times than I can count. Given how overloaded our health care system has gotten, it’s probably good that we have at least some other alternative for less critical matters. In some ways at least, the Internet is really living up to its promise.