WebMD, You Are Killing Me

heart-665186_1280I was in my early thirties when I first realized I was dying.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was so young!  I had so much left to do!  But it turned out that congestive heart failure had other plans for me.  It was so sad I could hardly stand it.

Why in God’s name would you think you have congestive heart failure?”  This was my doctor at the time, who I no longer see due to a certain lack of bedside manner.  Obviously.

“I looked up my symptoms,” I told him.  “On WebMD.”

He sighed, and I know it had nothing to do with me.  He was just a frequent sigher, but it was still sort of hard not to take personally.  “Do me a favor,” he said.  “Stay off the internet.  And learn some deep-breathing techniques.  You have generalized anxiety disorder.”

“Well no, that can’t be.  I don’t have anything to be anxious about, aside from the congestive heart failure.”

“You don’t have congestive heart failure.  And we all have things to be anxious about.”

“Not me.”

Another sigh.  See?  “Just quit diagnosing your own illnesses.  That’s what I’m here for.”

“So you’re sure I’m not dying?”

“We’re all dying.”

“But I mean, soon.”

“I don’t know that.  I do know that if you die of congestive heart failure, it will not be this year.”

My outfit when I sit down at the computer
My outfit when I sit down at the computer

So that was a relief, albeit short-lived, because who really stays off the internet?  In the 15 or so years between then and now, I have used WebMD to diagnose my own:

  • Kidney failure
  • Spinal meningitis
  • Throat cancer
  • Heart attack
  • Skin cancer
  • Bone cancer
  • Brain tumor
  • Unspecified critical nervous system malfunction

It’s been a difficult run, it really has, and not because I actually had any of those things.  I did not.  And while I acknowledge that the reality of any of those issues would be exponentially worse than the imaginary versions, I would argue that the not knowing is still kind of a bitch.  One wonders if one’s affairs are in order.  One wonders what exactly it means to have one’s affairs in order.  One spends agonizing hours dwelling on how one’s children will possibly survive without, er, one.  One might occasionally be moved to tears, at the painful futility of it all.

And then one finds out that one is not sick at all, and feels overwhelmingly relieved, as well as vaguely guilty at appropriating the despair that one was never entitled to in the first place.  Because my God, there are real people out there suffering from whatever it is you thought you had.  It seems so disrespectful, I mean –  me and my frivolous little tragedies, when people out there have real ones every day.  So melodramatic.  So self-centered.

But then, wait.  I didn’t know I wasn’t suffering from kidney failure/brain tumor/unspecified critical nervous system malfunction.  My fears were not entirely unfounded, or at least, I didn’t think they were at the time.  I mean, WebMD said, and what’s so melodramatic and self-centered about that?  I had symptoms, I looked them up, I became terrified.  Happens all the time.

“Wow,” said my current doctor, who has only recently replaced my last doctor due to chronic lateness.  The doctor’s, not mine.  Actually I’d have been smart to show up late to my appointments with him and thus avoid his standard 90-minute wait.  Incidentally, Dr. Late replaced Dr. Sighs-A-Lot many years prior to this, though come to think of it, Dr. Late was prone to sigh from time to time, too.  Now my current doctor, who is perfect if a bit on the fresh-faced side, has replaced Dr. Late.  It’s exhausting, it really is.  No wonder I have anxiety.

God only knows what mine says.
God only knows what mine says.

Anyway.  “Wow,” Dr. Perfect said to me recently, when I finally decided to get my knee checked out.  “That’s . . . no.  You do not have knee cancer.”

“Good,” said I.  “But tell me how you know that.”

“Well first of all, you’d probably be losing a lot of weight.”

Rude!  Really.  Perhaps he’s not so perfect after all!

“Also, you’d be in a lot of pain.  All the time.  You wouldn’t be able to just hop down off that table like you just did.”

“Well I mean, it did hurt, you know.  When I allegedly ‘hopped down’ off this table.”

“You don’t have knee cancer.  And after your MRI, we’ll be able to know more.”

“But if I did have cancer, you can see it on an MRI?”

“Yes.  But you don’t.”

“I’m just saying.”

“Are you still taking your anxiety meds?”

“Yes!  I’m not even anxious about this.  Honestly.  I just want to make sure we can definitely rule it out.”

“Don’t worry,” he said.  “We’ll get to the bottom of it.”

And call me paranoid, but right then, I am pretty sure I detected a sigh.  Subtle, because this guy really knows what he’s doing, but still.

You want to know who never sighs?  I’ll tell you.  WebMD, that’s who.

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  1. Haha! This is so true. I went through this a couple years ago. I was giving dying speeches to my kids in my head. I still haven’t learned my lesson though.

    1. Oh no…I’ve never done the speeches. I have, however, watched TV shows or movies where a grown man says, “My mom died when I was six” (or whatever), and thought, well, he seems to have adjusted okay. You know, even though “he” is not even a real person.

  2. This post terrifies me and gives me hope at the same time. My daughter has generalized anxiety disorder, and (while not diagnosed with somatization disorder) serious somatization issues. She is constantly certain that she has appendicitis, strep throat, needs knee surgery…
    Your post terrifies me because I realize she may not grow out of this. She may always be battling through a belief that there is something seriously wrong with her. But it also gives me hope in that she may be able to recognize it, and develop a sense of humor about it.
    I wish you a cancer free lifetime.

    1. Oh please don’t let my post terrify you…believe me, if I can deal with it fairly successfully, anyone can. All the best to you and your daughter 🙂

  3. I believe I developed hypochondria after having deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, after my third round of IVF. I was in the hospital for five days while my blood clotting levels moved into the “therapeutic” range. I wasn’t allowed to get out of bed, and everyone who entered my room, doctors, nurses, etc. told me how smart I was to have “Listened to my body.” This was about six years ago, and my son was only four at the time. He was born with both mild cystic fibrosis and a complex congenital heart defect called hypoplastic right heart syndrome, which required a series of three open heart surgeries. I’m sure it isn’t surprising that I have some degree of PTSD (self diagnosed of course). After the blood clots, I drove my saintly primary care doctor crazy by coming in for any ache and pain that I was convinced must be fatal. The cycle would start with me sensing something slightly off with my body, having severe anxiety after googling the symptoms, then visiting my doctor, and gladly, happily, and more than willingly paying the co-pay of $25 to have her tell me I was fine. I recently switched to a new primary care doctor, who recommended I switch from the Zoloft I had been taking for years, to Lexapro. I have noticed a pretty major change for the better, and am so thankful she recommended I do it. I also try to stay off Web MD, which I lovingly refer to as youhavecancer.com. Thank you for sharing your story, it’s always good to know you aren’t alone! ??

    1. Wow…what a lot to go through! I’m glad things have improved for you. And youhavecancer.com is hilarious. If you don’t have a blog, you should start one just to write about that 🙂

  4. Awwww, thank you! I just checked, and there is actually no such thing as youhavecancer.com, but wouldn’t it be funny if that led you to a site for helping hypochondriacs? ?

  5. OMG, Melissa, you describe me to a “T”! I have mostly weaned myself off the Googling obsession, part of which was to set Google alerts to the latest medical preoccupation. Let’s make this a non-Googling day and let nature take its own course!

    1. I just pretend I don’t have symptoms, and then I actually don’t have symptoms, it’s like magic 🙂 Also, I don’t read anything titled “Ten Health Risks You Don’t Even Know You Have,” or similar. NO THANK YOU.

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