Chapter 6 from What Would Susie Say
I feel so blessed to live in an age where medical information is available on the internet. Internet info is a hypochondriac's wet dream and a doctor's worst nightmare. I spend a lot of time on these websites checking symptoms for illnesses and conditions I'm certain I have. So far, this month alone, I've had Lyme disease, hysterical blindness, and an enlarged prostate. Whenever someone I know, or someone I know knows someone who has an illness—minor, major, or terminal—I immediately assume I have it too and plan accordingly. Much to my delight and chagrin, almost all of the commercials on TV these days are for some kind of pharmaceutical treatment for diseases I've never heard of but am sure I've contracted. One after another, fifteen-, thirty-, and sixty-second spots for pills and ointments that must be taken at your own risk. I know I'm not alone in this. Otherwise there wouldn't be so many goddamn commercials for this stuff. I've even thought of starting a symptoms checkers support group. I'll call it Dead by Tuesday Anonymous.
The beauty of the internet is that there are so many choices. There's WebMD, MayoClinic.com, MedicineLine.com, Medicine.net—plus hundreds of specialty sites, too numerous to mention. Let's say I go on WebMD to check a symptom of a disease that I suspect I have, and they inform me that I'm in good health and have nothing to worry about. Needless to say, that prognosis doesn't sit well with me, so I can simply dismiss it and check out the other sites until I find one with an outcome that pleases me, one, that if not fatal, will certainly be very dramatic. The sheer volume of medical websites gives me hope that somewhere, somehow, I can find a site that lists my symptoms and will reinforce my belief that I have something that I most probably don't have a chance in hell of having. A lot of symptoms are universal. So many diseases have symptoms I can easily have. Fatigue. Who's not fatigued? Lethargy? Isn't she the twin sister of lazy? Or bloating? I'm bloated twenty-nine out of thirty-one days of the month! And you can fake yourself out on some symptoms and convince yourself that you have them even when you don't. Dizziness, for example. Dizzy is my middle name. I can easily convince myself that I felt dizzy because I lifted my head up too quickly the other day.
I don't mean to trivialize the pain and suffering of people who are really sick, and it's not that I really want to be sick, but the hypochondria is something that is out of my control. Illness is frightening. If I gain weight I'm convinced it's because I have a tumor growing inside of me that weighs a few pounds. If I lose weight, it's because the tumor is causing a diminished appetite. I can't win. To ease my fears I tell myself that if I'm vigilant about my health, then I'll remain healthy. But there is anecdotal evidence everywhere I turn that proves that this approach doesn't necessarily work.