Carolyn J. Rose
Recently I told a friend I had occasionally smelled smoke where there was none, and had looked up possible causes on the Internet. Being a medical professional, he reacted much as he would have if I’d said, “Here, hold this angry rattlesnake. Just grab it by the tail. It will be fine.”
I can’t blame him. He’s probably treated plenty of frightened people certain they have horrible diseases because of what popped up after they typed in their symptoms and set a search engine to work. He may have treated hypochondriacs for whom the Internet is a gold mine of information about ailments, diagnoses, and treatments of all types. No malady seems too obscure not to be written about somewhere by someone.
Which is, of course, both good and bad. Good, because there’s a ton of information and it’s easy to access. Bad, because it’s up to you to filter what you find. And that job isn’t a cakewalk—especially for those of us who gleaned our medical knowledge mostly from TV shows and conversations with friends and relatives.
After a minor freak-out over what I discovered smelling smoke could mean, I decided to rule out the big stuff. After all, I was about to go on a three-week vacation. How could I enjoy myself if I had a major-disease ax hanging over my head? I told myself the smoke was either my imagination or the result of a low-level sinus infection that would clear up soon. Several weeks later I noticed increasing pain in my jaw which turned out to be an abscess beneath a molar. After a course of antibiotics, the infection cleared up and the smell of smoke disappeared.
Last week I noticed flashing lights at the corner of my left eye. As soon as I could, I fired up a search engine. Ruling out the big stuff and anecdotal scare stories, I went with the aging process causing “gel” inside my eye to shrink and peel away from the retina.
Still, recalling my friend’s recoil, I hustled to my eye doctor. When she confirmed “my” diagnosis and told me it would almost certainly heal itself, I felt the I-knew-that brand of smugness coupled with now-I-have-to-pay-for-what-I-already knew irritation.
Then I set my feelings aside. After all, I could have been wrong.