Thursday, April 26, 2012

on having too much information

Shortly after I gave birth to Ro, my gynae said, "You lost the pregnancy weight really fast; is your thyroid...?" And because he -- a medical professional -- just threw this out at me, and I was a little headachey and having the baby blues, I had my thyroid tested. Praise the Lord, it was perfectly fine, but I started to notice this "trend" among certain (many?) doctors -- you see them about something, and after giving you their "diagnosis", they add, "Well you know, it might also be...". Like, how many bases can you cover -- really?

I remember talking to my girlfriend about this, and I remember "coining" the phrase "internet doctoring". That's the other side of the Internet, isn't it? Too much information. You look up something, and you get 10 million definitions, all offering and linking you up to 10 million more options and possibilities. And that's what I meant by "internet doctoring" -- you see the doctor and you get a bunch of choices to choose from. Gone are the days when my Mom would take me to the neighbourhood GP, some grandfatherly old fellow who'd write out his prescriptions with a sure, almost dismissive, confidence. You'd absorb his self-assurance as if by osmosis, and certainly you wouldn't rush home and check WebMD. Simplicty was bliss.

Don't get me wrong -- I thank God for advanced medical knowledge and expertise, and, in this day and age of lawsuits, I can understand where some of these chaps are coming from. But again, that pursuit of certainty can also make one a nervous wreck... I am so grateful that God has helped me in those areas of fear and worry, but sometimes when my girlfriend calls, anxiously listing her symptoms and forming extreme, panic-filled conjectures, exacerbated by doctor ambiguity and internet overdosing, I am reminded of how important it is to be grounded in God's peace, goodness and love.

"Peace I leave with you," Jesus said, "My [own] peace I now give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. [Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled]" (John 14:27).

Paul wrote, "We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose" (Rom 8:28).

Recently, my husband showed me an article in Newsweek magazine, entitled The Psychology Behind Cyberchondria. It was certainly insightful, and I think it could be both enlightening and helpful to anyone who suffers this anxiety.

"Web-enabled hypochondria, dubbed 'cyberchondria', is becoming increasingly common... But why should simply reading an online write-up about, say, Hodgkin's lymphoma convince us that we've fallen victim to the disease? A new study in the April 2012 issue of Psychological Science suggests that the irrational tendency at work in the brains of cyberchondriacs is the same as that in the brains of gamblers.

"Gamblers make the mistake of seeing patterns in a set of randomly generated events, deciding that a positive result on one or two rolls of the dice will continue. For cyberchondriacs, that same tendency means deciding that hitting a streak in the list of symptoms (headache, followed by nausea, followed by fatigue) means you must also have all of the other symptoms in the list...

"According to Virginia Kwan, a psychologist as Arizona State University and lead author on the paper, the results demonstrate the kind of unconscious pattern creation in which the human brain excels -- and which frequently leads us astray when it comes to the basic logic of probability. The way gamblers say they have a 'hot hand', she says, cyberchondriacs believe they have 'hot symptoms': if they hit the first two in a list, they believe they must have the third one as well" (extracted from the article by Britt Peterson, in Newsweek, Apr 16, 2012).

I plan to tell my girlfriend this the next time she calls, but also to "[Cast] the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully" (1 Peter 5:7). Have a super blessed Friday -- you're fine :)


Beth said...

I've never heard of "cyberchondria" but I can certainly understand how that can happen. So, so much information out there now. But I will say when I needed more information about a loved one's diagnosis, it's been wonderful to have a resource like the Internet. Here in the U.S., most of the doctors I've seen don't have time to answer many questions, so I've been glad to be able to answer some of my questions on the Internet.

I know I keep saying this, but you really write well. I enjoy reading your posts.

Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

I love that we have so much information available to us now; doctors always seem too busy, eager to push you out the door. But it can lead to a lot of confusion as well. It all depends on the source. Unless it's reliable, it can lead to fears and a whole lot of misinformation. Not to mention, self-diagnosis for an illness that someone doesn't have.

And I agree with Beth: you write so well. I really enjoying reading your posts, too!


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