WebMD, your frenemy and mine

14 Sep

So we meet again.

Yesterday I captained the Kaiser Permanente Corporate Run/Walk for my company Team. (Funny story: when I told my mom I was team captain, she laughed heartily for a good 3 minutes over the fact that I was the captain of a sporting event. That should give you some idea of my athletic prowess. I guess I deserved it since I was, in fact, the last person on my team to finish). The big companies of Atlanta rent tents and tailgate at the race, and as I walked past the tent of Team WebMD, I had a good mind to march over and ask them just what the hell do they think they’re doing. And also give them a hug.

Please tell me I am not the only person that has diagnosed themselves with cancer/lupus/bipolar disorder/whooping-cough/Tourette’s courtesy of WebMD. They must have about 80 dedicated SEO people on staff, because if you search for anything remotelyhealth-related on the internet, you can count on a helpful suggestion from WebMD among the top three results. WebMD’s interactive symptom checker earns it the double crown of most useful diagnostic tool and bane of my existence.

You gotta try this thing. On second thought–don’t.

As a person prone to extensive overanalysis research, I’ve put myself at death’s door more than once (and been pregnant like, seven times) with the help of WMD. Of course, none of it ever turned out to be what I feared—well, except that one time (Holla atcha Tenny!). But the crazy thing is that when I go to the doctor on an internet diagnosis, it almost always turns out to be something. Like three years ago when I thought my heart was failing and it turned out to be GERD. Then there was the time I thought I had ovarian cancer, or at least endometriosis, but it turned out to be hypothyroidism.  And who can forget the worst 24 hours of my life when I thought T had cystic fibrosis? But even that terrifying episode resulted in our finding a shiny new pediatrician (one who is much less of an alarmist, I might add).

Despite those couple of conditions, I still consider myself a pretty healthy person. That’s why I didn’t worry too much when slightly abnormal test results came back from my life insurance application exam (has anyone ever gone through this? Boy, are they thorough!). My protein to creatinine ratio was high, and so was my protein count. The test summary said they were a marker of kidney function, but I chalked it, along with P’s slightly high cholesterol, up to our love of all things cheesy.

So when my financial advisor told me I needed to be retested I was mystified. Surely high cholesterol is more worrisome than a little extra kidney protein. “Well,” she said, “the protein basically means there’s blood in the urine (Wait. Blood in the urine?!), but it’s not that unusual (Bleeding pee?? Not unusual????) and you just need to retest. Whatever you do,” she says, “don’t google your symptoms.”

Yeah, right.

Folks, it turns out that protein-y pee is reallyreally bad. Not just can be bad, but almost always is bad. WMD was tossing me terms like “amyloidosis” and “dialysis” and “renal failure” and (of course) “cancer.” Even though I had absolutely no risk factors for kidney disease, my hand was shaking in trepidation as I opened the results of my retest last weekend. They were totally normal.

People who are not frenemies with WebMD, who heed the advice of their financial advisors to stop hanging out with that bitch, would at this point forget about the whole thing. But it was like a gristly piece of meat I couldn’t stop chewing. I made an appointment to see my PCP today (good ol’ Dr. Maxa. He never judges me and my tidy folder of internet printouts).

I was so hoping that when I showed him the normal results, he would tell me I had wasted the PTO: that I hadn’t been drinking enough water. Or that I need to lay off things topped in bacon. Or that I have a mysterious but common disease cured by this magic pill that he happens to have a free sample of. Instead, he looks me in the eye and says “it’s good that you came.” The results of today’s tests were inconclusive (another of my favorite terms). So yet another cup of pee is shipping off to yet another distant lab for yet another strange set of eyes to examine. All I have to do is wait and worry, worry and wait.

So while I wanted to punch Team WebMD in the face, I also owed them a grudging thanks. Chances are this will all turn out to be another drop in the bucket of wasted, web-induced worry. But even if the worst comes to pass, better to finally have the answer than to have never Googled the question.

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One Response to “WebMD, your frenemy and mine”

  1. maiseylou September 14, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    Very true – WebMD only has to be right once to make it invaluable.

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