I could have gone to pieces when my wife told me she has Parkinson’s Disease. But I feel that with things like this, it’s best not to overreact. To stay calm, because it’s what she needs from me. It won’t do either of us any good if we’re both panicking. I could get emotional, I could start railing at the fates, but I’ve learned that it’s best to stay calm when talking one’s spouse out of her self-diagnosis.
Because she doesn’t have Parkinson’s Disease. She has a runny nose and a sore back and a headache. But thanks to the wonders of Google, she can search on those symptoms and get a whole array of possibilities. And wouldn’t you know, she tends to skip right over the ones like “common cold” and “24-hour flu” and spend the next 48 hours agonizing between it being Hepatitis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
If, as the saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, it seems in the Internet era that a lot of it is even worse. Certainly, for certain things, it’s great to be able to tap into the giant hive mind that is the Internet and apply its accrued wisdom. Computer problems are the best example I can think of. I can’t remember the last time I called tech support, or took my computer somewhere to fix it; I just Google whatever it’s doing (or not doing), and pretty soon I’ve solved my problem. I rewired my whole house armed only with a pair of pliers, a quart of screw-on wire couplers, and my computer. I’m sure if I was one to work on my own car, the Internet would be an invaluable resource.
But working on cars and computers, even your own, is not the same thing as trying to figure out what’s wrong with your own body. No matter how much you love your car, it’s still possible — difficult, maybe, but still possible — to take a step back and think rationally about it. But, in the absence of the ten-year medical education and real-world experience that doctors bring to bear in an exam, and burdened instead with the natural anxiety and fear and emotion that are such an unfortunate part of the human condition, the accumulated medical learning of the last thousand years is reduced to a demented Rorschach test, where our worst mortal worries can flower into awful purple-thorned tentacles choking off all our better logical impulses.
Thus, when my wife gets a little sweaty under the blankets at night from time to time, the likely and relatively benign diagnoses of hypoglycemia, or “idiopathic hyperhidrosis” (literally, sweating for no reason) — are immediately and automatically overlooked in favor of the much scarier early menopause. (The conception of our son put this particular worry to rest — for a while, anyway.)
When she has a short muscle spasm, it’s not just a cramp, or fatigue, or restless leg syndrome; not when Lou Gehrig’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis are at the bottom of the page. When she gets a canker sore, it’s obviously Herpes, even though she’s been with me for 14 years and I don’t have Herpes.