seeking a productive relationship with medicine and the Internet
Ever since I left Beijing, I’ve felt like hell. A myriad of odd and seemingly disconnected symptoms have plagued me all month. My least favorite is the persistent cough that tastes like iron that makes me think I’m coughing up my lungs for realz. I find the sneezing to be mostly entertaining, although 14+ sessions a day of 3+ sneezes each has gotten a little overwhelming, even if said sneezes are awfully cute. Most of the others are just odd. None of them are worrying, except in aggregate. I feel like my body is rebelling against its very existence. Unfortunately, the seriousness of the odd symptoms took a turn for the worse this weekend. The combination of dizziness, nausea, and loss of vision forced me to leave a geek campout that I had been looking forward to for quite some time. Luckily, good friends were there to worry about me and help me get back to LA.
The Internet is dangerous when you have a disparate set of odd symptoms. There’s good reason to believe that I have mono, rare allergies, and a wide array of different cancers. Needless to say, I don’t trust the Internet to diagnose me. So I set about trying to find a way to get a doctor to help me. For once, I have real health insurance. (Of course, that doesn’t help so much when you don’t have a primary care physician because getting an appointment is a bitch. And goddess knows that going to the ER in LA sounds like the worst idea possible.) I ended up going to a university clinic where the doctor listened to my symptoms, decided that I must have migraine auras, wrote me a prescription and whisked me out of there before I had time to process what was said. Not a single test, unless you count the reflex one. I paid an absurd price for the meds and then went home to read about them on the Internet.
What I found bothered me. Oddly, the list of symptoms for migraine auras pretty much matched up with the list of side effects for the medicine. What it supposedly treats are also what it might cause. While headaches are not a requirement for migraine auras, headache-free migraines are rare and usually involve a history of related migraines. I don’t have these problems. So I’m sitting here, reading about a diagnosis that doesn’t seem right and reading about a medicine that seems to cause more problems than it helps. Besides, the instructions indicate to take the medicine when I have a headache. And furthermore, what does this have to do with my iron-tasting cough?
While the Internet is not diagnosing me, it is making me call into question the supposed diagnosis and treatment. I feel both empowered and disempowered by this source of information. Or rather, what makes me feel disempowered is the lack of a way of integrating this information into a productive move towards wellness. If I take the meds, I’m subjecting my body to chemicals that seem unnecessary and irrelevant. If I don’t, I’ve just wasted a day and am back to square one in feeling shitty with no path forward. Part of me wants to call the doctor, but I didn’t like the dynamic in our meeting so I can’t imagine a phone one where I come bearing Internet information. Instead, I will see another doctor.
All of this makes me wonder… isn’t there a better way to integrate information and medicine in a productive manner? I mean, I’ve read Birth of the Clinic and I know all about the power relations involved in medicine, but can’t we undo that somehow? I know that the doctors don’t know everything but I hate being treated like an idiot in the clinic and feeling like a criminal when I investigate my diagnosis/treatment and, implicitly, call into question the authority and power of the doctor. All I want is to be healthy and to know why my body feels like crap. What will it take to make medicine a collaborative endeavor? I’ve known some awesome doctors who are more collaborative over the years, but why can’t that be the norm? And why can’t there be a better way to match doctors and patients than geographic lookups on insurance websites? How can we get Yelp-like descriptions of doctors rather than the RateMyProfessor-esque ratings that do exist? What’s it going to take for the walls between patients and doctors to come down?
Yes, I’m ranting. I need something to do with this pent-up ickiness. Besides, ranting here also serves to explain why I’m dreadfully behind in responding to everything, especially anything that requires thinking. Sorry about that. My brain is moosh. I just hope that my angry body isn’t doing permanent damage on my mooshy brain.
PS: I can’t wait to be healthy and post-dissertation so my blog stops looking so lame.