I typed "hives at night" into Google's powerful search engine, clicked around, added quotes to my query, and finally diagnosed myself with delayed pressure urticaria. So I had a diagnosis, a prognosis, and a treatment plan (which just happens to be "do nothing") within minutes.
This is unlike the olden days, back before the Web made it to our behind-the-times household, the same that refused to get call waiting until long after I moved out. When I was a child, one of my favorite games was play hypochondriac with The American Medical Association Family Medical Guide:
Revised and updated in 1903.
It contained a dizzying array of outdated health information, from the four food groups and amorphous drawings of anatomy to the most popular prescription drugs of the day and tips to avoid black lung disease (called "pneumoconiosis" in the future):
Mmm, look at that healthy rib-eye!
But "Part Four: What Are Your Symptoms?" was the most dog-eared section, containing the "popular and always-helpful symptoms charts":
"Organized like flow charts, the symptoms charts direct you through a series of questions with yes or no answers from a specific symptom to reach a possible diagnosis or recommendation."Here's how to play: You scan the index to find a symptom you were experiencing -- dizziness, for example:
Emergency situation! You've hit the jackpot!
From there, it's simple: Follow the flowchart to self-diagnosis! The book really talks up these charts, saying, "The charts help you decide when it's important to call your doctor about a problem, when to go to a hospital emergency department immediately, or when to take care of the problem yourself at home."
But here's the best part: This game can't be won. You never landed on that last option, where it might recommend, "Just pop a few Advil, and you'll be right as rain by the morning!" The best you could hope for was, "See your doctor immediately!" Nine times out of 10, you got saddled with, "Emergency situation! Call local emergency number! Possibilities include sty, heart attack, SIDS, or Three M Syndrome!" You'd be in denial. "No way," you'd say. You'd run through the flowchart again and again, hoping you had exaggerated your responses or followed the wrong arrow. The game ended when you'd inevitably break out in a cold sweat, panic, beg your mom and dad to take you to the hospital, get denied, and go to bed resigned to fate, convinced that the concerned face of your stuffed monkey, Pete, would be the last thing you'd ever see.
Nowadays, they have all these newfangled self-diagnosis tools anyone with an Internet connection can access. They have links to all possible implications of your symptom, alternative remedies, message boards about the symptom, and entire communities founded on real or imagined disease. It is truly amazing and in my experience, often a better resource than your physician.
But where's the fun in that?
On my next trip home, I'm hijacking my family's copy of this book so I can be a hit at parties. Heck, you could probably call me for (mostly unsolicited) medical advice now and get similar accuracy! I'm pretty sure my PayPal link shows up on here.