The internet and the ‘medical student syndrome’

Ed. note: Once again I have been editing after posting. This time I have been receiving help from Japan. So, hold on to your laptop, I might just edit some more.

There is a study I would like to see, and if you have seen such a study, please send it to our e-mail address. This study would gauge how people value (or no) that be-all-end-all tool, the internet. The study I’d like to see would measure quality of information and whether one often finds the quantity of the results too overwhelming. For instance, asking a question formed as such:

“How well does information you receive from the internet help you understand subjects you research?

A. The information is usually helpful in understanding a subject.

B. The information is occasionally helpful.

C. The information is mostly confusing and does not help me understand.

Think about the questions and answers regardless of how well they are constructed. I would pick B. That does not bode well for the internet if a representative sample of users — and definitely not an internet-based query — come to the same conclusion.

I have found the “information superhighway” can cause a 40-car-collision of data overload. In life before the internet I had similar experiences.

I came to that conclusion some 15 years before I ever heard the word “internet” and first used a rudimentary internet connection in my work as a journalist. When I first began training as an emergency medical technician, I had no idea that training would lead to what is a somewhat well-known syndrome.

Some call it “Medical Student Disease” while others describe it as a syndrome rather than a disease. You say potato. I say tuber. Some in the medical profession prefer to call it “nosophobia.”  While that term seems as if a person is afraid of noses — and I’ve found a few scary schnozzolas in my time — the term denotes a fear of illness. Apparently, someone felt that future doctors should not be characterized as hypochondriacs. Hey, if the shoe fits, oh wait, we’re getting off on the wrong foot here. Someone call a podiatrist!

I’m not an EMT anymore. I let my certification lapse almost three dozen years ago. But I was pretty much a hypochondriac for a little while. I finally came to the realization that I am not having this or that problem. No knee problems or back problems or heart problems. I had the majority of those medical experiences in more recent times with the exception of the latter.

I had several tests this year on my heart. It is practical that a man now 60 years old — ugh, that still is a little hard to accept — have testing done on their ticker. This is especially so because several family members had heart problems. I have had high blood pressure, controlled, with medicine for almost 20 years. I’m diabetic. I’m overweight. I haven’t touched any form of tobacco in 15 years. But the bad news is I may have problems with breathing because I smoked two packs a day for about half of 25 years.

Over the last year I’ve had three different types of cardiac testing. The first was an echocardiogram. It appeared to show a slight enlargement in the left portion of my heart. My cardiologist at the VA said that the enlargement was not anything of major alarm. Yeah, but it’s not his heart.

I had shortness of breath upon landing in Albuquerque, N.M. back in July. Upon deplaning I walked up into the jet way and upon reaching the waiting area I had to stop and catch my breath. My breath was already waiting in the Super Shuttle. I experienced breathing problems a few times in ABQ, which is right at a mile high in elevation. I did some reading on the internet and found that even though altitude sickness is found in people somewhere above 8,000 feet it can be seen in people below that altitude. One also has to realize I left a place just a few feet above sea level for almost 30,000 feet while flying in a jet airliner. And I never came down, so to speak, until I returned Southeast Texas,

The shortness of breath also became a reason for the docs wanting a bit more testing.  About two weeks ago I had an “imaging” stress test. This is where one is injected with a medicine that makes your heart beat more rapidly. My heart was not beating very fast. The cardiologist suspected a blood pressure medicine was causing the slow pulse. I quit the meds and my pulse was back to normal.

On Monday I had a “nuclear” stress test. This test involves a radioactive camera injected via IV inside one’s blood and allows pictures to show a much better view of inside the heart. Better than the outside looking in, I suppose.

I got my test results today via email from a physician assistant in the cardio department at the Houston VA. I immediately began looking on the internet for answers — more results than I probably needed —  that explained what the PA was actually saying. I understood that the testing had what was called a normal “ejection factor.” Looking it up on the internet I found the percentage that was given in my results is normal. But what were reputable internet sites also explained that a normal result does not mean a patient cannot also have had so-called “silent heart attacks” or congestive heart failure.

I was getting back into “medical student syndrome” mode with a bit of a furrowed brow when my cardiologist called and told me the test showed my heart was normal in how well the heart pumps with each beat. He said these pictures showed a much better view than the previous echocardiogram. What that means is I have no apparent heart problems. So what do I do? I just wait and see if I have any other symptoms of heart disease.

My relapse of nosophobia or whatever one cares to call it was brought on today by the internet. That and a little more information than I likely needed, or at least information that made sense. The only problem I have now is that I am obsessing over noses. Where’s Barbra Streisand when you need her?