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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Web no substitute for doc’s diagnosis

Never, ever use medical websites.

Never. Ever.

How can I make my point more clear?

Just don’t do it!

I speak from experience, because for the past month, I’ve been convinced I’m dying from various forms of cancer and a few assorted viruses.

Only, I’m not.


It started when I mentioned during a doctor’s appointment that I thought the left half my thyroid gland had gotten bigger. The right half was removed two years ago when a benign growth began pushing my windpipe out of position. At that time, the surgeon said it’s possible the left side would need to come out, so I proactively mentioned that its size had changed.

The doctor ordered an ultrasound, which I watched on the monitor as the technician measured areas that I knew were nowhere near my thyroid gland.

“Is that my thyroid?” I asked, knowing the answer would be no.

“No, it’s up here,” she said as she whipped the wand back to my thyroid gland.

A few days later, the doctor’s nurse called with the results that revealed “swollen lymph nodes near the clavicle.” She said I’d need to meet with the doctor again.

Doom, followed by lots of Googling.

Big mistake.

My eyes darted across the links, which revealed words such as “cancer,” “lung cancer” and “lymphoma.”
At the next meeting, the doctor explained that the nodes were suspicious, and I’d need a CAT scan.

That test revealed more swollen nodes. Another phone call followed, involving orders for another CAT scan, this time of the entire chest, abdomen and pelvis, as well as an appointment with a surgeon.

The next bit of Googling brought up words such as “tuberculosis,” “Sarcoidosis” and “Hodgkin’s.”

The second CAT scan was far more involved than the first. This one involved drinking a contrast solution that, bless them for trying, seemed to be going for a Gatorade-like taste. They weren’t successful, though.

On the bright side, if you’re looking for a “good stick,” the technician at the CAT scan lab at the Cleveland Clinic’s Willoughby Hills campus is as good as you’re going to get. Two needle sticks within a week in the same arm left only a mark from my aggressive ripping off of the tape holding a cotton ball in place after the procedure.

I was even more uneasy waiting for this set of results.

That call came just before Thanksgiving, saying more swollen nodes were found near the esophagus. I’d need to keep that appointment with the surgeon.

I’d never written the work esophagus before I typed it into the Google search box on Thanksgiving morning.
And I shouldn’t have written it then.

One of the facts I learned was that in most cases, by the time cancer of the esophagus is discovered through swollen lymph nodes nearby, it’s too late to do anything about it.

So, for the next three days, I had that rolling around in my head.

Every sniffle was a new sign of doom. Every ache in my stomach was a clue that something bad was happening.

Sleep was hard to come by before my appointment with the surgeon.

And so early the next morning when the surgeon excused himself to go check out the scans, I took a deep breath and thought “this is where it all changes.”

Apparently not.

He came back in with a baffled look and said the nodes aren’t  that big and he didn’t see a reason to do any further study at this time.

“I don’t want to scare you,” he said.

“Too late!” I answered.

I do need to have tests in six months, but I’m hopeful the only action that’ll be necessary is for me to lose the addresses of the medical websites. No good comes from hunting around and checking out symptoms.

Maybe there is just some information that the average lay person doesn’t need.

Perhaps the next thing I should look up on is “pyschosomatic.”
Twitter: @Lauranh


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