I am about to date myself here, but I am willing to do it to prove a point. I grew up in a simpler time, well before the techno beast took its place front and center in our lives, before a multitude of information was readily displayed with a simple keystroke. I am old enough to remember when a mouse was something you trapped with a bit of cheese, an unwelcomed intruder that made us jump on chairs and shriek with fear. The connotation of the word has been influenced by its more prevalent use, like surfing, which is no longer just done on a board in the water. And call me old fashioned, but I like milk with my cookies. Let’s face it: the world has changed and so have we. Yes, I know, it is cool to have an app to cater to every whim and desire that might come to mind: a neat little video game or connecting with friends or a one-click pizza delivery can make life ultimately more fun. I get it. I can shop for shoes at 2 a.m., for example, and on a few sleepless nights, I might indulge a little. Just saying. But with the blessing comes a curse. That makes sense in the yin and yang of life.
You see, “back in the day” if I wondered about something, I searched for the information in a (wait for it) library. I walked along the stacks looking for appropriate books, and thumbed through magazines kept behind the checkout counter. The most technical thing available for me to use was microfiche. (Bet most of you don’t even know what that is.) And yet, somehow, the fact that I had to work for the answer made the question seem important, and the resulting knowledge was evaluated based on credible sources. Simply put, you could usually trust what you found there as you took copious notes for later referral. And because research was a time-consuming process, your investigation had to be motivated either by an insatiable curiosity or a paper due to a teacher with a solid deadline.
Mr. Google and his search engine cousins have changed all of that. I can find the answer to a question at any time of the day or night simply by typing it into any one of the multitude of devices I currently own. Not that I am special, you can do the same. It is fun when you are looking at vacation destinations or recipes for dark chocolate. But what happens when, on a whim, you ask about things like life expectancy based on a medical diagnosis or unusual side effects of a certain drug? What if you are interested in surgical complications, or even worse, you search for images of how a disease presents itself? You get a list of virtual reports, numerous places to visit, some credible, but some, not so much. In fact, unless you are able to evaluate and vet each website, you can get a lot of misinformation. Oh, man, can you get misinformation.
At one time or another over the past year, I have done more than my share of online investigation, exploring ways to increase my survival. Some of the suggested treatments are downright ridiculous. It seems that I should be ingesting apricot kernels twelve times a day and injecting mistletoe extract between my toes. I should be fasting, especially on chemo days, but if I do eat, it should be only organic kale with a side of spinach and a beet juice chaser. Evidentially, my problem is a fatty liver and twenty pounds of toxic sludge lodged in my colon. Use your imagination about how to fix that. Turmeric will cure me, and so will astragalus, beta glucan, alpha lipoic acid and something called cat’s claw. (EEK!) I should strongly consider coffee enemas, too. Marijuana is a miracle cancer medicine, too, but if you live in a state where it is illegal, (like mine), you run the risk of dying in prison. (I wonder how many hippies ended up with the Big C?). The next best thing is the CBD/hemp concoction, which is heavily peddled via cyber commerce. It’s all confusing; how does one choose? Bone broth and essential oils are, well, essential. I began diffusing and applying frankincense and myrrh daily after reading a particularly convincing report. But hey, I figure it was good enough to offer The Newborn King, it is good enough for me. (Sadly, all of my gold has gone to pay the hospital and chemo folks.) I have to admit that my poor son spent many a Sunday afternoon making encapsulated vitamin C after I read an article about its miraculous properties. Unfortunately, it didn’t warn against the vile taste, and I tried to take it, but I had a hard time swallowing even a teaspoon of the vile stuff. It eventually fermented in the fridge. I wonder if I could add it to a screwdriver? (the drink, not the tool) I should be exercising, I am told, which seems impossible when I can barely take a shower unassisted. I have resorted to watching the workout channel on TV, hoping for benefits by osmosis.
And the treatment options are varied as well. Mexico, it seems, is the place to go, where open air clinics promise to rid the body of cancer through the regular use of hyperbaric chambers. I'm not sure if margaritas are part of the regiment. The cost? A mere thirty grand. Of course, none of that is covered by my health insurance policy. And if that fails, there is always an Indian ashram, where juicing and meditation guarantee a body so clean and zen that no cancer cell can thrive. Too bad the medical community here in the United States can’t figure out how easy it would be to finish the race for the cure. Honestly, if it wasn’t so sad, the peddling of hope to those who are desperate, it might be funny.
Of course cancer, I am warned, is a scheme by big pharma to sell their overpriced drugs. We could all be restored to health rather quickly if the folks at the FDA weren’t taking bribes. It is all a big political conspiracy, which allows us to buy toxic food. We blissfully eat and drink the poison: eggs laid by three-headed chickens, crackers with a six-year shelf life; sodas strong enough to remove rust. And our well-being rests in the hands of the good old boys, who sit around a table shaking their heads in dismay as they line their pockets. According to the naysayers, the most industrialized nation in the world is just an illusion, with some great wizard possessing the power to make us all sick as dogs or fit as a fiddle. Sigh. I wish it was that simple.
If I were to have believed everything delivered to me via cyberspace, I would have gone to reside with Jesus months ago. And even though statistically, my odds are pretty slim, there are no absolutes, no formula to measure a person’s life. Yep, here I sit, gratefully typing this post. (I know this will appear online; forgive me if I am a bit hypocritical.) I have learned that just because it is on the internet does not make it true. And Mr. Google can be quite the trickster. He isn’t always a loyal friend, since he sometimes supports a lie or two or twenty, sending you on a wild-ride of a scavenger hunt as you look for plausible answers. Does that make him an evil genius? Well, even though he can magically become either a noun and a verb, he isn’t real, so I doubt it. Android take over is the stuff of science fiction, right?
It certainly seems odd to me that the internet is the only place where anything goes, where the lines between fact and fiction are blurred. Freedom of speech is alive and well in cyberspace. But hey, in my 9th grade civics class, I learned that with freedom comes responsibility. That’s another one of those old-fashioned lessons.
Obviously, we would be wise to take what we read online with a grain of salt, especially as it pertains to a medical condition. Ultimately, there is danger in self diagnosis and treatment resulting from what we find. In the early days of my illness, I put my symptoms into the search bar and for a week was convinced that I had contracted intestinal parasites from some tropical creature I had encountered during a cruise stop in the Caribbean. Yeah, don’t Google it; you won’t sleep for a week. Thirty years ago, I would have gone along my merry way, blissful in my ignorance, or I might have searched through a medical journal in the nearest library. Or perhaps I might have insisted that my doctor listen more carefully. Not all change is good. So it is up to us to figure out how to use the tools at our disposal. Like so much in life, a little bit of common sense goes a long way. You remember common sense, right? If not, Google it.