Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Internet: A Hypochondriac's Best Friend

There was an episode of Quincy which I saw when I was quite small, six maybe, where a character was given a diagnosis (yes, I know, Quincy was a Medical Examiner and worked on corpses, and oftentimes found signs of...MURDER, but there were those episodes where he helped living, breathing people). The conversation between the guy and the doctor (who probably wasn't Quincy though, for some reason, I am hearing Jack Klugman's voice saying his lines) went like this:

Doctor
You have Amyothrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Patient
What's that?

Doctor
It is better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Patient
I saw that movie. Gary Cooper died from that.

Alright, so it may not have been an episode of Quincy after all, it may have been something else (Trapper John M.D., The Incredible Hulk) it doesn't really matter, at least, not as far as this story is concerned.

See, I was very young I understood that the people on tv and in films were actors playing roles, but I didn't identify them beyond the roles they played; I understood that Hawkeye Pierce was played by an actor named Alan Alda, but if I saw him being interviewed I would have said, "There's Hawkeye." I didn't understand that most people, especially when discussing very famous actors, don't completely lose sight of the actor within any given role they play. So, I heard this actor on a TV show say that Gary Cooper died from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and I thought he meant that Gary Cooper, the actor, died from the same disease as Lou Gehrig, a character he played in the film The Pride of the Yankees. How weird is that? Being the sort of child who just loved finding patterns in things, I thought this was a very cool coincidence and I told other people about this. Since most of the people I told were six as well, no one corrected me on this. My mom may have tried to correct me, but I was positive I knew what I was talking about. I mean, it was on television, it must be true.

I am not sure when or how I figured out that Gary Cooper did not die of ALS. It was one of those things that I didn't think about for awhile and gradually my perceptions shifted, so when I thought about it again, I didn't make the same assumptions. Then I forgot all about it.

I was reminded of this the other night when Fred mentioned that everything tasted bitter. I did a quick google search and found an article entitled "Persistent bitter taste as an initial symptom of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis". Uh oh. I read the title to Fred and he said, "what's that?" and I said, "Lou Gehrig's disease." We turned off the computer and decided not to think about it. Of course, I did still think about it though, remembering that Fred told me about muscle twitches he had been having a few weeks ago and then wondering if it was too soon to talk to a doctor about all this.

Yesterday morning, Fred calls me from work and mentions that he did his own google search and found out that a bitter taste which lasts 6-10 days is also a side effect of eating raw pine nuts, something he had done on Wednesday night. We joked about what a paranoid hypochondriac I am, always ready to believe the worst, and this triggered my memory about how I thought Gary Cooper had died. We laughed.

Which doesn't mean I have stopped worrying. Just reminding myself how having a brain that seeks to find patterns often can mean finding a pattern where none exists.

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