Like most of us, author and editor Heidi Julavits lives in a world full of health information, studies, rumors, drug commercials, anecdotes — a mountain of material that makes getting medical care both easier and lot more complex. In an article in Harper’s magazine, she describes the frustrating odyssey of “a 44-year-old female” (possibly Julavits herself) trying to find out why she is suffering from ringing in one ear and mild nausea. Is it Meniere’s disease, as the first doctor suggests? What about a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problem, which she finds online; or maybe labyrinthitis, which she learns of from a friend? Will she offend her doctor if she suggests other diagnoses — concussion, acoustic neruoma — gleaned from an Internet symptom-checker? Is she foolish to try to figure this stuff out for herself, or foolish not to?
The author’s quest takes her to the creators of the popular TV series “House,” where a supremely unempathetic but brilliant doctor gets the diagnosis right every time, as well as to a Yale gastroenterologist who tries to teach doctors how to listen better and a beloved general practitioner “who was self-doubting and open to new information.”
In the end, our 44-year-old female doesn’t even want a diagnosis (her symptoms have subsided). What she really wants is help as she tries to “parse and process the information that it’s her obligation as a ‘connected’ human in 2014 to know and consider.” Don’t we all?