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Do you try the University of Google when there’s no time to get to the doctor? Maybe don’t

(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

I know you’re tempted. You need answers. You’ve got a screaming kid and some mystery problem and it’s right there, the highly accessible University of Google (UG for short).

The convenience factor is huge. You don’t have to leave the house. You don’t have to put on real “be seen in public” clothes. And it’s free. UG is a lot cheaper than accredited college, or seeking the advice of a live person with actual expertise. There’s no admission criteria either. You just click right in.

I know all these things, because I’ve enrolled in the University of Google. A few times. But here’s the thing. You know how there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Sometimes UG—convenient as it is—comes with a price.

Let’s rewind to a sweltering summer day, the kind where our ancient air conditioning decides to take its own vacation. Added bonus: my sweet 8-year-old had a rash–an ugly one, crawling up her leg. Now, I could have skipped the University of Google and gone right to a doctor. Absolutely, I could have. But a few things prevented me from doing so.

It was the weekend and the pediatrician was out until Monday. That meant emergency rooms or weekend peds. Was it that serious? Would my kid catch some other kid’s really awful sickness? And that all-American favorite: how much would it cost out of pocket?

Besides, I had another clue. Bugs. Yep, I quickly bagged them, two nasty little critters. I had evidence. Also (and this is key), I had just heard a news story about bed bugs, about what they do to a person. It included rashes.

So my baggie of bugs and I enrolled in the University of Google. And it confirmed what I expected. My evidence looked exactly like…bed bugs.

As a parent, I fully committed to UG’s instructions: We took EVERY SINGLE THING OUT OF MY DAUGHTER’S ROOM. That’s a lot of stuff. We tossed the mattress/box spring to the curb. We were responsible: we included Do Not Take signs. (Our neighbors not only didn’t take, they walked a very wide berth around our house.)

Trash bags of our daughter’s stuff went in the dryer and the hot sun. The goal was to fry the bed bugs, since UG told us they do not like heat. And because bed bugs really do not like cold, we put the most precious things on ice. Yep, the American Girl Dolls went in the deep freeze.

Now, you may wonder, how smoothly did this exercise go, on a particularly hot summer day? Do any tensions arise when you TAKE EVERY SINGLE THING out of an 8-year-old girl’s room and put it in the washer/dryer/deep freeze/backyard? Why, funny you should ask. There was some tension. Particularly when the storm clouds rolled in and we had to rush to get it all back inside. And then had a lively debate about whether that action might mean infesting the other rooms with bed bugs.

But in the end, it was all about our child, and I wanted that UG diploma in bed bug eradication. That included vacuuming and scrubbing every wall, every drawer, every crevice we could possibly reach. Freezing that little American Girl doll Kit until ice crystals formed in her cute bobbed hair. And then the breakdown came: we found another bug in the hall. My husband declared that we couldn’t handle this alone. So we called the exterminator and suffered two anxious nights before he showed up on Monday.

The expert took one look at my baggy of bugs and shared the five most beautiful words one could hope to hear in such a situation: “Lady, those aren’t bed bugs.”

Nope. They were beetles. They had absolutely nothing to do with the rash.

So what did we learn, after we defrosted Kit Kittredge and made a trip to the mattress store?

After visiting a real pediatrician, we learned our daughter’s rash probably came from a funky hotel pool. Pediatrician gave us the meds to clear that right up. Whew.

It’s okay to attend UG—it is cheap and accessible. Great recipes, news, nature photos, you name it. But if you’re studying something truly important—like, say, the health of your child, a household infestation—get an expert’s opinion (examples of experts: doctors, scientists, pest control specialists).

It’s very easy at UG to find the stuff that supports your theory or bias. That doesn’t make it true. I saw what I expected to see: bed bugs. It turns out a lot of bugs look alike. Until an expert clarified the difference.

Good luck, and let mine be a cautionary tale: before you trust, verify. Or suffer the consequences (Kit’s hair never had the same bounce—nor did the new mattress).

One more thing: A weekend pediatric visit costs less than a new mattress. Lesson learned.

Kristin O’Keefe is a writer living in Kensington, Md. An avid reader, she’s nearly done with her first comedic novel about dreadfully busy suburbanites. You can can read more of her work at her blog,

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