Thanks in part to spending a full hour walking the rows of Longterm Lot No. 2 at the Charlotte International Airport searching for my car at 1 am, I recently found myself under the weather. As in, sick enough to miss work, which happens about once every five years.
After several days of feeling generally awful, and having little else to do, I decided to enter my symptoms into a certain Internet site, just to make sure I didn’t have something other than the common cold. Schistosomiasis is said to be on the uptick in these regions, or so rumor has it.
Fortunately, I’m not the easily excited type as the exercise proved, yet again, the utter absurdity of how knowledge is used on the World Wide Web.
I went to a very well-known site – which I will simply call WebQuack – and entered my symptoms, none of which were unusual: Headache, hoarse voice, nasal congestion, nighttime wheezing, post-nasal drip, runny nose and sore throat.
Be forewarned: this is not an exercise for those who might lean toward hypochondria.
After I entered the relatively straightforward symptoms, I was given 97 possible diagnoses. Only a very few seemed probable, such as sinusitis, nasal congestion, hay fever and the common cold.
Others seemed to have little relation to the listed symptoms: astigmatism, nearsightedness, farsightedness, post-concussive syndrome, toxic shock syndrome, sunburn, chemical burns, thermal burn of mouth or tongue, goiter, insulin reaction, hernia and narcotics abuse.
Some were almost comical: caffeine withdrawal, excessive caffeine use, foreign object in nose, malocclusion (bite out of alignment), botox injection and constipation.
Others were dreadful: diabetes, stroke, meningitis, brain aneurysm, brain infection, brain tumor, lung cancer, esophageal cancer, throat cancer, intracranial hematoma, multiple sclerosis, scarlet fever, typhoid fever and whooping cough.
Then there was the handful of potential afflictions that seem utterly improbable: plague, radiation sickness, cyanide poisoning and ricin poisoning.
Plague? I generally keep my distance from flea-infested rodents, particularly in large Third World cities where the Black Death is still a problem.
Radiation sickness? I haven’t been to the Chernobyl or Fukushima nuclear power plants, and stay clear of spent nuclear fuel whenever possible.
Cyanide? I think I’d have a few more symptoms that those I listed, such as seizures, profuse vomiting and cardiac arrest.
Ricin?!? That’s what Soviet-bloc agents used to do away with enemies of the state. Unless I, in my misspent youth, angered a Stasi agent with a long memory but incredibly poor tracking skills who’s just getting around to evening the score, this seems quite unlikely. That, and the fact I’d be dead before I could have typed my symptoms in WebQuack.
So, what’s the point of this aspect of WebQuack? One supposes it’s to get people to go see doctors, ask for products advertised on WebQuack’s website and drive revenues to said advertisers. As for being helpful, it seems anything but.