My Sunday morning began as it usually does: I woke up with a splitting headache, a strange rash, and not the faintest idea of how I might have gotten to be that way. I failed to improve even after several cups of coffee and a cold shower, and a lack of incriminating Facebook photos suggested that the previous evening was not responsible for my condition. For once, I was sick in more than just the vague, existential sense.
Rather than make the long walk to University Health Services (there was little chance I was pregnant), I sought help from WebMD’s on-line Symptom Checker. The idea is simple: select your symptoms from a checklist, and WebMD will identify the matching ailments that could have produced them. With several days’ worth of reading on all sorts of exotic diseases, the website is a valuable tool for isolating hypochondriacs from the general population. It’s also an important part of Mitt Romney’s health plan.
In my case, the news was bad: my symptoms were consistent with West Nile virus. It was also possible I was suffering from “exercise or physical activity,” but I guard against that risk fairly zealously.
My looming battle with West Nile was already taking its emotional toll, and I began to feel depressed. Fearing that UHS might consign me to the psychiatric ward, I decided to see if WebMD could help me here, too. The Symptom Checker associates eleven medical conditions with a “depressed mood.” I’m well- _acquainted with the first ten: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and so on. The eleventh, unfortunately for me, is mad cow disease. One imagines this makes for some awkward conversations at the doctor’s office: “Well, Ms. Amos, we could try giving you a prescription for Zoloft…or we might have to kill you to protect the rest of the herd.”
Struggling to cope with the prospect of dying for British beef, I tried to find a cure for mad cow disease in the bottom of a glass. Here, finally, WebMD had some good news. According to the Symptom Checker, “craving alcohol” is a symptom of just one medical condition: cocaine abuse. At long last, I had a disease I could get excited about.
A short time later (after looking up the medical conditions associated with nosebleeds), I realized that-for whatever reason-I was starting to feel much better. In fact, I felt so good that I decided to get an early start on my night on the town to make up for my disappointing Saturday. And so my Monday morning began as it usually does…
Matthew Lee, a senior in Jonathan Edwards College, is a staff writer for TNJ.