Calling Dr. Google

I should have listened to Dr. Google. I woke up Sunday morning with the dregs of a cold so I went back to sleep. An hour later, I woke up with a new pain on my right side about an inch down and three inches over from the navel. Given who I am — chronic hypochondriac and a certified Google fan boy — I searched Google for appendicitis.

By reputation, Google — and the internet — should have returned bogus, dangerous, uninformed, unauthoritative advice from cults, and witch doctors, and Demand Media. But it didn’t. It gave me the NIH, WedMD, the Mayo Clinic, (yes) Wikipedia, and other good and trustworthy sources. It gave me more than enough good information to check and cross-check and then diagnose my new pain correctly.

But I didn’t listen. First, I really am a hypochondriac. More than once, I’ve thought I had appendicitis, forgetting that it can’t occur on the left side. And even I am struck by the absurdity of my recent medical history, all documented here: atrial fibrillation, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer; surely, lightening is bored with me. I further had listened to those — including doctors and nurses — who pooh-pooh listening to Google. So I thought it prudent to wait and see whether this got worse, as I assumed appendicitis would, or turned into something else or nothing — in which case, I wouldn’t be embarrassed with a diagnosis by Dr. Google.

All day, the pain advanced. I repeat: This was a new, a unique pain to me. At 530pm, my wife and I went to a cocktail party at a friend’s house that I’d been looking forward to. Fifteen minutes and one sip in, I knew I was in the wrong place, ready to succumb to hot flashes and God knows what else. I went home and drove to the hospital.

I think I can pinpoint the exact moment my appendix burst: at 730pm when I was going through the process of insurance, an even greater pain swept through me. In the emergency room, I was given pain medication, thank goodness, and tests, including, at some length, a CT scan. The scan eventually came back saying that I not only had a bloated appendix but also that it was “perforated.” Now if they were sure the appendix had burst, the normal course, I was told, would have been to send me home with IV antibiotics for two weeks to clean up the sure infection that was just starting in my gut; then I’d return and they’d deal with it.

Luckily, very luckily, I had a hot dog doc who doubted the extent of the oozage, given the freshness of my pain that morning, and so he decided to operate. At 2am, he started. He did, indeed find gunk in my belly and had to spend extra time flushing and vacuuming it up through three small holes in my belly — one in the navel — for his arthroscopic instruments (two fewer than were needed for my robotic prostate operation). I was minus yet another body part — I need some more spares! — and lucky for it. Tuesday afternoon, after much IV antibiotics and pain meds, I went home.

Now here’s the moral to the story: If I had gone straight to the emergency room at 10 that morning or anytime that afternoon, I’ll bet my appendix wouldn’t have burst and I would not have had the extra risk and trauma and uncertainty.

I should have listened to Dr. Google. All the good Doc did was send me to good docs — not junk sources; note well that it’s in Google’s interest to give us quality and that is why its search algorithm has been changing for our benefit (there is no such thing as neutral search and I don’t want it if anyone ever invents it). It gave me the information I needed to make an important decision and tell the doctors what they needed to know to make a diagnosis.

I — of all people — should not have doubted Dr. Google’s healing power. Sorry, Doc.

  • EB

    Holy Moly Ravioli! Best wishes for being on the mend soon, if not sooner. You have been through so much medically, I wish you NO MORE hospital visits for the next decade! But thank goodness you got there as quickly as you did and had a great doctor. Rest up! We need you back on TWiG!

  • Riley Swanson


    Didn’t you ever hear the phrase…”Listen to your gut feelings”
    Just glad that your OK now and still with us! Speedy recovery and can’t wait to hear you next time on TWIG.

  • Ryo

    Wow, that sounds horrible. I know what you’re talking about. I had an emergency appendix surgery, too some years ago.

    I hope you’re doing good so far. Get well soon, Jeff.

  • You’re cat-like ability to survive repeated near-death medical procedures is astonishing, and constantly renews my faith in our medical establishments.

  • Pingback: What I Wish I Had When I Woke Up In The Middle Of The Night And Couldn't Breathe - Forbes()

  • I am so happy that you had such a positive outcome. You are so lucky. My Dad died July 4, 1989 at age 63 at home — of a ruptured appendix. I am sure he would have search Dr. Google if it had been available back then and the outcome might have been very different. So happy for you! Every day is a gift.

  • Job, er, Jeff, glad to read that you are on the mend. Be well.

  • Valentine

    Luckier than me I ended up in hosptial for a week after mine gave out. Bad antibiotics and a small hospital that couldn’t figure it out. I finally figured it out myself and refused the meds. Was home the next day. Heck my Doc didn’t even know I was in hospital till the last day.

  • This column, though perhaps intended in a light-hearted manner, reinforces dangerous misconceptions that the vast majority of Internet users hold dear. Yes, the top results for Google for single-word, broad terms tend to be fairly reliable. But sometimes they are plain awful, and, when it comes to health matters, downright dangerous. To use real-world examples that I had occasion to search in the past year, try [herniated disk post-op recovery] and [sinusitis tinnitus] and let us know what you think of the quality of the results for those terms.

    While you have the wherewithal to divine the difference between reliable and unreliable results, most people, of all ages and at all levels of education, do not, because they naively believe they can trust “Dr. Google.” Studies show that most users – even students at elite universities – devote more than 50% of their attention to the first two results, and rarely venture beyond six. They do not, like you, skip the links that are obviously spam or created by content farms and laser in on sites they know to be reliable. They do not even bother to ascertain who provided the information, determine when it was written, or evaluate what biases may color the author’s objectivity. In one study, 600 university students acknowledged relying heavily on Google’s top results, yet not one of them could cogently explain how Google’s algorithm determined those results, and often used the word “magic” in their responses. As a sophomore Biology major wrote, “I have no idea…I’m just trusting Google to know what are the good sources.”

    I could go on and on, as combatting these misconceptions has been my vocation for the past five years. For those further interested in this topic, here are links to content I’ve created about (i) how users can use the Internet effectively to manage their health, (ii) the “dirty little secrets” of the Google generation, and (iii) a summary of the research into the deplorable search habits of K-12 and university students in the U.S.

  • Qazqer

    Hope you get better now. I was impressed with the story that you write.