Fortunately, there is help available in the form of so-called Internet filters. For example, Net Nanny promises you that with its “internet filter software, you can be assured that your children will be protected from the things they don’t need to see while still being able to do what they need to.” Now as I recall, when I was about 13 or 14, anything that even vaguely provided titillation was something I felt I absolutely needed to see, but we won’t go there.
I’m not exactly sure how these filters work, but I think one of the ways is to block sites which show up when certain words are used as search terms. So, for example, if you have put such a filter on your son’s computer, and he does a Google search for “breasts,” he’ll come up empty and will have no choice but to do his homework.
Since my children are all grown, I don’t really have a need for these kinds of filters. But I realized that there could be an Internet filter that would be useful for me, someone who has always worried about each and every symptom I have ever had and has often been given the disapproving label “hypochondriac.” For people like me the Internet is a sea of worries.
My upbringing probably didn’t help. My father was a doctor, who knew of the various complications, rare though they might be, of virtually every medical problem, no matter how seemingly trivial. For example, when I was a teenager, he let me know that it was possible that a pimple on my face, of which I had many, could become infected and the infection could spread to my brain and kill me. So there I was, already miserable because I was sure that the only thing any of the kids in my high school class talked about was my pimples, and to that I could now add the possibility of a potentially fatal infection spreading to my brain.
At my age now, I don’t have a pimple problem, but what about the lower back pain which I occasionally suffer? My father is long gone, but today I have the Internet to let me know what’s what. And while the ’Net confirms that most causes of lower back pain are nothing to be concerned about, still there is always the possibility of Scheuermann’s disease, not to mention spondylolisthesis. And there are other worse possibilities, which I won’t even mention.
Clearly, I need a filter on my computer that will not allow me to find sites that might contain the name of any disease whatsoever. And surely it should block me and sound an alarm if I ever try to enter the phrase “early signs (or symptoms) of.” It should also block any searches involving the words “pain,” “complications,” and “prostate.”
If you do a Google search, the worst place to go when you are a health worrier is Groups. At least on the web, you may have some relatively reliable sources, like the Mayo Clinic. But in Groups, anything goes.
Have a problem with dandruff? Someone wrote this on a site I found in Groups: “Is excessive dandruff a symptom of cancer? I have a lot of it on my scalp and one of my relatives says that it might be a symptom of cancer; can it be?”
I’m happy to report that no one responded with anything suggesting this might be the case. But who knows? And if you are still nervous about this, and you decide to use an anti-dandruff shampoo just in case, then perhaps you’d better check out this item on another group’s site: “I was just reading the label on my shampoo (I use a popular anti-dandruff shampoo). I was SHOCKED to discover that the active ingredient was a coal-tar derivative…(which has) been known to cause cancer for years.”
And what about a hangnail? That’s just a loose piece of dry skin next to a fingernail or toenail. Everyone gets them, and they can be annoying. But things can get worse. According to the Health Matters website, “If not removed, or treated the wrong way, it can lead to infections and complications.”
This was on the web, but if you also do a Google Groups search for hangnail, you will find someone who said he had to have a finger amputated because what seemed like a simple hangnail turned out to be something far more serious.
And take it from me, you don’t want to look up warts.