This month, Dana Filek-Gibson learns the pitfalls of seeking medical advice from afar.
As a medical doctor, yoga enthusiast and avid reader of Scientific American, my mother loves to talk about things no one understands. Get her on the topic of asanas, rare diseases or some obscure field of science and she will speak at length in what might as well be Greek. Once, in university, my grandfather accused me of having a mustache; instead of leaping to my defense, Dr Debbie provided a brief lesson on the medical condition that accounts for excessive women’s facial hair and listed every reason why I might have it. She’s what you’d call an eccentric personality.
But for all her unusual vocabulary, I trust the woman’s medical advice, particularly when it comes by email. Living an ocean away from my most trusted medical advisor – a person who once superglued her own face back together rather than pay a visit to the emergency room – all it takes to diagnose any one of my myriad problems is an email with a photo attachment and, lo and behold, the answer will arrive with an upsetting level of detail, spelling out all the possible causes and solutions for a given ailment. Dr Debbie’s words of wisdom may not be for the faint of heart, but they are helpful.
Except, of course, when they are not. Because while my mother’s tendency to insert high-level medical jargon into everyday conversation can be fun, it can also make matters worse. Like, for example, when you think your body might be riddled with worms. For those of you who have yet to discover this affordable, over-the-counter gift to modern medicine, Fugacar is a popular de-worming medication used throughout Vietnam. Worms, you ask? Yes. You have them, I have them and, according to a recent survey of friends, colleagues and total strangers, we all have them. As a result, every six months, we must rid our insides of these pests. Like fumigating, but with humans.
My first thought when I heard this was, naturally, I’m dying. This is the end. Insects are going to eat my organs, my body will dry up and I only have a few days left. I started being nicer to people and planning the outfit in which I would be buried. Wracked with anxiety, I sought Dr Debbie’s medical expertise, uploading a photo message with the subject line ‘Do I have worms’? But nothing my mother had to say offered any solace. Out of respect, I’ll spare you the more colourful details, but the takeaway is that Dr Debbie, queen of oversharing, managed to mention Scotch tape, ascaris (read: roundworms) and the phrase ‘intense anal itching’ in the same breath. Though she meant to advise against ingesting de-worming medication, the horrifyingly descriptive email – which ended with a cheerful “that’s my bit of diagnostic trivia for the day!” – made it clear that, for all the blind faith I place in my mother’s medical advice, e-diagnosis may no longer be the way to go.
In the end, I took the Fugacar. Terrified and in need of moral support, I called upon my dear, equally-impressionable friend, Stacey*, who was also shaken up by my mother’s advice. Together, we sat in my apartment, holding hands, staring at the box of Fugacar on my coffee table like it was LSD – chocolate, chewable, suitable-for-children-over-two-years-old LSD. From the moment the last of the chalky medicine slid down our throats, the room was thick with paranoid silence.
“Do you feel anything yet?”
“Kind of. Yes? Maybe. No. Wait – no. Yes. I don’t know.”
For the next half-hour, we measured the mild discomforts of our de-worming and, like most medical emergencies, the problem was ultimately resolved with colouring books and pulled pork. Dr Debbie still doesn’t know that I’ve gone against her deeply descriptive medical advice, but I like to think that, sometimes, what we don’t know can’t hurt us.
*Name has been changed because Stacey has the good sense not to be associated with worms or me.
Dana Filek-Gibson is a Canadian expat living in Ho Chi Minh City.