The Internet TOLD Me to Do It!

My job as an Emergency Department physician is often providing advice.

People come to me with a problem, I suggest tests to discover what is causing said problem and propose a solution.   Technically, I work in an ER (or an Emergency Room (or Emergency Department (ED))).  However, like so many acronyms current out there, the actual meaning is lost.

Never has this been more true than on the internet.   What does “LOL” mean?  If you are slightly internet savvy you might say “laughing out loud.”  This is not true.  You never type “LOL” when you laugh out loud.  You type LOL whenever you find something mildly amusing.  Or, if you are in middle-school, you put it at the end of a mean statement to take away a little of the sting.

Gf1: “I saw you at the gym today, Janet, you looked like a sweaty warthog covered in vomit, lol.”

Janet: “Thx Brenda.  I actually just did vomit and it reminded me of your face, LOL!”

Similarly, “ED” has lost meaning.  Emergency.  That is the first letter, but people often go for pretty trivial issues; or they go when they have learned just enough from the internet to become insane.   Don’t get me wrong, people love the internet.  I love the internet. It’s just painful when I’m caught in the whiplash of people freaking out over a chain letter.


I enter the room to find a fine (read gullible) young man who appears anxious, but otherwise healthy.  Upon interviewing, he immediately demands that I run a “NutraSweet” level on him.  I smile and nod and then try to determine his true complaint.  However, he is serious.  He starts listing off a series of vague complaints that he KNOWS are caused by high levels of NutraSweet in his blood.  I do my normal exam, and excuse myself.   I’ll be honest.  We don’t have a NutraSweet level detector in the ED.  What happened is that one of his friends, or possibly a chain letter, convinced him that he had lupus.  Now I had to talk him off the cliffs of insanity.  He had all sorts of documents printed for me to read.

Multiple.  Pages.

It would have taken longer than my shift to read all of this.     Aspartame (NutraSweet) is in everything.  Is it great for you?  No.  But it has been studied EXTENSIVELY and found to be safe.  But this did pique my curiosity.  So I did some quick research and found that several chain letters had been made.  I tried to convince my patient that he was fine.  I also tried to convince him that this was not an emergency.  I failed miserably.  I subsequently discharged him with a diagnosis of come back when you are sick (a surprisingly common diagnosis) and went on to my next patient.

Like all humans born after 1995, he had his phone with him.  On his phone he had looked up something on the most noted and respected Medical journal ever made… Yahoo! Answers.  Yes, that’s right, Yahoo! answers (get anything answered there… yes anything (click if you dare).  If you are unfamiliar with this site, it is a site where you can pose a question to the population as a whole and whoever happens to be looking at your question (read as people with waaaay to much time on their hands) will spout out a made up answer.

So I found out that this guy had already been seen and evaluated.  Earlier.  The.  Same.  Day.  Every possible bad diagnosis had been ruled out (thoroughly).   After this, instead of going home and following the discharge instructions, he went home and went online.  The online community responded with furious vehemence.  The random people online gave many possible reasons for his problems… all of which had already been ruled out.     He continued to scroll through his phone and click on different links for me.  With saint-like calm, I allowed him to show me several things.  Then I explained that there were literally no more tests for me to do. Everything had been ruled out.  He was fine.  After realizing we had considered the Yahoo! Answers diagnosis he felt much better.

Another emergency solved… by telling him he was fine.

Then I went on Yahoo Answers to Double Check.


Remember to click “Like” and please go to the upper right and “Follow.”  LOL!

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