E.g., 08/2017
E.g., 08/2017

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The dangers of Dr. Google

Contrary to popular belief, doctors get sick too. And in case you hadn't heard, we are terrible patients. It's true. Four years ago, while very pregnant with my second child, I slipped getting out of my SUV and sustained a rather terrible ankle fracture. The type of fracture is called an "open trimalleolar fracture” and the sight of my mangled ankle bothered me enough to where I felt I had to put it back into place, right there on the spot. Did I mention I'm a pediatrician and not an orthopedic surgeon? 

The next few days were pretty traumatic, as I underwent an invasive and extensive surgery to reattach my ankle. My baby also didn't handle the anesthesia very well, so I was in an out of the hospital more times than I can recount. During times of pain, loneliness and boredom, I tried to distract myself by using my phone. I hesitate to admit that I did the one thing we all know we should never do; I Googled "open trimalleolar fracture." What I found online was disturbing, depressing and as it turns out, completely untrue. 

If one were to Google "open trimalleolar fracture," they would see oodles of sad stories of people who have had this type of fracture and who can sadly no longer walk well. Years of pain and sorrow are documented in these blogs and forums. There are countless sites dedicated to advice on types of ankle braces and physical therapy, exercise bikes, machines, all of which consumed me. Before I knew it, I was a very sad and large pregnant woman who couldn't move and who was in a load of physical and emotional pain. Would I ever get to run around with my children again? Was I really going to need years and years of surgeries and revisions and casting? Would I need a cane for the rest of my life? Would I ever get to play tennis again like I had in my college years? Dr. Google was making a very strong case for a big fat, NO.

Thankfully, my surgeon was amazing, incredible and very talented. I know I wasn't an easy patient, not only medically but due to my own educational level, which made me feel like I might actually know something about surgery. He talked me down from the ledge several times. He gently told me to stop googling and firmly told me NO, when I asked for physical therapy. He also told me NO, when I asked for a brace because he told me I would use it as a crutch. It wasn't easy hearing something totally contradictory to what I read and "researched" myself. He instead had me focus on scar reduction and on my family. He reminded me I was young, motivated, active and had nothing in common with most of the people I was reading about. So I listened to him. 

Four years later, I'm happy to report my left ankle is stronger than my right. I have zero complications from my fracture and surgery. It was a tough thing to do, but I trusted my doctor over the millions of voices that lured me into cyber-land. I did exactly as he recommended and I had the most optimal outcome. I know this doesn't happen for everyone, so I am extremely grateful.

I hope my story can inspire our patients to learn the dangers of relying on search engines for answers and self-diagnoses. While the Internet has become an integral part of our society, it also has many drawbacks. Beware of trying to diagnose yourself or your family members. Remember most information you will find online is likely false or subjective, and may not apply to your particular situation. Beware of seeking advice from other people who are not in the medical field. When in doubt, talk to your doctor and trust their advice, years of education and experience. If you are going to read, use reputable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics or websites recommended by your physician, such as the Parent Advice Center app provided by Texas Children's. This app provides parents with the information to make timely decisions about the level of care for their sick children. It has an online symptoms checker with accurate and detailed information regarding care and medication administration. I highly recommend it to all my patients and family members. 

To download on iTunes:

  • Tap App Store
  • Click “Search”
  • Type “Texas Children’s Pediatrics”

Or click this link from your mobile device or tablet: http://apple.co/1BONOZo

To download on Google Play:

  • Open the Google Play Store app
  • Click the magnifying glass in the upper right corner to search
  • Type “Texas Children’s Pediatrics”

Or click this link from your mobile device or tablet: http://bit.ly/1J7EvTS

Post by:

Samira Armin, MD, FAAP

I have longed to be a pediatrician since I was four years old. In my spare time I enjoy writing fiction, playing tennis and raising my two little girls.