Friday, August 20, 2010

Internet commenters deliver best medical advice

I get several headaches a month, sometimes several a week. Who knows what causes them. McDonald's Nuggets, not getting caffeine before noon, not eating by 1, not having red meat by 6, not drinking enough water, drinking too much alcohol, staying up too late on Thursdays, waking up at all on Sundays. But they are not debilitating. They aren't even as severe as the ones my dad and sister suffer from on a near-daily basis. And most importantly, they're not migraines.

Vikings receiver Percy Harvin is the latest in a long line of famous athletes who have endured those devastating attacks. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar famously suffered from them. Scottie Pippen experienced one at the worst possible time: the day the Bulls played the Pistons in Game 7 of the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls lost, and some people lost a bit of respect for Pippen, wondering if somehow the migraine meant he had cracked under the pressure of a Game 7.

Harvin collapsed at practice Thursday, a frightening scene no matter what, perhaps made worse by the fact he plays for the Vikings, a franchise still haunted by the death of Korey Stringer nine years ago. Harvin returned to Vikings practice Friday. He visited his teammates and pronounced himself fine. But who knows what his future holds. Harvin has seen doctors for a decade, trying to find a solution. He's been to the best, including physicians at Mayo.

But apparently Harvin just hasn't been looking in the right places. The answers to his migraines won't be found in hospitals or clinics and the solutions won't be delivered by doctors or researchers. Instead, he needs to hit the Internet. And it's not about going on WebMD to make a self-diagnosis. No need for that, not when Internet M.D.'s around the country - many of whom graduated with their degrees from Vikings University - can offer their own solutions.

"The treatment I suggested would not require extensive time off. He could see relief with the first treatment or two. He will need a few days to rest, because after he sleeps better than he has in years the first night, the next day he will feel like he has a ton of bricks on his shoulders. This is because of the correction that has been made to his upper cervical area. This subsides in a day or so. Then, if needed, an additional treatment or two in the first week, then a maintenance plan is set up, if needed. In reality, he will be raring to go after he sees how well he feels afterwards."

That's "Mel Allen"
on the Vikings fan website Mel also recommends "google three words - 'migraine atlas orthogonality' Percy, if you read this, you owe it to yourself to do so. To be blunt, doctors will not recommend this. Take care."

And, "He has suffered from them for more than half his life. They started for a reason. An injury, a trauma, who knows? How many more conventional doctors can he see? Drugs will only mask symptoms, not address the cause!!! I know it sounds simple, too good to be true, etc., etc. A simple battery of Xrays, which cost me about $75, can determine if his atlas is misaligned and if he has verterbral subluxation." Throughout the threads, Mel gets increasingly agitated when people question his beliefs and medical proclamations.

So who do you listen to? Mayo or Mel? If you can't believe the medical opinions of anonymous Internet posters who are named after Hall of Fame broadcasters famous for T.W.I.B. Notes and the phrase "How about that," then who can you trust?

Doctors make mistakes. They misdiagnose people. Occasionally alternative therapies work. But in the history of medicine, has there ever been a celebrity - whether it's an athlete, a movie star or a reality TV slug - who's been reading online and come across a post that makes them think, "Wait a minute, that guy's on to something?" Has there ever been a doctor who retired for the evening after a 12-hour shift, started reading his favorite football message board and came across a medical opinion that made him think, "Jesus Christ. That's it. Why didn't my team at Columbia think of this?"

Mel Allen isn't alone in pleading for an athlete to listen to his interesting ideas on health and wellness. During the NBA season I spend an unfortunate amount of time on Lakers message boards. Whenever a player suffers an injury - whether it's a sprained ankle or a bruised shoulder - an online doctor appears with advice. And these people are never actually doctors. That'd at least be a bit more plausible, if someone with a medical degree would offer up opinions on an injury or give insight into the normal recovery time for an affliction. That can be valuable. No, these are accountants and college students and copy editors and garbage men offering cutting-edge advice to millionaire athletes with decent health insurance plans who have access to the best medical minds in the country, if not the world.

But these posters beg the players to READ THIS MESSAGE or pray that the athlete's agent or mistress will stumble upon the post and alert the guy. These posts fall into two main categories:

* The guy who suffered the same injury offers advice. Kobe Bryant injured his finger - again - early last season. Debate raged about whether he should get surgery and sit out a few months or simply play with pain. Inevitably, a weekend baller who routinely kicks ass at the Y on Thursday nights contributed a post about how he broke his finger two years ago. He didn't get surgery and regretted it ever since. And if Kobe doesn't get the surgery, he'll regret it, too. Or maybe he did get the surgery but something didn't go right and Kobe should never get surgery, since you can never be sure whether you're getting the surgeon who graduated at the bottom of the class. Either way, this person knows what's best for Kobe and how it will affect his jumper, because "since I broke my finger, my jump shot has been flat and inconsistent. Please, Kobe. Listen to me!"

* The guy whose brother/son/brother-in-law suffered the same injury and offers advice. Andrew Bynum injured his knee - again - last season. A relative sprained his knee four years ago and went through surgery that didn't really work. A year later, the same relative traveled to Texas for a surgery and regained his 23-inch vertical leap. "Andrew, if your (sic) reading this, send me a message so I can tell you about this Texas doctor. Please!"

This happens everywhere, in every league, to every team. A running back suffers a pulled hamstring that lingers for four weeks and the team becomes inundated with letters offering therapy ideas. It happens for small injuries and, as Vikings fans prove, for potentially life-altering afflictions. Certainly the intended audience for these online missives never actually read - or follow - the advice offered by Internet physicians. Whatever happens with Percy Harvin, it won't have anything to do with the ideas thrown around by the Internet's finest medical minds.

What's the psychology involved here? What makes fans think a stranger they'll never meet will read about their medical malady online and realize the solution they've been searching for is out there, if only they'll listen to an Internet poster, the same one who thinks Joe Mauer should be benched, Phil Jackson is overrated, proper spelling is unnecessary, man never actually landed on the moon and the Earth is 2,000 years old? Yes, these are the people who can cut through the fog and properly diagnose a torn ligament or a severe brain injury.

What's the psychology? Let me break out the DSM IV and I'll offer up an online diagnosis of the mental illness these fans are suffering. Please listen to me! I know what I'm talking about! I can help!

No comments: