Monday, February 22, 2010

Google Care

I slipped and twisted my ankle recently. In 24 years, I’ve never twisted my ankle. I’ve wantonly inserted my ankle into the spokes of my mom’s kinetic Honda once (I was just curious to know what would happen!!!), but never have I ever twisted my ankle. I should have realized the day I started training for the marathon, that an ankle twist was not too far away. As it turns out, I was trying to catch the bus. There was way too much snow everywhere. In my bag, I carried a gallon of milk, some instant coffee powder and a mug. I was going to take all of this, in an ever-continuing attempt to make myself feel at home in my lab, to beat the need to leave the lab when the clock strikes 5 (regardless of how much work I’d gotten done). In my hands, I also had a package that I needed to return. I’m one of those people who orders several things online and returns most of them. I am also one of the few people, whose packages get lost in snow blizzards in Utah, while I’m away in India vacationing in Lakshadweep at a resort with no internet (and therefore cannot track my package). When the bus came, I ran for life, slipped fell, and it hurt like hell. But I will not write about my love-hate relationship with the dead Mr Murphy. Nor do I think I need to groan about the effects of gravity and how it makes you fall down and twist your ankle instead of flying away like a bird and busting no-more than a few feathers. What I do need to groan about is health care.

Getting to a doctor is rather easy in India. There’s usually a nursing home, a clinic or two and several pharmacies every 2 lanes in India. And you could tell by the look of the place whether you should go there to get some cold medicine, some fever medication, to get your sprain looked at or something even more serious. The point is, you could always get to one. There would typically be a pharmacy next door to the clinic and the chap at the pharmacy always has the unique talent of being able to read the doctor’s indecipherable handwriting ( I am told that doctors have bad handwriting because they have to write a lot during the several exams they take at med-school). He will also explain what each medicine is for in layman's terms. A doctor will use obscure terminology to prove to their clients that he in fact did study hard to spell terms at the cost of beautiful penmanship. Such was the luxury that I was accustomed to in my developing, snake-charming, country.

A few months after I moved to Pittsburgh I got blisters on my skin. They’d erupt overnight and itch like hell in the morning. I didn’t know what to do. I did know though, that getting a doctor would not be easy. I did not know who my primary-care-physician was. And I knew that that drug-stores had aisles of medication for all sorts of ailments, almost all of which will contain moisturizers. I do not understand the obsession with moisturizers but I will not be surprised if breakfast cereal came with moisturizers so as to not scratch your tongue. So I went to google images, searched for blisters, and spotted images that looked like mine. Quickly enough, I realized they were bed bug bites. And a few hours later, I knew what bed bugs looked like, what you should and should not do and also that doctors will typically not confirm that it was bed-bug bites unless you could find evidence of bed-bugs. I also learnt that finding bed-bugs was not easy. I was adviced to use anti-histamines to reduce the itching, and wash all your clothes and sheets with really hot water.

Due to what I suspect as being a paranoia-induced-suppression-of-mental-ability, I made my way through the health care system. I made phone call after phone call to primary care physicians whose calendars were blocked for months; to dermatologists who only saw new patients on Fridays and weren’t free for 3 months and to those that only specialized in skin-cancer related blisters, and one that even asked me if the following wednesday would suit me for a skin graft; to family physicians that do not accept new patients, until finally, someone was willing to see me. Right away, I distrusted them because if they were good then they too should’ve been booked. But I had to go see a doctor. On the day of my appointment, I was asked to strip and weigh myself, my temperature was taken, my blood pressure was taken, and I sat there clueless not knowing how any of this related to my “skin condition”. When the doctor did come, he told me nothing conclusive and confirmed nothing. He generally seemed to think that I was right to have applied anti-histamines. Almost the only thing he was sure of was that I should come back if symptoms persisted. I never went back. Google told me everything I needed to know. It charged me no fee, and I am now happily blister- free.

Now fate’s doing a do-over with my ankle. And again, people are asking me if I went to see the doc. I tell them that I won’t see a doc because I doubt he updates his brain as often as google worms and creepy crawls the web. I doubt the doc will tell me anything that google hasn’t already told me. And I have neither the time, the inclination, the energy, or a life threatening skin condition that will convince me to make a million phone calls again only to be told that I can see the orthopaedist sometime after the third coming of Christ.

I hear tell of a rumble in DC about what to do about health-care. I say, let google handle it. They did things in china that DC would have scarce considered. They’re not mired deep in a fiscal deficit. And they, if anyone, know how to organize databases. And while DC has a constitution that no one can understand anymore, Google has a simple credo that everyone does. “Don’t be evil”. Google wants a new business model? I, for one, wouldn’t mind paying a penny or two for every medical page. Maybe the government should simple cure heart disease and HIV. I’d be happy to let google look at my sprain.

Care for google-care anyone ?