Back in the day, when my son’s medical symptoms and developmental delays started slowly revealing themselves one by one, I received the following advice from several of his doctors:
Don’t start Googling.
While this advice may have been given for job security or to prevent a lot of “needless” requests for referrals, I think it was grounded in some compassion and consideration for my mental health. Medical information on-line is often: 1. hard to decipher, 2. dire and distressing, 3. contradictory, 4. controversial and predatory, 5. just plain wrong, and sometimes 6. all of the above. They suggested I take a more concierge/secret agent approach, bringing my questions to them and letting them feed me info on a need-to-know basis.
For years I was happy to comply. I was in full-blown denial, dysfunctionally optomistic, busy and exhausted caring for two small kids. The less bad news, the better. Consciously, I reasoned that they were the experts and if there was something worth knowing, they would tell me. I sensed that I could lead them down the wrong path and I didn’t want to be a distraction. But mostly I was in denial and content to stay that way.
But as my son grew and the picture got more complicated, the doctors started sending mixed messages. They’d start sentences with, “You’ve probably seen this on-line…” and “I’m sure you’ve already read about this on the internet….” What happened? It was as if policy had shifted and someone forgot to send me the memo.
At some point it finally hit me: I am ultimately culpable for my son’s well-being. No matter how many experts I recruit to our team, I am the one who will be held accountable and everyone else is assuming that I’ve got the big picture. (This insight is a blog post — or book or lifetime of practice — in and of itself.) I couldn’t stay away from the internet any longer, and a few years ago I finally gave in and started poking around.
You know what I found? Absolutely nothing useful. While medical websites can be slightly helpful when you know what to look for or if you have a very common diagnosis, my searches brought forth no fruitful results. I knew there had to be lots of academic papers from reputable journals out there, but my searches seemed to take me to useless sites that all seemed to be cutting and pasting information from the same vague source.
This fall, I finally learned about Google Scholar, a Google search engine that only searches academic and scholarly articles. I learned of it in a completely roundabout way; no doctor had ever shared it as a resource. (Why were you holding out on me, docs?)
In that moment, I felt like James Bond being given the cool gadgets from Q, the hidden camera in an average looking pen, the undetectable knives that shoot out from the wheels of my car when I press the cigarette lighter. And now, I give it to you.
What we do with that research — how to decipher it, how to judge its worthiness, how to not get overwhelmed by it — is information for another day. But in the mean time, here’s another tool for the toolbox.
Any other resources out there for evidence-based, sound research? I wouldn’t be surprised. If so, please share!