Doctors advise you not to diagnose yourself online. You know (we all do it). ‘Google: Forearm pain’ returns 76,200 results. Have fun reading. By the time you’re finished, you’ve concluded that you have hit your forearm against a door, have bone cancer, or you’re a walking terrarium from a spider having laid eggs under the skin. Have a headache? I am sure you have a brain tumor. There are symptom checkers, pill checkers (what is that goofy looking white oval pill with odd numbers), and diagnosis via pictures. Over the years, many symptom checkers emerged, some here, some not. AskMD has a smartphone app, Everyday Health Symptom Checker (Online), Symptify (Online and Smartphone App), Symcat (Online), Isabel Symptom Checker (Online and Smartphone App), (Online), MayoClinic (Online), and so on. In COVID, everything is online, including results.

December 11, I received ‘A New Message in Your HealthVault.’ I figured either my doctor either wished me ‘Happy Holidays,’ ‘Holiday tips for staying healthy,’ or my echocardiogram results became available. The first sentence was ‘This is an auto-generated message,’ meaning that once the echocardiologist completed the reading, she auto-generated everyone’s results, including me. I started reading, line-by-line, ‘normal,’ ‘normal,’ ‘normal,’ ‘normal,’ ‘Cardiomyopathy (an enlargement of the heart due to thick or weak heart muscle).’ “Wait. What?” I murmured. ‘Cardiomyopathy,’ and nothing. No further explanation, no details, no you’re f***ed. Just ‘Cardiomyopathy.’ 

In truth, there is no ‘good’ cardiomyopathy. There are stages though. Stage A, where the patient has pre-heart failure and is at high risk of developing heart failure, to Stage D, which is characterized by structural changes to the heart and is experiencing heart failure symptoms. Stage D means one is f***ed … today. Stage A mitigation are aimed at trying to prevent further damage, whereas Stage D means transplant. 

For me, if the doctor runs a test and finds something suspicious (like cancer). I want to think the physician would call the patient, schedule time, and discuss the results. In a COVID world, to post potentially terminal news via the patient’s portal is probably not a good idea. I went through this once before.

In the 2019 bog post Nuts, I discussed my initial tumor results, as they were posted online. I called it ‘transactional.’ “… tumor in the neck measuring blah, blah, blah … Requires biopsy. Metastatic or secondary tumors may spread from another site … blah, blah, blah.” Every day someone gets news that a loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. The shock can be overwhelming and paralyzing, and we shouldn’t take that lightly. Today, I received another bit of bad news—just how bad remains unclear. Therefore, it’s hard to get all ‘worked up’ until there is clarification. Still, there is an incorrigible part of me that wishes to return the favor.

Imagine the echocardiologist coming in from a lazy weekend and receiving ‘This is an auto-generated message. Your bank account will be frozen.’ Nothing further. No detail, no clarification. The message could be more sly, ‘This is an auto-generated message. Your vehicle brakes will fail sometime in the next two-thousand miles only if driven 646.4 feet above sea level,’ meaning the person has to figure out why the brakes will fail and if any part of the current area is above 646.4 feet about sea level. And lastly, ‘This is an auto-generated message. Anyone who used the toilet paper last Friday must be tested.’ Yet, upon reflecting, this is a shared life. 

Human beings share everything, including birth, aging, illness, death, sorrow, pain, grief, getting what we don’t want, not getting what we want, and losing what we cherish. Even in the darkest early days of the illness, when I didn’t understand, I remembered the first noble truth: suffering. Yes, it’s true that life brings with it a considerable share of unpleasantness and difficulties, but happiness and joy are available, too. Taoist sage Chuang Tzu referred to the world as the realm of the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows. 

Through spirituality, I’ve learned to set aside fear and the fight to live genuinely. Even in my own chronic and, at times, debilitating illness, I can see a different disease perspective. It’s not about surrendering to death, it’s about accepting the current state of my health and, using it as a life marker, and learning to take the best care of my body and mind. It’s about living gracefully and fully in light of that which will challenge us all.

If none of that works, try humor. Type the following.

This is an auto-generated message. Anyone who used the toilet paper last Friday must be tested.’

Press ‘Send.’