If you’re feeling crook, the last thing you should do is look on the Internet to decide what you’re suffering from. On the other hand, if you ignore all the advice, it might well be the last thing you do. Whatever, you’ll soon be convinced that you’ve been terminally ill for yonks and you’re well over deadline.
Some years ago The Reader’s Digest (and yes, the apostrophe is in the right place, so it must have had only one reader, and that must have been me) published a monthly three-page feature on some obscure but lurking disease from which a grateful patient had made a miraculous recovery.
I suspect there were several other readers digesting this monthly feast of fear, and those already feeling far from par in a medico’s waiting room had a double dose. The result was the phenomenon dubbed by doctors ‘The Disease of the Month’. Suggestible hypochondriacs turned an unheard-of ailment into an epidemic overnight, so that the Bureau of Statistics could have graphed a correlation of the monthly street date of the Reader’s Digest with doctor’s visits, medical certificates and a week of empty desks. That’s the power of suggestion over digestion.
One month RD asked us to answer a marketing survey to find out if we’re ‘normal’. Not me. A non-smoker all my life, I’ve always been a deviant. But perhaps there’s a non-smokers’ disease. . .
I don’t know how doctors can still stand up, being barraged by mobile germ factories every hour of their working day. I take my hat off to them (but briefly, in case I get wind).
In England, members of parliament hold ‘clinics’ to see their forelock-tugging constituents. No doubt the name is derived from the patient waiting it requires to even catch a glimpse of an MP over there. A popular saying from my Lancashire mother’s day comes to mind: “Ah won’t tek me coat off. Ah’m not stoppin’.”
These days constituents anywhere could probably get all the answers they need from the Internet. Most of what an Australian MP could tell them (and probably more) is there for all to read in Daily Hansard, the record of the debates that defeated that day’s Bills or turned them into Acts of Parliament, recording which way the MPs voted and how many thousands signed the petition that will now disappear into a pigeonhole. If it’s welfare the MPs’ visitors need, and most of them do, the receptionist will quickly redirect them to their GP or Centrelink, or the Internet.
Which brings us back to the question of sorting helpful from dangerous. The response to verbal bullying in my youth was ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.’ We know that’s not true. So we can’t rely on what we read on the Internet any more than we would on the opinions of a Melbourne tramful of passengers taken at random.
The art is to consult the right practitioner for your problem. Whom do you need? An MP, a doctor — or an editor?
Sometimes there’s a need for all three, depending on the legality of the activity. Sometimes the words themselves need a bandage, like this post to an Internet health forum:
“The operation is done while you are awake local pain reliever’s are used and the process is painless with brilliant result’s. The scar is invisible.”
Despite its encouraging tone, this is a capital offence. The process needs to be brought to a full stop and an appropriate sentence imposed.
This post reveals that the writer is suffering a highly infectious disease known to editors as pluralsy. It leaves visibly scarred grammar, and the only cure is the immediate removal of those apostrophes. “Painless result’s”? If only an editor’s pain in the ‘s were as easily removed!