PUMPING IRONY: You Can Look It Up

Mysterious maladies often send us online to search for answers, a process that can result in more panic than prevention.

Web-MD-Searching

A month or so ago, I began to notice a weird tingling sensation in my right arm. I couldn’t point to anything I’d done that might have triggered this, so I dismissed it as some random geezer thing and assumed it would pass. The body, I reminded myself, has remarkable recuperative powers.

But here I am, weeks later, still vexed by my right arm’s refusal to cure itself. Worse, it appears to be getting weaker. My usual 30 push-ups in the morning have become an excruciating challenge rather than a pleasant warm-up, as my right arm seems to be refusing to hold up its end of the kinesthetic bargain.

So, like any conscientious health-motivated fellow, I went online to find out what was ailing me. Don’t laugh; you’ve probably done it yourself at some point. The Pew Research Center reports that 80 percent of Internet users have searched for health information on the Web. It’s easy, it’s a lot cheaper than going to the doctor, and it’s only slightly dangerous.

At WebMD.com, I typed in my annoying symptoms and was presented with a list of possible ailments — maladies ranging from stroke and Lyme disease to lead poisoning and multiple sclerosis. Now, I understand that life serves up random health challenges to us all — especially those of us who have been fortunate enough to survive into late middle age — but faced with a list such as this is likely to send even the most buoyant soul into a bit of a funk.

And that often happens when you turn to the Web for medical info, Natasha Burget, MD, a physician in Kansas City, said in a recent CNN story. “For most intents and purposes, when you’re looking for online health information, it’s about yourself or a family member,” Burget said. “When you’re looking through that lens, it’s very hard to keep emotional distance. So you can read about a diagnosis that either makes you very scared or calms your fears — and that’s the path you’ll continue down, whether it’s correct or not.”

Thankfully, my symptoms didn’t exactly lead me to any of the more frightening conclusions (or, at least, I preferred not to believe they did). Still, the most likely causes of my malfunctioning right arm — cervical spinal stenosis and cervical spondylosis — did little to cheer this amateur medical sleuth. They’re each connected to a narrowing of the spinal canal, which apparently squeezes the spinal machinery in a way that messes with the nerves in the arm. Conventional treatment options are not appealing: corticosteroid injections, muscle relaxants, physical therapy, and surgery.

One of the weird things about getting old is gradually coming to accept the fact that your body is breaking down.

Stuff is going to happen and some of it is not going to be fun. To a certain degree, you just have to learn to be OK with it, because the tools conventional medicine provides (see corticosteroid injections) can be more harmful than the ailments they are trying to cure. It’s like my meditation teacher used to tell us: “This is how it is now.”

There’s a whole lot of accepting limitations that comes with the aging process, a mindset that requires a geezer to let go of preconceived (or culturally mandated) notions of how things are supposed to be.

That doesn’t mean you should passively accept sudden misfortunes such as numb and tingling arms. It just means you need to weigh the relative costs of obsessing over treatment against the relative “dis-ease” of letting the problem run its course.

It’s pretty clear to me that, whatever the source of my problem, I seem to need a little body work. So, I dialed up a local alternative medicine guy in the neighborhood and set up an appointment. He may or may not be able to figure out the reason for my malfunctioning arm, but I’m guessing I’ll be no worse off for his investigation.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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