Monday, September 6, 2010

MM 101, Lesson 4: The Danger of Differentials

Over the past two years, I've heard some pretty freaky medical stuff. I'm talking weeping pustular wounds, anus-dwelling worms who lay eggs at night, African sleeping sickness... the stuff nightmares are made of, for the medically overly-informed.

Is it really any wonder at all that I've become a bit of a hypochondriac?

I'm not quite sure that hypochondriac is the right work for it, actually. It's not like I'm constantly telling myself that I'm sick---in fact, I do my best to tell myself I'm
not sick until it's absolutely apparent that I am. So I guess I'm not really sure if there's a word for it...

Let's just put it this way, in terms of medical matrimony: Marrying a med student means you'll often assume the very worst of your ailments, thanks to a handy thing called a "list of differential diagnoses."

Differential diagnosis is just fancy doctor-talk for "shtuff that might be going wrong." It's something that doctors use to move from a patient's chief complaint or symptoms to an actual diagnosis. Every symptom you can think of---runny nose, blurred vision, swollen fingers, you name it---has a differential diagnosis, a list of things that
could be wrong with the patient. All of my medically inclined readers will probably balk at this statement but, yes, it's kind of like the list of illnesses you get when you fill out WebMD.

So, I'm sick. Last weekend, I started to get a sore throat and a runny nose---signs of my first cold of the year. However, in true married-to-a-med-student fashion, my first thought was that I might have strep throat. But THEN... I remembered I had been fatigued lately. Fatigue has a huuuuuuuuge differential diagnosis, and one of the only things I can really remember being on that list is mononucleosis. So then I start thinking, oh man... I have mono. And then after a couple days I start coughing, so I'm like, this is definitely bronchitis. Or maybe whooping cough. Tuberculosis?

Thank goodness I'm not a doctor, or I'd have everybody thinking that their runny noses mean they've got TB. Dr. D tells me that I've probably just got some viral upper-respiratory infection, which should clear up in the next week (

That's the danger of being only
slightly informed about differential diagnoses, though. I know just enough to scare myself, but not enough to really know what I'm talking about. Thankfully I've got Dr. D here to tell me I'm not dying.

I think I'm gonna go back to sleep.


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