Helen Moorhouse: Dr Online's cure might be worse than disease
THEY say that in laboratories worldwide, terrifying new threats are being created. Genetic mutations that will bring mankind to its knees. Humans controlled by contagion, shuffling about, pale-skinned and rheumy-eyed.
Except you do not really need a lab and a super-villain to invent such crippling contamination. You just pick a child, any child. One who attends school or daycare or, indeed, merely brushes against other tiny germ-carriers in the course of their day, blending their personal microbes to create rashes and rasps and things that ooze. Things that make parents gasp and wonder: "What in the name of genetic mutation is that?"
You would think that in the face of weeping blisters or purple mucus a mum might go to a doctor, a pharmacist or their mother/friend/sister – at the very least, a crone who lives at the foot of a mountain and buries locks of hair and dances by the light of the silvery moon.
But no. In order to find out what actually ails their precious offspring, apparently almost half of mums go to the greatest snake oil salesman of all time, good old Dr Internet.
A survey of 1,800 mothers by Eumom.com has revealed the startling statistic that 43pc respond to an unwell child's symptoms, not by taking them to a registered practitioner, but by plonking themselves down in front of a search engine. It is fair to say that many of us have googled a twinge at some stage, and chances are that we kept at it until we got a terminal diagnosis and then just ignored it, like we might a fire alarm in a public place.
So if we don't trust it for ourselves, why on Earth make it the first port of call when our children are the poorly ones?
Kids are going to get sick, regardless. Most illnesses that strike them can be treated with the recommended dose of Calpol or similar and a lot of patience and TLC, but unfortunately not all.
Then again, not every rash, lump, bump or projectile vomit is the symptom of something life-threatening.
I'll bet the aforementioned 43pc would also Strongly Agree with the fact that they want What Is Best For Their Child, that their baby is The Most Important Thing In Their Lives.
So why trust that child's healthcare, not to someone who can take a temperature or conduct a physical examination, but to nameless, faceless entities somewhere in cyberspace who could not give a monkeys?
I am a parent of a child with a very serious condition and I avoid the internet like the proverbial plague on the subject, partially to avoid hearing anything that will make me panic or worry unnecessarily and partially to avoid being given consolation or reassurance; to avoid being told that it is fine, that it will all work out in the end. Because no one knows that, and it is certainly not anyone's job to tell me that but the professionals. It is certainly not the internet's.
The internet cannot take a temperature, or study the size and shape of a lump of bump, or watch a child simply walk across a room. And if we make it the first port of call in diagnosing what is up with our kids, then not only will we parents never have peace of mind, we are doing our precious children a massive disservice.
Why is it that nowadays we persist in involving the worldwide web in our parenting practices anyway? Why do we read the 'advice' of self-styled experts? What is wrong with using our own cop-on and judgment and gut feelings? With turning to parents and peers and professionals for advice?
Yes, medical care is expensive, but surely a child's well-being – or life – is worth any amount of money?
And yes, the medical profession is fallible, but are your kids important enough to get a second opinion, just not by checking kidscooties dot com as well as dot ie?
Mother (and father) knows best, they say. Well, maybe she does not, but does some self-styled anonymous online oracle know any better what is, for her living, breathing child? And can that oracle be truly blamed if something, God forbid, goes really wrong?