Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A little knowledge can be dangerous...

Early in my nursing education I diagnosed myself, quite adeptly (I thought) with pheochromocytoma.  For those not steeped in the intricacies of the human body beyond the necessity of nutrition and heeding nature's call, pheochromocytoma is a rare tumor on the adrenal gland.  We have two such glands, one located at the very top of each kidney (most know this as the gland that allows old ladies to pick up Volkswagens in a crisis).  From these glands come epinephrine and norepinephrine, two very powerful hormones usually released in small quantities to regulate heart rate and blood pressure.  As you might surmise, a tumor on one of these little hummers can cause a heap o' trouble. 

I was quite certain I had one.  I had the symptoms:  Abdominal pain, occasional chest pain, flushing, increased appetite, irritability, nervousness, palpitations, rapid heart rate, headaches, sweating, weight loss, sleeping difficulties, and hypertension (okay, the weight loss was not an issue, but I have already told you much more than HIPAA allows).  I made an appointment with my primary, and brought a print-out of the disease, just in case he wasn't up on it. 

My doctor was generous to an obvious fool.  It was clear from the moment I began that I was more likely to have a dermoid with my twin growing in my pelvis (I'm not completely convinced that I don't) than pheochromocytoma.  "Are you under any stress?" he asked.  Hmmmm...full time student, full time employee, father of four (now nine with some indirect help from epinephrine and norepinephrine), "no, not that I'm aware of...well, okay, yeah, I guess I am under a bit of stress".  I guess.  Who was I kidding.  With one question my diagnosis lay gasping and flopping on the floor like a fish in Bill Dance's cooler.  I was suffering from anxiety.  Jeesh.  How bourgeois.  I declined any "little helpers" and left the office with my tail between my legs.

I can tell you that I learned very little from that experience.  As my college career progressed, each new disease, syndrome, and illness I learned was a new possible self-diagnosis and looked at carefully in that light.  As a nurse in the Emergency department, I can vouch for the danger of a little bit of knowledge.  I would like to find, incarcerate, and water-board the founder of WebMD; for some of our patients there is little need for evaluation and diagnosis as they themselves have already done the bulk of the leg-work and require only our affirmation (damn that this country still requires physicians to write orders. We could save a lot of time if our regulars could do it on their own).  Those in this line of work know that more often than not, the primary diagnosis for many such as these is anxiety. 

Don't misinterpret my callous appraisal of medical information sites; I am grateful for the information they provide and strongly encourage better understanding of the working of our bodies.  But as in all things, there can be too much of a good thing.  For some, these sites are a drug.  They pour over them, looking for signs and symptoms to affirm their strongly held assertion that there is SOMETHING wrong with them.  These sites are just generic enough that any symptom you have, from constipation to burping, could be a symptom of the disease that is about to send you six feet underground. 

This is not unique to the medical field.  There are many well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) people in our society misusing information to affirm wrongly-held assertions or to diagnose societal ills unexplained by an obvious cause-and-effect.  The internet is chock-full of sites that assert without any shadow of a doubt that African Americans are going to violently take over the country, white people are feeding drugs to African Americans to keep them down, Jewish bankers control the world, weather changes have been caused by the CIA, aliens are living among us, computer chips were injected in our kids' arms the last time they were vaccinated, Pee Wee Herman is a bloodthirsty terrorist, and Bert and Ernie are gay.  I'm not sure about Pee Wee, but whatever. 

Our Church is not immune to these problems.  Whether Dan Brown or some other wacko wants to convince the world that Opus Dei and the Jesuits are initiating a  new world order of secrecy or Bob Jones wants to repeat his tired mantra about the whore of Babylon, there are many willing listeners.  From within, there are Catholics that are passionate that everything they see wrong with the Church can be traced to Vatican II, female altar servers, vernacular mass, and Cary Landry (okay, maybe the latter is true, but let's move on).   No matter the symptom, we are adept at adapting it to our personal conspiracy theory.  It is pervasive, historical, and probably with us until Jesus returns (ONE return; no rapture, sorry.).  Real problems?  Sure.  Worthy of discussion?  Absolutely.  Worthy of obsessive-compulsive hand-wringing?  Not so much.

Yes, there are legitimate problems in our Church.  No, it is not often possible nor feasible to pinpoint a cause-and-effect; therefore, we need to rely on the guidance of the Church.  When we spend so much time concentrating on researching and finding evidence to back up our personal theory we waste valuable time that could be spent in prayer, adoration, and service to one another.  We lose much of our ability to evangelize and to personify the love of Christ.  We squander grace. 

"For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry."      2 Timothy 4:3-5
I think that "time to come" prophesied by St. Paul arrived long ago, and will continue indefinitely.  To survive we need to seek the guidance of the Church.  We need to avoid the temptation to insatiable curiosity.  We must embrace thw scriptures, seek the guidance of the saints, and pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially wisdom and discernment.  With God's grace we can keep a level head, live His will for our lives, love much, and bring a whole bunch with us.  That is how we fulfill our ministry.

Now here's my theory about Spongebob Squarepants...just kidding.

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