Med Student Syndrome

By Mika Sood

I remember sitting in a lecture theatre learning about types of strokes – how it’s possible to have a brain aneurysm just sitting in your brain, how slowly the artery wall can weaken to the point that it can burst randomly and unprovoked and how it could, in theory, happen to anyone – including me. I don’t know why, but after learning more about it that day, I started to relate the symptoms to myself: “Do I have neck stiffness? Am I nauseous? I probably have a headache”. I could talk myself into thinking I had a brain aneurysm, and it wasn’t far-fetched at all.

I think we can all say that at some point so far in our medical education, all of the signs and symptoms begin to sound far too familiar as soon as we have studied a certain condition. This leads to a jump down the rabbit hole with a bit of help from Dr Google, and we self-diagnose ourselves with a condition or disease that had never crossed our minds before.

Medical Student Syndrome is defined as a condition frequently reported in medical students where they think they have the symptoms of a disease that they are studying. Don’t worry if this has happened to you – it’s significantly common and there have even been studies and research done about it. It has many names including “Third Year Syndrome” or “Disease of the Week”, but in essence, it’s a temporary kind of hypochondria based on being extremely aware of psychological and physiological dysfunctions and relating those signs and symptoms to oneself.

The wider community is also not immune to the effects of Dr Google, and in the age of this digital hypochondria, it’s important for us, as future doctors, to realise these effects for ourselves and the general population. It is true that you can find solid, evidence-based information online, but most Google research will not be directing you to the therapeutic guidelines. The easy access to health information is definitely convenient, and it is much less embarrassing than going in for a consultation to ask if it’s possible to have cancer and a brain aneurysm, but it’s also more than likely to be an incorrect diagnosis that can increase anxiety levels unnecessarily (1).

So, I guess this is a big red stop sign to get you to halt your daily activities and call out the irrational thoughts in your head. As medical students, it’s hard not to worry and stress about basically everything, but here is a little friendly reminder that you probably don’t have a life-threatening brain aneurysm or a rare deadly form of leukemia.

Take home message: Close all your google tabs. Stop self-diagnosing. I promise you don’t have the disease you think you do.

P.S. On a serious note, if you are really worried about something, definitely go see your doctor.

 

(1) MedicalDirector. Dr Google Survey 2019 [Internet]. MedicalDirector; 2019 [cited 2020]. 24 p. No: WHI00047Med – AUSV1. Available from: https://www.medicaldirector.com/resources/doctor-google

 

 

Myocarditis

By Anonymous

I was 9 years old when my youngest brother was diagnosed with myocarditis. He was 5 at the time and had very vague symptoms. He refused to eat anything, he didn’t engage much with anyone at the time, and his overall behaviour was different. One day, when my parents took myself and my two brothers for a routine check-up with our paediatrician, she noticed that my younger brother’s skin colour was different. She urgently told my parents to rush to the emergency department without any delay.

He was admitted to Sick Kids hospital immediately and stayed admitted for about 2 weeks. Those 2 weeks were the worst 2 weeks for my parents. We were taken care of by our relatives while they spent most of their days and nights at the hospital. As a kid, my older brother and I didn’t know much about what was going on, and our parents didn’t share much of it with us either.

To me and my older brother, the hospital was beautiful. There was a hot dog stand right in front of the hospital, a wishing fountain at the entrance, and playrooms on every floor and unit. During each trip to the hospital to visit my brother, we would have hot dogs that our dad bought us, we’d throw a coin in the fountain to make a wish, and spend hours in the playroom.

My younger brother, on the other hand, was constantly being monitored, undergoing a number of tests and taking numerous medications every day. Luckily, he was one of the rare kids who didn’t need a heart transplant and was managed well with medications. Upon his discharge, a nurse made regular, bi-weekly, visits at home to monitor my brother’s health. He was also prescribed medications for a number of years until he was completely cleared of any further check-ups when he was 16 years of age.

Upon reflection, I can appreciate how difficult it must have been for my parents and how scared they must have been to think about the thought of losing one of their kids. Although it has been years since this happened, everyone is very protective of my little brother and even now, my parents refuse to tell us the whole story of what had happened at the time to avoid the feelings from coming back.

One thing I’ve learned from this is that it is really important to be aware of any subtle changes in the way a child behaves that is different from normal. Often, children may not be able to express what’s going on but may exhibit signs of irritability or failure to feed. These signs should be an alarm bell signalling that maybe something is up. In such cases, it is better to be safe and to get a check-up at a clinic or hospital instead of delaying medical attention. Sometimes, it may be more serious than what meets the eye.

The Phases of Isolation

By Natasha Rasaratnam 

Phase 1: Relief

The day I received the email that we were off placement for the next two weeks, I was overjoyed! Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was close to burnout and this was the closest thing I would get to a mid-semester break. Maybe it was because I was a great deal behind in my studies. Or maybe an excuse to stay in bed and watch Netflix seemed like a blessing in disguise.

Phase 2: Self-motivation

As quarantine started to become more than just a two week ordeal, social media was blowing up with self-help articles. Inspired by the countless, “Here are 10 things to do in isolation,” I found myself with a new motivation to self-improve during this time. How many times had I said, “I wish I had the time to read again” or “I wish I had the time to exercise,”? Now there was no excuse to not complete my wish list. The next thing I knew, I was doing crunches on my bedroom floor as I tried to ‘Get Abs in 2 weeks’ thanks to Chloe Ting.

Phase 3: A Creature of Habit

Let’s just say that I did not make it through the whole two weeks, not even close. My motivation to try new things lasted a maximum of three days. I found myself a creature of habit, returning to my sanctuary of Netflix and YouTube. Instead of becoming the MasterChef I always wanted to be, I racked up an impressive amount of completed TV shows that I had binged.

Phase 4: Loneliness

As the weeks started to all combine together to become an endless cycle of day and night, I found myself yearning for human interaction outside my family. Soon I was dreaming about eating out, a trip to the shops, even the face-to-face interaction of tutorials after facing the awkward silences on Zoom tutorials. Though previously taken for granted, I soon came to realise how much I valued human interaction.

Phase 5: The Bubble

Yet despite the sudden mundaneness of life and everything seemingly coming to a halt, as soon as I turned on the news, the bubble I had created for myself burst. Maybe it was my way of avoiding the reason why I was in isolation in the first place, pretending that we were on an extended holiday rather than a government enforced quarantine. After all, it’s a bizarre scenario that sounds like something straight out of an apocalyptic film.

I think it can be easy for us to feel trapped in our own home, inside our own isolation bubble. It’s enough to drive anyone crazy if we lose perspective. But the truth is we’re lucky. We’re lucky that for most of us, the worst part of this entire situation has been that we’re stuck at home. We’re lucky that we’re able to self-isolate with a roof over our heads, Netflix to binge and a steady supply of food in our supermarkets. Compared to the rest of the world, Australia is in an enviable position.

Phase 6: Where to go from here?

Whilst it is important to look at the situation in a positive light, for many of us social distancing has been a challenge. The isolation bubble not only keeps us from the outside, but traps us inside with our own stress and anxiety. The same internet and TV we turn to for entertainment now broadcasts the virus almost 24/7.  The constant media coverage of infection and death rates only raises anxiety. Although we may be physically isolated, it is important to prevent emotional isolation. Whether it be through Facetime, Facebook or an old-fashioned phone call, it is important to stay connected.

Phase 7: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Indeed, this is something we never expected, and I don’t think there is any ‘right way’ to do isolation. You don’t need to come out of this a reformed person with abs and a cooking repertoire. Instead, there are many lessons that we have already learnt from this experience that will make us all better doctors. Resilience and the ability to adapt to rapid changes will hold us fast in our future careers. Most importantly, we have recognised the power we have if we all work together. As we see the number of cases fall in Australia, it’s a positive sign that our communal effort to social distance has been effective. At last, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.