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Informed Self-Diagnosis

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Most people, when they fall ill, will only describe their symptoms in general terms ("My stomach hurts", "I think I'm going to throw up", "AAA-CHOO!", etc.) This makes sense - most of us don't have much medical knowledge and can only use vague terms to talk about the complex things happening to us.

Not so when the patient is a doctor, however. They will give a full account of their condition, with all the relevant jargon, even if they're in the middle of collapsing. If they're already in hospital, they will probably be an Annoying Patient, particularly if the other doctors disagree - it's well known that doctors make the worst patients. Occasionally, it will be shown that the patient isn't actually sick, just that they're a Hypochondriac or simply a worrywart.

See also A Fool for a Client, the equivalent trope for lawyers. Compare Diagnosis from Dr. Badass.


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    Comic Strips 
  • In a Dilbert comic, Catbert made Google the new company health plan, saying "from now on, employees must use Google to diagnose their own illnesses."

    Fan Works 
  • In a Bleach fanfiction Dr. Granz Is In, the second chapter has everyone's favorite pink-haired Espada diagnose himself with appendicitis. He then enlists the help of Espadas 3 through 6 to perform the operation. Nnoitra leaves early, Grimmjow faints at the site of his organs, and Ulquiorra and Harribel do it all fairly well. After all, Ulquiorra was apparently a surgeon in his past life. (Notably, the symptoms and surgery are all realistically portrayed, since the author is actually in medical school and had even just gotten over said disease.)
  • In Forward, Simon gives a self-diagnosis when he gets stabbed in the chest by a pair of scissors when the ship goes haywire. Later on, River gives herself a diagnosis of all of the injuries she's accrued, including broken bones, gunshot wounds, and sunburns.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Predators, Topher Grace's character does this when he gets caught in something akin to a bear trap. He expresses relief that his tibial artery was missed by inches. Royce, an expert in warfare rather than medicine, explains that the trap was meant to maim him rather than kill him, in order to slow down the whole group.
  • In Serenity, Simon is shot in the stomach while trying to assess an injury Kaylee has just taken. As Inara tries to stem the blood flow, he dictates the medication he and Kaylee will both need for their respective injuries.
  • In The X-Files: Fight the Future, Scully is stung by a bee and has an immediate reaction. She goes down, describing how she feels — even correcting Mulder when he suggests she's allergic.

  • Dr. Maturin, in the Aubrey-Maturin series, himself falls prey to a wide variety of injuries and ailments over the course of the series. His self-diagnoses are almost always on the mark, too, though he notably fails to recognize his own addiction to the (opium-based) alcoholic tincture of laudanum.
  • At the beginning of Robin Cook's Mutation, a three-year-old Child Prodigy complains of "a headache of a pounding variety, like a migraine". Hours later he falls into a coma, then dies. This is a major Plot Point; he was one of a few toddlers with the same genetically-engineered Super-Intelligence as the ten-year-old Big Bad — who decided he wanted no competition.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Dr Sheldon Hawkes of CSI: NY, having just been rescued from a nasty underwater incident, tells a paramedic he has "a full range of motion - probably just a hairline fracture."
  • Done in Doc Martin with the "gets it wrong" variant of this trope. Dr Dibbs self-diagnosis almost kills her before Martin manages to correct it. Martin's Aunt Ruth diagnoses herself with a terminal illness, listing all the symptoms, but thankfully Martin is on hand to point a couple of symptoms she's missed which means he has to break the bad news that she is going to live as she has something totally different.
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries: In "Mortal Coil", Lucien self-diagnoses his symptoms as possibly being cirrhosis of the liver and starts making preparations for his possible demise. However, when he eventually gets blood tests done, it turns out to be the far less serious (and more treatable) hepatitis, which has similar symptoms, combined with additional symptoms from his attempt to quit drinking.
  • In Firefly episode "Objects in Space," Simon is shot in the leg. Although he's the only medic on board, Zoe has some battlefield first aid experience. As a result, she has to perform surgery on Simon's leg while he stays conscious enough to talk her through the process.
    Zoe: "This is really not my area of expertise, doctor. I tend to be putting these into people more than the other thing."
    Simon: "You got the bullet. Okay, I'm just going to pass out for a minute, but you're doing great."
  • Frasier; Doctors dealing with the Crane family have learnt to dread having one as a patient, or even a relative of Niles or Frasier. The accepted procedure appears to be to humour a fellow medical professionalnote  and then to ignore whatever they say and to do it your way anyway.
  • Unsurprisingly, this happens on House multiple times.
    • In "Three Stories," House prints a graph from his heart monitor, calls a nurse and tells her she has twenty seconds to inject him before he goes into tachycardia. He then crashes immediately, with a surprised "I was wrong..."
    • In the Season 4 finale, Amber gets some of her medical info from Wilson, but quickly puts it all together and figures out for herself that she's doomed.
    • House had done this earlier in the finale for himself on awakening with a concussion and retrograde amnesia.
    • House is also able to work out that somebody spiked his coffee with narcotics when he realizes his mouth is dry. It turns out to be 13, getting revenge for House switching regular coffee for decaf and making her think she was suffering from Huntington's
    • Wilson also does this in one of the funniest scenes of the whole series when he realizes House spiked his coffee with amphetamines, although it's only after confusing Foreman and winking at a patient while he's doing a breast exam.
    • Also used in "The Greater Good," when a chef's apprentice collapses while reciting her symptoms in big medical words. Turns out she's a doctor.
    • One episode with the pregnant photographer opens with her self-diagnosing a stroke that's she's having. In an unusual example, she's not a medical professional, and is using a self-diagnosis technique that everyone can (and should) learn to identify a stroke (though it's revealed that she learned it from a nurse she'd dated).
    • In the episode "Epic Fail", a videogame programmer, who complains that his hands felt like they were on fire, uses online resources to self-diagnose himself, which alienates the doctors of Princeton-Plainsboro. However, they soon prove his self-diagnosis wrong. Instead of doing the logical thing and letting THEM help, he keeps trying to self-diagnose and, eventually, get help from doctors outside the hospital. Near the end of the episode, he offers a $25k prize for the doctor who solves his case, which he posted online. In an (at first) ironic twist, one of the online doctors DOES solve the case and gets the money. But at the end of the episode, it's revealed that House, who had previously resigned and not even looked at the patient once, was the one who solved the case and got the money, which helps convince him that he needs to keep working at the hospital.
  • On Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Dr. Warner gets shot. As she, Olivia, and several others are being held captive by the insane woman who shot her, she has to guide Olivia through performing an emergency procedure on her while describing what the bullet has done to her body.
  • Lost "Something Nice Back Home," with a twist. Jack knows he has appendicitis, but won't admit it until Juliet calls him on it, at which point he says his appendix hasn't ruptured yet.
  • Averted in the M*A*S*H episode "Bless you, Hawkeye," when Hawkeye starts sneezing repeatedly and he insists he is alright. When Col. Potter demands an explanation of why he thinks that, Hawkeye simply says "I can tell!" Of course, Col. Potter does not accept that cop-out for a second and orders him relieved of duty at post-op and put to bed.
    • Played straight in season six's "Fade Out, Fade In," in which one of the wounded is a doctor who keeps doing this and telling the surgeons not to bother with him.
  • Rizzoli & Isles: In "Dirty Little Secret," Maura is able to ascertain that her injured leg is developing compartment syndrome, and talks Jane through performing an emergency fasciotomy with a piece of glass from a broken cellphone screen.
  • Scrubs:
    • Averted in an early episode when JD himself gets sick. He's diagnosed by the hospital personnel and seems overall intimidated by viewing the hospital from the patient's side. Of course, at this stage, he was just an intern starting out, so his opinion wouldn't be as informed as everyone else's anyway.
    • Played with by having four older doctors all sharing a hospital room. JD is understandably intimidated, but they very kindly inform him of their condition and what's required. Then prank him.
    • Another episode features the "Annoying Patient" angle. Not only does the doctor in question diagnose himself, he brings along a lackey who automatically agrees with everything he says to try and legitimize his claims that the Sacred Heart doctors should just sign off on the drugs he's prescribed himself and let him go about his merrily arrogant way. Then subverted when he hires Elliot for his private practice precisely because she stood up to and disagreed with him (though it's implied he still went with his own diagnosis), because he has too many lackeys like the one he brought along.
    • When the retired Dr. Kelso is admitted and makes sure to keep the interns assigned to treat him busy with nonsense work so he can carry on treating himself.
  • Sherlock has a non-doctor example- the titular Insufferable Genius diagnoses himself after being shot in the chest by Watson's fiancé Mary. He mentally plays out both evaluating his condition and being advised by mental representations of people he knows- mainly his smug brother Mycroft- to determine that the bullet is still in his body (because it didn't shatter the mirror behind him) and which direction he should fall down in to increase his chances of survival, as well as forcing himself to think of a happy memory (his dog from his childhood) for the same reason. This takes about 5 minutes on-screen but in-universe he mentally goes through all of this in about a second. He later points out that had Mary truly wanted to kill him, she was good enough to make a kill-shot, and it's possible he thought of that at the time of being shot too.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • The episode "Arsenal Of Freedom": after Dr. Crusher takes a nasty fall, Picard has to take care of her, and she has to tell him how to do it.
    • During another episode where the entire crew is slowly vanishing and Beverly is the only one who notices, she performs a self-diagnostic, mentioning rather tersely that "being the only doctor on board, I had to do it myself."

    Real Life 
  • The website WebMD has, among other things, a library of symptoms and diseases that cause them. It is infamous for supposedly getting tons of traffic from panicked self-diagnosers. The main issue is that it only tells you what ailments go with what symptoms, and leaves out the "minor" detail of frequency. That rash that could be skin cancer is probably just a rash.
  • Real Life example: The head of the CDC infectious diseases department was bitten by a mosquito in Atlanta. He soon developed symptoms and figured he had West Nile virus. He took his own blood test and confirmed it.
  • Truth in Television, both among physicians and other healthcare professionals. There's also value in ordinary people knowing enough to recognize the symptoms of acute and serious conditions. The trick is not to diagnose yourself, but to identify your symptoms and recognize when it could be something serious enough to require immediate medical attention.
    • There's a drive to make sure people recognize the symptoms of a stroke. Strokes can be treated if identified immediately, but if not recognized, can easily be deadly. And since the victim often loses consciousness, diagnosing it may be delayed. The acronym F.A.S.T. is a common mnemonic device: Face (half of your face just stops working, and it looks weird), Arms (you can't keep your arms level with each other), Speech (you slur your words as if drunk) and Time (it all happens very quickly).
    • Being able to self-diagnose a heart attack is another big one, as they are almost never as big and dramatic as they look on TV. For every classic "elephant on the chest," there are scores of "it's just heartburn/pulled back/something I ate."
    • Headache? Stiff neck? Fever? Dislike of bright lights? Get to A&E NOW. People - at least in the UK - are taught this as the symptoms can be sign of meningitis, although they may also be the person having a very bad day. Most TV using meningitis go for the rash-that-won't-vanish-under-a-glass thing, but if you wait for that to appear a. it might not and b. you're often too late by that point.
      • The fact that those are also the symptoms of pretty much any bad hangover can't help. Unexplained bruises are generally par for the course after a heavy night as well...
      • In the UK, there was a poster campaign in many universities about this, and how you maybe need to watch out for your friends if they have "terrible hangovers" that get worse throughout the day and have extra symptoms; brushing it off as "just a hangover" (which is easy to do if you're a party-loving student) can easily lead to people dying.
      • It turns out that stiff neck is the helpful distinguishing symptom. And by stiff neck they really mean it, not the poor approximation that a neck ache tends to be. The test is you attempt to put your chin on your chest. If you can't bend your neck enough to touch your chin to your chest, it's time to seek medical care immediately. Otherwise, it's almost certainly something else less serious.
  • It's more than common for mental health professionals to be suffering from mental illness themselves — due to either their experience with mental illness is what brought them toward its care or constant proximity to mentally ill people (especially sufferers of PTSD; having the heart strong enough to willfully work with such unfortunate population is a gift). Like all clinical professions, being mentally fit is vital to the proper care of the patients and such individuals should ensure that they stay in one piece. Affective dysregulation can be left unnoticed for an entire lifetime, but being trained to diagnose them can enable clinicians to make actions to prevent them from worsening.
  • While he wasn't the first person to do so, there was an account of a Russian surgeon removing his own appendix while he was stationed in Antarctica.
  • This isn't necessarily limited to the medical profession, either. Professional IT helpdesk workers often have less trouble dealing with complete novices than with people just knowledgeable enough to have made some attempt to diagnose the fault themselves, as the helpdesk people usually have a checklist that they have to follow to the letter and can't simply take the user's word for it if they say they've already tried that, not least because the self-taught user's self-diagnosis isn't as informed as they'd like to think.
  • Alan Alda, hilariously. He reveals in his memoirs that he had intestinal problems while visiting in Chile, and the doctor tried to explain to him what was happening. Alda crisply explained that he knew what was going on and what the treatment was. The young doctor was dumbfounded and wondered how Alda could possibly know that. Alda explains that he isn't a doctor, but he played one on M*A*S*H. Beat. The Chilean doctor cracks up, and Alda reflects that he's lying in agonizing pain and still making people laugh without even trying.
  • Hypochondriacs tend to assume they're doing this.