Hazards of an Internet Health Diagnosis

By Greg Schwem | July 23rd, 2021

‘My butt feels like it’s trying to FaceTime me’


mysterious rear shot of man in jeans walking along sidewalk. credit charlie bard dreamstime. For Hazards of an Internet Health Diagnosis Image

Humorist Greg Schwem experiences the hazards of an internet health diagnosis after his butt begins vibrating, leading to what he calls “Phantom Cellphone Syndrome” – and an abundance of frightening theories.


I swore I would never self-diagnose myself on the internet.

But the pandemic made us all do weird stuff.

A random sneeze, a cough, or a meal that touched our palates but elicited no reaction from our taste buds sent us scurrying to our browsers, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. Was that sneeze the result of something in the air or was it the first sign of a COVID-19 infection? Should we head to the ER now? Would there be a ventilator available just in case? Should we “get our affairs in order”?

Thankfully, I experienced no COVID-like symptoms prior to being vaccinated in early February. But recent, and unexplained, lower back pain, coupled with a bizarre side effect, led me to type the following into my Google search engine:

“My butt feels like it’s trying to FaceTime me.”

A frequent vibration coming from my lower right hip was the cause of the query. Multiple times daily, I found myself digging into my right pocket and pulling out my phone, only to discover nobody was trying to connect with me via phone, text, or any other method. When the buzzing showed no signs of abating, I went online, mostly for assurance that others may have experienced the same symptoms and I wasn’t “patient zero.” The last thing I need in my life is an email from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying, “Mr. Schwem, we are perplexed by your condition. As a precaution, we have ordered the entire country back into lockdown.”

My advice for anybody seeking online medical advice is to stick to sites that will only offer possible causes and solutions. Do NOT, under any circumstances, pose your query on sites that allow others to respond via the comments section. Choosing the latter will yield one of two results:

  1. Verification that you are not alone
  2. A plethora of diagnoses for your condition, ranging from “it’s probably nothing” to “you are most likely terminal.”

The self-titled syndrome

I quickly learned others had experienced “Phantom Cellphone Syndrome,” my self-titled term for my condition. They were more than willing to offer helpful advice like “That is so WEIRD. I have that too!” and “Been dealing with that for about a week. It’s driving me crazy!”

After reading more than 10 of these comments, I started feeling like I was on a dating site for people with hip tremors. I was looking for solutions, not compatibility. If I ever came upon someone having a heart attack, I would offer help. What I would not do is say, “You know, my uncle had a heart attack. It hurts, doesn’t it?” and walk away.

Those who were inclined to offer assistance theorized that I suffered from conditions ranging from prolonged cellphone use, to nerve issues, to the beginning stages of Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis. I noticed all the responses listed the direst outcome at the end, as in, “It’s most likely a pinched nerve, which is easily treatable. Then again, it could be multiple sclerosis.”

Eventually, common sense won out. I turned off the computer and turned to a chiropractic physician who has treated other family members. She said my condition was most likely a combination of muscles, nerves, and spasms, all working diabolically together to make my hip feel like an iPhone demonstration. She prescribed myriad stretching exercises which appear to be having positive effects. I’m still experiencing minor hip and back pain, but at least I’ve stopped trying to answer my ass.

As I finish this column, I am scratching a small red bump on my left wrist. I was barbecuing on my patio last night so it’s most likely a mosquito bite and will disappear in a day or two.

Unless it’s West Nile virus. Or Eastern equine encephalitis. Or lymphatic filariasis malaria. Or …

I’m logging off now.

Greg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author of two books: Text Me If You’re Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad and the recently released The Road To Success Goes Through the Salad Bar: A Pile of BS From a Corporate Comedian, available at Amazon.com. Visit Greg on the web at www.gregschwem.com.

© 2021 Greg Schwem. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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