I Am Not a Doctor But I Play One on TV

Published on
April 14, 2011

It's happening several times a day now. The phone rings. I get stopped at Starbucks, or at the dog park, or at the supermarket. "My friend may have a brain tumor." "I have been short of breath." "I am tired all the time." Then come the questions: "What do you think I should do? Who should I see?" I am not a doctor, but people are increasingly looking to me as if I were one. It's a little daunting.

As you may know, I've been producing and/or hosting programs on medical topics for patients since the mid 1980's. First it was erectile dysfunction, then breast surgery, then multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes – you name it, I've interviewed someone about it. Town meetings, live audio webcasts, radio shows and videos. I feel like I've gone to med school two or three times. And like a med student, I've worried common symptoms could mean the worst diagnosis. That headache could be too much coffee OR it could be a brain tumor. Feeling tired could be you are snoring and have sleep apnea OR you have leukemia.

A number of years ago, having just moved from Los Angeles to Seattle, Hollywood called. A friend sold a five day a week medical show to MGM and he needed me and my wife-and partner Esther to be producers. We were the ones who wrote what flashed on the screen when a patient described their symptoms to one of the real docs who were stars of the show, "Group One Medical." "I have had some blood in my stool," the patient would say. The flash on the screen: Could be hemorrhoids. Could be advanced colon cancer. We walked around the home/office worrying about every ache and pain. I am told that's just what med students do. The most mundane could be life-threatening.

Group One Medical didn't live past one season and our lives returned to normal.

Now serious health worries are top of mind once again. My new book, The Web-Savvy Patient: An Insider's Guide to Navigating the Internet When Facing Medical Crisis, is starting to get media attention. My local newspaper wrote about it in print and online, there's a book signing at my local book store this Friday night, and a former colleague who is now executive producer of one of the biggest national television talk shows wants me to appear on his show in a few weeks (more about this soon). A buzz is beginning. And people are confiding in me. One person told me about his heart rhythm problem. Another about his psoriatic arthritis. I am empathetic. I know enough to be dangerous about each condition, and I help each of them feel in control of their health journey.

I imagine I must be feeling like actor Robert Young did years ago when he played Dr. Marcus Welby on TV. Or Richard Chamberlain who played Dr. Kildare. Maybe even George Clooney or Zach Braff more recently. Maybe people confided health details in them too.

I guess I'm in good company and I'm honored that people feel comfortable with me. But I remind them I am not a doctor, I only help them connect with ones who may be right for them and sometimes help them, in their panic, recognize that the symptoms they have been experiencing just may mean they went to bed a little too late.

Wishing you and your family the best of health,