When is your health like a plugin? – On diagnosis, technical difficulties, and Band-Aids

Is there anything more annoying than technical difficulties? Technology is meant to quietly smooth the course of our daily existence; it’s a fact of life that we take for granted—even ignore entirely—until it starts to go wrong.

Well, maybe one thing: health problems. A healthy body is similar to working technology: it’s a neutral backdrop to our activities, a nonintrusive vessel for our thoughts and cares and aspirations. No one rejoices in their eyesight till they start to lose it. No one revels in their ability to sleep until insomnia strikes. No one praises their guts for breaking down food until the guts themselves break down. I certainly never realized how healthy I was until, one day, I wasn’t.

Once difficulties begin—with our technology or our health—we realize how essential its function was to our former happiness. And so begins the search for solutions. Step one? Diagnosis.

laptop keyboard and stethoscope

What seems to be the problem?
Photo © jfcherry | Flickr

The first definition of diagnosis, according to good ole Merriam & Webster, is “the art or act of identifying a disease from its signs and symptoms” (and for a good read on the “art” of diagnosis, I highly recommend Every Patient Tells a Story, by Lisa Sanders). But the third definition, “investigation or analysis of the cause or nature of a condition, situation, or problem,” is applicable to technology. That’s why you’ll hear IT people toss around the terrifying phrase “running diagnostics.”

Over the Christmas break, I moved my little baby gluten blog from WordPress.com to a self-hosted site, with some pro bono help from my computer-programming big brother. Although I like the freedom that gives me to, oh, throw affiliate links at you (not that I have, yet), there’ve been growing pains: I’ve had to diagnose and fix several technical issues since the transition.

With a self-hosted blog, you’re the one responsible when problems strike. You’re the patient and the primary care physician. Unfortunately, in my case, you’re a rather bumbling one who looks everything up on Google. The most you can hope for is to pinpoint the general source of the problem and refer yourself to the right specialists.

My latest “symptom,” as some of you are aware, arose this week. Several of my old posts—from June, September, and October 2013—were resent to my subscribers. Everyone who said anything about it was very nice—thank you!—but I felt bad about the spam.

Putting on my doctor hat (is that a thing?), I determined the problem was with Jetpack, the plugin that brought all my old subscribers to my new site without their having to resubscribe, which has been overall handy. A “Happiness Engineer” from their support team let me know they were looking into the problem. In the meantime, I could stop the emails by deactivating the plugin.

band-aid on finger, laptop trackpad

I’m also familiar with real Band-aids on my real fingers. I should not be allowed near sharp kitchen implements.
Photo © Tony Kwintera | Flickr

This type of solution—“We don’t know what’s wrong, but here’s a Band-Aid to get you by”—is depressingly familiar to me from my years with a diagnosis of IBS and, unfortunately, continues to be familiar. “Issues that haven’t gone away after nearly a year gluten-free could be connected with celiac disease; they don’t seem to be connected with anything else; and it might help if I try . . .,” etc.

I obediently applied my blog Band-Aid and emailed subscribers that the problem was fixed. Almost immediately, of course, the “deactivated” plugin emailed out yet another post (the robots really are coming for us). That’s familiar, too. Band-Aid remedies don’t work when there’s a deeper, undiagnosed problem.

Eventually, I received another email from Jetpack: “We’ve now fixed the issue. . . . Sorry again for the inconvenience.” Why it’s fixed, or what went wrong in the first place, I can’t say. My blog doctor clearly subscribes to Sigmund Freud’s belief that “The doctor should be opaque to his patients and, like a mirror, should show them nothing but what is shown to him.”

(Note: the word diagnosis derives from diagnoskein, meaning “to know thoroughly.” Generally it’s not just the doctor who gets to know. But Freud’s been wrong before.)

Lego doctor with laptop

The blog doctor will see you now (but you won’t see him).
Photo © Jay Reed | Flickr

Opacity aside, a diagnosis was apparently made, because the fix is in. Subscribers should—fingers crossed—be able to expect no more unwanted emails from my blog (which is why you should subscribe now, if you haven’t yet!).

Granted, if we sustain the health analogy, this is a bit like saying, “The doctors say I won’t keep projectile vomiting at random times without any warning, so you should be able to sit with me at lunch,” but once we’re discussing vomit I’d say it’s time to drop the metaphor, wouldn’t you?

Tell me—which do you find more frustrating: diagnosing health problems, or diagnosing technical problems? Do you find people take their good health for granted? And what’s all this about doctors being mirrors?

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10 thoughts on “When is your health like a plugin? – On diagnosis, technical difficulties, and Band-Aids

  1. jsherwin2013 says:

    Molly: I love your creative and nuanced writing! You can walk away from technology, but you cannot walk away from your body. In truth, the real cause of illness is within, but you just have to know where to look. I blog about the environment and health as well as understanding the body through the energy system with its flows and chakras. I invite you to read my postings. Always a pleasure to read what you’ve written. Blessings, Jennie

    • Molly says:

      Thank you, Jennie! Really good point; when our health is “malfunctioning,” we can’t just shut our bodies down and take a breather. I have your blog bookmarked and am looking forward to reading. I just read and enjoyed a few of your recent posts (and I’m sorry to hear about your cat! What a nice memorial to her).

  2. I love the way you compared our bodies to technology. It is so frustrating when things break down. I have been too afraid to go the way you have gone with the blog. Things are too easy for me the way they are now.

  3. I loved the body / tech comparison too. And agree…we can turn the technology off but are stuck with our bodies.

    I don’t want to add to your frustrations…and for me it’s truly no problem to follow whatever link the reader gives me and then just click on your most recent post…but your old posts are showing up in the WordPress reader too. This latest post for example…in reader it had the preview for this body / tech post but when I clicked on the link to come to the full post it took me to a post from November. Like I said it’s not a problem to me at all but as a blogger I’d want someone to tell me so I just wanted to let you know. 🙂

    Hang in there…I’m sure your readers understand there’s always an adjustment period with new technology. 🙂

    • Molly says:

      Agh! That’s annoying. Have I mentioned that I HATE TECHNOLOGY? 🙂 I sent on your issue to my good old Happiness Engineer, so hopefully I should be able to get it worked out. Thanks for letting me know!

  4. Laurie C says:

    I love the WordPress happiness engineers! They’ll figure it out! Unfortunately, I think the human body has way more variables than a blog with conflicting plug-ins. We need doctors who are also trained happiness engineers!

  5. Mary Kate says:

    I’ve had no problem with your switch — but I don’t subscribe, I use a reader, and my reader’s had no issues. (Actually, I didn’t know you’d switched!) But you have definitely described one reason we haven’t switched. Not enough time to devote to problem-fixing.

    Honestly, though, I think that most techs spend more time trying to fix a problem than most of our medical profession does, with a few exceptions. And they work on it until they DO find a solution. It’s not like they told you to disable the plug-in, see how that worked, and come back in 6 months, because your blog wasn’t crashing and still worked most days, so it wasn’t urgent. In this contest, I think your “happiness engineer” wins.

    • Molly says:

      I’m glad you haven’t had trouble. A seamless transition was definitely what I was going for! (My brother did help me fiddle with some less obvious parts of my theme, like adding a “subscribe” drop-down menu to my header, which wasn’t an option before.)

      Very, very, very good point in your second paragraph! It would be truly absurd if the tech had responded that way and is a really good analogy for how absurd the medical industry is sometimes.

  6. rachelmeeks says:

    Pooooooke ~ you said to poke you if you didn’t reply on email for a while. So poooooke ~

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