Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

The dangers of Google diagnosing

Watching a parent age is a gruelling process especially when the change is sudden and dramatic. Over the last few years, I’ve seen my mother become increasingly sick and debilitated. I would like to say I’ve been a calm, supportive daughter. But I haven’t. I’ve coaxed, cajoled, heckled, lost faith, made appointments with various specialists, booked her into Falls Clinics, and at times raved and ranted in frustration. In between, I have used my Google diagnostic skills, to give mum the great benefit of my advice. Even waiting to see a new orthopaedic surgeon last Monday I was still lecturing.

‘Now, mum,’ I said, ‘an operation won’t help unless you are prepared to do some exercise.’

‘I do exercise, Elizabeth.’

‘You’ll have to do more. There’s no point getting your hip replaced if you are going to stay in bed all day.’

‘I’m trying Elizabeth. But I feel so ill…and tired.’

Mum has two prosthetic hip implants. The first operation was a success. Although mum would never run a marathon she was happy with her level of fitness and was able to walk without pain. The second, her right hip, has been a different story. Seven years on from the operation, the leg remains heavy, numb and weak. Mum can no longer walk unassisted. She has been forced to move into supported accomodation. A simple visit to the shops is a major undertaking. Hence, last Monday’s visit to the orthopaedic surgeon. Mum had organised it off her own back. I thought it was a waste of time. Her problems, I had concluded, were due to inactivity and loneliness. Or so thought…

The orthopedic surgeon was thorough and firm. He made mum walk without her frame and climb trembling onto the examination table. He prodded and manipulated her hip. Mum cried out. His eyes narrowed. He knew mum’s medical history. That she had been fitted with a DePuy’s prosthetic hip implant in 2007. Back behind the desk, he said:

‘I’ll need to do some tests.’

Stubborn to the last, I asked. ‘Wouldn’t mum be better off seeing a physiotherapist?’

He said: ‘Your mum is in pain.’

‘So in the worst case she will need revision surgery?’

He paused as if measuring his words. ‘You don’t know much about DePuy’s hip implants do you?’

I didn’t, I had to admit. I knew the product had been recalled. Mum had submitted to the obligatory blood tests. Been pronounced healthy. Though the hip wasn’t perfect and she kept falling over, it couldn’t be affecting her general health, could it? I mean, they don’t install dangerously faulty products, surely?

‘Watch Four Corners,’ the surgeon told us. ‘Tonight’s programme is about DePuys hip implants.’

I never watch Four Corners. Or TV in real time. But that night at 8:33 AEST I tuned into the ABC. For the next hour, I watched story after, sick, crippled and in pain, story of infection, disability, cancer and in some cases death. It seems Johnson and Johnson, the developers of the DePuys hip implants, have been negligent in their testing and slow to respond feedback. It is alleged that, due to low clearance between parts of the implant, metal shavings are coming away and poisoning people from within. When patients eventually submit to revision surgery, the muscles around the hip are found to be dead, rotten, and putrid.

I called mum. ‘Sorry, Mum. I had no idea.’

‘Nor me,’ she said.

‘Lucky we signed up for the class action.’


‘And so far no tumours.’

‘Not that we know of,’ she replied.

Mum now faces a barrage of tests. She has appointments booked with a respiratory specialist and a neurosurgeon. In addition, the orthopedic surgeon surgeon has scheduled her for MRI’s and a number of other more specific scans. He seems determined to get diagnosis and quietly confident of what the tests will reveal. I suspect he is also trying to determine whether mum can survive another operation. For my part, I have given up Google diagnosing and put my life coaching and lecturing skills on hold for the time being.



Some thoughts on language, loss and identity


A reflection on the letters ICU


  1. Liz, I watched the Four Corners’ story on DePuys hip implants with horror and disbelief at the suffering they have and continue to cause, and that the problems weren’t revealed to the public until the matter was forced. I hope your mum has a quick and not too painful resolution to her pain and mobility prob’s.

  2. Ian

    Thanks Liz . Mum has suffered a lot with this. Let’s hope and pray that she can get some help now. These large multinationals like Johnson & Johnson seem to get away with murder. How many people have to be crippled and die before they admit their error? Time for them to face up to their responsibilities.

  3. Yes, it was terrible to see it all through an altered lense. The Doctor asked: has no one checked this hip before now? It shames me to realise we missed it. But how many Doctors has she seen and how many hospitalisations has she had and no one has thought to investigate?

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