Let's make a heal

It's nice to know you can retain your virginity in a few areas of life.

Myself, I can boast at least one "never," and that is that I have never bought anything over the Internet. I know this automatically casts me in many of your minds as a Miss Jane Pittman figure, one of the olden ones who doesn't trust anything more complicated than a pair of scissors, but it's true.

I'm aware that countless people out there make and spend fortunes without ever lifting their asses out of their chairs. But I like the tactile nature of shopping. I don't want to buy anything I haven't fondled. There's a rush when you see exactly what you want in 3-D, hand over the cash and walk out with it under your arm that seems to me hard to accomplish with nothing more than a grainy on-screen photo the size of a driver's license.

But given that "mail-order bride" is a household phrase, people will buy nearly anything sight-unseen, so it's hardly a surprise they'll buy food, cars, clothing and other things they've never even smelled. You can even get prescription drugs online with the help of foreign "pharmacies." This I can kind of understand, but then again, I think tranquilizers should be available in gumball machines, right there between the jawbreakers and the spider rings. When you're in Kmart and there's a baby screaming, old people blocking your path and a cashier who's slower than Pluto, what do you really need, Skittles or a Darvocet?

Cut rate

But now the 'Net has gone one bigger, better, tackier. There is now an Internet service where you can let doctors bid to do your surgery.

Yes, as though your tumor was a lunchbox on eBay, you could soon log on and try to pawn it off on the lowest bidder. A recent Associated Press story noted that several medical websites are up and running, some offering only elective surgical procedures, but others taking bids on stuff as serious as brain surgery. You could have doctors low-balling each other with their proposals to cut you open.

People are already finding their doctors this way. The AP says that Medicine Online, a site launched in March, "has matched 250 patients with its care providers" for things like nose jobs and dental work, and Patientwise, which will be ready to serve patients next year (though the site is up already), will match patients with doctors for procedures as complex as heart surgery.

At the outset, it sounds like the only people who might go for this are those whose needed operation is "brain implant." I know it sounds nutty, but a good way to get a feel for whether or not you trust a person is to actually meet them. I've met doctors I would, and have, trust(ed) with the knife and a few I wouldn't let change the light bulb in my kitchen. I'm sure they probably all look the same on paper.

It's pretty common know-ledge, common enough to be a joke even on TV commercials, that people lie like used-car salesman when they're online. Nobody in chat rooms or on online dating services is ugly, stupid, poor, dysfunctional, felonious or shaped like a bean-bag chair. No one gives an accurate description of themselves in a personal ad ("mature" means "Sharpei-face" ). Suppose they say, "I went to Harvard." Well, so did I. I bought a sweatshirt at the bookstore and drank at a few of the bars in the square.

Check-up time

A browse through Medicine Online and its "physician search" page found that you can search by a doctor's name. Or you can just type in the specialty and the city where you want to find it. They basically come up with a list of doctors, their locations and their qualifications. The site does acknowledge, "Although Medicine Online Inc. (MOL) undertakes reasonable efforts to keep the information contained in this database accurate, MOL does not warrant the accuracy, completeness, timeliness or merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose of information contained in 'Search for Doctors.'" In that respect it's like a big phone book. I found my ob-gyn in there and his qualifications, which I must admit I didn't bother to research when I went to see him the first time.

So maybe it is possible to find someone worthy of feeling up your insides through the Internet. Plenty of people find someone to feel up their outsides that way. Live, personal interactions are no guarantee of success. The Tampa doctor who performed a foot amputation, only to discover he cut off the wrong foot, didn't come from the 'Net.

It may be one of those ideas that seems weird now but is going to be common as dirt tomorrow. And when you get your gall bladder taken out, maybe you can sell it. People will buy just about anything over the 'Net.

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