Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1973, Elizabeth Cook kept up with research about her disease when she taught at the Medical College of Georgia. She's 60 now and retired, but sometimes Dr. Cook knows about the latest research before her doctor.
That's because Dr. Cook uses the Internet to look up new drugs, review medical journals and chat with doctors and fellow patients. It's hard for some people with MS and other disabling diseases to leave home, Dr. Cook said, but the Internet allows them to interact with the world and overcome the loneliness that often comes with chronic disease.
Multiple sclerosis is an incurable disease of the central nervous system. More than 300,000 Americans live with the disease, but doctors aren't sure how to predict who will get MS or what their symptoms will be.
"It used to be you were kind of alone," said Dr. Cook, who studied rheumatology and inflammatory diseases. "They'd give you shots like killing flies with a shotgun blast, but you didn't know what was going on without a lot of legwork. There was no way to communicate with other MS people in the world.
"It's a lot less isolating when you see what other people are going through."
Since Dr. Cook bought home Internet access three years ago, she's used it almost every day. Usually she reads about new therapies on the Web, but sometimes she shops for gifts or offers a little medical advise of her own.
"I saw a thing once about eating canned pig brains to help MS," Dr. Cook said, laughing. "I had to set them straight on that one. I ring the alarm bell if I hear some fruitcake thing."
Another Augusta MS patient uses the Internet to check the progress of medical legislation in Washington.
"I can get up-to-date information on bills about Medicare or MS medication," said Rebecca DeLecuona, 38. "Everything on the Net is current, which is important. They give you a pamphlet about MS at the hospital, but how soon does that go out of date? The Internet is peace of mind."