Perceptual Error: Availability Bias

And the story of a sprained ankle and moderation in life

I sprained my ankle after a tennis game. To alleviate the pain, I tried a few yoga stretches (to supposedly help my ankle) and my ankle became really swollen and turn totally immobile.

Taking something good to extreme like believing that yoga stretches can help your sprained ankle is the typical “taking a good idea too far” concept.

This remind me on a medical fact.

Consuming less meat could help to control cholesterol level but turning fully vegetarian will increase the risk of stroke (it makes the wall of the arteries thinner).

Moderation is really the key to life.

For maintenance, yoga stretches works but for an ankle sprain that may not be the best remedy.

Turning back to the story...

I hobbled into the clinic. The general practitioner (GP) asked me on the timeline of my injury, took a cursory look at my ankle and came to the conclusion that it is possibly gout.

The good thing about getting older is that I am more comfortable refuting the expert. Dismissing his conclusion, I stated that I am very conscious on the type of food I consumed.

The problem with most expert is that they fell into the concept of Availability Bias.

Since most of the patients who come into the clinic with swollen joint has gout, anyone with a swollen joint would be diagnose with gout.

Mine turns out to be just an extremely swollen ankle.

In a previous incident, I had a lump on my toe and the GP whom I am consulting with concluded that it is gout! I argued with the GP (I am much younger then), even at one point pulling out my phone, googling and pointing out that it could NOT be.

The GP insisted on his diagnosis. In exasperation, I told the doctor GP I am seeing a specialist to prove him wrong.

The specialist diagnosis is that it as a ganglion cyst not GOUT!

The specialist suggested for an operation1 but warned that it may reappear. I deferred on that decision to do further research. A scientific paper indicated that most ganglion cyst go away on its own (the percentage is slightly higher than 50%). With that, I skip the operation.

The cyst went away on its own.

Since then, I had developed a healthy level of distrust towards the experts - especially the medical profession.

At this point, the story of Steve Jobs2 decision on his cancer pop into my mind.

Choosing a reject a diagnosis does not mean that I should not seek a second opinion.

I went to hospital - A&E for my swollen ankle.

The A&E doctor3 did a x-ray and send me home with an advice to do the RICE process.

Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevate coupled with a painkiller to help me sleep through the night.

That’s just what I did.

Sometimes, you just gotta do what the doctor says.

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The specialist most likely fall into the solution focused or stakeholder framing biases.


It was never clear if Steve Job had made the most logical decision since we do not know his medical condition or the information he had when he made the decision.


A&E doctors tend to see a wide variety of patients and is more a cross between generalist and specialist. Unlike the GP or the specialist, A&E doctors tend to start with a beginner mind in solving a problem as every situations could be a life and death decision.