Sick Lives Matter
I was messaging with my therapist recently, frustrated with the challenge of trying to find a treating pain management specialist under my new insurance. Sharing with her how angry I’ve been in recent years after being brushed aside by more than a dozen physicians I’ve looked to for help (messaging because speaking on the phone or seeing my therapist in person is out of the question for me). She rationally offered advice like, “Did you ask your last doctor for a referral for a new pain doctor?” And, “Have you tried seeing any specialists for your conditions? Why are you in so much pain? How about taking more pain medication? No one should be suffering like you are.”
Why did her rational, reasonable solutions make me want to scream?! Maybe because after over a decade of chronic illness, I know that her innocent view of medical care is like the ABC’s and I’m working off of XYZ, but the issues we face concerning our health care should not be so complicated. We are ill, and so many of us aren’t able to go so far out of our way to find help. It really should be so much more simple to find a good treating doctor. And when it isn’t, we fall through the cracks. We get worse. And the worse we get, the worse we get.
When doctors are knowledgeable about your condition and how to offer solutions, they will. When the options available are helping you manage, and the practice is making money off of the treatments offered, everyone is content. However, if your condition happens to worsen outside of the doctor’s comfort level, you might find yourself in a pickle. Your records show that you’ve tried so many different treatments for condition A, however because you now have conditons A#%@, other practices are less willing to see you. You wear a scarlet letter “C” on your records for COMPLEX, and from then on, you seem to be tucked into the bottom drawer of society.
This is happening to so many patients across the country. The new CDC guidelines didn’t help by limiting pain medication for chronic pain management, and neither did Obamacare. But, this is not a new problem and cannot be solely blamed on new government protocols, even if the current “solutions” have only pushed those of us with serious ongoing health needs further under society’s invisible rug- making us more invisible. Who sees to our care when we become “more complex?” As it stands, the more simple your case= the better your care. The more complex, rare, or worse off you are= the worse off your care is likely to become.
People who could have fully recovered and started back to work if they had been deemed worthy of attention earlier on, instead, further decline physically, mentally, and economically, and into a state of no return, forcing more and more people onto disability and social security- a status which statistically is difficult to recover from once you start.
Meet Kayla. Kayla is near middle aged and was diagnosed just after her symptoms began. She was set up with a team of specialists by her Primary Care Doctor. Kayla has had to change her life around since her diagnosis and feels so much loss for the things she once loved to do. She wishes there were a cure, but seeing her doctors regularly and trying new treatments reminds her there is hope. She is managing her condition by resting at home much of the time and has been able to continue mothering and finding support in her husband. She continues to work only part time now, and in her rest/recovery time, she has started to do what she always wanted to…write a book.
Meet Jonathan. Jonathan is in his 20’s and saw several specialists soon after his symptoms began, but no diagnosis was made. He spent years asking various doctors what might be wrong, but he was told he seemed young and healthy and the few tests they ran came back normal. Over time, his health so interfered with his work that he lost his job. His wife thought he might be faking his disorder to get out of his responsibilities and eventually left him, taking the their newborn. He couldn’t pay the bills any longer and lost the home. Finally, after years of illness, Jonathan is diagnosed, but his original condition left untreated for so long has caused a few other complications which are likely now permanent. With his diagnosis, he can now apply for disability, but he will likely never be able to work again or get back on his feet- financially or physically.
You can see in the best case scenario, how much hope a good doctor can offer. Even in Kayla’s case, everything changes, and we need the help of reliable physicians because we can’t do it on our own.
I can tell you that this happens to those with money, those with the best private insurance, this happens to those lucky enough to have family who can advocate for us, it happens to those who can advocate for themselves, it’s happening to the young and old, it happens to those with government insurance, it happens to people who can’t afford the special doctors, and it is especially happening to people whose health suddenly takes a sharp turn so that they can no longer advocate on their own behalf. People are slipping through the cracks, and there are more of us with chronic illnesses and rare diseases now than ever before!
You think it’s the emergency of your life, and you always imagine doctors being there for just this time, but you are made to feel that a chronically ill person’s emergencies aren’t quite as worth while. Slowly but surely, like a Polaroid picture’s image emerges, you get the picture that your life isn’t worth while either. Many people like myself won’t even call an ambulance if they believe it’s a life or death emergency. We’ve been down the hospital road too many times, and believe from experience that there is no hope in that big white building- not for so many…too many of us.
If they keep tucking the sickest people away in the bottom drawer of society, if they keep us under wraps, if they don’t allow us the medication and doctors we need to survive, and if they continue to legalize euthanasia in the U.S., then maybe we’ll all just disappear, and leave them alone, right?
Wrong! They aren’t shutting us down, they’re starving us out!
We might not be able to picket the CDC, or storm the halls of Congress, or hold a sit-in demonstration inside of a hospital building, but social media can’t contain us. We can write our senators, make videos, sound clips, share our stories on Facebook, become ambassadors for rare disease foundations, get involved with patient advocacy groups online, or guest write for blogs from our couches, wheelchairs and hospital beds. Maybe we can’t go on the walks to raise money for a cure, but we can help organize them! And don’t forget, our stories are the most powerful weapons we have to make change.
You are the same person you always were; your health changing is not your fault. Your worth is not defined by how well your legs work, or if you were able to eat something solid this month, or if a doctor deems your medical file “worthy” by looking at the papers inside. You are not your file. And I know I’ve caught some slack for saying this- but you are not your body either. You may not be able to scream, but we need your voice! Your story is unique, and will inspire someone else to keep going, and move another to vote differently.
Even though it’s not your job to be an inspiration… you already are. You matter.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to share your story or to ask how you can get involved with advocacy programs online.