Category Archives: Arthritis

An Open Letter to Congress from a Poor, Disabled American

Dear Congress,

My father died last September. He was 68. He experienced severe, debilitating pain from his early teenage years until his death. I now experience similar pain from the same disease he had, Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), and I fear daily that my life will follow the same path his did.

My dad looked like this (below) because he did not have access from a young age to effective treatments to slow down the progression of his disease:

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He didn’t have access to the treatments because they didn’t exist until 2003, when the first biologic drug was approved for treating patients with AS. By that time he was already a 90-degree hunchback, his spine fused in a rigid column of bone from knobby, painful bone spurs – he was slowly suffocating. The only thing a biologic drug could do was prolong his life and perhaps reduce some of the symptoms.

He died after two surgeries meant to straighten his spine, relieve his organs from being crushed, and give him a more horizontal line of sight. He’d been looking straight down at the ground for decades, unable to see in front of him unless he pivoted his body backwards with one foot pushed toe-first into the ground.

I learned I had AS in 2013 after a period of sudden, un-treatable illnesses that left me in pain and unable to breathe. Urgent Care doctors blamed my frequent visits on panic attacks and attempted to send me on my way with anxiety medication, but I knew my body better than that. Continue reading An Open Letter to Congress from a Poor, Disabled American

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Talking Ankylosing Spondylitis with Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds

I don’t always interview rock stars – it’s not really my thing. But this day was different. This was personal.

It was a chilly morning, much too early for my stiff body to roll out of bed. But this was a big day – I would soon be interviewing Dan Reynolds, the lead singer of Imagine Dragons.

“This wouldn’t be happening,” I thought, “if we didn’t share a wicked diagnosis.”

In late 2015, Dan announced during a show that he lives with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). A year later, he partnered with Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation and the Spondylitis Association of America to launch This AS Life Live!, an interactive talk show for and by patients living with AS.

Before I keep going, I want to express how lonely it can be to trudge through life surviving a disease that people do not know about. I spend substantial time and energy educating friends, strangers, and even doctors about my condition, which leaves little room for receiving compassion and empathy – like the supportive gestures people usually offer to someone who has a disease in the limelight. Everyone knows cancer is bad, but AS is not a well-known disease, so for a celebrity to name it on stage is life-changing. Continue reading Talking Ankylosing Spondylitis with Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds

The Dangers of Funding Medicaid with Block Grants; a Patient’s Perspective

When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) was written, the plan was for Medicaid expansion to provide health insurance for people who made too little to qualify for a subsidy to purchase a plan, but too much to qualify for Medicaid under the rules of the past. The goal was to create a system in which no one would fall into a so-called “coverage gap,” and poor people would have access to care regardless of their income.

It worked – for states that adopted the expansion.

A little-known hiccup (ok, heart attack) is that the Supreme Court declared Medicaid expansion optional for states, rather than mandatory. As of January 2017, 32 states have opted in to the expansion (including DC) and 19 states have not. In states that have not opted to expand Medicaid (because of politics) the coverage gap has caused many people to be unable to access affordable insurance or care. This New York Times Magazine article explores the struggles of some of these people: Life in Obamacare’s Dead Zone. However, in states that have opted into the expansion healthcare premiums have risen less sharply and more people are insured.

Case in point: me. I live with a debilitating disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis. I need specialized treatments and medications to slow its progression and prolong my life. Because I’m disabled and cannot work, I am poor, so I am one of over 14 million Californians and over 74 million Americans who receive Medicaid. It is my only option for healthcare. Continue reading The Dangers of Funding Medicaid with Block Grants; a Patient’s Perspective

A New Wheelchair User’s Experience at the Women’s March

The first time I used a wheelchair was after tearing my ACL during a college soccer match in Washington, D.C. in 2005. My teammates convinced me to use one when we visited the Holocaust Museum, instead of crutches. I remember feeling invisible. I remember being trapped in the middle of congested hallways and exhibit rooms, seeing nothing but the backs of people scooting around and in front of me like I was a planter box in their way. I remember feeling empathy for people who spend a majority of their lives in a wheelchair. I hardly remember anything about the museum from that visit. And I became terrified of ever needing to use a wheelchair again.


On January 21st, 2017, I rolled in the Women’s March on Sacramento alongside some 30,000 people. I have only recently, very reluctantly, decided to begin using a wheelchair because of deteriorating health. My experience from college still haunts me, but I am learning to embrace how much more fully I can participate in life by using assistive devices that reduce pain and fatigue caused by Ankylosing Spondylitis. It’s the difference between staying home and showing up.

However, I was nervous about navigating the march, even with friends to help push me. I expected that I would spend all my energy advocating for space just to be able to proceed in a straight line. I thought I might regret the decision to use the chair, even though not using it could result in being bedridden for days or weeks.

Would I return home wishing I had not gone? Continue reading A New Wheelchair User’s Experience at the Women’s March

People With Severe Health Conditions Dream of Simple Things

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I want to go to the doctor one day and once again check the box on the intake paperwork that says “generally healthy.” The once robotic maneuver of sliding my arm smoothly down paperwork to check off a straight line of boxes is now a chore requiring concentration and an agile hand zigzagging across columns.

Having the opportunity to check that “generally healthy” box would reinstate my self-worth as an able, capable human.

This dream is on my bucket list between trips to Hawaii and Zamibia. But the dream vacations do not get much attention – I’m distracted by the more immediate and unrealistic desire for good health. I’m waiting with open arms, but I don’t expect this invitation will be answered. Continue reading People With Severe Health Conditions Dream of Simple Things

“An Invisible Disease” – my TEDx talk

In September, I had the honor and privilege of giving a TEDx talk just two weeks after my father died from Ankylosing Spondylitis, a disease I inherited from him. I am so grateful for having this platform to share via the Sacramento TEDx Changemakers series.

I hope you’ll watch and share this video to raise awareness about living with chronic illness, but I also hope you’ll take something away for your own journey.

Click here to watch the 8-minute video:

An Invisible Disease : Charis Hill : Sacramento TEDx Salon


Biologic Human

When I first began injecting myself in the leg with harsh, genetically-engineered chemicals, I was terrified. I still am. Not of the shot, but of the drugs going into my body to help manage my Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS).

Biologics, a type of specialty medication made from living cells and tissues, come with potential side effects like cancer, tuberculosis, and heart disease. When I first read the drug pamphlet, the dangers written in margins and between the fine print triggered my first post-diagnosis breakdown. I was 26, had been seriously ill just once in my life, and was finding my groove in the adult world. This was the first of many blubbering, head-throbbing, “Why the hell me?” temper tantrums that left me in a trembling blob on my bed.

What could possibly convince me to push this harsh medication through my body – maybe for the rest of my life? Logic and realism prevailed over emotions, and statistics were drowned out by my need to swallow the pill, so to speak. Above that consuming fear was a desire to have a semblance of my former life back, and this medication promised that possibility.

A week later, I sat in one corner of a large room with a nurse, shaking as I learned how to give myself a shot. She watched as I held my breath and pushed my thumb in and out, quickly, to trigger my first dose. My life flashed before my eyes and I cried precisely two silent tears – what had I done? Certainly now I would die of sudden-onset cancer, be ripped from life by tuberculosis, or my heart would fail in my sleep (if I was lucky). The contradictory decision to sustain life by injecting what I saw as a death-threat substance grabbed me with icy, bony fingers and shook me, hard.

The course of my life was now officially altered. I had joined the ranks of being specialized-medicine patient. I had taken the red pill.

Continue reading Biologic Human