I am a 30 year old who inherited a lifelong inflammatory disease called ankylosing spondylitis (AS). AS can cause the spine to fuse together from bone spurs and can affect organs and other joints. AS causes significant pain, to put it lightly.
I am also a former college athlete and marathoner. I know what it means to push through pain as an athlete. But I cannot push through the pain caused by my disease. Pushing through it causes the disease to progress and the pain to increase.
My main treatment is a drug made from living cells (the same class of drugs that treats many cancers); it helps slow the progression of my disease. Because this treatment is [finally!] working, it also reduces some of the worst symptoms. But AS is a severe disease with no cure, so even with this specialty drug I still have plenty of pain.
And, like millions of chronic pain patients who fight simply to survive daily, I’ve tried everything to control the pain. Continue reading Dear Prescription Opioid Debaters:
You may look at my young, healthy-appearing body and ask, “You’re sick? Why don’t you suck it up and try harder? Why haven’t you tried XYZ?”
What you see is the poker face I’ve spent years creating, the one that allows me to pass in an able-bodied world so I don’t spend every moment defending my disease to faux-cure-evangelists.
What you don’t see is that I’m faking health to preserve my dignity, energy, and ability to accomplish whatever task it is I have to do before I collapse. Faking it is hard, but it’s easier than displaying my pain and then having to use more energy to defend my body’s permanent sickness.
What you don’t see are the grimaces I make when I’m in a safe place, when I allow myself to actually respond to the pain that is unrelenting, the pain that I do my best to ignore in public.
What you don’t see is the fear underlying my existence. Will I die young? Will I lose healthcare? What if my disability is denied? Will this new treatment work? Will I become homeless? Will I find a forever partner?
Continue reading What I Wish You Knew About Living with an Invisible Disease
My phone rang – someone was calling from a Washington D.C. number. I usually ignore unknown numbers, but something made me answer this time.
“Hi, this is *Frank, your Lyft driver. I see you have a chair, will it fit in the back of a regular-sized sedan?”
I’d forgotten I had my account on the accessibility setting. This must have been why the only available driver was over 15 minutes away – Lyft had to find someone who could transport a wheelchair.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I forgot I had the accessibility setting on. I don’t have my chair with me.”
“Oh…ok. Well, I’m – I guess I’m about 10 minutes away. Bye.”
In my mind I began creating an awkward (or worse – judgmental) hypothetical conversation for when Frank arrived. Continue reading What do you use your chair for? How a Lyft driver wore me out.
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
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
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
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