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:
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
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
And I don’t just mean our bodies.
Recently, during a visit to the pharmacy, I noticed someone wearing the same compression gloves I was wearing.
“Hey, nice gloves!” I held up my hands to show mine.
She responded, “I have Raynaud’s.”
I said, “I have Ankylosing Spondylitis.”
…crickets. I might has well have just ripped off my clothes.
She looked as though I’d spoken another language. For a disease that is oh-so-NOT-rare, it sure feels like it in these instances. Not only is it a difficult pair of words to pronounce, people’s initial thoughts might revolve around names of dinosaurs – Ankylosaurus Spoondywhat?
Continue reading Ankylosing Spondylitis: Are We at a Tipping Point?
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
About a year ago I connected with the folks of Self Care Catalysts and downloaded their free app, AS Health Storylines (available on android and Apple products), that helps track medication, symptoms, diet, appointments and more. This, and other apps, has helped me – sometimes I need a reminder to take a certain medication; I also like all this information in one place so I can share it with my doctor and disability attorney.
Recently, Self Care Catalysts has also unveiled The Spondy Project, a paid research opportunity for patients with Ankylosing Spondylitis and other forms of Spondyloarthritis. Participants can receive up to $100 for sharing their experiences through an app for up to four months. Read more below to see why I think you should sign up: Continue reading Participate in The Spondy Project. Get Paid.
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