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Caring for People with Chronic Illnesses

Updated on January 31, 2015
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You think it'll never happen to you, or at least not until you're old and retired. However, soon after graduating high school and starting college, several of my classmates and I came down with serious chronic illnesses that we'll be dealing with for the rest of our lives (which is a long time since we contracted these diseases at or around the age of twenty). Finding a support group is important, for there is a social stigma to being labelled "ill," especially when you don't "look the part."


There is a campaign on Facebook among the chronically ill that details all the things they are sick of hearing from people. Topping the list is "You don't look sick." The illnesses we have are mostly internal problems, so you wouldn't know anything was wrong just by looking. There are some outward indications like wheelchairs, bracers, and/or popping pills a few times a day, but nothing that makes us look typically diseased. Following this, we get "You're too young to be handicapped." People who can technically use handicapped parking while not looking handicapped get a lot of flack from people, especially those who only need crutches or a wheelchair some of the time. This only applies to people our age, as children who are just as likely to contract the same illnesses would only get pity (as they should - I feel sorry for anyone younger than myself who has to go through what I did). Another thing we hate to hear is "I wish I was thin like you," to which I say, "It's not fun being sick." I'd rather be healthy than sickly, thin or not.

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Beyond the phenomenon of so many of us getting sick at about the same time, living with our diseases is a frightening new reality we need to get used to. Aside from the broken medical and health care system, we face adversity from judgment by those who don't know us, including hospital staff. To doctors and nurses, each of us is just another patient, and at facilities already crowded with cases, they need to make tough choices. They will kick you out or refuse to admit you if you don't meet certain specifications or if there are absolutely no rooms or hallway space to leave you waiting on a gurney. Some are ill-equipped to handle your case, so they may send you away on those grounds as well. They may also deny your status altogether if you are between episodes so you can't prove that something is really wrong with you. Once they do admit you, they may distrust the status of your ailment, believing it to be the result of illegal drugs or domestic abuse. The longer you remain in the hospital, the more frustrated people become with you; at first they feel sorry for you, but then they just get angry for all the trouble your stay causes everyone, even though it isn't your fault.

"The only reason I would go back to England is if I need medical attention."

- John Oliver

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It can be easy to find fault with those who are sick if the conditions in question limit mobility or cramp normal activities. It's also off-putting when the people with the disease are cranky and short-tempered at times. Just keep in mind that they are stressed out by their condition as well, even more so because they have it. Also, with the way the health care system is in America, they have even more undo stress put on them. Ambulances, exams, hospital room and board, checkups, prescriptions, and surgeries are very expensive and add up very quickly. As stated above, some doctors and nurses aren't as caring as they should be, busy or not. In short, people with chronic illnesses need to be treated with patience, kindness, and respect, which they don't always get. As a result, they may become cranky and unpleasant to be around. Their loved ones would also benefit from support groups if their condition is too much for them to handle too.

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