To People With Invisible Illnesses, From a Paramedic Who Didn't Believe You

I’ve been a paramedic on and off for 10 years now. I’ve seen the good and the bad — probably more bad than good, but I’ve opened my eyes to something different.

I’ve seen people in Facebook groups post about how health care professionals treat people with invisible illnesses poorly because they don’t understand. They’re called fakers, drug seekers or attention seekers. I used to be one of those people. 

When you’re a new EMT or paramedic, all you want to do is fit in. You want to mesh with your partner and get along. You may get matched up with an FTO (field training officer) who’s been on the road one year too long. They’re burned out, and to them, every patient is another call away from their nap or TV show. 

Unfortunately, I became that medic. If someone said he or she had fibromyalgia, for example, I assumed that person was a drug seeker. I thought everyone could walk to the ambulance. If you didn’t have a visible illness, I treated you like crap. “C’mon, you can walk,” I’d say. 

It wasn’t until my own health began to decline and I needed help that I began to understand. I went from doctor to doctor trying to explain what the problem was. They looked at me like a faker. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but here’s a depression medication,” I heard. “Try that because it’s in your head.”

I now understand what my patients were going through. I didn’t realize how demeaning it was to be treated like that. I just wanted to fit in with my fellow co-workers. 

I’m sorry to those who I treated poorly. I understand now. I don’t work the road anymore, but I still see it in the hospital. I catch myself every once in a while making comments with my co-workers, but I stop myself.

What we need is a little compassion, and that’s something that isn’t taught in med school. I wish more awareness existed. So please continue to educate the medics out there. We really do love to learn.

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