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To the Doctor Who Called Me an ‘Interesting Patient’

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A few months back, I was visiting my student health center for something completely unrelated to my chronic health issues — an ingrown toenail. This doctor wasn’t a specialist or a physician I usually see; he was just the only doctor available for the day and time that worked with my schedule. 

Of course, when a doctor stumbles upon my medical records, they can usually be a little bit surprised and maybe caught off guard, especially when they might not deal with chronic illness patients on an everyday basis. I’ll never forget the reaction from the doctor that day as he read through my medical records in a cheerful voice: “Addison’s disease, psoriasis, a history of shingles, lupus, psoriatic arthritis. Wow. You are one interesting patient.”

An “interesting patient.” I’m not sure I had gotten that one before. I was diagnosed with my first illness when I was only 13 years old. This is when I first started to learn how to manage my health — ordering my own prescriptions and refilling them, doctors’ appointments, blood test appointments, etc. Since then, I’ve dealt with countless health care professionals and had several comments thrown my way: “Wow! What a combination you have,” “You’re sure on a lot of steroids,” “You’re pretty young for all these health problems” and “You’re really susceptible to those autoimmune disorders, huh?”

Until that day, though, I had never gotten “interesting,” and for some reason, that comment has been sticking with me. So to the doctor who called me “interesting,” I have some things I wish I would have said to you in that moment. I am quite interesting, but not for the reasons you may think. 

The fact that at the age of 22 I have lived with illness for over a third of my life does not make me interesting. Or that lupus took over a year to diagnose and psoriatic arthritis even longer is not interesting. My own self-diagnosis of psoriasis on my scalp because not a single doctor would listen to me is not what makes me interesting.

The 18 pills I take each day to keep my body working is not interesting, nor are the three physician specialists, pharmacist and blood technician who I have become familiar with. The multiple nights I have lied awake wondering if something else is wrong with me because the medicines aren’t working isn’t all that interesting. Neither is the fatigue I fight daily. The way I change my diet to help alleviate my illness symptoms is not interesting. The way I face mental health challenges from the weight of dealing with physical illness is not interesting. The truth is that none of the qualities, symptoms or nuances of my health status make me an interesting person.

Do you want to know what makes me an interesting patient? 

It’s because at the age of 22 I have lived with illness for over a third of my life, and I haven’t let it stop me from living. I’m interesting because despite the ups and downs of illness, I hold several hobbies — yoga, art, reading, swimming and baking. It’s interesting that I completed a triathlon five months after my lupus diagnosis. I am interesting because I love the ocean, sunsets, hammocks, Disneyland and camping. I love to surprise people, take photos and I love pugs.

My friends and family mean everything to me. I want to have a career that will help others who live with disabilities, illness or other circumstances out of their control. I graduated college with honors and a thesis research project. I’m currently doing a year of service in Alabama. I am kind, gentle, loving, compassionate, positive and giving. I overcome setbacks, and I try to find the good in everyone and everything. This is what makes me who I am. 

This is what makes me interesting, not a collection of papers detailing the things I have to live with, but the way I live with them and the person I have become despite it all.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: September 29, 2016
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