The Mighty Logo

Why I’m Thankful for This Cashier’s Ignorance About My Chronic Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I’ll always remember this one trip to my local supermarket. As I was sitting in my wheelchair in line and the cashier rang through our items, I must’ve made a comment to my mom about my chronic illness. The cashier used that moment to talk openly about it to my mom.

• What is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome?
• What Are Common Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Symptoms?

Happily taking the opportunity to educate a stranger on my condition, I told her I have a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, as well as many other conditions related to this. I went on to explain my condition has caused many of my bodily systems to dysfunction or fail.

Aware I was standing in a line full of of people, I tried to be as brief and informative as possible as my mom packed our grocery bags. The next question from the lady was one I was well accustomed to: “Is there a cure for your condition?” I explained that unfortunately there isn’t a cure, and that the condition still isn’t well known within the medical field.

Chloe Print-Lambert the mighty

It’s at this point in the story that the person before me usually gives me a look of sorrow. I’ll try to make a positive statement in an attempt to ease the uncomfortable silence or change the subject to one more emotionally pleasing. I find this is for the benefit of the other individual involved and not so much my own. But on this day, after explaining that my condition can’t be cured, I was met with her confused expression.

“But you’re going to get better, right?” the lady asked, finally coming to the end of the items we’d placed on the conveyor belt. I could tell by the look on her face that she expected me to say, “Yes, I’m going to get better.” Instead, I let her know that I will not get better and will have to face a steady decline in health that will most probably continue over time.

Thankfully, my mom saw the total of our shopping pop up on screen, so we paid and left. Although this conversation seemed quite lengthy, it actually took no longer than five minutes. The short conversation played in my mind for days. Do people really think all illness can be cured by treatment or intervention? Perhaps they believe people either live or die from illness, but can’t comprehend the fact that an illness can be present for the duration of their lives so severely. Isn’t it obvious that modern medicine can do wonderful things, but doesn’t always hold the answer?

I wanted to be frustrated at this lady’s ignorance toward my situation. But then it dawned on me that the reason someone doesn’t have an understanding of a situation or concept is usually because they have no real experience of it themselves.

Since my conversation at the supermarket, I’ve been thankful when strangers show ignorance about my illness. They just don’t have the personal experience with it, so they don’t how to approach it.

I believe it’s important to be thankful when the pain my loved ones and I experience is absent from another person’s life, whether you know them or not. When I encounter ignorance now, I am thankful. It probably means that person hasn’t had to relate to the situation my loved ones and I face. I then arm them with knowledge so they can deal with future situations with more sensitivity.

To the cashier at the supermarket: thank you for opening my eyes while I opened yours.

Originally published: May 29, 2015
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home