The Mighty Logo

The Age Gap of Chronic Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Here I sit once again, the youngest patient in the waiting room. It is said that depression is one of the symptoms of chronic illness, and for me, the waiting room is where I often feel depression the most. Who wouldn’t become depressed as they look around and see other patients much older than they are and realize the age gap is a real thing for those with an autoimmune disease? They also say autoimmune disease hits in the prime of life.

This time I find myself in the orthopedic surgeon’s waiting room. It seems my hip has finally succumbed to mechanical issues that need to be addressed. The waiting room is filled with other patients ranging in age from my parents’ age to my grandparents’ age. There is an older man who “whispers” to his wife. That makes me smile because my grandfather was hard of hearing and often did the same with my mother in the doctor’s waiting room. But at the moment I am smiling, I feel eyes on me — a woman probably old enough to be my grandmother with a walker. She seems to have had some sort of hip surgery. I can see her questioning eyes. “Why is this ‘girl’ in the waiting room?”  She obviously hasn’t seen me walk yet, or should I say limp? Maybe she thinks I am an athlete and have a sports injury. Honestly, that is the only reason someone my age would be sitting in the waiting room, right? But my prednisone weight gain labels me as a non-athlete.

You see, it isn’t just this one waiting room where patients my age feel out of place. I have been sitting in a rheumatologist’s waiting room since I was about 30. Most of the patients at my first rheumatologist’s office had osteoarthritis and were members of an older generation. I often felt the age gap while sitting waiting for my appointments.

All of this brings us to the fact that chronic illness does not age discriminate. I hear often, “You are so young to be dealing with this.” I’m not, and there are so many others in my shoes. Every once in a while, I see another patient my age, and we acknowledge each other. I do not have your grandmother’s arthritis, but I do see your grandmother’s doctor.

Getty image by Wavebreakmedia.

Originally published: July 19, 2018
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