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To the Professor Determined to See Me Succeed Despite My Health Challenges

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To the professor who is determined to help me succeed no matter what it takes:

I sent you an email with my paper attached in case I found myself admitted to the hospital the day our big paper was due. You were aware I was struggling with my health and that a surgery was coming up later in the semester. You got my accommodations form from the Disabilities Resources Office at the beginning of the term and we met briefly to discuss what each of my accommodations means. You were amazingly accommodating and for the majority of the semester, I didn’t need my accommodations much. When I told you I needed to use them, you didn’t hesitate and asked what you could do to best help me.

Ever since insurance denied what is a life-saving medication for me, my health has been rapidly declining. I wanted to make you aware of some of the things that are going on with my body currently. I didn’t want pity, but I did want to help you understand the magnitude of the situation.

Due to a rare neuroautoimmune disease called stiff-person syndrome, or SPS (which I describe as full body charlie horses on steroids combined with some twisting of my limbs), I’ve lost all the progress I made on my treatment. I am definitely worsening, as my already inverted feet have contracted inwards even more than they were. This is reducing circulation and making my feet ice cold 24/7 with a blue/gray color to my skin. The tension on my Achilles’ tendon is almost unbearable. My back muscles are spasming almost constantly now, which makes sitting up in a wheelchair hard. My arms have stiffened significantly, which is significantly impeding my ability to push myself in my wheelchair across campus. One particularly bad spasm popped my right hip out and another popped my shoulder out. Throat and neck spasms are making it hard to swallow without choking on my medication, food, etc. My voice can be very soft and raspy, which is not normal for me and makes participating in class discussions hard. Without treatment, I can stop breathing which, as I’m sure you can imagine, is very serious. I haven’t been in this much pain in a long time and it’s a level of pain I can barely tolerate.

The reason I am telling you all of this is because the spasms shake me uncontrollably, which can be distracting to others. This is not a type of movement I can control voluntarily. Spikes in pain are extremely disorienting for me, so if I look like I’m zoned out, it’s because of the pain – no disrespect intended.

My plans, provided my body doesn’t make other plans, are to be in class every day. Unfortunately, when I make plans, my body laughs and flares up, making my day even more challenging.

We have kept the lines of communication open and when you have questions, you aren’t afraid to ask, which helps me out so much. You remind me my studies are important, but if my body isn’t functioning the way I’m used to (my status quo), classes shouldn’t even be a concern. Now, being a super studious student, I do whatever it takes to get my assignments done and turned in on time. You’ve even allowed me to turn in assignments early and give my presentation to the class earlier when I was feeling more like myself. If there were more professors like you, I am confident more individuals with chronic illnesses and disabilities would find more academic success in college.

Thank you for all the support during this challenging journey. I would not be as successful in my studies and on the Dean’s List every semester if it weren’t for professors like you! Please continue to tell your colleagues to have an open-mind and a willingness to help the students who may need some extra help.

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Thinkstock photo via monkeybusinessimages.

Originally published: October 9, 2017
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