Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Luxury of Being Sick

Last month Hillary Clinton was under fire for not informing the American public that she had pneumonia. She was called "weak". In what was not America's best moment we vilified a woman for contracting an illness that any of us could get. Apparently getting sick makes one "weak". I'd say sticking to a brutal schedule with pneumonia actually makes her a badass, but then again, this is coming from a sick person. 

I felt a lot of empathy toward Hillary because I know what it's like to be sick and feel like you have to hide it. I truly believe if we want to succeed women don't have the luxury of being sick. I would say this also applies to any person with a chronic illness. Moms don't get sick days. To keep up in the professional world we're expected to suck it up or be seen as weak. In Notorious R.B.G.: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it's noted that RBG was never gone from the bench while battling cancer. She quickly went back to law school classes after giving birth. Women are already at a disadvantage when it comes to child birth and maternity leave. We can pretend like it's not true, but it is. We don't also have the luxury of being sick. 

When I was in law school I worked at a firm in Texas. I had a severe Crohn's episode and spent the night in the ER. When I tried to call off the office manager insisted I come to work. My sister happened to be visiting and drove me there because I was on morphine and couldn't drive. I could not even stand up I was so much pain, and I was sent home. But they had to actually see how bad I was before they'd send me home. Amazing.

I've returned to work from hospital stays and been told the next work day that I am being pressured to show more results. I've returned emails in the hospital and pushed myself to come back. People tell me not to worry about work, but when push comes to shove if I want to be a successful professional I have to. Otherwise, as Secretary Clinton's incident shows us, I'm "weak". If I want to be seen as a serious professional then I have to at least appear to be well.

Having a chronic illness is weird. My level of "sick" is different from most people's. I regularly have stomach issues, fevers, infections and pain. This is my normal. My "sick" means I'm in the hospital. There's no in between. And because it's a disease nobody sees it's hard for others to grasp that I'm sick.  

Last week I wrote my recap of the Detroit Half Marathon and how grateful I was to be able to run it. What I didn't say was that in the ensuing days I began having tremendous pain. On Thursday (four days after the race) my doctor told me to start Humira, so I gave myself four injections before heading to a meeting. On Friday I started a my sixth course of antibiotics in as many months. Over the weekend I was in so much pain that I could barely walk.

Yesterday I went to the ER where I was told I had a very large abscess that would require surgery. By 2 pm I was in the OR and I was home by the end of the work day having had a surprise outpatient surgery. I was in so much pain before the surgery that I actually felt better when I woke up. I also felt dizzy which is fair given morphine, anesthesia and Benedryl in my IV. I've been told I can't lift more than 15 pounds for two weeks. For the record my toddler is 24 pounds, so that's an impossible ask. The surgeon looked at my husband after the procedure and said he couldn't believe I was functioning with an abscess that size. The day before the surgery we had spent a beautiful afternoon at Greenfield Village in Dearborn. I was actually feeling okay for much of the day (thanks tons of Ibuprofen!) but by the time we got home I was wiped out. The photos show me looking healthy and happy. One of the two is true. Twenty four hours later I was in the OR. My pain tolerance is epic.


Taken at Greenfield Village about 24 hours before my surgery. Like you do.
I have spent much of today sleeping but I've also returned a few work emails. It's frustrating to be on week four of a new job and say "sorry I'm out for a few days. Surprise surgery!" My new boss has been nothing but understanding, but it's not how I want to start a new gig. I had 14 years of hospital free Crohn's, and as we regulate my meds I am hopeful that this year will be a distant memory soon.

I realize I'm harder on myself than anyone will ever be on me, but I'm not wrong about the pressure put on working women or anyone with a chronic illness. I don't have the luxury of being sick when it comes to every day illnesses: colds, allergies, headaches. I have to save my sick time for my surprise surgeries or when I pass out unexpectedly twice in the doctor's office. My almost two year old doesn't understand sick days. I have a very supportive husband, but he's got a job too. Our life is a lot of busy, and I won't leave it all to him...at least not for very long.

Secretary Clinton is not weak for having pneumonia anymore than I'm weak for having Crohn's. Crohn's has made me stronger. It's made me a fighter. I will have to miss the 10k I'd planned on doing this weekend (no running for me for a few weeks), but my running goals for next year are intense. I don't feel sorry for myself for having Crohn's because it's made me who I am. Some days (like ones this week) are really frustrating, but it could be so much worse. I'll be at a few meetings tomorrow although I am missing the conference I'd planned to attend later this week. By next week I'll be back to full speed. Crohn's is an asshole, but it makes me a tough guy. Let's just hope this surgery (lucky #7!) is my last for a while. 

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