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Start Giving Patients the Freedom to Heal.

Barely one month after being released from my hospital stay in February of 2017 someone messaged me that I was “doing it wrong.” Those words exactly, and that I needed to reflect more positivity. Resentful is an understatement that I felt within that moment, and every once in a while I still allow this intrusive message to continue to plague my thoughts. Yes, I have given it more power than I should, but the truth is that the message she sent actually does have a lot of power. In my weakest moments sometimes remembering that message is a deep cut.

You see, this hospital stay was an emergency admit, in the middle of peak tourism season in which I had just opened a store only a month prior, oh, and I sold flowers and Valentines Day was fourteen days away. Did you get all that? Exactly. I was trying to run a store almost four hours away, in severe heart failure, and I was in the ICU having a specialty team put a tube in my chest that would remain there forever. As far as I could see (which was through a filter of complete panic) my life was over. The doctors told me I was dying around the time I was finally doing something I had dreamed of, and it was interrupted in the most intense way. I was hospitalized eleven days; eleven days of constant beeping, cardiac alarms, palliative care, counseling, transplant doctors, and entire team staring at you and taking notes at least two times a day. That doesn’t include the insane pain, crying, nausea, and trauma. Eleven days I laid there barely making it out in time to immediately turn around and have everyone’s Valentine flowers done. I was extremely sick; I had lost around thirty pounds, was still throwing up around three in the morning every night, and being a new IV patient which includes learning about the machine as well as the medications attached to me. I was still extremely angry that I would get up to do something and would feel my pump slam down behind me, tugging my tubing. Or that showers now meant maneuvering tubing, and feeling the warm water hit a bunch of plastic taped to your chest. The reality was setting in that I was finally attached to a machine – my worst fear. My invisible disease was finally visible, and I was on the last leg of therapy – one step closer to organ transplantation. Okay, I’m done with the existential thoughts but you get the point.

I am just now comfortable with IV therapy…a full year and a half later. I finally mix seven cassettes to put in the fridge so I am changing my medication on time. I am finally taking care of my central line after losing my first. The road is just now gentle because that’s how long it took to accept my pump, work out all the technical kinks – and I am not alone. A lot of us PH’ers struggle with IV therapy, and years later it is common to still have a flood of emotion come over you causing you to be self-conscious about your disease, your body, and to be angry or sad. It is completely normal to suddenly “see” your pump for the first time in forever or to watch people swim and scream “WHY” inside your head. This will continue – not most days but it will happen at least one of those three hundred and sixty-five.

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The point is, when I received this message I was only one. month. out. Need I repeat myself but barely a month – that’s not even the amount of time you need to even recover from the new medication. Your entire body has been invaded and is changing among a very powerful life altering drug running through it twenty-four seven. Your entire world has been shaken by trauma, paranoia about your own death and future, and you open your messages to see “you’re doing it wrong.” This is nothing against this person – because she is a good person, but to this day those words are penetrating and wrong themselves. However, they awoke me to the reality that she speaks for the common voice and attitude in America – and that’s a damn problem.

We often are so bothered by things that we can’t comprehend so we blanket them. Patients ourselves do it some time before we truly develop an understanding of our disease. If you have something serious, invasive, life threatening, or mortality awareness in general about you – you are blanketed, unfollowed, or reminded that you need to be happier. Instead of people volunteering to visit you in the pits of hell, they decide to pretend it doesn’t exist. The pain, and trauma you lived through is really a happy story – and you should be thankful. YES, IT IS but it is NOT RIGHT NOW. The right thing at the wrong time is still the wrong thing. Things need to be felt, acknowledged, and sort through. In a year it is a happy story, and a transcendent story of personal growth and pain, but right now it is barely escaping with my life. It is not okay to rush any kind of healing. It is not okay to pretend someone’s pain doesn’t exist because it makes you uncomfortable. We should be uncomfortable quite often in life – that is if we want to keep moving forward. Things that count, helping other people, feeling all the feelings often comes from a driving force of being uncomfortable, and wanting to change that.

Being diagnosed incredibly young has been a process of learning about mental health, trauma, and where I fit into in this society. A society that is obsessed with perfection – we can’t deny it. We would gladly drop a thousand dollars at Hobby Lobby making our home amazing to take Pinterest pictures for our Instagrams to prove to everyone how perfect we are. We all do it – all of us deep down wants to be a Pinterest perfect woman. Being a physical reminder that things are quite imperfect, medical bills are piling, and coverage is being threatened can have you cast out of a lot of situations when it comes to fitting into society. It is extremely hard to find a place for yourself when your reality clashes with their ideals. More and more I hear about PH’ers horrifying experiences of being corrected, made fun of, not welcome, and overall just not supported.

I get that we are unrelatable in a lot of aspects. Our pets are our only children, we post pictures of mixing our medicine, and maybe our stories on Instagram consist of hospital stays with the caption being a slight mental breakdown. We are literally looking death in the mirror everyday and trying to fight and cope with it. In a country where we have been deemed “too expensive” for medical coverage, and a “burned down house” AKA hopeless cause – difficult is an understatement. We would just like a little time to vent and be heard just like you get to after spilling coffee down your front on your way to a meeting with screaming kids in the backseat – only for us maybe it’s congress messing with our healthcare rights or our copayment is $4,000 this month. We just want to vent to our friends then move on to shopping at target too.

You can think we are doing it wrong, you can be that outside perspective and see that we are suffering, and you can do two things; you can send us a message saying “you’re doing it wrong.” OR you can send a lunch invite, and over a great meal ask, “How are you doing? How are you coping? What hobbies do you do for yourself? What was it like? Wow, tell me more about that?” like a human would. It’s really that simple.

Please save your criticism for real problems in this world, like healthcare, racism and misogyny. Please save your lousy Facebook messages, and trade them in for connection. We just need time to heal, real connection, laughter, company and we want to be heard – we are tired of being silenced by America’s expectation of normal.

-haley.

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Terminal, Terrified, and Traumatized.

Reactive is the exact word to describe my current self; a volcanic emotional eruption after years of collision, change, pressure, politics, and overall what gradually morphs into traumatic stress. Many would define the results after a life changing — or life threatening event, but what had I experienced? Just a “bad” diagnosis and a few pills honestly. Until almost six years later when I felt comparably to unraveling like a cheap sweater, and finally diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Only eighteen at the time of my Pulmonary Hypertension diagnosis, I did not fully comprehend what would happen to not only my body, but my entire existence. In those beginning phases I showed up to a vastly overwhelming amount of appointments, collected pills, listened to results, and attempted to force myself into continuing a life that at the time felt right for me. I believed that I would do what everyone else was doing; find a career, get married, have kids, and just endure within the definition of normal. I took the “your disease is terminal, you can’t have kids, your life will forever change” and shoved it to a deep dark corner titled denial. In it’s place I painted a brave portrait of a “strong, happy, chronically ill human” to obliterate my reality’s truth. I received quite a bit of compliments on doing so too utterly convincing my conscious and others that I was truly happy, and most of all okay.

I don’t even know how it happened, or when it happened. It was a daily transition into this anger, grief, and outraged person that I harvested a special hatred for. Deeply I felt compelled and pulled to be another individual who others, including myself, did not understand. Unpredictability, obsessed, overwhelming sad compiled with anger — Why was this happening? Despair and outrage will bring you to your knees only to find a crevice of that darkened place that only you thought erasable. The truth is unpalatable, alienating, and disturbing. Underneath it’s crushing embrace I collapsed into this final form of who I had no choice in becoming — I just am.

In simplest of terms, I am being held hostage by my own brain to be kept inside a “reactive mode” because I am experiencing anxiety related to a past traumatic event. The diagnosis of a terminal disease is traumatic. The paranoia of keeping my central line in tact as well as my pump, and mixing my medication is traumatic. The constant hospital stays, checkups, surgeries, and mandatory IV’s are traumatic. Healthcare coverage being a constant threat in America is traumatic. “Will I die from my disease, or without treatment?”

Wrapping your mind around the fact that you will have your organs replaced is indescribable — and just when you think you have escaped these continuous phrases of “you will have a normal life” — the line that doctors rely on for relaxation, you see Facebook updates of people having babies right next to your twenty-year old friend who succumbed to her fight with this disease. Just when you thought you could continue on with your Saturday morning cup of coffee you receive the news that the grant organization, Caring Voices Coalition, is no longer covering any expenses for your medication for 2018. How will you cover your $60,000 a month co pays?

Your perception of reality is a fight for survival which is vastly too intense for others, especially when reaction is what you are currently wired to produce in result of these perceived, and very evident threats. While I am currently seeking help so that I can improve my well being, I have broken down and transformed. I will never be the same because the skin which holds my body together has new tubes, scares, and shed repeatedly. It is okay to change amidst your survival.

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I wish in this country we completely understood the toll of a disease on someone, and that the consequences bleed into all parts of our life: it is not contained to a hospital room. Someone who is chronically ill becomes limited not only by the failing body they are trapped in, but employment, relationships, insurance, housing and mentally — disease can envelope you. Chronically ill people are so anxious about current day America and their future that while taking care of these defeated organs we ignore the health and well being of one our most important; the brain. Why would a country of plenty make the checkups and healthcare of an important member such a challenge? Well, quite frankly, our lives are too expensive and non existent to begin with. What did you call us Senator Pat Toomey? Burned down houses I do believe?

While the intentions and thoughts behind caring about a chronically ill person are pure and vibrating from what we think could be a good place, we have to be willing and prepared to fully encompass the mental obscurity that will plague this human. It is an exhausting exchange of interactions in which patients are losing their sure footing among this journey. Their entire way of thinking, reactions, and beliefs are developing and brewing among damaged cells, treatments, therapies, and IV fluids.

I didn’t withstand a war around me, but instead within my own body. Developing trust issues against my own being and country takes up my free time, and flashbacks to moments in surgery or ICU that I would love to avoid forever. I live in terror because I know they are coming back with vengeance, generous strange organs, rib saws, and a high chance of death in the form of treatment…or lack thereof.

-haley.