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When Someone Else is Worse Off

Kristin feels empathy for a woman with the same invisible illness as her.

This morning was just like any other morning in Houston--hot, sweaty, the sun was beating down on my face. And it was only 8 am.

As I turned a corner toward a roundabout I take every morning, I glanced over to my right to see who was out for their daily walk. On any morning I might see ambitious runners who got a late start, patients staying near the Texas Medical Center out for a walk, or couples pushing baby strollers. But today, I was taken aback because I saw a face I clearly recognized. Not because I knew this person, but because I knew her story. This woman had severe, progressive scleroderma, and it was apparent throughout her face, neck, arms and hands. And that’s what I could see from the car window with a passing glance.

As I drove the final five minutes to work, passing the many hospitals and doctor’s offices that make up the largest medical center in the world, I couldn’t help feeling a strange discomfort. Was it guilt because my scleroderma hasn’t progressed to that degree? Was it worry that people were staring at her and didn’t understand what they were staring at? Was it sadness for this woman because I knew some of the pain she might be feeling—the pain of ulcers on your fingers, the tightness of the skin pulling around your fingertips and hands, the itchy skin, the always upset stomach, the strange looks from strangers?

Perhaps it was just the longing to reach out to her and I say, “I know, I have it too, I understand.”

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