I was at the gym unsuccessfully ignoring two women beside me on stationary bikes. One was leafing through the Washington Post Health section, reading the stories about the “pathetic losers with big medical bill” aloud to the other, along with other bits of snide commentary. Then, she read this part of a reader-submitted column which is a first-person account of living with MS:
I quickly learned that MS is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord, destroying the protective myelin sheath that insulates nerve fibers. No one knows the cause of MS, and there is no cure. It was a devastating diagnosis, especially for a competitive figure skater.
I have a relapsing form of MS, in which I have periodic exacerbations that cause vision loss, numbness, tremors and vertigo. I have these flare-ups once or twice a year; otherwise, I’m largely in remission, except for extreme fatigue. I’m one of many whose MS is largely invisible.
And then she added, “Please, lady. Call me when you have a real disease like breast cancer. Then you’ll know what it’s like to live with a chronic condition.”
I’m happy to report that the woman on the other side of them, who I hadn’t even noticed, gave them the verbal ass-kicking they so richly deserved. Among other choice recommendations, she suggested that they learn the definitions of the words “empathy” and, oh, gee, maybe “chronic condition” while they’re at it.