This spring I’ve been to many patient events like walks and forums – for multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell, pulmonary arterial hypertension, and Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia. As you can expect, we always feel sympathy for patients suffering from such conditions. It hits home when you meet patients in person and can see their difficulties, like MS patients struggling to walk, for example. But many patients look fine even though they are or have suffered. Recently at the International Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation annual forum I had the opportunity to meet many wonderful patients. WM is a rare blood cancer. I commented that they were the healthiest looking “sick” people I had seen. But many had not only suffered from the effects of not getting enough oxygen to their blood – all of a sudden not being able to walk up a small incline on the sidewalk – to the pain, nausea and other effects of chemotherapy. So you can’t always judge how others feel by how they look.
I remember from school learning the difference between empathy and sympathy. I just looked it up to be sure I had it right. Dictionary.com says: “You feel empathy when you’ve “been there”, and sympathy when you haven’t.” So usually it is sympathy that I feel. Yesterday I underwent ankle surgery. I’ve had ankle problems for over 10 years, due from years of running marathons. I’ve tried lots of treatments, like orthotics, special exercises, etc. Everything helped to some degree, but it continued to deteriorate. So I underwent a procedure to rebuild my collapsed arch – moving a tendon from my little toe to my arch, breaking a bone and realigning it, and stretching a tendon. While they were in there they found some ligament damage and they tried to fix that as well. So as you can guess, I’ll be on crutches for awhile. So now I can feel more empathy for those, like many with MS, who have trouble getting around. But fortunately for me there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, in 6 months or at least a year I should be in much better condition to take the dog on long walks and help at baseball practice! While many MS patients will be gradually declining. So my fairly brief sting on the disabled list really makes it more sympathy than empathy. But as least I have a taste of some of the things the patients are suffering through.
Wish me a speedy recovery!