“People like this are the reason we have to wait around for a spot!”
In that moment, as I was being publicly attacked for my use of the valet service at the hospital, I felt so much anger and sadness. I was angry that someone could judge me based on a physical appearance. I was visibly upset, thinking to myself, “Just get in your car, it’s not worth it to argue back.” A part of me just wanted to drive away. Another part of me wanted to stick up for myself, speak up for those of us with an invisible condition, and educate this woman who attacked me with such ignorance.
“Oh please! Give me a break!” she responded after I explained to her that I had a handicap placard hanging on the mirror and had just as much a right to be there as she did. Comments that diminish our illness and make us feel as though we are “making things up” can be hurtful triggers for someone living with pulmonary hypertension. Her comment made me feel invalidated and worthless, and it heightened my emotional sensitivity.
Through tears, I still found it in me to educate this woman further. I told her that I had my oxygen in the car waiting for me and I couldn’t walk the distance from the parking lot to the hospital elevator without it. I told her I had scars on my chest from open-heart surgeries and a pacemaker at 26 years old. It took all the strength I had in me to advocate for myself and my rights. I ended with, “Just because I look fine to you and can walk a few feet to my car, doesn’t mean I don’t have anything wrong. If you think I’m ‘fine,’ I have medical documentation in my car that proves otherwise if you’d like to see it.”
The confrontation ended when an older man who was pushing his wife in a wheelchair held me by the hand and escorted me back to my car. Even after sticking up for myself in front of that woman, I still felt defeated. I felt broken emotionally and physically. I got into my car with tears soaked to my face, unable to catch a breath because I was so hurt by what she said to me. This man, another complete stranger, saved me that day from having a complete breakdown. With a few short words and a moment of understanding, he pierced such an awful and insensitive situation with an act of kindness. This kindness changed my day and taught me a valuable lesson about life with chronic illness that I can take with me into the new year.
The older man stayed with me next to my car until I was calm enough to drive. He kept telling me how wrong that woman was to make such assumptions about people. He revealed that his wife has cancer and he understood how hard it is to have such a difficult diagnosis and any condition that is life-threatening. Even though I did not know him, he gave me the biggest, most comforting hug when I needed it most. He made sure I was calmed down before I drove away, telling me he needed to make sure I was OK to drive. He cared about my safety and well-being, and made sure I didn’t leave without a smile.
This stranger reminded me that even though we are suffering or a loved one is suffering, we can still choose kindness. The warm, caring heart of another person can change our whole outlook on ourselves when we need it the most. Focus on the positive that others bring into your life and ask yourself each day, “What kindness can I show today?” The positive experiences you have had with family, friends, significant others, doctors, and nurses matter most. Negativity can fuel the feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and depression that often go along with this illness. Make it your goal this year to recognize the positive in your life. Be kind to yourself and others, always. The world needs it.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.