Updated: Aug 19
The year is 2040.
I’ve just returned home from work. I am a renowned rheumatologist, particularly known for my research in fibromyalgia treatment.
I am married to a man who loves his career, cooks the best Thai food, is still openly a proud feminist just in case the world reverts back to treating women the way it did in 2020, and still looks at me the same way he did when we were 18 years old. We got married in Hawaii, even though we were broke at the time, because I insisted.
I live in an apartment that has hardwood floors and pictures of my sister and my friends from undergrad-who are all happy and changing the world- all over the wall. The plates in the kitchen belonged to my grandmother. The couch has fluffy white pillows and the view from the balcony is breathtaking. There are toys scattered all over the place because my husband somehow found a way to convince me that despite depression, pandemics, wars, famines, breast feeding, painful childbirth, nine grueling months of pregnancy, and my crappy genes- it is still worth bringing kids into this world. And he was right.
I hang my white coat in the closet and make myself a cup of coffee. It’s my second cup of the day because I no longer have to worry about panic attacks.
I sit down on the sofa my parents gifted to me before they moved back to India to live the life they always wanted, and think about a patient I saw today.
A 15 year old girl. 5”6. South Asian, specifically Indian descent.
She had light brown skin, hair so coarse you’d think it came from a horse’s tail, and this fiery passion within that was still apparent even through all the pain. I could tell she had worked very hard to build a broad vocabulary from the words she used to articulate how she woke up with joint pain in her right hand one morning, and how the pain had now spread throughout her entire body. Her symptoms, her story, the results of her blood tests- they all conveyed a textbook example of fibromyalgia.
Her voice made it obvious she was holding back tears. I clearly remember her expression- one encapsulating pain, fear, anger, and a hint of wounded optimism. She was trying to seem brave for her mother who was also in the room, but was doing an awful job. This was all too familiar, but the rest of our interaction was not.
I was confident I could help her because medicine had advanced more than we had ever seen before in the past few years. People with excruciating arthritis are regaining mobility every day. Fibromyalgia is no longer incurable. The number of patients hospitalized because of Lupus is at an all time low. Medication is now affordable and only used when necessary because after years of advocacy, human lives matter more than the dollar bill.
I reassured her that I am here to help her every step of the way- to hear about her anguish, to answer questions, address concerns,and do whatever I can to help her as her doctor. I prescribed her a low dose of a pain medication(one that I had worked on) that actually cures and has shown excellent results, and some natural supplements. I told her she should start feeling better in about three months, and I meant it.
I saw her notice the poster on the wall with testimonials of patients who had reclaimed their health, and smile. 23 years ago there used to be a poster in its place that compared the joints of a person with arthritis to that of a healthy person, and it made another 15 year old girl a little more scared than she already was.
My patient left hurting a little less and a little more optimistic.
This reflection of mine is interrupted by my husband and two children, a 4 year old boy and a 2 year old girl, arriving home. My son is wailing because he spilled juice on his favorite pink shirt, so I lift him up into my arms, completely pain free. Fear free.
After years of believing, I had won.
There are a million obstacles stopping this ending from being mine, but maybe that’s why we dream just big enough to hold a slight probability of achievement; so we can find comfort in the possibility of a better tomorrow. Aching for even the slightest comfort, we dare to dream of the ending we want, despite living the reality we never wanted.
Despite the word ‘incurable’, the discouragement, the lack of empathy, the lack of ambition and curiosity of those we count on, the suffering beyond our own, the unexpected- we dream on. And who knows, maybe one day when people learn to love those different from them, everything will start to fall into place.