Not one but two ladies in my circle (Cara from the podcast In Sickness + In Health and Kirsten of Chronic Sex) were able to attend the MedX conference at Stanford in September of this year (2016). Kirsten actually presented to attendees and both Cara and Kirsten have chronic conditions that affected their ability to travel and attend comfortably, but they powered through – because they have unique voices as patients to contribute to the perspective of healthcare. MedX operates under the motto of “Everyone Included” and that each person should be valued, while care should be human-centered.
This is a fairly new conference – only five years old – and is technology-based in the broadest sense, because Stanford is doing something that seems so, well, basic. They are inviting patients to the conversation.
I listened to this podcast by Danny Levine, who you may remember interviewed me way back in January regarding my dating life and how being a rare patient played into that. In this podcast he interviews a patient who attended the conference as an “ePatient,” which we find out probably stands for “empowered patient.” After listening to Cara, Kirsten, and now Emma’s stories, I’m motivated more than ever to apply to be included in their audience as an ePatient. I actively blog (and occasionally hop on podcasts and camera), and I’m certainly not too shy to share my story. I’m not sure if they would allow me to present but I would be open to it. I mean, if I can wear t-shirts inviting strangers to ask me about my weird allergies and failed shunt surgeries, I’m pretty sure I can handle the podium. (And this is where my theater training comes in handy!!)
I think something that a lot of us are grateful for (but many don’t know about) is that the conference offers scholarships for both attendance and for travel, both partial and full. For instance, I am not receiving any income this year because my disability case was denied because I didn’t have a diagnosis and the language my doctors are entering on my records isn’t really describing my situation. So now that I’m pulling money from my 401k to live off of – the absolute barest minimum so that I don’t lose it all to penalties and taxes but have enough to pay rent and student loans – I don’t have money for events like MedX, not just for attending the conference but also for flying there and sleeping in a bed. There’s a chance they could take pity on me for seeing 54 doctors and having 10 shunt surgeries and looking like Quasimodo and I could be in Stanford next year, telling a room full of people my story. So I’m gonna try. But my job as an ePatient is that I have to use my medium (blogging) to document my time there – at least three blogs of certain lengths. That’s absolutely no problem. I’m pretty chatty.
I’m a bit worried that like TV programs going for the cute puppy factor, MedX will want someone on stage who already has a happy ending, who won’t seem to be soliciting assistance for an unsolved mystery. Even with my recent MCAS diagnosis I have no idea if I’m there yet.
I’m also worried about traveling that distance by myself. I’ll lose a great deal of my vision from having to be upright for so many hours, plus I’ll be incredibly uncomfortable because I won’t be able to lay down to relieve the pressure and it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ll develop tremors, so it would be great if I could have someone with me to act as my eyes and carry items as well as open doors. The national hydrocephalus conference was here in Minneapolis this year, and that was incredibly taxing on me, so I know traveling to California will be much harder. Cara is still suffering because of the nature of her chronic illnesses and unfortunately her body may take months to recover.
Why do we want to do it? Because, as patients, we are involved. Rarely do we enter or leave a doctor’s office without doing a ton of research. This conference is tech-heavy and is attended by doctors and researchers and administrative staff just as much as it is patients, and that is a direct reflection of the world we live in when we seek medical care.
At one point, Kirsten spoke up and suggested that the medical staff speak directly to the patient(s) while a presentation was being streamed to the masses online. A conference does not relieve doctors of certain responsibilities such as treating patients as individuals with valid input.
So I’d love to go and make some connections just as Cara and Kirsten and Emma have, and raise my hand and raise some hell if need be. I can think of a few dozen doctors who really need to attend and gain some perspective.