According to at least one internet story, over half of all Americans have a chronic disease or illness. This seems a bit incredulous. However, here’s where it gets tricky. There are major differences in the two.
A chronic disease is one lasting 3 months or more, by the definition of the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. Chronic diseases generally cannot be prevented by vaccines or cured by medication, nor do they just disappear.
A chronic illness is a condition that lasts for a very long time and usually cannot be cured completely, although some illnesses can be controlled or managed through lifestyle (diet and exercise) and certain medications. These include heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis.
I’m sure there are many more chronic illnesses or diseases that I have not listed. However, it would take lenghty research to adequately discuss this issue. For this blog, I simply want to discuss how people respond to those with chronic illnesses or diseases. (I have two – heart disease and sarcoidosis, (Read more) People always assume that I smoked because I have a lung disease – (and no, I never smoked). Many people with a chronic illness or disease look perfectly fine on the outside. The illness is in the interior of the body. Unfortunately, people respond to what they can see.
For example –
A few years ago, I was in Duluth and pulled into the handicap accessible parking space at Burger King, then located in Canal Park. As I got out of my car, I was immediately accosted by a man with two small children. He said something like: “Don’t you think you should move your car. You don’t need to park in that spot.” I’m sure I stood there for a moment, a bit shocked. But then I responded: “I didn’t realize that you could or could not see heart and lung disease.” He looked at me, a bit stunned. Then he replied: “I’m sorry; I wasn’t thinking.” I am not sure if he saw my handicapped tag in the window or not; if he hadn’t (and if I didn’t have that tag), he would have been correct that I shouldn’t park there. Or, he may have just assumed – because I looked okay — that I didn’t need to park there.
Given the pervasive nature of chronic illnesses, it is just best not to assume something about a person. They may look fine but are using every bit of strength that they have just to appear normal. Instead, you could stay silent, strike up a conversation, ask some questions, offer to listen, hang out with the person, etc. One day you may have a chronic disease or illness of your own so it’s best to treat others the way you would wanted to be treated.
This blog is dedicated to our beautiful granddaughter Selena who has spondylitis (Read more.) It is particularly difficult for younger people to deal with a chronic illness while others of their age are active.