chronic illness

Columnist and Editor-in-Chief Kylee Haueter discusses living with a chronic illness. 

I am currently being treated for pneumonia— for the fifth time in two years.

I have chronic bronchitis. This means that I get lung infections much more easily than the average person. Throughout my life, it has not been uncommon to get bronchitis eight to 12 times a year or pneumonia a few times. 

Chronic bronchitis is prevalent in smokers, but mine comes as a result of 15 years of being constantly exposed to secondhand smoke. It is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. 

I always have a deep, barky cough. If the air quality is bad on a certain day, I can’t go outside. A virus that is just a common cold for someone else confines me to my bed for a week because, in addition to having chronic bronchitis, I am immunocompromised. My lungs can’t fight off a common cold by themselves. 

I do everything I can to try to stay healthy. I work out five times a week, eat well and take vitamins. 

New doctors don’t take me seriously because otherwise healthy 22-year-old women don’t typically have chronic bronchitis, so I always end up much sicker than if I had been taken seriously right away. 

This also means that I usually end up missing quite a bit of class and work. Thankfully at Iowa State, I have been lucky in that a majority of my professors are understanding and help me adapt to my illness. 

Not everyone is as lucky as me. Many people don’t take chronic illness seriously because they have a narrow understanding of it. 

“I recovered from the cold going around just fine, so why shouldn’t you?”

“It’s just a cold, power through.”

“You’ll be back to normal in a couple days.”

“Stop being a baby.”

These are all things that I have been told by miscellaneous people in the last two weeks.

I am a perfectionist. I don’t want to be bedridden for two weeks, missing class and work. I don’t want to have to choose to not do an assignment because I simply don’t have the energy. And yet, that is my reality. 

I am terrified that I will end up at a job where my employer isn’t as understanding as my professors have been— that I will get fired the first time I get sick and have to miss two weeks of work even though I’m a hard worker and good at what I do. 

The last thing I want is for people to feel bad for me. Don’t take pity on me; just listen to my story and the stories of others with chronic illness. 

Like I said, I’m lucky. I graduated high school on time and with good grades; I’m graduating college on time and with good grades. Many people suffering from chronic illness don’t have those luxuries. 

All I ask is that you try to understand that our bodies don’t work the same way yours does. Ask us questions. Don’t make your own assumptions about us. 

I want to create healthy conversations about chronic illness. Just because you can’t see my disability doesn’t mean it’s not there.

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Editorials are longer opinion pieces that are written by a group of community members recruited across campus who address relevant issues on a local, national and international level. Editorials are research-based. The purpose of the Editorial Board is to promote discussion concerning relevant issues in the community while advising on possible solutions. Topics are chosen via relevancy and interests of the members, which are then discussed by the Editorial Board in order to reach a general consensus concerning the topic or issue.

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