We were discussing the possible side effects of a tetnus shot, and she said I could take some Advil for the soreness I’d probably have in my arm. I said that I’ve had chronic pain since I was a kid, so this wouldn’t be so bad for me by comparison. She seemed truly sympathetic. We continued to chat as she gave me the shot, and I said something about how what I have is sort of like fibromyalgia. I saw the glint of recognition in her eyes. I thought she must see a lot of fibro patients, but then she told me: her sister just told her yesterday that she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
I didn’t know this woman. Come to think of it, I never got her name. But we spoke openly and honestly. I told her that the hardest thing for many of us isn’t the symptoms. Those are horrible, yes, but even worse can be when we’re doubted. Doctors think we’re just looking for medicine or attention. Relatives think we’re pretending or exaggerating. She told me about her rocky relationship with her sister, but how she still wants to be there for her. She told me that her sister had complained of symptoms for years, but she never took them too seriously. I told her that being supportive is the best thing she can do. There’s no cure for fibro right now, but there might be ways to help mitigate the symptoms. I mentioned having people around to help and maybe changing her diet, and how she would need support for all of it. I told her about going through the five stages of grief.
I worried that I might have overstepped what’s considered a boundary between two strangers. I apologized for saying too much. She stopped me and thanked me. “I’m so glad I met you.” She said it more than once before I left.
The entire exchange lasted only minutes, but I think I might have helped both this woman and her sister. At least, I hope I did. And when she seemed surprised that this total stranger was trying so hard to help, I told her how hard it can be, especially when someone is first diagnosed. I said that I wished I’d had someone who’d gone through it to help me, so now I always try to help others. After all, we autoimmune folks need to support each other. We need to be there for each other.