Friday, September 2, 2011

"I never got any answers"

Several years ago, a friend I hadn't seen in a while wrote to tell me she'd been sick for some time, but she had to go to many different doctors for months before she could get a diagnosis. In the first paragraph of her letter, she had described her symptoms, and it seemed pretty obvious to me what was wrong with her.

I reached the second paragraph, and discovered that I was right, and then I wondered: If I knew her diagnosis that quickly, why didn't all those doctors? My friend had a fairly common autoimmune disease, and autoimmune diseases affect mostly women.

"I'd go to doctors, but I never got any answers," Venus Williams told New York Times writer Karen Crouse yesterday, in an interview about her withdrawal from the U.S. Open. Williams has Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that has affected her for years. In the Times article, Crouse quotes Dr. Frederick Vivino, who says that: "Because they look a lot better than they feel, some of our patients have been told they're hypochrondriacs or they're depressed or they are experiencing these symptoms due to menopause, and they just accept that. That's why people go years before being treated for autoimmune diseases."

As a psychotherapist, I have heard this story many times. Some things never change. Autoimmune disorders and disorders that mimic autoimmune disorders affect women by the thousands, yet there is still a shortage of attention to symptoms and accuracy regarding diagnosis provided by medical professionals. It's the 21st Century, yet much of the time, when women are in pain, it's still assumed that the problem is "emotional."

Williams has suffered with swollen and painful joints, extreme fatigue, swollen hands, and respiratory difficulty for a long time. Considering the pain and discomfort she has lived with for so many years, it's no less than amazing that she has had an elite tennis career. She told Crouse that she has not had anything to help her "but my own will." That is one impressive will, but Williams--like so many other others with autoimmune diseases--should not have suffered alone for so long.


Roi said...

This was a very short but very powerfull piece, Diane. It is truly amazing how quikly each of her (and Serena's) withdrawals have been dismissed by the media. That is, corporate media.

And now i can only imagine how everyone will jump in the pitty wagon, the career history wagon, the looking-for-all-the-signs wagon, now that is a fact and there is more than believing her to validate reality.

Diane said...

Thanks, Roi.

I'm already tired of hearing them talk about it.

svente said...

I'd quote my favorite bits for emphasis but I'd basically be quoting the post in its entirety. :D

The dismissal of symptoms, and the mis- or lack of a diagnosis that follows, when women complain is an essential part of this story and something I've been thinking about more regularly since Wednesday.

Additionally, that Venus won numerous titles, including Wimbledon, while likely suffering physically, mentally and emotionally these past five or six years is astounding.

Well said, Diane!

Diane said...

Thank you, Svente. I appreicate your comments.

TennisAce said...

That is what amazed me even more about Venus' illness. When you consider how she played from even 2007 onwards and you look at her desire. You know people talk about other players and their commitment to tennis but listening to Venus talk about her love of tennis, you get the feeling that she just loves the sport, loves the feeling that it gives her win or lose. That is just straight passion. Hope she recovers enough to get one more Wimby title and that I see her do it

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