Thursday, March 04, 2010

Why I Participate in Medical Research

Um, it’s March.

How did that happen? In a blink, the late classes that used to start when it was dark now only end in the shadows of dusk, and tiny shoots of early spring flowers are poking through slushy dirt.

It’s been awhile. Actually, it’s been the longest stretch of time in between posts I think I’ve ever had. Usually, silence equals bad news in my world, but thankfully my absence is not the result of acute illness and fragmentation like it was when I made my confessions here last March.

Instead, it’s just a lot of medium-sized things piling up, leaving me standing in a pile of excuses and hating hearing the words coming out of my mouth.

You see, I meant to write a post this weekend in honor of Rare Disease Day, a cause that means so much to me. But I was out of town and then I got glutened, which totally threw me off my game. It’s a few days late, but my meek attempt at fulfilling an obligation I feel strongly about is to instead point you to my Rare Disease Day post from last year, since all the points still ring true.

(How ironic is it that on the heels of my last post on restaurants doing more to accommodate food allergies I went and got glutened for the first time in quite awhile? And this was after speaking with both an employee and a manager and being assured beyond all doubt the marinade on the chicken did not have wheat. Super. I know it wasn’t the lettuce underneath the chicken that made me wretchedly ill…)

And I meant to write and submit a post for this edition of Patients For a Moment that answered the questions: What is your relationship to illness? Is there a particular time when you wish illness wasn’t in the picture? Or is there a time when you find it’s easy to forget about illness?

But I didn’t, because each night that week I came home with the best of intentions but by the time I battled traffic and had chest PT it was already 8pm and I hadn’t started dinner and my work inbox needed me and man, my brain was tired. And as much as I wanted to elegantly dissect the ramifications of being a lifelong patient and never knowing what it was like to live without illness as my near-constant companion, I couldn’t get the words from my brain to the screen.

See? Excuses. Valid and truthful, yes, but in the end, meaningless.

But there’s something else I’ve been doing the past few weeks (months, really) that I don’t need to make excuses for, something that relates to the Rare Disease Day and to our identities as patients.

I’ve been participating in research studies. From broad public health studies launched in the ER to short, three-week surveys to long-term trials with blood work and follow-ups, I’ve jumped in whenever I’ve been approached by a research assistant. Sometimes, the studies have little value to my personal situation but are part of worthwhile projects in communicable diseases or prevention. Other times, the studies are directly related to what I live with and am going through.

I am not exaggerating when I say I wouldn’t be alive and certainly wouldn’t have the quality of life I do have were it not for medical research, for the thousands of participants or “subjects” who have volunteered for studies before me and for the researchers and scientists who launch these investigations.

From my point of view, any time I can participate in a research study it’s a tiny way of giving back, and of hopefully contributing to something that will positively impact other patients down the road.

For rare disease patients, the need for research is especially critical. So it may be a few days late and it may not be an official Rare Disease Day post, but consider this my public service announcement for the week.

And at least this is something I don’t have a lame excuse for these days!

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