Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Politics, Sports…and Chronic Illness?

I try to stay on point in my writing on this blog, exploring universal issues of living with chronic illness and discussing new research, policy, or insights from other writers and bloggers. But sometimes, personal interests and public issues intersect, and there’s been a lot of that happening lately.

I don’t usually stray into political leanings, but when it’s an election year and presidential health care policies have the potential to impact so many lives, how can I not write about the importance of the female vote when it comes to health care?

Similarly, I don’t usually write about sports. Now, I’m by no means an athlete—remember, I’ve broken fingers typing before, so you can imagine what an awesome combination me and a basketball court made—but I grew up with two older brothers so sports have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I mean, I went to hockey, baseball, and football games before I was old enough for nursery school.

Plus, when you live in Boston, you can’t escape fan fever. Clearly Sunday’s game was a tough one for Red Sox nation, (though the Monday night football with the Patriots cheered us up somewhat) and the series with the Tampa Bay Rays was an emotional rollercoaster.

Why bring up a painful loss? Because while rooting for my team, I had the chance to watch Rocco Baldelli hit for the Rays. This spring, after a lot of tests and some tough symptoms to piece together, Baldelli was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease, which makes it harder for his cells to recover from even minimal exertion and can cause excessive fatigue.

Since Life Disrupted published this summer, I’ve heard from many patients and learned about many conditions I didn’t know much about, including mitochondrial disease. Despite our vast differences in symptoms and body systems affected, I could relate to a lot of what I learned, especially regarding the difficulty in diagnosing it and the fact that since it often manifests in children, it’s even harder to identify in adults.

(I had immediate flashbacks to doing homework for grad school while waiting in my pediatric specialist’s office, flanked by toddlers with croupy coughs and stacks of Highlights magazine.)

So at first, I was interested to see Baldelli because anytime a rare disease can get national exposure and awareness like that, it’s wonderful—good for general knowledge and education and hopefully, it’s also good for fundraising and research goals too.

But on a deeper level, watching Rocco’s at-bats reminded me of so many things I normally talk about on this blog: adjusting to new symptoms, negotiating setbacks, and balancing professional ambition with personal health needs. So many of us have had to be creative about our employment situation, from finding ways to work from home to switching jobs so we’re in a more flexible corporate culture. We seek ways to be successful and to contribute even when our bodies don’t work the way we want or need them to work.

Now think about Rocco’s situation, and just how much success and positive contribution depends on athleticism and peak physical condition. And think about trying to compete at his level when his body can’t do the things it used to do, the things he needs it to do. Talk about an adjustment.

In what I am sure will be an ongoing process with many revisions, Baldelli and the Rays are figuring out how to keep him in the game without exacerbating his condition. He doesn’t play in every game, and the time to rest and recover appears to be working since he had no problem knocking out some hits in a clutch position.

I’m glad to see that his diagnosis didn’t automatically mean retirement for Baldelli, and glad to see the Rays are working with him. After all, if there’s room for chronic illness in professional baseball, there’s some hope for everyone else trying to balance work and illness too.

In other news, a new edition of Grand Rounds is up at Pallimed—check it out!


Jared At The Doctor Job said...

There are strong rumors that Rocco might be a Red Sox next year as the Rays won't pick up his contract after the World Series. So you might be seeing a lot of him the next few years.

Grant Golden Opportunity said...
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