Battle for Grace

It’s already a big spring for books about illness. I’ve written about The Last Best Cure and In Sickness As in Health, and now I’d like to introduce you to Cynthia Toussaint.

In the course of writing about gender and pain for In the Kingdom of the Sick, I interviewed Cynthia Toussaint several times. A former dancer whose life was turned upside down when a ballet injury turned into a serious, debilitating pain condition, Toussaint is the founder of For Grace, a nonprofit for women in pain. Her experiences having her pain dismissed and her suffering ignored, as well as her incredible story of unconditional love, make for a compelling read in Battle for Grace, her new memoir. In fact, Battle for Grace launched on Maria Shriver’s Architects of Change site.

Here is some more official information about Cynthia, as well as Battle for Grace:

“Cynthia Toussaint is the founder and spokesperson of For Grace (, an organization that fights to ensure the ethical and equal treatment of all women in pain. She has fostered two California Senate hearings on thunder-treatment of and gender bias toward women in pain and gave testimony at both events. Toussaint has appeared on more than 75 local and national television shows and featured in over 200 news stories, including ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, PBS, Discovery Health, The Learning Channel plus the New York Times and Newsweek, among many others. A recent media highlight was an invitation from Maria Shriver to launch Battle for Grace on her Architects of Change website. Toussaint lives in Los Angeles, CA, with her beloved John…

Toussaint takes readers on an extraordinary 30-year journey where a crippling mystery illness triggered uncontrolled violence that almost destroyed her. The story begins with a minor ballet injury at age 21 that grew into the chronic pain disease, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Her pain went undiagnosed for 13 years as doctors told her it was all in her head. Bedridden for a decade, she was unable to speak for five of those years and was often reduced to the violence that attacked both herself and John Garrett, the love of her life. John has remained at her side for 33 years. She lost the career she’d dreamed of as an actor, dancer, singer, the chance to have a child and very nearly John as well…But Cynthia somehow stuck with it, refusing to be a victim. In her battle to survive, she’s taken on the role of activist and aggressively challenges HMOs and pharmaceutical companies that put the unholy dollar ahead of patient care…”

I am grateful for Cynthia’s insights in my own book, and pleased to share the details of her new memoir.

Spring Preview: In the Kingdom of the Sick Pub Date, Book Events, and More

in-the-kingdomAs you know, I wrote another book.

You might not know that its release date is right around the corner: APRIL 9, 2013.

I am pretty excited to share this with you.

In the Kingdom of the Sick: A Social History of Chronic Illness In America
is available on pre-order now, and you can read more about in this starred review from Booklist.

If you’re local to the Boston area, I want to share two key author events. I would love to see you there!

1. On April 11, I will be doing a Meet the Author discussion and book signing at Northeastern University at noon. (I teach at Northeastern, so this is especially cool for me.)

2. On April 17, I will doing a reading at Brookline Booksmith at 7pm. This is one of my favorite bookstores around, and I can’t wait.

I am also really excited to announce that from late March throughout April, I am doing a virtual book tour with interviews, reviews, giveaways, and other events on different sites across the Internet, so no matter where you are, you can still be involved. I have some seriously amazing, insightful, and gracious people involved in this, and I will link to all of it from this blog.

I will also be posting events, reviews, and other press on my new Facebook page and on Twitter, so you can follow me there, too. The book explores patient rights, gender and pain, social media and patient advocacy, as well as the influence of science, technology, and culture on the experience of chronic illness (and more), and after all this time, I can’t wait to see it out in print and in readers’ hands.

Stay tuned!

Living the Dream (Or, It Takes a Village)

Every now and then, like when it’s well past midnight and I’m setting my alarm for 4:45 so I can get some work done, or when we’re trading notes on how many loads of laundry and changes of clothes Norovirus necessitated, my husband and I will mutter “Living the dream,” and smile (smirk?) at each other.

Of course we always say it in jest, and because sometimes a little levity can make another pre-dawn computer session or raging case of toddler vomit a bit more manageable.

The thing is, though, we really are. Living the dream, that is—our particular notion of what a dream should look like, anyway, and all the lack of sleep and crazy juggling and contagious viruses and daily minutiae pale in the face of that.

I don’t like winter. The days are too dark, everyone is sicker more often, and this winter there are just too many variables to manage—teaching, side projects, book launch, merit review, household maintenance, chest PT, and of course, the really heavy stuff, like watching my father’s kidney failure progress and working on the logistics of a transplant and medically complex post-op care plans. I am tired, and I just want it to be spring.

The irony that spring represents hope and renewal is not lost on me. (But really, I’d be happy with weather warm enough for a trip to the playground, or possibly a nap.)

Anyway, as we claw our way through this snowbound February (and yes, it really is starting to stay lighter later on), I’ve taken to re-framing how I think about nineteen-hour days and the often overwhelming nature of the here and now.

Living the dream. We have a happy, healthy, joyful little girl. When she is at school, she is in a wonderful place where she is loved and where she is thriving. I get to spend so much time with her every day, a lot more time than I would in other professions, and I try not to take that for granted, ever. We go to the library and playspaces and gymnastics class, we do playgroups and playdates. We read books on the couch and hide treasures in her tent and I try to say yes to finger paints more often than not—“Just throw me in the tub right after, okay, Mama?” All the other stress and sadness and obligations of life fade away.

Part of this is because higher education is a bit more flexible schedule-wise, part of this is because I am willing to work late nights and early mornings, and a huge part of it is because I work for a wonderful institution with accommodating superiors and administrators. They support me and allow me to do what I enjoy with students I enjoy. There is room for professional growth, and innovation and initiative is rewarded with responsibility and recognition.

I have an agent and a publishing team who have been equally accommodating, and whose guidance has really helped my writing career. And lately (stay tuned) some incredible writing opportunities have come my way, things I wouldn’t have thought possible if I had sought them out myself, and all I can do is be grateful and give them my all.

My husband is almost two years into starting his own business, and while the hours are long for all of us, the benefits outweigh the (many) stresses. Seeing him get great press or expand his production facilities to meet increased demand is nice, of course. But knowing he is doing something he believes in, and something that while grueling, allows him the flexibility to come to her doctor appointments, drop her off at school, and be present in so many aspects of her daily life, is even better.

Along the way, we’ve been blessed personally and professionally with mentors and cheerleaders, those whose encouragement, advice, and enthusiasm have helped us to take risks and fight for the life we want.

Way back in the day, I wrote this post on how it takes a village when it comes to having chronic illness and raising children. And it absolutely does—when she’s sick or I’m sick or we’re both sick, we need helping hands. But unsurprisingly, my pre-child understanding of that village was a bit narrow.

The village stretches far beyond those who can help out when we’re sick, or watch our daughter so I can go to the hospital. It also includes the cheerleaders and the mentors, the bosses and the schedulers and the administrative staff, the professional colleagues who go out of their way, the doctors, nurse practitioners, and nurses who manage our conditions, my physical therapists, the daycare staff, and so many more. It’s the family and friends who are a constant, and those who understand when life gets complicated and we fall off the radar.

If I’ve learned anything in the months since we started looking for a living donor for my father and we’ve witnessed the amazing outpouring of support and sacrifice, it’s that the web of people who care is intricately linked and stretched out beyond our immediate circle, and beyond the circle beyond that circle, even.

I won’t deny this is a hard season we’re in, in every sense of the term. As is always the way, it seems like there are so many exciting things going on right when so many tough things are. I know things will get easier soon, when the book is launched and I’m feeling better and the work winds down a bit. I also know that things could get much harder before they begin to get easier. I can’t wait for spring, but the enormity of what could happen between now and then is hard to translate.

For now, I am keenly aware of all the scaffolding that exists that supports us and enables us to live this dream, in all its imperfections.

On 2013 (Or, Side by Side)

It was helpful to re-read my New Year’s post and its emphasis on being more present as I thought about how to approach this first post of 2013. Being present, being mindful, really, involves focusing on the actions and emotions of the moment.

Grief. Joy. Sadness. Happiness. Side by side.

A couple of years ago, once we were through initial trauma of my mother’s brain injury and could focus a bit more on issues of rehabilitation, the losses stretched out in ripples, and the fear and sadness also mixed with gratitude and anger. After so many years of struggle we were finally expecting a baby, and here I was, in my third trimester, on bed rest and fighting to keep that baby safe. I wanted my mother. I wanted my daughter to know her grandmother. I wanted her birth to be free from all this heartache and upheaval, not just for me or for her, but for all of us. I was angry that we wouldn’t be able to just have the joy.

But I didn’t realize then the heart and mind’s capacity for preservation and compartmentalization. I didn’t know that I could weep for mother’s situation and yet hold my daughter in my arms and feel pure, all-encompassing joy. That even when it felt like things were crashing down around us—mother in rehab, father in the hospital, maternity leave that ended early, sickness for baby, sickness for me, plus all the normal newborn, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation woes—I could feel so utterly content, that even as my hold on all the other moving parts of my life slipped through my fingers, I never felt more solid, stable, or sure.

Over the past two years, I’ve often thought about this dichotomy: How I’ve never been happier than I am when I am with my daughter, how this always-cheerful, adaptable, chatty, precocious little girl has changed us, changed everything. How I gain so much every day I get to be her mother, even as more and more slips away. How I’ve re-calibrated to an ever-shifting sense of normal, where I watch people I love suffer, where we all shed more tears than we used to. Guilt lingered—did the many tears I’ve shed somehow take away from my gratitude for her? Did the joy and the love somehow mean I didn’t appreciate the gravity of all the stresses around us? Could I feel both so completely and simultaneously and have each one be true, be real?

Yes. If there is anything I have absorbed from the past few years, it’s that.

I remember so clearly the day this fall we found out my father’s lone remaining kidney was indeed failing. I called my husband but couldn’t get all the words out to tell him, there simply wasn’t enough air. Heart-ache, I repeated the word in my head as I battled my way down busy Huntington Ave, the traffic lights blurry through hot tears. This is what it feels like when your heart aches.

I picked my daughter up from school later that same day and listened to her chatter away about her day and who and what she played with. We went to the library, where we played with trains and picked out books. She held my hand in the parking lot, and helped me empty the dishwasher. In the moment, in the middle of our normal activity, I found the air I needed. I laughed. Again and again the pieces threaded back together.

Watching my father deteriorate these past few months has been a series of chest-clenched moments, where I know what I see but don’t want to see it, where I can’t talk about it so most times, I don’t. I’ve been conscious of creating time where my parents can be with my daughter. No matter how terrible he feels, when he is with his grandchildren, when they run to him with their arms outstretched, when my daughter climbs onto his lap and says, “I love you so much,” nothing else exists for him but that moment.

Waiting for his transplant and watching him get worse and worse while at the same time, having so much hope and optimism that he will have a good outcome…again, we have grief and joy, sadness and hope, all mixed up.

I won’t say that the heart-bursting gratitude we have for our daughter, for this life we’re living with her, is sweeter or more appreciated because of all the difficult stuff that exists right along with it, because I can’t imagine feeling any less than this, regardless of what else might be going on. No one ever gets just the joy, that’s not how life works. But if we’re lucky, even with the sadness, we still get joy. We can feel both so completely and simultaneously and have each one be true, be real. Side by side, each a measure of love.

So that’s my hope for 2013. I don’t know how much of the tough stuff the year will bring, but I want to be mindful and fully present in the joy wherever we can find it, to not let it slip by without squeezing every ounce out of it.

CaringBridge and National Family Caregivers Month

Did you know November is National Family Caregivers Month? I didn’t, until CaringBridge reached out and let me know about their celebration of family caregivers. This awareness month comes during a time of year when we are particularly reflective and attuned to gratitude and the blessings of family, but if you’ve been following my blog lately, you know why the timing of this is particularly compelling for me:

We’re currently trying to find my father a match for a living donor kidney transplant. The ongoing coordination of this outreach requires a lot of time and energy, and more than that, the emotion of it is intense. This isn’t just a cause or a platform or some hypothetical advocacy—this is my father’s life.

None of us, especially my father, are new to caregiving. For example, just before my daughter was born my mother had a catastrophic health event that has forever changed her life and all our lives, and we’ve all juggled going to doctor appointments, picking up prescriptions, staying overnight, cleaning, cooking, doing errands, coordinating care, and managing the emotions that come with seeing people you love suffer and not being able to change it.

The National Family Caregivers Association writes, “Day in and day out, more than 65 million family caregivers in this country fulfill a vital role on the care team. No one else is in a better position to ensure continuity of care. Family caregivers are the most familiar with their care recipients’ medicine regimen; they are the most knowledgeable about the treatment regimen; and they understand best the dietary and exercise regimen.” It is a privilege, and a huge responsibility.

I write this from the perspective of both a caregiver (at times) as well as a patient, someone who has to rely on my husband and relatives when I am the one in a crisis, when I am in the hospital, or unable to leave the house. It is humbling to need to ask and rely on help, and it is challenging in many other ways to be the one providing care. Family caregivers, especially spouses, handle an incredible amount of stress on top of the everyday realities of work, household obligations, etc.

Typically, you don’t see sponsored posts* here. There are many reasons for that, (perhaps another post on its own?) but this time, the themes are so incredibly relevant and authentic to what I’m talking about on this blog, and the company, CaringBridge, is a nonprofit organization I truly admire and have utilized many times over the years, so it seemed like a natural fit. CaringBridge offers patients and families free websites to tell their stories, post updates, and communicate. It offers many ways for people to care for each other during any type of health event and is available 24/7, free to use, and accessible to anyone, anywhere.

Through CaringBridge sites I’ve followed little children fighting cancer, preemies in the NICU, and fellow health writers who just want a safe space to focus on the medical updates in their lives. There is room for photos, messages of support, and other personalized touches, including multiple privacy settings, that help connect patients and families in crisis. There is no advertising on CaringBridge; it is dedicated to families, not profits. That really resonates with me.

Coordination of care is always challenging, especially during acute health crises. After leaving an inpatient team meeting or getting important test results, it can be overwhelming to have to call and e-mail everyone to keep them posted, or keep track of all the details that need to be handled. Friends and family usually really want to help, but it’s sometimes hard to ask for specific, concrete things. In response to user requests to help centralize support, CaringBridge now offers CaringBridge SupportPlanner, an online calendar that helps family and friends coordinate care and organize helpful tasks, like bringing a meal, offering rides, taking care of pets and other needs.

I have been the patient in the ICU bed, struggling to keep friends and family in the loop, and I have been the relative huddled out in the corridor, trying to send texts, answer e-mails, and make sure someone has gone grocery shopping. I am glad services like CaringBridge sites and CaringBridge SupportPlanner exist—living with illness and caring for people with illness is hard enough. Some of the details should be easier to manage.

I am pleased CaringBridge is taking time to raise awareness for family caregivers, and acknowledge all they do on a daily basis to advocate for their loved ones, and I am grateful to have supportive caregivers, friends, and family in my own life. This month, take a moment to acknowledge those you know who are caregivers, and tell us a little about them here—they don’t do it for praise or notice, but a little encouragement can certainly go a long way.

(*And any questions about sponsored posts? Let me know! I very rarely post them, and will always be transparent. This content is sponsored by Caringßridge. Any opinions expressed in the post are my own und not those of CaringBridge.)

On Becoming a New Patient

As the first post here at my my new home, I thought it fitting to return to that seminal moment in the experience of being a patient: finding out you have an illness.

I recently spoke with someone who is newly diagnosed, someone who has otherwise been pretty healthy. Our conversation reminded me of how overwhelming this whole process of being a patient and navigating the health care system can be. As a lifelong patient, I don’t always pay as much attention to this stage in the patient experience as I should, and I started to make a list of all the things that popped into my head as we spoke, ideas both big and small.

What tips or suggestions would you add to this list? What do you know now you wish you’d known when you first received a diagnosis, or, for those who might still be in the process of receiving one, when you first started experiencing symptoms and going to doctors? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section!

  • Don’t feel awkward or guilty about asking for a second opinion.
  • Ask lots of questions—it’s important you understand what’s going on with your health. If you don’t feel comfortable asking your doctor questions, consider meeting with a new doctor or provider to see if there is a better rapport.
  • Some days will be really good. Some days will be awful.  That is okay. Your feelings as you process this are all okay.
  • When it comes to waiting—waiting for appointments, waiting in hospitals, waiting for results, etc., expect the worst and hope for the best. Time works differently in the medical world.  It’s frustrating, it’s not always fair, but it is a reality of the patient experience.
  • A lot of things might seem scary and out of control, but don’t forget—this is your body.  If something doesn’t seem right—a provide doesn’t wash his or her hands; a lab tech sticks you too many times; the test someone is scheduling for you doesn’t sound like the test you know you need—speak up! It might be awkward, but social graces are not worth your health or your sense of comfort.
  • Spend some time getting to know the online patient community. Sometimes, the anecdotal experiences and wisdom there, as well as commiseration and validation, can be enormously helpful.
  • Remember that everyone’s experiences are different, and everyone is at a different point in the process of treatment, acceptance, etc. Not everything you read online will resonate with your experiences, or with what your doctor tells you. Again, ask lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to bring what you find online to your doctor.
  • Drink lots of water and wear layers when you have blood drawn—being dehydrated or cold makes it even harder to draw blood.
  • You won’t get a lot of rest as an inpatient, but there are lots of things you can do to create a better environment and a sense of calm: familiar books, music, and DVDs make a difference, certainly, but you can also inquire about the necessity of overnight vitals to see if you can get uninterrupted sleep, for example.
  • Sometimes you will really want people with you at appointments, or will want to talk about it. Sometimes, you will want to be alone, or want to talk about anything other than illness. These are your boundaries to draw, and it is okay to ask people to respect them.

Also, if you have a moment, definitely let me know if you encounter any issues with the comment system, the subscription service, or anything else that comes up as I fully switch over to this new space.

(And, I am really happy you followed me over here!)

Invisible Illness Week

This week is National Invisible Illness Awareness Week.

Normally, I write lengthier posts to discuss living with invisible illness, but this year I did something more interactive. Check out my virtual conference on Pregnancy, Parenting, and Chronic Illness, which is now archived so you can watch it anytime.

Definitely check out the other speakers, too, who covered topics ranging from employment, relationships, communication, and other issues related to balancing life with invisible illness. It’s great to see some familiar faces and colleagues in the mix, and get to know other speakers and advocates, too.

Many thanks to Lisa Copen for her tireless advocacy for people with invisible and chronic illness.

Have a great week!

How We Roll: Travel and Chronic Illness

For the next edition of Patients for a Moment, Duncan Cross asks how we roll with chronic illness. Since I’ve made two fairly long car trips in the past couple months, travel is a timely topic for me.

When I read the prompt, I couldn’t help but pull up a post from the vault, this entry from July of 2006 that captured my most humiliating experience ever. Click on over for the gory details, but it involves airline inconsistency, public disclosure of personal health details, an insensitive bully, a whole lot of red-faced shouting, and The Vest, my expensive and unwieldy piece of medical equipment. Good times.

Aside from traveling to see family, we don’t really have a chance to travel much. In fact, a five-day trip this spring was the first real true vacation we’ve had in years. We haven’t had the time—and haven’t made the time, I suppose. But beyond that, I end up having to cancel things at the last minute often, which makes me hesitant to plan too far ahead. I end up paying a steep price whenever I do make a trip, even a short overnight for a conference or a meeting. Inevitably, I catch something from being on the airplane, and it takes weeks, sometimes months, to clear my system.

So, given that airline travel makes me sick, and my hesitancy to purchase the ever-expensive plane tickets too far in advance, when we do need to be somewhere, we’ve started driving. (Unless it is just too far and too short or a trip, or we find a great deal on tickets, and it’s not cold/flu season, etc.) We have family in Michigan, so years of 12-hour drives have helped condition me. We can control how long we’re on the road, we can stop if we need to, and we honestly, we really love the chance to just chat. Sometimes we’re several states in before we even turn on the music.

By now, we know which rest areas have viable food options for me, as gluten-free food is tough to find on the road. We know which hotels take dogs, which routes have the best views, and the best spots to fill up on gas.

I’ve learned to keep my “regular” meds in my purse in the front so I can reach them easily. We pack tons of water and low-sugar drinks, and I’ve started bring a cooler of healthy snacks—balanced nutrition bars, trail mix, yogurt, etc. That way, if the (scant) salad offerings are more meager than usual, I know I have something to eat that is gluten-free and has protein. I keep my brain fog in mind when we divvy up the driving.

(And for the toddler? Lots of books, snacks, and a mini DVD player she watches Baby Signing Time and Sesame Street on. She can turn it on and off, rewind/fast forward, and change the volume on her own, which makes the process pretty painless. So far, we’ve been really luck she rolls so easily and without complaint.)

Of course I do fly and take the train at times, but taking travel into my own terms (and staying healthier for it) has made a big difference.

Changing Spaces

It’s been an intense spring, one marked by necessary cuts. Some are exciting and liberating and others are more raw, but all are ultimately for the better.

Like many of you, I suspect, I often write and blog to process, to work through decisions and reflect on experiences that have already happened. A couple of months ago, when I wrote this post that started as a rumination on the writing and editing process, it really did begin with writing itself, and slowly stretched to ideas about living with illness. Still, it was primarily retrospective.

But I thought about the idea of “necessary cuts” constantly after I posted, and a couple days later, I had a life-altering epiphany. The writing informed the decision, not vice versa.

We should sell our house and move.

A few weeks after that moment of clarity, our house was thoroughly scrubbed, streamlined, and staged, and went on the market. We scoured neighborhoods in new places, comparing schools and commutes and spaces, and driving by listings. Just a couple of weeks later, our house was under agreement, and a few weeks after that, we signed an offer on a house in a much different place.

For the past four and a half years this has been a wonderful home. It’s got character and a good layout, and is in an active area with many urban amenities: public transit, coffee shops and restaurants and playgrounds in walking distance, proximity to highways and hospitals and so much else. Yet many of the things that were attractive to us then don’t necessarily reflect our reality now. Just as suddenly as we fell in love with this place (and it was immediate—we weren’t even looking for a new house), we knew it was time to move on.

For the first time since I was eighteen, I can see myself living somewhere where espresso, Thai food, and the subway are not within steps of my door. There are many reasons to leave that make sense to us, just as there were many reasons to live here when we bought it. But this house, as much as we love it, and the lifestyle this house represents, simply aren’t the right fit for us anymore.

It’s a necessary cut, indeed.

We held our breath a lot in this house, and did a lot of hedging. We were drawn in by the spacious, quirky bedrooms, eyeing the sunny front bedroom as a possible nursery someday, yet in the same breath we told the then-sellers to take their swing set with them because we knew there was a real chance we’d never have a child to push on those swings.

We are living in the after, not the “if,” and we have a lot more clarity in terms of what we want, but more than that, what we need.

Beyond concrete items like the walk-in closet or the updated kitchen, there are many things I will miss about this house. It was where neighbors became friends. It was where a business was launched over tamales and margaritas with friends, and where Supper Clubs were held well into the night. It was the home where an idea for a second book took root, and where, over several years, the stack of books and articles somehow became a cohesive narrative. It was where we hosted Thanksgivings and cook-outs and sleepovers with nieces. Its closeness to Longwood Medical Area meant it served as a home base and staging ground whenever my loved ones (or me) were in the hospital (which was far too often, really. Really.)

Our bedroom is where I closed the door and cried quietly month after month (after month), and my home office is where I got the call that finally brought happy tears after so many years. The sunny front bedroom is where we painted the walls a gorgeous pale blue/aqua color because we wanted our little girl to have something other than pink, and on whose walls we stenciled the words “Dream. Hope. Believe,” scarcely believing this was in fact our reality.

The sunshine that streams through the living room window every afternoon was my constant companion during weeks of bedrest, and the hustle and bustle of cars, trucks, and neighbors connected me to the world outside those four walls. The front door was covered in balloons and Welcome Home signs when we brought our baby home from the hospital, and the hardwood floors and living room rug are where she crawled and walked for the first time.

We’ve had so much joy here, and so much tough stuff along with that joy. Things fell apart and stitched themselves back together—not seamless, but stronger nonetheless.

In a few weeks, we’re off to someplace much different. More land, more green, more (mental and physical) space to exhale. I did not realize how much I was still holding my breath, until I wasn’t anymore. We’re sad to leave the house was truly a home, but we’re even more excited for a better fit, a better life for all of us.

Dream. Hope. Believe.

On Technology and the Patient with Chronic Illness

While saving a podcast I created for my students the other day, I inadvertently clicked on another item in my iTunes folder: my daughter’s first cry, recorded with my husband’s iPhone the moment she was born.

Momentarily overwhelmed with emotion, I scrolled through until I found another amazing entry: the sound of her hiccupping in utero, recorded with my iPhone during one of the many non-stress tests I had during my pregnancy. You hear the whoosh and thump of her heartbeat, and then every few seconds, you hear this unmistakable blip that is a hiccup.

An entry from a few months later makes my body clench: the horrifying sound of her struggling to breathe, rasping and gasping and choking and wheezing, when she was quite sick as a young infant. I played it for her new specialist so he could see what I meant when I talked about how much she struggled at night and while eating.

He nodded, playing it over several times, and sharing it with the fellow on his rotation. “I am so glad you recorded this,” he said to me, relaying any private fears of mine I’d look like some overly paranoid first-time mother. It was the first step in accurately identifying some of her health problems and getting her the right treatment.

My smart phone is just one of many ways technology has changed my experience of being a patient, being a pregnant patient, and being the mother of a patient. I get text messages from my pharmacy when it’s time to refill my prescription, and can accomplish more over brief e-mail exchanges with my own specialist than I do in some office visits. The patient health management platform my hospital uses has all lab results, imaging, results letters, and medical history available with a few clicks on a password-protected site.

I’ve written here before how social media is an important—and often, the only—source for connecting with other rare disease patients, people who can provide the anecdotal information on treatments and best practices that can make such a difference, information that we can use to have conversations with our physicians. It’s another form of data, and in the digital world of health information, data matters more and more.

I’ve been writing and researching in a lot more depth the way technology and social media have influenced patient-hood, and I know this post is just a snapshot glimpse of the many, many types of application. But as someone immersed in the research and the statistics, what I would really love to hear more about are the everyday experiences people have.

So tell me, how do you use technology to manage illness? How have technology and social media influenced your experiences as a patient? How you advocate for yourself or find information?