I am so thankful for modern medicine. I would not be alive today without it and if by some odd chance I were alive my quality of life would be drastically reduced. My story is the story of medicine overcoming long odds. It is a story of people toiling in labs to work on new treatments and doctors trying new things. My story is a mix of good fortune and the skill of others that have brought me to this point and I am forever thankful for the blessing of modern medicine. Here are two examples.
In 1947 my aunt became ill. It was a mystery at first, and being poor (my mother’s family lived in public housing) my grandmother was reluctant to take her to the doctor. It was finally school that forced the issue. Patty Ann was seven years old and she was diagnosed with diabetes. She was immediately placed on insulin, but still her life was very difficult. The injections were painful, the protocol for maintaining a sterile environment was pure drudgery. Yes insulin saved her life, but in a way it took a large bite as well.
Flash forward to 1974, I was 17 and diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I was quickly diagnosed and rapidly treated. When I exited the hospital there were no home glucose tests, I was still using U80 insulin, and disposable syringes had only recently gained widespread acceptance.
Despite where I started, medicine soon advanced in some amazing ways. I used U100 insulin within a few months, within five years home glucose tests were introduced and within a few more years the first insulin pumps appeared on the market.
Today we can honestly tell newly diagnosed people they can live long lives. I am amazed how far medicine has advanced our understanding of type 1 diabetes. Within 50 years of my aunt’s diagnosis we now have automated systems in the prototype stage that will largely take the place of human intervention in the day to day management of diabetes. Diabetes will never be cured for me but I believe that in the next generation the burden of managing diabetes will be lessened.
If medicine makes diabetes management possible, it makes my life with RA worth living. When I was diagnosed with RA in 1999, I was blindsided. As much as I had always feared complications associated with diabetes I had no fear of RA. No one I knew of in my family had RA. Scientists were just coming to realize that both type 1 diabetes and RA were autoimmune diseases.
At that first visit thankfully my doctor told me of a new class of medicine called biologics. Only two existed and the one he chose for me was amazing. When that biologic stopped working 5 years later, the race was on. I am using my sixth biologic drug. Each time I change, my doctor delivers the news that I have reached the end of the approved medicine pipeline. If this one does not work, I do not have an alternative in the marketplace.
Those times when I have to transition between medicines, or I have to stop using the biologics for some reason my body slows down to almost nothing. The pain is unbelievable and energy drops to a point where turning on the computer is difficult. These times make me understand the true miracle I experience by virtue of these biologics. Because without them I would be a shadow of myself. There is no doubt RA medication is one of my blessings this year.
Beyond insulin and biologic medicines, I also know those who work in places like engineering centers, chemistry labs, sales meetings, and doctors’ offices are a blessing for me. Their efforts to advance modern medicine are one of the true blessings of my life. I thank those who work at the leading edge and the point of care. All of these people are a blessing to me this year.