As a health content writer, putting myself in someone else’s shoes helps me write compassionate, informative content about some really awful diseases. I tinker with prose ad nauseam to describe sophisticated treatments in ways people can actually understand. But I have a confession to make. I’ve been giving people with less serious health problems the brush-off.
I was served my slice of humble pie during a recent visit to the optometrist. My glasses weren’t helping my vision, despite 2 new prescriptions. I thought the problem was that my eyes were getting old. This much was true, but there was more: granular corneal dystrophy. This condition causes granular spots on the front part of the eye (cornea), which makes it hard to see clearly.
This was the first time a doctor had told me something was wrong with me, and it rocked me to my core. In that moment, I realized the way I had been writing about minor health problems was all wrong.
Here are 5 hard truths I discovered when I became someone who was a little sick:
- There’s no such thing as a minor medical issue: As far as eye problems go, this one wasn’t going to steal my sight, affect my appearance or cause discomfort. As a writer, I might have called it a “minor problem.” But I had experienced rapid changes to my eyesight, and the problem wasn’t going away on its own. If anyone told me it was a minor problem, I’d be outraged.
- Even “simple tests” can scare the pants off someone who’s sick: To get a better look, the optometrist needed to put special drops in my eye. As a writer, I might have called this a “simple test.” But as a patient, I went into a downward spiral. Would the drops be uncomfortable? Would the results reveal more bad news? I had to leave the exam room for some fresh air. The optometrist said the test could wait.
- Over-the-counter treatments are not always easy: My treatment plan for the next 2 weeks included eye drops 4 times per day and ointment at night. In an article, I might have made this sound as simple as putting on a bandage. But as a patient, I started freaking out. The ick factor of giving myself eye drops and applying ointment! And so many doses – 5 treatments a day, every day, for 2 weeks, equaled 70 doses.
- Even a short treatment plan can become a major hassle: First, I had to go to 4 different pharmacies to get the medications. Then, I had to actually remember to take them. I started bringing the drops along every time I left the house and setting reminders in my calendar. Hello, hassle! Even with these precautions, I still ended up missing at least one dose on most days.
- Less serious medical problems may require ongoing care: After 2 weeks, I was back at the optometrist’s office for a follow-up. The results were good: I was back to reading 20/20 with glasses. But I wasn’t out of the woods. Granular corneal dystrophy is a progressive disease. My next step was to see a specialist to confirm the diagnosis and come up with a long-term treatment plan.
My firsthand experience with a medical issue gave me new clarity about what millions of people with “minor health problems” go through every single day.
Now, when I write about these conditions, I acknowledge that it’s normal to feel nervous or anxious. I also use phrases like “a simple test” sparingly. And I add more detail about what to expect, as in “special drops that feel like water and don’t change your vision.”