People Who Are A Little Sick Need Empathy, Too

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.

Writing with empathy: 5 hard truths I discovered when I became someone who was a little sick:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.”

When writing with empathy, use phrases like “a simple test” sparingly. Add more detail about what to expect. #copywriting #webwriting Click To Tweet

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