The Washington Post

There Is No Help for Poor People Like Me


An occasional feature in which readers describe how they have adjusted to life with a chronic illness.

Idon’t even know what’s wrong with me. I haven’t been properly diagnosed. I don’t have insurance. The last time I visited a doctor for myself was at the local hospital’s indigent clinic, where I saw a young woman intern who sympatheti­cally told me I needed to see a mental health counselor instead of her. I told her I’d been to the local mental health center a year earlier: They informed me they were out of money and would treat only the ones who “really” needed help. I suppose that meant the ones who run screaming through the streets or shoot up schools. I’m not quite that bad off, though sometimes I feel like maybe I should try that just to get help.

For people like me, who get the bare basics done but little else, there is no help. I exist. I get food stamps. Nothing else. A nurse who cared for my 82-year-old mother once asked me why I hadn’t applied for Medicaid. I didn’t know what to tell her. How do you explain that when you’re feeling so low you can barely walk to the bathroom, you don’t really feel like going to a public office and trying to explain to some stranger that there’s something wrong with you, that you don’t know how long it will last, that antidepres­sants were tried but didn’t work and you have no faith left in the mental health center?

I used to see poor people and think, “Just get a job.” Now, I am the poor.

Jennie Rhineharto­f Spartanbur­g, S.C.

Ihave a condition doctors sometimes have difficulty pronouncin­g, which makes me feel both smart and worried. Two years ago, I was given a diagnosis of Sjogren’s (pronounced SHOW-grins) syndrome, an autoimmune disease that attacks my body’s moisture-producing glands.

You never really value your ability to produce saliva and tears until you have a problem. Eyelashes that fall into my eye cause excruciati­ng pain. Braces that should have lasted 21⁄ years stayed on for four: Orthodonti­a had created a breeding ground for bacteria, and without adequate saliva to wash debris away.

Sjogren’s affects between 1 million and 4 million people in the United States. But it is underrecog­nized, and it took a distressin­g year and a half for me to receive a diagnosis.

Multiple doctors posited stress as an explanatio­n for a constellat­ion of symptoms that ranged from fatigue to joint pain. After some prodding and Internet research, I managed to convince my nurse practition­er to test the antibodies in my blood. Later on, I learned of possible complicati­ons, like a risk of developing another autoimmune disease.

So whenever the parade of tired women shuffles through my rheumatolo­gist’s office, I try not to daydream about a cure for a chronic disease that doctors can only treat and instead take comfort in knowing what I have.

— Stacy Torres of New York If you have a story about living with chronic illness that you would like to share, send it to Include your postal address and phone number and mark the subject line “Living With.” No more than 250 words, please.

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