Illness Intelligence: Don’t Say This to Someone Who Is Sick | Kelly Medwick | TEDxLincoln

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /

Translator: Rachael Williams
Reviewer: Denise RQ (video) You deserve to feel strong,
confident, ready for anything, and now you can with Humaniti. Humaniti is not for everyone
so ask your doctor if it’s right for you. Humaniti can cause heart disease,
cancer, bronchitis, and stroke. Other side effects
include Alzheimer’s and dementia, arthritis, asthma, flu, diabetes,
obesity, mental disorders, and MS. Humaniti eventually results in death. Now, isn’t it time you started
living Humaniti? Live free. (Video ends) (Laughter) (Applause) Kelly Medwick: Illness is
a natural part of life. There’s no avoiding it. At age 23, I married Eric, a dynamic person,
music teacher, and friend, who had survived
stage four Hodgkin’s as a child. Months after our wedding day,
I became his caregiver as he fought a rare,
life-threatening sarcoma that attacked the nerves
in his right arm and shoulder. His arm became paralyzed. His pain and his treatments
were excruciating. After a two year battle, he died on a hospital bed
in our apartment, barely 100 pounds. Shortly after that, I lost both of my grandmothers
to liver cancer, just in their early 70s. Today, my husband Mike
suffers with a chronic condition that requires constant monitoring
and treatment. Sounds like it’s been
a hard road since my 20s, but I’m here to tell you, yes, it has! (Laughter) The first time
I went to talk to a therapist, she broke out in uncontrollable sobbing. I ended up having to hand her
the tissue box. (Laughter) Now, don’t worry, I found a new therapist. But I did learn something. Her reaction was pretty common. People with illness and their caregivers,
are often pretty isolated even in the company of those who care. Our society has the most advanced
healthcare technology in the world, and yet we’re amateurs at,
what I would call, illness intelligence, our ability to accept
and respond naturally to illness in ourselves and in others. I had a crash course
in illness intelligence, but, as a result, I developed empathy,
perseverance, resourcefulness, all of these strengths
I use every single day. So lately, I’ve wondered if building our illness intelligence
as a society could change the way we face
all of our most complex problems. We could start by looking at people
who are already pretty good at this. I remember four men coming to our rescue as we were struggling one day
to board a flight. They moved like a special forces unit
and perhaps they were. This was a New York airport of all places. We can also learn
from the opposite end of the spectrum, like a receptionist who refused
to fax Eric’s referral for a presurgical screening. The surgery that was scheduled
for the next day would amputate his right arm and shoulder
to prevent the spread of cancer. She couldn’t understand
why we were so worked up. Turns out, the surgery never happened,
it was already too late, but why were we arguing over a fax
on a day like that? I’ll tell you: illness ignorance. I could go on this stage for an hour
telling you stories like that, but don’t worry, I only have ten minutes. I really want to focus
on the people who did it right. Compassionate people can catalyze an entire community
of illness intelligence. One day, one of Eric’s friends
and former students, Jeff, brought by a special gift that he and his friends
had kind of been working on: a left handed saxophone. This saxophone would allow Eric
to continue to play despite his paralysis. Jeff knew about Eric’s back story. When Eric had fought Hodgkin’s as a child,
learning the saxophone gave him the will to get up and go to school
as often as possible. It led to his career choice. Just recently, I found this note
in one of Eric’s journals. It’s a little hard to read.
He had become left handed late in life. It says that the left handed saxophone
helped fill a void in his life, the need to play again. Jeff and his friends used empathy,
engineering, and creativity to good use; group intelligence. Another story: a colleague of mine was
struck with MS in the prime of her life. Her friends coordinated
all of her daily living essentials and provided her encouragement
using Facebook. She believes that the work that they did
could be a model for a non-profit. Personal support teams like this
can be a lifeline, but not everyone has them. Often it depends on where you are in life,
and who’s in your circle. But at some point,
everyone will need their own support team. It’s part of life to suffer
and eventually die. Boy, I’m full of happy thoughts! (Laughter) But I mention death because our fear of it
creates barriers of communication even among friends. I think this is why people panic
and spout things like, “God only gives you
what He knows you can handle.” I know most people say that
with good intentions. However, for the person
who just wants to talk, it translates as “Ah, you can handle this,
now let’s change the subject,” and normally, that’s what happens, and the person’s left
feeling even more alone. Social isolation,
no matter what the circumstance, is crippling. There’s a book called
“In the Country of Illness” that likens sickness to exile. One of my favourite authors,
Flannery O’Connor, who suffered with systemic lupus, once said,
“I’d never been anywhere, but sick.” Her words resonate. Eric and I had a great team around us,
but we still felt removed from their world the one we used to inhabit,
where you could make plans. Illness has a way
of commandeering your time. Saturday nights at the ER
were not exactly our idea of a date night, yet that’s often where we were. I would dread Monday mornings
when my colleagues would come up and say, “So, how was your weekend?” and usually I would respond,
“Great, how was yours?” Once, as I was responding that way, a thick lock of Eric’s hair
fell out of my planner and onto a conference table. The chemo he had had the week before
was so strong he had lost all of his hair in the span of one weekend,
and we just couldn’t keep up with it. My colleagues looked down
while I cleaned up. One woman started sobbing. Even when I tried to conceal our truth,
it would find a way to reveal itself. Concealing your truth day after day
is exhausting, but occasionally, we’d find some rest. In the spring of 1998, Eric’s relatives invited us
to their horse ranch in Darby, Montana, a place we had never been. Our job was to cuddle
all the newborn horses, to lock in the human bond. Best job ever! (Laughter) It was great to be in nature
and to be useful. One afternoon, the owner
Larry Townsend and I were talking while we were watching Eric
with the horses. Larry said, “Hey, you know, enjoying the moment you’re in
is pretty easy when that’s all you have, and he knows that’s all he’s got now.” Larry had illness intelligence. We need more places like this, that allow people to face illness
and still feel connected to the world. They don’t need to be
a faraway exotic place. Picture a wellness center within a library where people could just sit,
read, study, practice relaxation, or just be in the presence of others
when they’re feeling housebound. Or what if our community
started a volunteer program specifically for people on disability allowing them to use all of their gifts and talents they have
in the present moment. What if they could earn rewards
for their volunteer service and still have their disability benefits? All of these ideas for building
our illness intelligence as a society are within our reach. So what stops us? Well, the barriers aren’t about money,
they’re emotional. The place to start
is the most difficult of all: our relationships. What if, today, one of your friends
called you and said, “I found out I might have cancer.” This sounds far fetched, but it’s not. It happens every day. Rather than saying
what you think you need to say just speak honestly. I wish I could have
the day I picked up my office phone, and Eric said those words to me. But if I could go back
and speak intelligently, I think I would have said, “I won’t lie. I’m afraid, and I hate this. I know I’m being
incredibly selfish right now. I want to be on this road with you, not to be your hero
but because I need you. I hope you understand that you’re going to be
the only person I want to talk to, and when I can’t talk to you any more,
it’ll drive me crazy. But I am in this with you,
no matter where it takes us.” And so, I leave you with this final image:
the left handed saxophone. What will you create?
How will you make it? Who will you make it for? Thank you. (Applause) (Cheers)

30 thoughts on “Illness Intelligence: Don’t Say This to Someone Who Is Sick | Kelly Medwick | TEDxLincoln

  1. Your amazing and although I am one of the chronically sick you have inspired me to shorten the gap (you know what I mean!) THANK YOU AND I WISH THERE WERE MORE COMMENTS !!!! But know this I am going to follow through on an idea which will help with exactly what your saying EVEN IF IT KILLS ME LOL XXOO love light health and keep your wonderful spirit alive and well because your wonderful !!!!

  2. Don't like that society thinks that if you're on disability you lose your right to a meaningful life outside work..''if you can do anything in your spare time you could instead be working more''

  3. I have ME and every other illness that comes with it.
    No wonder I love Flannery O'Connor so much
    Thank you for this talk because it's my life

  4. Awesome speech, awesome speaker, awesome story and awesome life-lesson! Thank you so much, Mrs. Medwick and TEDx!

  5. Had to pause after the 2 minute mark to make a cup of tea cos I knew this talk was gonna be good ☕️

  6. Wow! Mrs. Medwick is awesome! Her amazing personal experience with terminal cancer is inspiring, because of how humanly and "intelligently" she handled it. How blessed her husband, Eric, was to have her, and vice versa. This talk should be a model for the professionals and patients who deal with this very complex issue.

  7. I just want to comment on the reference to what people claim that the Bible says about God not saddling a person with more pain than they can bear. It doesn't promise anything like that. People are referring to a passage about temptation, that God won't allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear. That's very different from the idea or reality of suffering. Many DO suffer more than they can bear. I offer the reality of suicide up as confirmation of this fact. I also believe that there's more suffering in our reality now, than has ever existed in the past, despite denial over it. This is a great video!

  8. I think a place for undiagnosed, chronically ill people would also be amazing. There are also unique barriers to being chronically ill but still pursuing a diagnosis. You’re so right that illness is alienating, so much of my time is budgeted – will I have energy for this, how much sleep did I get, what’s my pain like. Things that were easy are an event now, like grocery shopping. It’s a very difficult change to adjust to.

  9. It is sad that this Ted talk has so few views and comments in comparison to others. Yet another example of how little able-bodied society cares about those with chronic illnesses.

  10. this is so beautiful. thank you so much for putting your experiences to work to inspire others to provide better, more compassionate ways to be human with one another.

  11. Incredibly powerful video. I have a genetic condition which progressively gets worse and is incurable and untreatable. The loneliness for my husband and I is stiffling. But I've found my relationships with others and myself are improving because I'm being more honest and more caring. This is teachable! And this was a spectacular talk. ♥️

  12. I am a chronic pain patient and it would take all afternoon to tell what I have been through and what's wrong me. I once was a little judgmental and God had let me know how wrong I was. I took my health for granite and destroyed my body by almost 50 years of outside physical work in the elements. Worked my last ten years in misery and I thank God I was able to hold out until my kid was grown as a single dad. Now I see exactly what this lady is saying and of course being a chronic pain patient I have been judged by doctors, my friends at times, Pharmacists and the list goes on and on. All I did was a man's hard work and now am treated like a criminal just to be able to have some semblance of a normal life. Yes the loneliness is ostracizing and severe depression follows and you lose your self worth when all you have known is getting up and working everyday. That is the hardest thing because working is in our DNA. God bless all and the chronically ill.

  13. Need a church family to love you. A congregation of people from all walks of life, rich and poor, young and old, intelligent and simple minded. Working for the goal of serving Jesus Christ which in part is to love people. A group of people that love you like they were your own flesh and blood and watch out for your well being more than their own with no selfish motives. Jesus Christ is glorified in this. Serve others whole heartedly who cannot repay you. Encourage them, build them up, love on them.

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