Jokes Are Old and Tired

RECEIVED Mon., Aug. 1, 2005

Dear Editor,
    On July 22, the Chronicle printed Chuck Shepherd's “News That Sounds Like a Joke” [“News of the Weird”] about patients with Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome being “too tired” to attend CFIDS Awareness Day. Having lived with CFIDS (often inadequately called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) for three years, I appreciated the irony of the article.
    But the problem with one-liners like Shepherd's is that they perpetuate the myth that CFIDS patients are not actually ill, but just “too tired.” While debilitating fatigue is a reality for CFIDS patients, it is only one in a constellation of symptoms, including muscle and joint pain, insomnia, chemical sensitivity, flu-like symptoms, and cognitive impairment. CFIDS is an auto-immune illness, like MS or AIDS. Those with mild cases are able to work and maintain families; the sickest are housebound for years.
    I fall between the extremes, operating at about 25% of my pre-CFIDS functioning. Looking at me, you would never know that I am sick. I am not missing a limb, nor have I turned a murky shade of green. But 75% of me is gone. Seventy-five percent of my stamina, my energy. While I am grateful and joyful for the life I am still able to live, I mourn and rage daily for what I have lost.
    Media jokes about CFIDS are as old and tired as CFIDS patients themselves. How about something new, that debunks the myths? How about compassionate, medically accurate reporting on an illness that affects an estimated 800,000 Americans? Giving voice to Austin's CFIDS community would be a great service to patients that – as “News of the Weird” noted – are often too ill to advocate for themselves. Will the Chronicle continue to print easy one-liners to give healthy people a chuckle over their morning coffee? Or, will it be progressive on the medical-news front?
Kari Cain
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