In September of this year, I had the privilege to accompany ITSAN (the International Topical Steroid Addiction Network) to the CSD/AAD conference in Washington, D.C. as a patient advocate. CSD stands for “Coalition of Skin Diseases” and AAD stands for “American Academy of Dermatology.” There were many dermatologists present, as well as non-profit groups with their patient advocates.
Before flying into D.C., I already had anxiety knowing that many dermatologists weren’t going to 1) know about Red Skin Syndrome or 2) were going to brush me us off as not real.
On the first day, we mostly met with the non-profit groups. However, the second day was geared mainly towards dermatologists. For awhile I was feeling oddly used. I knew that when we had to go speak on Capital Hill, they’d want me to share my story to get what they wanted, not because it would help me in any way about Red Skin Syndrome. So, I had mixed emotions all day long.
What didn’t help was that at the end of all the meetings Day 2, we ran into an older doctor who told us he didn’t like prescribing steroids very much. Intrigued, we sat down with him. We then entered into an hour long conversation about how his method is to dowse his patients in steroids 6x a day to get rid of the eczema. I think I stopped taking him seriously when 1) he looked at me (and I look WAY better than I have been) and told me “I’d consider you severe atopic” and 2) then went to get up and touch my face without my permission. I told him very bluntly he was not touching my face. If someone starts a sentence off with “I know this may sound conceited, because it is…”, how am I supposed to find you educated? Our conversation was getting nowhere with him and it was very disheartening.
On that same day I had met with everyone from Florida and we exchanged names and how we should go about getting business done on Capital Hill. There were two other advocates amongst all the dermatologists. One was for vitiligo, and one was for alopecia. Both of these conditions are known in the dermatology profession. When my turn came, I felt a bit of the ‘deer in the headlights’ come on when I tried describing Red Skin Syndrome. One doctor in particular stared at me and asked,
“How old are you?”
“Why how old do you think I am?”
“I thought you were a teenager.”
Others nodded in agreement that they thought I was much younger. I felt defeated in a sense since I wasting viewed as this young, meek advocate, not the educated adult that I am.
Well, the next day, I rode into Capital Hill feeling slightly inadequate. All the legislation that we had been learning about didn’t directly affect or help my fight for awareness, but I tried to find a way for my voice, in my conscience, to matter.
At one point, I was alone with two other dermatologists. One was from the Orlando area, one was from the Melbourne area. The one from Melbourne also had his wife and son with him. While waiting to meet with our representative (Mica), we spoke to his assistant about our wants and needs. When I waited to share my story, I was able to listen to these dermatologists speak about their troubles and business woes due to how the system is run. I suddenly felt a twang of empathy for them. I believe that doctors should be regulated, but it seems the system in place is making it very difficult for them to practice good medicine. They are run down, unable to give their patients adequate attention. They are fighting with insurance companies, being forced to stay later and later at the office to finish menial paperwork, searching for affordable medications for their patients since prices have skyrocketed, and now are faced with their compounding rights being highly regulated. These are things, as a patient, I have never thought about.
So, when it came for me to speak, I felt much better speaking out for the entire group’s plight, not just my own. It helped me realize that patients are not the only ones struggling. Yes, there are plenty of doctors who still give patients a hard time about Red Skin Syndrome and need to be better educated on steroid use, but there are also doctors who are probably just so exhausted that they are going to be defensive.
The way the system is being run now is for money. Representative Mica even bluntly opened up about one of our legislative asks. There is a call for more research money, of which he whole heartedly agrees. However, when I explained our condition he said it was sad that I would most likely not see any research being funded for my condition since it doesn’t generate a profit. This may not be verbatim, but he said, “Generally they will put money into research if they know they’ll see a profitable return, but with you, they wouldn’t be getting that.”
Even HE sees the uphill battle we face. It’s unfair to push us aside because we don’t fit into their pockets.
So that is why I heavily push and advocate for PREVENTION. If the medical community was aware of the correct way to utilize topical steroids, and what the consequences are if they overprescribe them, then we have a fighting chance to keep patients away from this turmoil. And not only does the medical community need to be educated, but so does the public. Too many times we are given a medication and not taught what it is, how to use it, why we are using it, and what the side effects may be when used.
So doctors, please understand that we are just fighting for our health since the system doesn’t seem to be. And patients, please understand that doctors are fighting for their sanity since the system doesn’t seem to be.
The struggle is real. #WeNeedReform