~ Kate’s Story ~
I was born with a malfunctioning body. My mother had no way of knowing that the antibiotics she was taking during her pregnancy would impact my immune system.
By the time I was 5 years old my mother had already been told twice I may die in the next 24 hours. Measles broke out on the inside before erupting on the skin and pushing my temperature above 103 degrees. Chicken Pox was even more threatening to my health.
I always suffered from a red rash covering large parts of my body. People were afraid of me because of their ignorance. Those without fear of my flawed appearance felt sorry for me. I was often their favorite “Poor, pitiful child”.
President John F Kennedy launched a rigorous Youth Fitness Program. It was an era where physical fitness was highly valued. As a challenge from their president schools implemented programs to measure fitness and make improvements. While school kids were doing their situps, a six minute original song played with the chorus of , “Go, you chicken fat, go!” I was removed from physical education classes in the 8th grade because the germs in the gym and the inflammation from my own sweat worsened my condition.
Other People’s Ignorance
We lived as part of a poor, working class community. My parents were stunned, saddened and helpless when the principle called them into his office to request I be taken out of school in the fourth grade.
Some of the parents were concerned their child would “catch” my rash. Since my parents were not financially capable of sending me elsewhere, these fearful parents took the only option available to them and simply told their children not to play with me.
I remember sitting on the playground with one other girl. We enjoyed making chains with gum wrappers and I felt I had a wonderful best friend. I did not know the primary reason she played with me is because her parents had not warned her to exclude me. I was a teenager before I heard this story to explain why I was shunned by the other kids.
By the age of 14 I was jolted while over hearing a conversation my mother was having with my aunts. She talked about how it was a shame for my skin rashes to be so horrible and how I was addicted to the 10 pills a day prescribed by my doctor.
It was the first time I shifted from being a victim of my health. I stopped cold turkey and went into a violent experience of drug withdrawals. To get any sleep I medicated with a topical cream, wrapped my arms in plastic wrap, slipped on white cotton gloves and lay on my stomach grasping the bedposts to keep me from scratching.
Eventually the bloody scars went away and I moved into a life of resisting other people’s sympathy. Still people have a way of hurting you when they think you are “pitiful”. A Sunday School teacher explained leprosy to the class by telling them they did not have a way to distinguish between various types of skin rashes in Biblical days. In her attempt to help the class understand the plight of a Miriam and Aaron, she classified my psoriasis as a reason why I would have been cast out of the community during this time period.
“Never Be Normal”
My nature is to always look for improvement – in everything. It applies to both the business world and my own physical body. Way before the abundance of information from the internet, I absorbed everything I could learn about how the body functions hoping to identify what could be done to change my lot in life.
After one of my research projects, I approached my dermatologist with a potential trigger for my challenges. I felt liver function was at the core of my skin issues. He responded by saying, “Kathi, when are you going to accept the fact you will never be normal?”
Normalcy was something I deeply wanted in my life. His words deeply wounded me at the time. It was about five years later , when I got a copy of the book “I’m OK – You’re OK”, when I learned I could be different (abnormal) and highly valuable.