Sympathy and Empathy

This spring I’ve been to many patient events like walks and forums – for multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell, pulmonary arterial hypertension, and Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia. As you can expect, we always feel sympathy for patients suffering from such conditions. It hits  home when you meet patients in person and can see their difficulties, like MS patients struggling to walk, for example. But many patients look fine even though they are or have suffered. Recently at the International Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia Foundation annual forum I had the opportunity to meet many wonderful patients. WM is a rare blood cancer. I commented that they were the healthiest looking “sick” people I had seen. But many had not only suffered from the effects of not getting enough oxygen to their blood – all of a sudden not being able to walk up a  small incline on the sidewalk – to the pain, nausea and other effects of chemotherapy. So you can’t always judge how others feel by how they look.

I remember from school learning the difference between empathy and sympathy. I just looked it up to be sure I had it right. says: “You feel empathy when you’ve “been there”, and sympathy when you haven’t.” So usually it is sympathy that I feel. Yesterday I underwent ankle surgery. I’ve had ankle problems for over 10 years, due from years of running marathons. I’ve tried lots of treatments, like orthotics, special exercises, etc. Everything helped to some degree, but it continued to deteriorate. So I  underwent a procedure to rebuild my collapsed arch – moving a tendon from my little toe to my arch, breaking a bone and realigning it, and stretching a tendon. While they were in there they found some ligament damage and they tried to fix that as well. So as you can guess, I’ll be on crutches for awhile. So now I can feel more empathy for those, like many with MS, who have trouble getting around. But fortunately for me there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, in 6 months or at least a year I should be in much better condition to take the dog on long walks and help at baseball practice! While many MS patients will be gradually declining. So my fairly brief sting on the disabled list really makes it more sympathy than empathy. But as least I have a taste of some of the things the patients are sufferering through.

Wish me a speedy recovery!

About the author: Wes Michael, President and Founder of Rare Patient Voice, has been involved in rare and orphan diseases since 1998, interviewing and surveying patients, caregivers, physicians, nurses and advocacy leaders. Wes has more than 30 years experience in marketing research, and more than 15 years in healthcare marketing research.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Hanada Carbone September 18, 2014, 6:40 pm

    Wishing you speedy recovery. Maybe you can predict bad weather ahead of time now? It seems with your kind of surgery, some people had that advantage (besides the scar).

  • September 26, 2014, 8:50 am

    I was recommended this web site by my cousin. I’m not
    sure whether this post is written by him as nobody else know
    such detailed about my problem. You are incredible! Thanks!

  • Ruby January 17, 2015, 5:38 pm

    I am sorry to hear about your surgery and I will pray for a speedy recovery. I have gone into, is that part of you? I am confused. My sister found this site for me so I know it is really you lol.
    After talking to you and reading your “change to gift card values”, I understand why you have to change, also I realize why my sister never heard back from RarePatient. I didn’t realize you called and verified and she doesn’t answer her phone unless she knows who is calling so I had her put your phone number in her phone and maybe she will answer next time. She had lung cancer and has MS and Emphysema.

  • Larry Quilling March 3, 2016, 10:47 am

    I cannot believe the out pouring of support I have received from family and friends. I too have difficulty with being told how good I look and how far I have come when I still hurt so badly. Besides, it is difficult for me to believe I am better until I see my next biopsy result. I am in remission just jumping from one result to the next not knowing what is really going on inside of my body. I don’t get any solace from being told how I look or statistics. I seem to be just counting time until a biopsy comes back with bad news.

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