*Invisible Cities Linkup: Pros & Cons of Living with Chronic Illness in Your City created by: A Chronic Voice
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What’s It Like in My City, Living with Chronic Illness
- Best thing about your city for living with chronic illness?
The best thing about Chicago for those living with chronic illness is the quality of medical professionals here. Especially in the integrative, alternative, functional and holistic medicine fields. Some of the top doctors and specialists reside here, so you won’t have a hard time finding someone to help assist you. Also, the culture, architecture, food, skyline and overall vibe of Chicago is truly unique. We have some of the top schools in the nation and country. The suburbs outside of Chicago have a lot to offer in terms of entertainment, schools, housing and other recreational activities too. There are also many restaurants that offer gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian and other allergen-free dishes and products. Many establishments well aware of dietary restrictions, allergies and intolerances people may have. There are several food markets, farmers markets and specialty grocery stores that offer a lot of fresh fruit, vegetables and other items that are chronic illness friendly to help those on different diets or lifestyles.
- Worst thing about your city for living with chronic illness?
I can’t speak on every chronic illness but I know that for those of us living with different types of arthritis, the weather here during the winter can be hard to deal with. The extreme bitter cold, snow, ice, high humidity and dew points, and barometric pressure can all contribute to increasing pain levels during this time. Luckily, the past few winters haven’t been that bad. So *fingers crossed* it stays that way. People have also complained about the above for contributing to their increased pain and inflammation in their joints, muscles and overall body during the spring and summer months too. One other thing is the financial status of our city impacting those who receive disability benefits. Since Chicago and Illinois in general is going broke- or said to be, many people receiving benefits have been cut entirely or have not been receiving the amount they should be.
- How accessible do you think your city is in general?
Very. We have the Metra train that goes all over the suburbs into the city. Also, the Chicago “L” is another rapid transit system going all over. We have Uber, Lyft, taxis and two major airports- one of them being the best in the nation. There are disability parking spots available at every train stop and store imaginable. In the city many locations offer valet so you can hop right out of your vehicle and if not, parking lots are not too far away, with ramps available in most buildings.
- How educated is the public on chronic illnesses there?
I think its 50-50. There’s two sides- those living with it and have a team of people who support and understand, and those who know someone living with it but don’t truly understand and don’t care to. Overall, I believe Chicago is well-versed in chronic illness compared to lets say ten years ago. For instance, I had the cops called on me in the suburb I grew up in once for using a disabled parking placard (which was mine), to park my car in front of the train station. There’s been a lot of stories in the media in regards to this and illness in general from various movements, organizations that have been started, influencers, celebrities and more. There are a ton of support groups, events and non-profit organizations that provide educational materials and tools for the general public, those living with chronic illness and their family, friends, and loved ones. Also, as stated above there are many restaurants and grocery stores that offer a variety of options for those with severe allergies, intolerances or just looking for a more chemical-free lifestyle.
- If you could pass one new law in your country, what would that be?
Better insurance coverage for those receiving disability benefits, medicare, and Medicaid. More assistance when it comes to prescription medication and hospital stays for those living with life-altering illnesses and families who can’t afford to pay.
- Which is your favorite city or country (other than your own) and why?
This is a hard one- I honestly don’t have a favorite. I have traveled as far as Europe, so not to sound bias but I would say Greece (I’m Greek), along with Florida, California and anywhere with a dry/tropical climate with oceans and mountains. I love the vibe of all these places.
- Where in the world would you visit, if disability, illness or level of fitness weren’t an issue?
Everywhere. My natural spirit and inclination is to be a world traveler. I love learning about new cultures, visiting old cities, seeing different museums and wonders of the world. While I believe you can still travel with illness to places on your bucket list, it isn’t always that easy to just pick up and go as it would if you were healthy.
- What sort of alternative treatments or therapies wouldn’t raise any eyebrows there? (Perhaps it’s ingrained in the culture, totally legal, etc).
There’s such a diverse mix of cultures here along with different beliefs, religions, socioeconomic statuses and identities. Majority of people seem pretty open-minded about all alternative therapies and if they are not, you wouldn’t really hear about it unless it made the news or something.
- Which are the most and least affordable therapies there? How much do they cost in general?
Most affordable would be:
- Local Swimming Pool
- Walking around the block
- Being outside in nature
- Gym Memberships
- Park Center recreational group classes such a yoga, meditation, aerobics etcetera.
- Massage — ranges from $50-100
- Acupuncture — usually $80-90
- Seeing specialists — ranges anywhere from $100- $500 for just one visit
- Medications — Some people have to pay out of pocket for half the year or have no coverage and have to pay full price out of pocket. Thankfully, more assistance programs have been created that can help those who are financially struggling. When I was a teenager and instructed to take the biologic Enbrel my parents at the time (since I was a minor I was still under their insurance) had to pay over $1K a month for six months! It was a huge financial strain and on top of this, many other alternative treatments were still not covered during this time. It is only when we were given a co-pay card and financial aid from various hospitals and centers I would receive additional treatment that it became easier. However, this came much later.
- Food and specialty grocery stores — Whole Foods (a specialty grocery store) can literally be your whole pay check. Up until recently when Amazon took them over was there an application you can install on your phone to save a few more bucks. Before then it was just general coupons that came in the mail. Food can be $200- $400 or more a month easily, just for ONE store!
Basically anything that doesn’t require doctors and treatments is affordable. Sad, but true.
- How expensive is it to live with a chronic illness there? Any stats you’d like to share to give a clearer picture?
Don’t have any stats but I know that integrative, alternative, functional and holistic medical professionals and treatments alike aren’t covered by several insurances. Only a couple such as certain plans under Blue Cross Blue Shield offer coverage, but many people receiving disability and in general can’t afford to pay for extra insurance out of pocket. Many are lucky to get it through their jobs so these treatments can then be covered that way.
- What are the hospitals like in terms of service, quality of care, emergency room protocols, etc?
Very good. We have some of the top hospitals here with quality doctors, nurses and other medical staff. Emergency room costs are not that great though. Many have to pay out of pocket and there is often no coverage for people. Wait times can be extremely long per usual.
- What should foreigners be aware of in regards to healthcare, if they want to visit or work in your city?
Getting accepted for disability benefits can take a long time. Then they place you in medical reviews or decide to cut your benefits totally. Receiving help from the government doesn’t mean you have it easy, there are many loopholes people are not aware of. This is a huge problem and hassle. Also, once you start working at a new job your insurance doesn’t always kick in right away on the first day, unlike some countries.
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