Written by JKP author Kelly Arora
I survived two powerful tornadoes in my lifetime. In elementary school, a violent tornado devastated my hometown in Kansas. On that fateful night, our family ran into spiralling wind and pelting rain toward the safety of our neighbors’ basement across the street. My palms still sweat when I recall banging frantically on their front door to let us in. Thankfully, our family and home survived the storm, but this traumatic experience left me trembling for years at the mere prediction of rain.
The second tornado in my life appeared suddenly and incomprehensibly from clear blue skies when I noticed piercing pain in my joints. As the winds of disease increased in velocity, damage appeared: fingers so swollen I couldn’t grip a toothbrush and bones in my feet that felt like they’d been crushed with a sledgehammer. After months of tests, treatments, and anxiety, the tempest was diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an incurable autoimmune disease. Although the funnel cloud that heralded this diagnosis has long since passed, I continue to live with the aftereffects of this tornadic event.
I’m not the only Kansas girl to survive the tornado of chronic illness. The 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz tells the story of Dorothy Gale, a young woman transported by tornado from Kansas (relative wellness) to the Land of Oz (the illness experience). In this metaphor for the chronic illness experience, Dorothy is the patient, the Wicked Witch of the West is Dorothy’s disease personified, and Glinda the Good Witch represents Dorothy’s spirituality.
In the Land of Oz, Dorothy meets the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion—other patients with chronic health conditions. The four companions make a pilgrimage along the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City, where they hope to find expert health care and miraculous cures for their ailments. On their journey, they reveal common elements of the chronic illness experience:
- Ongoing, and often unrecognized, losses
- Making meaning of illness, beginning with the question Why is this happening to me?
- Spiritual struggles and spiritual coping strategies
- Relationships with healthcare providers that are life-limiting and life-affirming
In my book Spirituality and Meaning Making in Chronic Illness: How Spiritual Caregivers Can Help People Navigate Long-term Health Conditions, we’ll explore life with chronic illness from Dorothy’s perspective and my perspective. As a spiritual care provider and educator, I ground our stories in research and offer exercises and guidelines to enhance your practice of care. I look forward to journeying with you on the Yellow Brick Road!
Check out Kelly Arora’s new book here: