Debbie Higgs

My name is Debbie, and I am a yoga practitioner and teacher. I maintain a healthy lifestyle that focuses on clean eating, exploring the outdoors, and yoga. Most would assume from all physical appearances that I am a healthy woman in her mid-twenties, but I have a hidden disability.

At the age of 20, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease — Rheumatoid Arthritis, or to keep it short, R.A. R.A. causes permanent damage to my joints. I can feel pain and swelling in my hands and my feet every day. Due to the damage, it is painful for me walk, jump, or dance. Running is out of the question for me. In order to manage my condition, I have to regularly schedule appointments with not only my primary care doctor, but with several specialty doctors as well. Routine blood tests, X-rays, and MRI’s are a normality for me, despite the fact that I am only in my mid-twenties.

I went into crisis upon learning my diagnosis. I sought the counsel of many different doctors, hoping to seek treatment. I did not understand my health insurance policy. I continuously had to wonder, is my treatment going to be covered by my insurance? Weeks later, I would receive costly medical bills in the mail, much to my dismay. Despite the fact that I had a fairly decent insurance policy, the specialty doctors for my autoimmune disease often did not accept my health insurance. I learned slowly that navigating an insurance policy takes research: Which doctors are in-network? How much are co-pays for each visit? How much is the policy’s deductible?

Following up with doctors and keeping track of my health records proved to be time-consuming, frustrating, and difficult. Making requests to transfer electronic health records between various hospital systems, getting physical copies of x-rays, receiving results from tests, and trying to comprehend the test results takes hours. Even booking an appointment with a specialist for R.A. can take months of effort. I have learned that in order to get the care that I need much followup is necessary on my own part.

Along with succeeding at work, pursuing my education, and maintaining relationships with my friends and loved ones, attending to my health can feel like a crushing burden. I ask, however, that my health story not be read as a sad one, but rather as one of success. Since being diagnosed five years ago, I have learned to better nuture myself. I take care of my mind and body to avoid stress and to maintain the positive mindset that I need in order to go out and tackle the world every day. I nourish my relationships with friends and family, knowing I need their support, trying never to take any person or any single day of life for granted.

Helping others through difficult times is what makes my own struggle worth it, so I do what I can to share what I’ve learned about cultivating wellness. I am still a young woman, with huge ambitions and dreams. I have become incredibly motivated to make a difference and impact the world in the area of health and wellness, which is why, in addition to teaching yoga, I would like to earn a Masters in Social Work and work in the medical field to bridge the gaps that exist in healthcare services.

I work as a residential advocate in Durango with people who are experiencing homelessness. This is a population that includes aging veterans, people with a mental health diagnoses, people of all ages who are physically disabled, and single mothers fleeing domestic violence. The majority of these clients either receive Medicaid, VA benefits, or don’t have any health insurance at all. When I think about the amount of effort, time, and resources that I have devoted to making sure that I am getting the care that I need for my health condition, and how often I’ve had difficulty accessing care, I am gravely concerned for those less fortunate than me. I believe that too many barriers exist preventing these individuals and many others from maintaining decent health.

Jumping the hurdles that I have in order in order to get the care that I need—scheduling timely appointments, keeping track of electronic health records, and finding doctors with whom I can form genuine relationships, so that we can communicate well and work together as a team—has not been easy. It is an ongoing battle. How do those without Internet and home computers, without stable housing, without English as a first language or without the ability to read, how do they do so?

I do have hope. I go to a health clinic where I have access to my primary care physician, to behavioral health providers, and to other care team specialists all under one roof. Each time I visit I am asked whether or not I am having a good day, how often I’m exercising, whether I’ve been sleeping, and about other indicators of health and wellness that go beyond what can simply be measured within a test tube. If I have questions about my billing, or my insurance, there are professionals there to consult. What’s more, this clinic has an outreach team to serve the homeless population and others in the community who are hard to reach, and chronically underserved.

There is way to describe the kind of elevated care that my clinic offers; it is patient-centered care. The National Academy of Medicine defines patient-centered care as “care that is respectful of patients’ preferences, needs, and values.” I plan on dedicating my career to the goal of creating a healthcare system that provides patient-centered care to all people. We all deserve the best health and the best lives we can possibly build together.

This entry was posted in Access To Care, Complex Health Conditions, Engaged Patient, Health & Wellness, Navigating the Health Care System, Region 9 – Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma and San Juan Counties. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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