- Last Updated: 28 November 2023 28 November 2023
"Before I got sick, I was an avid runner. After I got sick, I was exhausted and in pain."
I am Giovanni Gordon Clarke, an undergraduate student at the University of Vermont. I am here to share my personal journey as a pre-med student living with ME/CFS and Long COVID.
Since I was a child, my dream was to practice Pediatrics, Neuroscience, or Emergency Medicine.
But when I was 14, I started to have my own health struggles. Before I got sick, I was an avid runner. After I got sick, I was exhausted and in pain. Throughout high school my pleas to my doctors for proper care fell on deaf ears.
In 2020, during my freshman year at college, where I was a pre-med student, I contracted COVID-19 and my chronic condition worsened. Then my health deteriorated even more after receiving the COVID vaccines. And yet I continued to struggle to get answers from my providers.
Finally, a year ago I met a rare compassionate healthcare provider who diagnosed me with ME/CFS, and with their support, along with my own research, I am starting to see modest improvements in my health.
By definition, being a pre-med student means juggling a demanding course load. But doing that while living with a chronic illness is even harder. It’s like running a marathon with debilitating fatigue, cognitive challenges, and a host of other symptoms.
My journey to become a doctor means I often find myself pushing past my physical limits. This makes me even sicker. So I have to take things slower than the average student and rest more.
Yet asking professors for breaks and accommodations can be hard. I've encountered misunderstandings and misconceptions about my invisible illness, including skepticism that I’m even sick.
The good news is that the education I have gotten has been a powerful tool. It has given me insights into medical terminology, diagnostic processes, and the importance of research. This has allowed me to advocate more effectively for myself within the academic community and the healthcare system.
I informed my academic advisors about the importance of recognizing the individuality of each disabled patient’s journey, and the need to tailor their accommodations accordingly. To this end, I advocated for, and was granted, a much needed waiver to reduce my credit load. This accommodation allowed me to stay in school.
I do see reasons to be hopeful for the future of infection-associated chronic illness. More people like me – people with lived experiences with these diseases, and people of color – are pursuing medical degrees. All this allows medicine and research to become more empathetic, inclusive, and responsive to the patients, including the many people of color who live with chronic illnesses, a patient population that is often neglected.