Emma Teitel, who shared her personal health struggles with the world last week, saw some of her patients skeptical, but supportive.
“What drew me to the story was a glimpse into the emotional space where their physician starts to reveal something about the rest of the population. Where people start to feel empowered to disclose things that are important to them,” she said.
Teitel tells CNN that she is a patient advocate and that she doesn’t read the news about herself, but she has experienced her own fissures. Now, many of her patients see her like a friend and confidant — she even received one on Facebook.
That message from Teitel, her cousin and a friend who works in pharma was meant to give them advice on how to handle the upcoming withdrawal from opioid addiction, her cousin told CNN. It resulted in the story spreading beyond her comfort zone.
“Before I had her, I thought that doctors weren’t supposed to talk about things like this,” said the cousin, Jamie Stafford.
Teitel says she likes to write things down so she can think about things. A few days before her story was published, she started scribbling notes about how she could make herself feel better.
In the story, Teitel recalls her initial denial at how much she had done and how uncomfortable she was feeling when she checked into a hospital.
“Once my doctors convinced me that I was in pain and that I needed to go to detox, I said, ‘OK, I can deal with it.’ I was even happy that I was finally going to have a conversation with someone about a problem I’d been running from since I was a teen,” she told CNN.
“And then the shock of what was going to happen hit me. What I was about to experience was something that none of my friends or family had ever been through,” she says.
To tell her story, she walked around Toronto and asked strangers if they knew someone who had been addicted to opioids.
“I made a point of getting naked and touching myself, and in all these people’s homes, I told these stories.”
After telling her stories, she says, she heard from many people. Some spoke to her for years.
“I’ve often thought, can I be more resilient in the face of the same thing happening again and again? That’s not to say that people should just accept addiction, because some people just can’t handle it. But what I want is for people to know that this story of mine might be a path to someone to quit, to have a friend, to really understand that you can do this, and that talking to your doctor can be something beautiful, if they don’t see your story as a poor indicator of the rest of your life.”
In a letter she emailed to CNN, Teitel wrote that she wanted to give people “greater power and power to declare.”
“I was reminded that not all stories of overdose or death are grim, not all pain is debilitating and there are a lot of people who could not get into treatment, who have been for years, and who won’t be able to get in until they’re one of the last people left on the waiting list,” she wrote.
“Also, I hope it gives people confidence to talk to their doctor about any of their struggles, even if they feel shy or hesitant. I promise you, a genuine and caring healthcare provider cares deeply and will be there to take care of you, regardless of how you feel.”