Today I received a letter from the Veteran’s Administration to inform me that my Sarcoidosis is not service connected. The reason: there is nothing documented in my service medical records showing any symptoms. There is not finite cause of Sarcoidosis agreed upon, but it has been linked to sub-standard building materials or exposure to chemicals.
When I was 20 on 1991, I was an E-3 in the US Navy stationed aboard the USS Yellowstone. I worked in Boat Division. At the time, women were still being integrated into shipboard life. Often, women were not welcome, not considered equal and constantly sexually harassed. I look back and ask myself why I stood still while being felt up in rank by a senior enlisted division leader. I guess I thought it was the norm at the time, but why would I ever believe I was not as valuable as my male counterparts?
I was a young child in the 1970’s. Women were fighting for rights to equal pay in the workplace and to be treated as an equal. My mom could not buy a car without the consent of her husband. In fact, when she was 19 she could not visit her doctor for ANY medical reason without her mother or husband present in the exam room. My first memory of what I wanted to be when I grew up is this: My Dad was either still in the Marines, or he just got out. I was playing with I think was a toy helicopter. My dad & I were in a room at y grandparents house and I was having a great time. I remember saying, “Daddy, when I grow up, I want to be a pilot.” My dad laughed and said something like, “No honey, you can’t be a pilot. ” I asked him why and he replied, “Because girls can’t be pilots.”
Fast forward to grammar school. We were living at my grandparent’s house now and in my room was where the book case. That summer I read To Kill a Mocking Bird at least twice and there was an complete volume of The World Book Encylopedia. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was the summer I feel in love with books. I went through each volume A-Z. They has these great diagrams on clear sheets with different parts of anatomy so you could see what each part looked like by itself and then place it over the following page to see where it fit in the body. My favorite was the section on the heart and vascualr system. I was amazed by the different ventricles and how the veins and arteries moved througout the body. I thought, “ok so if something goes wrong with the heart and vascular system, you just had to fix it like fixing a leak”. I knew it was more complicated than that and I wanted to learn more. I wanted to know what I would need to do to be a doctor. So, I ran into the dining room to show my parents and my grandparents were there too. I was so exicited. I ran in and blurted out, ” I want to be a doctor!” I started showing them the pages until I realized they were all laughing. I don’t rememeber who said it, I just heard, “Karen, girls can’t be doctors. If you sweep the floor right, you can marry a doctor.”
I could go on with these stories but I have already worked it out in therapy. Those were different times. It’s not that my family didn’t love me, because they did and still do, but in our culture women made babies and cleaned the house. That’s just what they knew. And they taught me whay they knew, it’s what parents do. My point is, until I joined the Navy, I never rememeber anyone telling be I can anything I want if I put my mind to it. Men in my family often reffered to women as broads, especially one they found challeging or intelligent. Again, it was what they were taught. I take comfort now in my own son, who gives me hope the days of women as second class citizens are disappearing. One day he looked at his placemat flippped it over a few times and asked, “Mommy, where’s the girl president?” Yep, that’s my boy.
So back to my story. After returning from an exteneded deployment during the first Gulf War, I was sent with others from my division to Little Creek Amphibious base to do bodywork on the small boats in our division . The officer in charge did not believe women could work as hard as the men and since being sent there was considered a “Privaledge” to the alternative of training at Guantanmo Bay, the other female assigned with me were ready to prove the man wrong. But you see, there was a problem. Our division did not have respirators small eneough to fit our feminine faces, so the OIC decided we would compete, but funds would ony be spent on our safety equipment if we could prove our worth. (See, Transvaginal Bob is doing nothing new. We just have a 24 hour news cycle)
So, we worked 14 hour days using dusts masks, cotton coveralls, gloves and duct taped the cuffs of our shirts and pants so that material could not get inside pur clothes. I loved my job. I loved detailing the woodwork on the Captain’s boat, learning to build a mold to create a patch of fiberglass to smooth out the dents in the hulls of the boats. At the end of what I think was three weeks working 14 hour days seven days a week, I painted a red waterline on the captain’s boat- freehand. After watching me paint this line saving time by not having to use tape or touch up, the officer in charge finally said, “Wow, you broads sure can work hard. You get to stay.” He immediatly put in the paper work for 2 respirators. We were thrilled we did not have to go to Gitmo and would get to stay behind and hang out in Virginia Beach in our offtime. Oh yes, we had proven worthy of the $40.00 to be spent on each respirator.
While working without a respirator in an enclosed bay, I rememeber coming home after work sick as a dog. Every day after work, the other female in the division and I would help each other remove fiberglass from our skin with masking tape on our backs. We would take cold showers after to rinse it out of our skin. I rememeber having a constant sore throat and runny nose. Once we got the respirators, the sore throat and runny ose went away, but we still had our cotton coveralls and no matter how many layers we wore beneath those coveralls, there would always be fiberglass in our skin.
We were exposed to many things in that boat bay. That was also the year The Navy was removing lead paint from it’s boats and replacing it it non-lead based paint. We were in the same room with men in full hazmat gear sanding off the lead paint.
So as I read this letter telling me there is no history in my medical record about symptoms of sarcoidosis and no one thought to do a biopsi until 2007, I am not discouraged. Sure, I’m a little irritated, but this is my first try. Unfortunatly, it is up to me to make my case. Funny, it’s what happened with my low disability rating the first time I submitted my disability claim for Raynauds. I just realized my service connection does not say a word about Scleroderma. I have more work to do with that as well.
Why would I pursue further service connection to my illness when I am already at 100%? I could tell you all because it’s about the people who are not yet showing symptoms, but will. I could tell you it’s something as nobile as I’m doing it so that those who come after me do not have such a difficult time. Nope. I’m just pissed. I have two major chronic illnesses that robbed me of so much. I feel helpless and doing something to show that I was not a “Sick Bay Commando” or just a hysterical female feels like I’m doing SOMETHING about some things I so desperatly wish to have power over. And yes, even though anger is my motivation, someone will else will benefit from my work.