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  • Writer's pictureKathleen Burnard

Day 7: #zebrastrong

Gonna be honest, I'm not 100% sure I know what this prompt means. Am I supposed to be talking about how strong the community is? My own strength? Why the hashtag exists in the first place?

Maybe we should start with zebras.

(IMAGE DESCRIPTION: All images are squares covered entirely with bright rainbow watercolored blotches. There is the black outline of a zebra taking up the center and right half of each image. The text is black over a very sheer rounded backing (so the watercolor shows through but doesn't interfere with the readability of the text). The first image has my instagram handle, @kburnard, right under the title while the rest has it in the bottom left corner.)

(IMAGE TEXT: Why the Zebra?)

The symbol of EDS is a zebra. A few other conditions use it as well, I think. You could be thinking it's due to the stretch marks we get because our skin can't hold together, and that wouldn't be a bad guess! However...

(IMAGE TEXT: Med students are taught to look for the most common cause of symptoms with the phrase, "if you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.")

This is a method that needs to go away. Fine, yes, I get not wanting to needlessly overcomplicate things or scare patients for no reason. Maybe I'm biased because I happen to be someone with a whole bunch of unusual conditions that definitely aren't considered horse-y, or because I have a father with an extremely rare autoimmune disease. But. I've gotta say, I've seen a WHOLE LOT of zebras. And most of those zebras have had to do the works of diagnosing themselves before any doctor will consider that they might not be horses, despite the glaringly obvious stripes. It's harmful. It just seems to me that it's better to be over cautious and test too much than it is to let anyone slip through the cracks and go without treatment because you were taught not to consider every option.

(IMAGE TEXT: But for conditions like EDS, that school of thought often leads to misdiagnosis or years of no diagnosis at all.)

If I had a dollar for every time I heard "you're not old enough to have that" or "it's probably just anxiety" or "it's a virus, you'll be better in a day or two," I would never have to think about money again. Okay, maybe that's a little bit of an exaggeration. But not much of one! The horse mindset is one of the major reasons it took me so long to get diagnosed. Once a doctor decides to put you in a category (or to definitively leave you out of a category), you're stuck.

(IMAGE TEXT: And that's why EDS and other conditions have adopted the zebra as representation. We're proof that sometimes it really is zebras.)

Sure, maybe sometimes it's horses. Maybe it's usually horses! But sometimes, often enough that it counts, it really is zebras. Ignoring that is irresponsible and unethical. Using the zebra as a symbol of who we are serves as a reminder that, not only are we here, we are distinctly un-horse-like.


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