Mary Gelpi first published this post on her blog, 25 Pills a Day. Mary launched a petition asking the director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, to increase funding to 100 million annually for ME/CFS. She just sent a large box containing the petition and 50,000 signatures to Francis Collins.
The box was too big for Matt’s car, so we assumed my moms car would suffice: a larger mid-size sedan. Still the corners jammed against the dashboard and window panels. The trunk? No, the trunk would not contain it either. So finally we had to put it in the bed of my step-dads old Toyota truck. I say ‘we’ but who am I kidding? Matt did all the literal heavy lifting. I actually took a photo by accident that perfectly depicts this point.
On the way to Kinko’s, storm clouds of a distinctly Southern nature darkened and began thickening across half of the sky. A small part of me worried it’d start to rain and the box would get wet. But a bigger part of me felt more alive and hopeful than I’d felt in a while. Finally this thing was happening. But let me backtrack.
On Friday morning, (Sept 14th), I sat at my type writer fuzzy-headed after a crappy night of painsomnia and two hours sleep. But I was determined to finish this letter and write the words I felt Francis Collins would ultimately read. Something about that day, despite my feeling like a rotting banana, told me this long-ago set goal needed to happen without further delay. Time for that damn ginormous box that’s turned into a veritable piece of my living room furniture to finally leave. Time to begin the vital journey to its intended recipient in Bethesda, Maryland. (The NIH) (Francis Collins) (You get it)
This all took much longer than anticipated– to finish this part of the project. We printed the rest of the accumulated signatures since hitting 50,000. (!) Printed the hundreds of pages of public comments left on the feedback page. Painstakingly blacked out all personal information on the 350+ prescription bottles I’d be using in lieu of packing peanuts. We’d completed everything but the personal letter to Collins I wanted to go on top of everything, Should he see or look through none of the rest of it, my hope was he would at least read a letter. A last attempt, if you will.
It was so hard to know which route to take in writing to him–what angle would really reach the guy. So many ideas had swirled through my head for weeks every time I laid down and stared at the ceiling, a hundred different drafts sat waiting inside me. I had to trust that the right words would emerge that day. So I sat at my desk and banged at the keys of my typewriter. Intuition told me it might speak to him in a more immediate way for some reason. By the end it looked like a telegram to the president in the 40’s on the status of the war. (Not so far off, hardy har.)
My healthy ally, close friend, and now fellow ME/CFS advocate Matt, told me a week earlier he’d also written a letter. We could include it if I wanted to. When I read it and saw how incredible it was–saw the effectiveness and resonance of words from someone watching this disease from the outside, I knew it needed to be included too.
Anyway, it was time to finish this last part of the job. When it was done, I began to pack the last of everything.
The box was filled with two tall stacks of paper on the bottom, comprising more than 2,300 pages of printed names. That’s what 51,000 signatures of support looks like. Cushioning and surrounding those bricks of names were the hundreds of empty pill bottles. (We don’t have recycling in my parish so I mean, why not?) On top of the orange plastic ocean sat a brown box, just about the size of a Life cereal box. Inside were nearly 500 pages of your words–everyone that signed who had something to say. Voices of support for change, personal stories, loved ones stories, people sick for decades still holding out hope, and people sick at the end of their rope.
I was surprised how poignant and succinct so many of these messages were. These were the voices our government needed to see and hear (an ongoing need), so that box of papers went on top. Then of course, our letters.
The point is, we did it. We all did it. We came together and hit more than 50,000 signatures. People spoke up. The pill bottles piled up. Letters written, stories shared. Everything made it’s way into that box. And on Friday the whole kit and caboodle was taped up, sitting in the bed of a truck to Kinko’s, about to begin it’s travels to NIH. I kept looking out of the back window at it, as if it were a dog we were bringing to a farm for a better suited family to adopt.
At Kinko’s, a mostly disinterested, monotoned man asked us the typical questions and entered my uncertain answers into the computer. I was told to double check the info before hitting “accept.” National Institute of Health, Office of the Director. It felt dreamlike. I forget this man actually exists. Accept. And just like that, all that work, all our voices–in a box and carried with a grunt over to “outgoing.” Not without a picture first, of course.
This mission so far has been possible because of the digital world we live in. Undoubtedly, none of it could be achieved without the accessibility and capability to assemble provided by the Internet and social media. For that, I am so grateful to live in the age we do.
But by putting this work onto actual paper made this crisis and our words come to life. I am one of the “millions missing”, and yet sometimes I have to remind myself my life isn’t normal. We can just do so much better, and the simple act of printing out each of your names made this reality, this need for change take on a visceral urgency in a way that names and numbers on a glowing screen can’t always do.
This was one of my major intentions in sending a box with everything printed. I wanted something people at the NIH could feel the literal weight of, could touch and hold. Something concrete they could carry with their hands. They’d be able to see what thousands of names demanding change looked like, and read our actual stories on paper. Holding our voices and stories and pleas for help in his hands, maybe Collins and those at the NIH might realize our fate is in their hands, too. They have the power to fix it. This is so much more than just a box of names.
My other point in all of this was to disrupt in a way that was not easily ignored. I wanted to get our truth and demands and personal messages delivered in an unconventional way–one that for instance, couldn’t be sent to spam. So thank you for providing me with material to disrupt with. A 24 x 24 box weighing in at just under 50 lbs should at least spark some curiosity on their end. So long as someone opens that box, I think something important is going to transpire.
I want you all to know, I realize this mission is far from over. The petition will stay open and running for as long possible. Sending this obnoxiously sized box with the things it contained was just one attempt at reaching the NIH. It’s certainly not the last, and I realize it may not work. But to really try always involves taking a risk. If this doesn’t work as intended, I can’t see it as a failure. It will only make me try harder.
So. 48.8 pounds. $100. And a lot of hope and prayers this box reaches the target. Thank you to my healthy ally, Matt, for doing so much heavy lifting in all this. And thank YOU, if you’re still reading. For signing, sharing, speaking up, and helping demand change. It’s because of you we have something concrete to disrupt with. My gratitude is immense.
Out of everything, we cannot underestimate the power of our voices in this fight, and I intend for this petition to stay open as one channel where we can come together and say what needs saying. Thank you all who have spoken up and continue to. Thank you for making all of this possible.
Health, Happiness, O’ Little Town Of Bethesda
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