By Cait Kemp
After having a gut feeling about her chronic pain, navigating through a largely inaccessible Smith College campus in a wheelchair, and experiencing an everlasting aching feeling in her body, Hannah Ludemann finally got an answer. Her intuition was confirmed, and all the years of people telling her she was wrong were dispelled.
A doctor stood before her to deliver the news: “You have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.”
Ludemann is a Research and Access Specialist at the Springfield College Learning Commons. She can be found behind the information desk and is available to help students locate books, journals and other resources both in person and online. Her expertise is a huge help, especially around finals time, when everyone is cramming for exams and writing essays that need specific research.
It was a chaotic journey for her to get here, though.
Just last year, she received the diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). EDS is a genetic condition that affects her bones and connective tissue in her body. She loses mobility and experiences intense pain after a long day walking or standing on her feet. She has a wheelchair, but is not confined to it. She can be seen both in the chair and walking around on campus, but the wheelchair is there for when her pain becomes intolerable.
For most of her childhood, she never noticed anything was different or wrong. Ludemann is from the Bronx, New York, and grew up in a very different environment than she experiences now. Growing up she attended public school before making the switch to attend the Riverdale Country School for high school..
“It was very, ‘Gossip Girl,’ is the only way I can describe it,” Ludemann said.
She found Smith College in Northampton, Mass., after her guidance counselor gave her a list of small liberal arts colleges. At the time, she knew she was interested in studying education but wasn’t sure of the path she wanted to take.
Ultimately, Ludemann discovered the program for women and gender studies and minored in sociology.
While attending Smith, she worked at an elementary school as an after-school aide, which led to an opportunity to work in the library. Her passion for library studies was growing – but her pain was growing as well.
“People weren’t believing me. Everybody was like, ‘You just have anxiety, you have depression, you’re stressed,’” she said. “It made it worse because I was experiencing chronic pain and nobody was believing me.”
Her family told her it was just “growing pains” and that she was fine. Ludemann knew, however, that she was not fine.
It became up to her to advocate for herself about what she was going through. She got a wheelchair from a healthcare store because her mobility was decreasing from walking so much at school.
She also obtained her second – and now third – wheelchairs all on her own, as insurance would not cover anything because no one would acknowledge her symptoms. Finally, Ludemann knew she needed confirmation from a doctor about her pain, so she started to seek out someone to give her a diagnosis.
“It took two or three years for me to finally get an appointment with a doctor who knows about EDS,” Ludemann said. “It was this past July that I was finally able to go to him and he was like, ‘Yes, you have Ehlers-Danlos,’ and I was like, ‘Thank you. Vindication, finally!’”
While her struggle for a diagnosis was taking place, she was still in school in the middle of a pandemic – deciding what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Through her experience working at the elementary school library, Ludemann realized that she wanted to continue studying after completing her undergraduate program. So, she began looking into Master’s programs for library sciences.
“I have always loved libraries. I went to the public library growing up and I love reading…I love books and I love learning so I was like, ‘I’ll take a job working at the library,’ and I fell in love with that job,” Ludemann said.
She applied and was accepted to Simmons University’s library services program and was enrolled prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID caused chaos in her plans, but she was able to find a job teaching young children virtually. However, that job did not end up being sustainable with the stipend it paid, so after a year, she was ready to find something that was more reliable.
She came across a job description for the Research and Access Specialist position at Springfield College and, as they say, the rest is history.
“I love seeing the light-bulb moments when kids read something and they get it…it just warms my heart,” Ludemann said. “ I was that kid, I loved going to the library when I was younger, so I want to be that person.”
The job at Springfield College has been a very different experience for Ludemann. Although working with two completely different age groups that require separate skills and needs, she has grown to love the college library environment and gets to do things that she may not have the chance to do with younger students.
“Working with [college students] is so different because I was working with 3, 4, and 5 year olds and now I’m working with people that are basically the same age as me,” she said. “But I enjoy the job I do. There are aspects that I love doing, like research and hunting down journals… and you can’t really do that with kids in librarianship.”
Ludemann has been able to thrive through difficult times in so many ways. She advocated for her medical diagnosis, she found her passion and what she loves to do, and she did it all living through a pandemic while taking masters program classes online. Her work ethic shines every day in her life, and it is easy to tell that she is a determined person.
Now, after navigating all those years of feeling unsure, Hannah Ludemann can finally look back and be certain that she was right all along.
She is right where she wanted to be.
Photo Courtesy Hannah Ludemann