I'm 22, chronically ill — and feel dismissed in the COVID-19 dialogue
It’s hard to hear some people say 'at least I am not them' and ignore social distancing
I am 22 and immunocompromised.
Living through the COVID-19 pandemic is scary for everyone, but it's traumatic and potentially debilitating for me.
Despite the comprehensive coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been little written about what it feels like to be considered high risk. It frustrates me to be dismissed because "only the most vulnerable need to worry."
B.C.'s public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has urged the public to avoid crowds and to take self-isolation seriously. The province and the City of Vancouver have subsequently declared a state of emergency. The city specifically noted that it would soon have the power to close all restaurants to in-person patrons indefinitely.
But when I scroll through social media, I see many of my friends enjoying brunch in close proximity and considering booking cheap airline tickets instead of participating in social distancing.
I've had to practise social distancing for years.
At 10, I was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes burning chronic pain, limited mobility, and impacts my immune system. As a result, any illness hits me harder than others. Even a simple cold can linger far longer than others.
In 2009, when a friend showed up to school with all the symptoms of H1N1, I contracted it. I spent three weeks at home quarantined before I was fully able to integrate back into school.
I grew up begging my mom to take me on a drive just so I could see the outside world and feel the sunshine. We ate pancakes at restaurants during off hours despite our hunger cues to avoid crowds.
In 2016, my parents installed a hospital-grade air filter in our home. For the first time, I felt like I could breathe without hesitation.
I started wearing a N95 mask a few years ago. The frequent stares and questioning force me to choose whether I should attempt to fit in or protect myself. I take a gamble depending on the day.
Being trapped in your home while the world keeps spinning is an awful feeling — you find yourself savouring every human interaction. Most people aren't used to this: staying home feels foreign for them. And so, as we face a pandemic now, rather than laying low and flattening the curve, some people are going out because they think they're immune to COVID-19.
Public dialogue has been flooded with the notion that the coronavirus will only have devastating consequences for the vulnerable — those with pre-existing conditions and the elderly. But it's hard to hear that people are simply grateful they aren't me. "At least I am not them" should not be the benchmark. Disabled and chronically ill lives are not disposable.
On March 14, #HighRiskCovid19 took Twitter by storm as thousands posted photos of themselves, or someone they care about, urging the public to protect their wellbeing.
hi I’m katie, I’m 18 years old and I have cystic fibrosis and am <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HighRiskCovid19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HighRiskCovid19</a>. while you might survive this virus and be fine, I won’t. please protect yourself to protect people like me ♥️ <a href="https://t.co/TY94CYe2HJ">pic.twitter.com/TY94CYe2HJ</a>—@marvelstrek
This is Theo and he is <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HighRiskCovid19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HighRiskCovid19</a>. He received a heart transplant at 17 months and is immunocompromised.Theo has fought heart failure and cancer. I cannot imagine him enduring more. Please do your part and keep people like Theo safe. <a href="https://t.co/DZfzKyn2xf">pic.twitter.com/DZfzKyn2xf</a>—@tao9221
I’m 21 and have been on immunosuppressants for 5 months. These meds allow me to function and do everyday things by preventing my body from fighting itself. If you saw me on the street, you’d never know. I look 100% healthy. My life matters. My health matters. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HighRiskCovid19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HighRiskCovid19</a> <a href="https://t.co/c6sC8mc00A">pic.twitter.com/c6sC8mc00A</a>—@Makayladoeee
This is my mom and I. My mom has diabetes and is on immunosuppressants to live normally. I need my mom more than you need to go on a vacation because it’s cheap. Practice social distancing so she and so many others can continue to live <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HighRiskCovid19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HighRiskCovid19</a> <a href="https://t.co/OsxluEfMc1">pic.twitter.com/OsxluEfMc1</a>—@oliviahemmertme
This is my 14 yo daughter. She had a heart transplant at 7 mos. She takes meds for life to suppress her immune system so she doesn’t reject her heart. She wants to be an artist when she grows up. She is the reason for social distancing...so she gets to grow up. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HighRiskCovid19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HighRiskCovid19</a> <a href="https://t.co/SFp57cKSUo">pic.twitter.com/SFp57cKSUo</a>—@jojomo26
For the 44 per cent of Canadians who are chronically ill, the social distancing brought on by COVID-19 is likely nothing new. It's important to think about how vulnerable populations will be impacted physically and mentally by the decisions you are making during this pandemic.
In the past, when I have asked my roommates to get a flu shot, all 30 girls in my dorm told me they didn't believe in the vaccine or they didn't have time. I told them my safety depended on it.
All I'm asking is for you to do what the public health authorities advise, and learn something in the process. Because for healthy folk, this will eventually calm down and you will move on with only with a distant memory of the time the world shut down.
But for me, there's always another flu season, and I hope you'll start to understand the fear in that. I hope you'll choose to keep me safe.