If you look at me you would never know.
“You’re the healthiest looking sick person I’ve ever seen,” my doctor would say when I’d come in for treatment or a checkup.
Perception, however, is different from reality.
I am immune suppressed, a dangerous condition during a pandemic. I’ve have been immune suppressed for over 30 years, using a maintenance treatment protocol for Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disease that affects the entirety of the intestinal tract.
Symptoms include abdominal pain and cramping, ulcerations in the intestinal tract, bleeding, diarrhea, weight loss and a slew of additional complications.
Theoretically, the body is fighting itself, thinking there’s something wrong. With medications that reduce the body’s ability to fight against itself, the body heals. I was lucky: The treatment was effective and I was able to avoid surgery, and although there were a few flare-ups here and there it has been a great success — until now.
COVID-19 has made me “high-risk,” immune compromised, highly limited. I pick my activities and outings extremely carefully, screening constantly for possible exposure.
There’s more, unfortunately. I am also asthmatic (oh, and blood type A-positive, which epidemiologists say can be another demerit for COVID-19, so three strikes and I’m out). When I was a child the asthma was persistent, with flare-ups relatively often. However, my mother made sure I didn’t feel like a sorry young sod. She’d say, “Take your spray, go outside and play. I’ll see you at dinnertime.”
I remember being hospitalized in the fourth grade, spending a week in a plastic oxygen tent, not unlike the 1967 story “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble,” about a boy who, born with immune deficiencies, was living his life in a clear, plastic tent. It seems as though we are now all living that life, without immunity to the coronavirus, creating our own “bubbles.”
For years I taught group fitness classes in the valley, instructing a core group of followers who ranged in age from their 20s to their 70s. I’m an avid hiker and skier and even climbed the Grand. Maintaining a high fitness level has always been a priority, never wanting it to be an issue that my physician had to address.
Fit or not, insurance companies qualify Crohn’s as high risk, even though I haven’t been seriously ill or hospitalized since 1988. They know, unfortunately for them, I won’t die from it, I’ll live with it, and that’s a long-term investment, one I pay mightily for with outrageously high monthly health insurance premiums.
Now, I’m in another high-risk pool, the one that says that I’ll probably die from COVID-19 if I get it, because I’m immune suppressed.
Today there are those who hype their individual freedoms over public safety.
The sound bite of “personal responsibility” rings hollow when someone flouts the public health recommendations by not wearing a face covering to help all. It is our personal responsibility to do our part to help the greater good, to be responsible members of our society and our community. It’s not about government overreach or politics. It’s about humanity.
Victimhood was not an option for me growing up. I had a disease, it was chronic, move on.
With the recent news of a possible vaccine there will be a time when we can get back our “normal lives” and move on. It’s been difficult for everyone, and I can attest to all of this, having four generations of family in the valley.
The challenges, complications and heartbreak during this global pandemic are multiplied by my own health challenges as well as others in my family.
You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but know that there are those in our community who need you to care about one another enough to mitigate the risk of the greatest health scare of our lifetimes.
Take care of your friends, your neighbors, the person you just passed in the grocery store. They too might be high-risk.
Take your personal responsibility seriously: Grab your shirt, your shoes and your mask. That way we might actually get through this thing sooner rather than later, with your high-risk neighbor still by your side.