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2 Words to Remember as We Navigate the Coronavirus Together

It’s everywhere in the news. The coronavirus (COVID-19) — the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system — is spreading, leaving a trail of anxiety in its wake. While some reports are more dramatized than others, the point is clear: Everyone should now be aware and concerned about the spread of germs. I’ve seen more “wash your hands” campaigns in the last two weeks than are posted in an elementary school bathroom. And yet, many people are still laid back about this issue. But, I don’t know their story.

I often wonder what it would be like to not be concerned about getting sick. It’s been 15 years since I’ve had that option. I see people in the depths of flu season who don’t wash their hands, and then go eat finger food. I see people who are clearly quite ill, out in public, going about their lives with no thought to the trail of germs they leave in their path. I often want to scream when I see someone sneeze and then grab a doorknob — How could they be so thoughtless?! But, I don’t know their story.

They have probably never known anyone with a suppressed immune system. They are probably blissfully unaware that a cold could kill a 30-year-old in a matter of weeks if they’re immunosuppressed. They probably don’t think twice about the people they work with and any underlying health conditions they might have because, well, they’ve never faced any themselves. If we’re being honest, I envy their naivety. They simply don’t know any different. But, I don’t know their story.

Personally, I never leave the house without hand sanitizer and backup hand sanitizer. I always have emergency meds on me, even if I’m sure I won’t need them. If I start to feel sick, there is no “tough it out.” I get to a hospital. Fast. So, do I sound like a hypochondriac germaphobe? Well, sure. But, you don’t know my story.

Me? I’m a 30-year-old who lives every day in fear of other people’s haphazard treatment of germs. I have been immunosuppressed my entire adult life and I take the necessary precautions daily, but there are times it’s not enough. Like the time a common cold turned into pneumonia in a matter of hours, sending me to the hospital and out of work for a month. Or, the time I got the flu and couldn’t keep my daily medications down, so my brain started to misfire. I’ve had some scares. But, you don’t know my story.

Want to know what’s more annoying than having to disinfect every table I eat at? The stares. The eye rolls. The snickering judgment of others who don’t understand. Honestly, there are times when I scan the room, scan the table and think “probably clean enough” to avoid those snarky comments. I risk hospitalization to avoid the judgment of people who don’t know my story.

So, as we all navigate this coronavirus thing together as a community, a neighborhood, a school, a country, a globe — remember: be kind.

When you see a person buying up all the medical masks at Walgreens or clearing out the hand sanitizer at Target, don’t roll your eye and call them a hypochondriac. Instead, consider how scared they must be, and how hard that would be on them. You can’t put yourself in someone else’s shoes all the time, but you can be compassionate. Much of the world is getting a glimpse into how the entire immunosuppressed community lives every day. Take it as an opportunity to grow your heart.

Because remember: you don’t know someone’s story.

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Getty Images photo via LucaLorenzelli