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Chronic Illnesses Don't Just Stop Because There's a Pandemic

By now, we are all pretty much well aware of the coronavirus (COVID-19) — the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system — and just how serious this virus is for all humans, especially those with a chronic illness or disability. We are social distancing, practicing self-isolation, washing hands and faces, sanitizing, wiping all surfaces every few moments and avoiding human contact if at all possible. Businesses, schools and governments are shutting down. We are essentially seeing life as we know it come to a screeching halt. Well, almost all life is stopping. Those of us with chronic illnesses are seeing our lives still go on, and for some of us, our bodies did not get the memo that there is a pandemic going on.

Allow me to explain a bit. I have honestly been rather calm and unbothered by recent events. I have a background in public health, human services and emergency management, so I feel prepared enough mentally and emotionally to face whatever comes my way. I have the things I need to handle being isolated and have a good game plan. I have been washing hands, cleaning surfaces, taking shoes and outerwear off at the door and minimizing my contact with others for a while because of my risk of infection. When cold and flu season hits, I amp up my efforts to reduce my risk of catching any and everything because I cannot afford to get sick at all. Many infections could either land me in the hospital or kill me. So this pandemic is no additional reason for panic, as I have been working to minimize infection for months.

But COVID-19 aside, there is one thing that hasn’t changed, and that is still blazing in my mind — managing my everyday chronic illnesses. See, they did not get the memo that there is a pandemic going on and they should just fade to the background and just not flare up until this is over. On the contrary, if anything, mine have been more active. As cold and flu season dies down, allergy season blazes up, the rainy season starts and the weather gets warmer. And for me, that entails a whole different shift in health status. My allergies, sinuses and asthma start ramping up, and the warm weather can make my autoimmune conditions flare up as well. And of course, my endometriosis needs no reason to give me issues.

Recently, I had to be taken to the ER by ambulance because I was having severe abdominal pain. It was so bad I could barely speak, all I could do was cry. I found out I had a cyst rupturing and my adenomyosis was getting worse, and I was having a flare of my endometriosis as well. My kidney numbers were also pretty bad, so we pumped lots of fluids in and I was just grateful I went. I honestly thought I would be blown off and sent home with all that is going on, but the doctor was kind and committed to providing care despite the pandemic. I was very appreciative and happy. But this showed that our chronic illnesses do not take a break just because of a global pandemic. We still have to worry about flares, things going wrong and our bodies betraying us.

This isn’t limited to our physical symptoms. I still have to make sure my medications are available for refill and be able to see and communicate with my healthcare providers when needed. Some of my conditions have complications that are life-altering and life-threatening. Going without proper medication or being unable to get an emergency appointment could have dangerous consequences.

There are other things going on during this pandemic most folks don’t think about that are affecting the chronic illness community, such as the need for life-saving blood and blood products. While I don’t need regular infusions of blood and blood products, there are others who rely on donor blood every certain number of days, and sadly the blood banks are so low right now that patients are being turned away. Due to COVID-19, blood drives are being canceled and donors are canceling their appointments because they are either sick or afraid of getting sick.

Blood donation is safe, does not make you more susceptible to contract any disease and please know that staff at donation centers and drives are taking the utmost precautions to ensure donor safety. They have implemented additional protocols in order to make sure donors and staff are safe. And wherever possible, they have implemented social distancing standards.  Blood donation is essential in the survival of so many chronic illness and cancer patients. So if you can, roll your sleeves up and give!

So what can we do to continue our lives and manage our illnesses among all this chaos?

1. Continue to take your medications as scheduled. Work with your providers to ensure all refills are up to date and get things filled as soon as you can.

2. Maintain your regularly scheduled appointments if your clinics are open. Also ask if telehealth options are available. For appointments such as the dentist and optometrist, consider rescheduling those for a later date to reduce your risk for infection.

3. Keep your routine. I know that may be hard but this will help keep things going and help to keep things in check.

4. Stay hydrated! It is very easy to forget to continue to drink your fluids, especially water. Make sure you are keeping up with your daily fluid intake.

5. It is OK to be aware of your chronic illnesses and to focus on them during this time. And if things feel off, say something! Your health needs are still just as important and any flares or unusual symptoms need to be reported to your physician.

Chronic illnesses are just that, chronic. They aren’t going away — they will be with us even during a global pandemic. During these times, make sure you take care of yourself and your conditions. Do what you can to protect yourself, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

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Image Credits: Jae Cobb