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How Will I Know If It's COVID-19 or a Chronic Illness Flare?

How will I know?

Since the beginning of the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) — the new viral strain in the coronavirus family that affects the lungs and respiratory system — many of us have been finding comfort in music. But despite its title, this article has nothing to do with the Whitney Houston song. Rather, it is the tune many of us with chronic illnesses or disabilities have been singing lately: How will I know if I become infected?

While the most severe variants of the disease are hard to ignore or to confuse with anything else, the common presentation (a milder form) may pose a challenge when it comes to a diagnosis. More specifically, “mild” COVID-19 or early stages of the illness may very well resemble what normal life feels like for some of us: intense headaches, difficulty breathing and chest discomfort, aches and pains, fatigue. In the words of a family member who has chronic migraine, asthma and arthritis: “I already feel like crap most of the time. What is this gonna change?”

This question has ramifications that go further than we think. We are all told to self-isolate in our houses, but not necessarily from the people we live with, unless we show symptoms of the coronavirus. We also should not be clogging ERs and screening clinics if we’re not really sick. Being in a bad shape most of the time makes it a challenge to determine if today is worse and there is reason for concern, or if it is just the same old same old. Should we seek medical attention or simply rest until we get better? Are our symptoms COVID-19 symptoms, or just our regular litany of health issues? We are dealing with a new question mark.

Meanwhile, otherwise healthy folks have suddenly started worrying about their health. They are slowly realizing that in some circumstances, even normal life can pose a threat. They are coming to the shocking conclusion that they, too, are mortal and that sometimes, one has to make big sacrifices in order to protect themselves or their loved ones.

For many of us with chronic pain, who already have to base on our activity level on flare-ups, and those with a compromised immune system, who already have to treat every surface we touch and every person we approach as if they were covered in raw chicken juice, this “new normal” was already the norm: staying put because leaving the house isn’t compatible with our health. Even if it drastically limits the outings, hobbies, social interactions we can engage in. Even if it forces us to make do with what’s already in the house, as opposed to just buying what we want. Even if it generates a drop in income and financial precarity. All of it is often accompanied by harsh judgment from those who don’t understand the gravity of the situation.

It’s tough. But we’ve been doing it. It can be done. This is the only way we can fight the pandemic.

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Image Credits: Tommaso79 / Getty Images.

Getty Images via Tommaso79