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When COVID-19 Made Me Feel Like I Had to Hide My Chronic Illness

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It is hard being chronically ill, when that illness is a respiratory one, with a respiratory pandemic racing around the globe. I am very lucky to live in New Zealand; we managed to stamp out community spread of COVID-19 with one nationwide and one localized lockdown. All of our current cases are returning travelers, who are in isolation hotels.

All of that means the likelihood I have COVID-19 is very slim, and that likelihood is massively outweighed by the fact this is my normal presentation (I have Samter’s Triad, so when I caught the summer cold that was doing the rounds, my sinuses became infected, closely followed by my lungs… and if I didn’t intervene fast, I would end up with the pain of pleurisy again).

In a normal world, my “normal presentation” would see me going to the doctor for another course of antibiotics. In a pandemic environment (even though we had no community cases), I was unable to go to the doctor’s surgery if I had any respiratory symptoms. I could book a phone consultation though; however, it was summer, my doctor was away and was unable to get an appointment until the following day. I know (from past experience) how quickly the infection moves once it takes hold. I knew I needed antibiotics as soon as possible.

So, I asked for a prescription, and they get onto that for me, but it was the wrong flavor, it was a pill that makes me very sick. They would change it for me… what a relief.  I called the pharmacy, they hadn’t received a fax. I called the doctor back the following morning, and by now, I could hardly speak, my lungs were deeply unhappy with me. The receptionist had the prescription, it was still the wrong one, though. She would get it sorted for me today.

I really do appreciate the efforts they were taking on my behalf, even though it felt like everything was moving in slow motion. I just wished I could actually present myself at the doctor’s surgery, so they could see with their own eyes how quickly I was crashing, and I could be handed a prescription, walk it across the hallway into the pharmacy and sit in one of their uncomfortable chairs while it was made up for me. Normal life stuff.

I felt bad about that, harboring the wish life was normal, when really, life was more normal in New Zealand than it was in most other countries around the world before a vaccine came out. I felt as though I should be acting with gratitude, not succumbing to the frustration of summer holiday delays, and my inability to remember the name of the antibiotic my doctor usually gives me. It was about me wanting to hide my “normal presentation” from the world, and get back to breathing without pain as soon as I could.

I didn’t want to feel like a leper, I didn’t want people to look at me in fear, because I am chronically ill. And I really didn’t want to feel like a well-intentioned grumpy child (sitting on my couch with my cat) whose best is not good enough.

Photo of the author's cat; a striped cat sitting on the sofa looking angry

Getty image by demaerre

Originally published: June 11, 2021
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