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5 Parallels Between Life During COVID-19 and Living With Chronic Illness

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With the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a unique opportunity for the general population to get an insight into the world of chronic illness. As it turns out, we’re not that lucky to spend all day at home unable to work, are we? For those of us with chronic illness, this “new normal” has been our way of life for years or even decades.

Here are five parallels I have observed between the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and living with a chronic illness.

1. Rumors about a “cure”

When you live with a chronic illness such as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), fibromyalgia or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), there is always someone touting a miracle cure. Granted, it’s usually not the president of the United States. Medical evidence behind this “cure” is always unfounded. I’ve been told that yoga, kale, turmeric and essential oils will magically cure my incurable illness.

Of course, these things will not, but it doesn’t stop people from trying to sell them. With regards to the coronavirus, there is no cure or vaccine at present, as it is a new disease. However, this hasn’t stopped people stockpiling medications designed to treat other illnesses, even though there is no clear evidence to say that they are helpful. In some distressing cases, people have even died after taking these miracle cures for the coronavirus.

2. Testing and diagnosis for the rich

Many of us with chronic illness go undiagnosed simply because we can’t afford medical tests or a referral to see a particular specialist. Those who can afford private tests and treatment end up with lists of confirmed diagnosis’s that those of us on a low income or other barriers can only dream of.

With the coronavirus, swathes of celebrities and public figures were able to pay to get tested at the start of the outbreak when the general population, including those in high-risk groups and front-line staff, did not have access to testing. Testing was also limited in many countries such as the UK and US even for those with symptoms, which means that the true number of people infected with coronavirus may never be known.

3. People are forced to work even though they are sick

People with chronic health conditions are often forced to work, even though they are not always well enough to do so. There are many reasons that people do this: the sick pay isn’t enough to live off of, they are supporting their family or they need to work in order to get medical insurance. More often than not, those of us with chronic illness are forced to hide our illness in the workplace, so as not to be seen as a weak link or burden. With the coronavirus, the inadequacies with the sick leave system were exposed in many countries, and people with symptoms were forced to continue working even though they could easily spread the virus to others.

4. Doctors are treating patients who they can’t “fix”

On the whole, doctors want to cure or fix their patients. With a lot of chronic illnesses, this isn’t always possible, and the bulk of your medical care will be about managing your symptoms. Young doctors in particular struggle with the concept of long-term illness, mainly because their career goal is to heal or cure as many people as possible.

With the coronavirus, there is currently no set treatment or cure as research is limited and doctors are learning new things about it every day. This leads to harrowing decisions for young doctors about who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t. Not everyone who contracts the coronavirus will recover and some will develop lifelong health problems because of it.

5. Being stuck at home can cause additional problems

Being bedridden with chronic illness can cause several additional problems such as deconditioning and mental health problems. Those with chronic illness often do not get help with these aspects due to funding issues or services only being available for the elderly.

With the coronavirus, there is a wealth of support out there for those who are struggling in isolation. When the lockdown commenced in my country, within the first week, I had received two calls from people who I work with to check up on me, in addition to a multitude of emails.

In contrast, when I became bedridden with my chronic illness a few years ago, I received a total of zero calls and emails to check on my wellbeing.

As the lockdowns are lifted, I ask those in the general population to think of those of us who stay at home all the time. If you are an employer, please look at ways to increase remote working opportunities. If you are an educator, please look at ways to make your classes/courses more accessible to those of us who cannot attend in-person classes. If you know someone who is housebound with a chronic illness, take some time to give them a call or send them something that they need. It will make our quality of life so much better.

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Photo by Sebastian Pociecha on Unsplash

Originally published: May 4, 2020
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