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COVID-19 Is Leading a Long Overdue Attitude Adjustment Toward Those With Chronic Illness

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On my screen, my window to the outside world, I watch as a monster hurricane circles our planet in the form of the coronavirus (COVID-19), a new-to humans virus that causes respiratory infection and can lead to serious or fatal health complications. It is causing massive upheaval of daily life, financial markets and governments. I listen as I am told I, as a person with an underlying health condition and a compromised immune system, am at greater risk of serious illness or death from the virus. Various emotions run through me. Fear. Dread. Horror. Yet, I am also seeing glimmers of light poke through the clouds.

Anxiety turns to relief and gratitude as friends text and message to check in on me and neighbors on online forums offer to pick up and deliver groceries and other supplies to those of us who are quarantined or at greater risk of going out in public. Public health officials and the media are urging even the healthy to take extreme precautions, for the sake of the vulnerable. Society is showing me it believes human life has inherent value beyond economic contribution — that old people and sick people are important, and that people who can’t produce are worth fighting for.

I remember when my window of social media and other media outlets, friends and my own personal experience, showed me a different view:

Of chronically ill people being called “freeloaders” or “fakers.”

Of doctors telling others with my condition their illness is all in their head, sometimes leading to despair and even suicide.

Of people too sick to work being reduced to statistics, like the time a prominent politician complained about the “47%” who were not paying income taxes.

Of being treated like a suspected criminal because I applied for disability benefits.

Of hearing people being labeled “irresponsible” because of inability to keep up with things like renewing an ID, paying a mortgage or finding transportation to appointments. The sometimes overwhelming chronic illness I live with and the resulting loss of income has impacted all of the above.

Of a world that often still lacks accommodations for those who need them.

Of people with my condition who ended up homeless after having lost everything.

But now, people are rearranging their lives and taking financial risks to protect those who are vulnerable. Strangers are reaching out to offer help to those in need.

Now, doctors and other health care workers are working overtime and putting themselves at risk to fight for the lives of people with underlying health conditions.

Now, the man who lumped elderly retired and totally disabled people into the “47%” was among the first to call for providing relief to all who need it, not just those deemed deserving.

Now, government leaders talk about the need to take care of people who are unable to work “through no fault of their own.”

Now, some medical providers are offering virtual appointments.

Now, some of us who were about to lose our homes are getting a reprieve.

Now, employers are accommodating work from home, and more companies are offering deliveries for those who are homebound.

Now, officials in a nearby city have purchased a vacant hotel to house the homeless.

Someday, maybe the people we save from the coronavirus can give back, even if it’s just by brightening someone’s life with their presence. Maybe, some of them have already given all they have to give, and it is their turn to have someone give back. As for me, I wasn’t always sitting at the window looking out. I once was outside the window, chronically ill, but also working, playing and participating in society. I am hopeful the best I have to offer society is yet to come, after a hiatus to recover my health.

I didn’t want a plague to infect our country or our planet. I don’t want it to stick around. I don’t want more people to get sick and die. I don’t want people to lose their livelihoods — I already lost mine, and I know what that’s like. I want us to get through this crisis as quickly and easily as possible. I want us to return to something that feels more normal. But, please, let’s keep some of our new attitudes and behaviors. Please, let’s not have everything go back to the way it used to be.

Getty image by mheim3011

Originally published: April 8, 2020
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