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What Happened When My Chronic Illness Treatment Got Delayed by the Pandemic

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I don’t need to tell you we’re in one of the greatest public health crises of our lifetime. But this article isn’t about COVID-19, it’s about the growing concern of chronic illness. The COVID-19 crisis has moved resources from all areas of health deemed “non-critical.” People facing debilitating chronic illnesses are facing increased waiting times, reduced support and uncertain futures.

Like many countries in lockdowns, Australia has seen a huge increase in waiting lists for healthcare. The data starting to come out now is very troubling. Over 100,000 Sydney residents are waiting on elective surgeries, and waiting lists are increasing at record rates.

While the urgency and severity of COVID-19 certainly called an immediate shift in health resourcing, chronic illness simply cannot be forgotten. Not only do we need to consider the suffering of those waiting for life-altering surgery’s and treatment, there is a real logistical problem with delaying chronic illness treatment.

Here’s why:

Many chronic illnesses, while chronic in nature, can also result in critical problems without treatment. With only urgent health problems being promptly treated, the waiting time and lack of treatment can result in chronic health problems becoming critical. Many people are also delaying seeking healthcare during the pandemic, which risks conditions worsening. This doesn’t save any vital resources in the health industry to support COVID-19, it is just increasing the burden on an already strained healthcare system.

A banner promoting The Mighty's new Spoonie Life Hacks group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Make life with chronic illness a little bit easier. Join the Spoonie Life Hacks group to get tips from other spoonies for tackling everyday tasks — and share your own hacks! Click to join.

My experience of chronic illness during the COVID-19 Melbourne lockdowns reflect this. I have been managing chronic functional gut disorders (including gastroparesis and PI-IBS) for five years. I rely on regular specialist appointments, modified treatment plans and diagnostic or surgical procedures. When my symptoms started to flare in April, I was left unable to get in touch with a specialist that could treat me. I tried unsuccessfully to modify my medication and ultimately, I got a lot sicker. This resulted in two emergency hospital stays including a dramatic ambulance ride. It was all entirely avoidable.

I eventually had a long-term hospital stay as a private patient, but am left waiting for a vital place in a public health clinic that is currently not taking patients due to COVID-19 resourcing. Because I can’t get the support I need to manage my conditions, there is an on-going threat of critical health problems resurfacing. This is bad news for me, but also poses a damaging trend of preventable emergencies taking up health resources. This is not just my story. There are countless other chronic illness warriors facing the same issues.

But what can we do? I don’t have the answer to this, but I can say that chronic illness needs more attention right now. Chronic illness can become critical illness without support. We don’t need another health crisis to further strain the health industry’s ability to fight COVID-19.

Can we find the resources to prevent this?

Getty image by Aleksandra Golubtsova

Originally published: December 8, 2020
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