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Surviving COVID-19 as a Person With Rheumatoid Arthritis

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It’s 2:30 in the morning, and a coughing fit has awoken me. I am congested, my muscles and joints are slow, stiff, and painful, and not surprisingly, I am very tired (who would not be at 2:30 in the morning?). As a person battling multiple chronic illnesses, this is a normal day for me. yet many of these symptoms are also COVID-19 symptoms – so how in the world will I know if any of these are COVID-related?

I wear a mask, wash my hands and use sanitizer constantly, and try to be careful, yet today, there is a new symptom – I feel feverish and I am chilling. After almost a year of being careful and trying to protect myself, the odds have finally caught up to me. As I talk with the doctor, trying to determine the onset, we realize that given how I feel on a daily basis, this is almost impossible to determine. With no idea where I picked this up, we have no idea who I could have spread it to, so into quarantine I go.

In the back of my mind, all the stories of COVID-19 play in a never-ending loop, because as a person with chronic illness, I am at higher risk. I see all the stories of tragedy and know all the worse-case scenarios. Is there worry and fear clawing at my spirit? Yes, but there is also my past – a past filled with overcoming one health battle after another.

The stiffness and soreness usually associated with my rheumatoid arthritis are accentuated with COVID-19 and my son’s astute observation is, “Dad, you look awful.” After eight days, I am sent to the ER by my doctors and told I am being admitted to the hospital because if they send me home, I will just get worse, and most likely won’t make it – very sobering to hear. Little do I realize, this will take me months to recover from as I not only fight COVID-19 but also my rheumatoid arthritis, which makes for a very fun combination.

Because of my rheumatoid arthritis and the normal medications I take, fighting COVID-19 is much more difficult. On a normal day, I am tired, don’t sleep, have stomach upset (from medication), am stiff, sore, and weak – all things this wonderful virus accentuates. After six days, I am released from the hospital, and a new fight begins – the fight to regain my strength and at least get back to the point I was before this all started.

Rheumatoid arthritis has made my COVID fight that much harder, and definitely made things “fun.” Before I had this, I did not fully appreciate it, but walking through this has given me an even deeper understanding of my and others’ struggles and has also helped me see why some things are so important.

There is such a debate raging right now about policy and what we should do, or what we should be forced to do. I do not like all the things that have to be done, but that is nothing new for me as I have many times not liked the things I have had to do to maintain my health. I hate that my family must always bear some concerns about not letting me get exposed.

We have all been vaccinated, and wear masks when needed. We wash our hands (and yes, we did that before the pandemic), and are careful where we go. I hate that this must be a concern, but I appreciate their willingness to do this to ensure that I remain healthy, just as I am thankful for all of those who do things to look out for my health.

Today, as you go about your day, you may not enjoy wearing masks, or getting shots, or washing hands (although, I do not want to know about it if that is the case, LOL), but as you do these things, remember that some of us are very thankful that you are choosing to do this and care for us and look out for us and our health, rather than focus on what you want to do. For us, it makes all the difference and shows us love through these simple actions.

Thank you for caring enough to do these things. As a person with chronic illness, it means a lot and might just give you a little picture of the “fun” our life has taken on during this pandemic.

Getty image by Sam Thomas.

Originally published: October 7, 2021
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