How High Risk for COVID-19 Has Shaped My Perspective

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by Ella Balasa |

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We are currently experiencing something unlike anything we have seen before: a coronavirus pandemic whose magnitude is unprecedented in modern history.

Two weekends ago, I was still celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at bars with my friends. By then, people were wary. I was advised against going, but having the mindset that I’ll live my life “normally” — a detriment at times — I didn’t want to miss out.

As I’ve gotten older, this feeling affects me less, but I still won’t miss out on a summer boat ride while on IV antibiotics — the pole just becomes the sail. I could detail this psyche, but that isn’t the point of my column.

It’s now normal to stay away from others to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to high-risk, vulnerable populations — which I am a part of. Over the last week, I’ve realized how grateful I am to everyone for doing so!

Being in the crowd at the bar that day made me anxious. As more people filled the patio, I noticed I was taking shallower breaths on purpose so that I wouldn’t inhale something deep into my lungs. Maybe if it only went halfway down, the potential infection couldn’t be as devastating, I thought.

Skewed logic, I know. That anxiety was a sign that I was choosing to put myself in harm’s way — rolling the high-stakes dice. I decided to isolate the next day.

Later that week, I realized how close I would have been to someone now in quarantine for exposure had I gone to a different place. This instilled more fear in me than I have experienced in a long time. I realized that the fear and anxiety were due to the control I could have had in this situation, unlike other health circumstances that have befallen me.

My fear was exacerbated by news and social media. I was terrified of the possibility of dying, because that is the probable outcome for someone like me with CF. But with the health challenges I have faced in the past, coming close to dying many times, how much greater should the fear be this time?

The statistics for outcomes of this pandemic are plastered on every news channel. The mortality rate is known. Whereas when my lung collapsed, requiring three surgeries, when I developed bacterial pneumonia with necrosis, when I was on oxygen 24/7, and when I was suffocating on mucus during a terrible exacerbation last year, I didn’t realize the magnitude of danger. It could have been equally great, but my stats on survival weren’t being repeated to me.

Last week, I had an opportunity to interview someone with cystic fibrosis who lives in London and had contracted the virus. He was back at home after being hospitalized and was recovering well. It eased my mind slightly.

I rationalized that he has severe lung disease, and he was using supplemental oxygen like I occasionally do. Our circumstances are comparable. If he lived through it, maybe I would as well. I’m not burying my head in the sand thinking that everyone’s outcomes will be as mild as his, but it gave me some hope.

With the initial fear I felt after being foolish two weeks ago having passed, the uncertainty of these days doesn’t grip me with fear. I’ve lived my entire life with uncertainty about what comes next. I’m good at taking it one day at a time without panicking. I think this is something the general population has little experience with.

Let’s remember to be realistic, be informed, and act accordingly.

To end this column on an uplifting note, as I like to do, there is a silver lining in the fear and the hardship; not for those stricken with illness or the death of a loved one, but for the rest of us who are in isolation. This devastation has given us time to focus on the most important element of our existence: the relationships with those we love.

If we can’t be with them in person, their absence reminds us of their significance in our lives. Luckily, we have technology to be able to call or FaceTime to keep close contact. If they are in our homes with us, it’s allowed us to step back from the busyness and chaos of our daily routines, and to shift the hours to playing card games or reminiscing about fun memories.

We’ve slowed down. We are enjoying nature, and we are cherishing our families. I hope we all emerge from this humbled, grateful, and healthy.


Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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