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March 27, 2020

A #highriskcovid Perspective

What we are experiencing in the world right now is unlike anything anyone alive today has experienced. We have not had a pandemic of this magnitude in modern history.

Two weekends ago I was celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with my friends. By then, people were becoming weary. I was advised against attending, as I am part of the #highrisk population having a respiratory disease called cystic fibrosis (CF). It is characterized by the buildup of thick sticky mucus in the lungs that attracts bacteria and causes chronic lung infections. But I’ve always had the mindset – a detriment at times – that I’m going to live my life “normally.” I don’t ever want to miss out.

But now, the normal is to isolate from others – to reduce the probability of spread to vulnerable populations. And over the last week, I’ve come to realize how grateful I am to everyone for doing so!

Being in the large crowd that day made me anxious. As more people filled the patio, I noticed myself taking shallower breathes 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. Skewed logic, I know. That anxiety was a sign that I was choosing to put myself in harm’s way – rolling a high stakes dice. I decided to isolate the following day. And later that week after realizing how close contact I could have had to someone, who is now in quarantine for exposure if I had just gone to a different place, instilled more fear in me than I have had in a long time. I realized the fear and anxiety was due to the control I could have had in this situation, unlike other health circumstances that have befallen me in the past.

My fear was exacerbated by the media and social channels, however. I was terrified of the possibility of dying because that is the probable outcome for someone like me with cystic fibrosis. But with the health challenges I have faced in the past, having numerous instances of coming close to dying, how much greater should the fear be this time? The statistics for outcomes for this pandemic are pasted on every news channel. The mortality rate is known. Whereas, when my lung collapsed requiring 3 surgeries, when I developed bacterial pneumonia with necrosis, and when I was on oxygen 24/7 suffocating due to the volume of mucus in my lungs from an infection 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 who had contracted the virus. He was back at home from being hospitalized and was recovering. It eased my mind slightly. I rationalized, that he has severe lung disease and was using supplemental oxygen as I do occasionally. Our circumstances are comparable. If he lived through it, maybe I would as well. I’m not burying my head in sand thinking that everyone’s outcomes will be as mild as his, but it served as some hope.

Since the initial onset of the fear that I may have contracted it by being foolish two weeks ago has passed, overall, the uncertainty of this time doesn’t grip me with fear. I’ve lived my whole life in the uncertainty about what comes next. I’m good at taking it one day at a time without panicking. This is something the general population has little experience with.

Let’s remember to be realistic, know the facts, and act accordingly.

To end this on an uplifting note, there is a silver lining in the fear and hardship, not for those stricken with illness or death of a loved one, unfortunately, but for the rest of us 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 the 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, to shift the hours instead to playing card games or reminiscing on 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.


By Ella Balasa, Henrico, VA