With COVID-19 having disrupted everyone’s daily lives to the point of standstill, how do those with chronic conditions keep themselves sane, safe, and supported?
As a type 1 diabetic, my life drastically changed as COVID came closer to home. Living with any chronic condition, usually, illnesses that require constant management poses its own challenges, even when there isn’t a threat of infection. Since the age of 12, I have learned to meticulously monitor my blood sugar through the day, count carbohydrates for every meal, and understand how physical activity and mental health all play a role in maintaining a stable blood glucose level. We know that those who are chronically ill are vulnerable during infectious outbreaks. We hear it every year when flu season comes around. But complications with COVID can be fatal for these demographics and your normal, already tedious, routine becomes even more rigorous.
As a public health researcher at Swasti, The Health Catalyst, I work towards developing resources, programs, and health information to help communities and health systems alike. And as a researcher with a chronic condition, I knew the importance of self-isolating early. Outbreaks are highly volatile, so it becomes necessary to take precautionary measures as early as possible. And yet, we still have to assume that not everyone within your vicinity will be exercising caution. Because they do not. So with the spread of Covid, self-isolation and self-care take top priority, along with mindful management of supplies and a helpful dose of sanitization of things and individuals around you.
One of the most important things, to begin with, is having an emergency plan in place, both in your professional workplace and in your home. This plan includes identifying at least 2 emergency contacts and a healthcare provider both near your place of work and home, along with ensuring a mode of transportation for either.
It also is critical to stock up on a month’s worth of medication and medical supplies along with a back-up in case something is misplaced, broken, or damaged. At the start of the month, I have purchased 2 vials of insulin in case something breaks along with supplies for my insulin pump for the next 2 months. This includes infusion sets, batteries and anything that is necessary for me to have the ability to closely monitor any changes to my condition. If you are in a resource-constrained environment, this also means ensuring having a week’s worth of food and water supplies along with all the other essentials to keep you and your place sanitized.
Short of making my home into a quarantine unit, I ensured anyone who would be coming through the front door would first wash their hands and practiced distancing in general. With medical resources tied up with COVID, falling ill in any way would pose risks. Now with a lockdown in process and businesses shuttering, ensuring a water supply, a filtration system rather than bottled water, a method of receiving fresh food, supplies such as soap and laundry detergent stocked for the month are essential.
These precautions at first seemed excessive and unfair. On a day-to-day basis there are already precautions on what to eat, when to eat, how carefree I could or couldn’t be. Comparing this to peers, who didn’t have to think through extra steps when eating a slice of pizza or ordering another drink, it feels like added mental expenditure. There’s more scrutiny than usual from family, friends, expectations to be responsible for having a back up for everything and no room for error. But as the situation worsens, it’s clear that these are necessary. This is not a drill. And that there are always people ready to help you put together your plan.
Having a community that supports these lifestyle changes makes it easier to normalize. It becomes incredibly important to have a support system to fall back on in terms of getting resources and maintaining your normal to reduce your stress. A large contributing factor to this has been having family and close friends living in different cities and countries and being unable to self-isolate with their support nearby. However, my most important strength is having chosen family around knowing how important these measures are for me. Friends and family friends willing to bring groceries and offer safe transport to buy medical supplies when the local transport stopped. Or offering to stay on video call while I create my emergency plan, and dropping by to make sure that I am okay. Having some way to be connected with loved ones not only helps you figure out how to make all these logistics work for your health, but also bolsters your own sanity and mental health, especially when you are trying to work to safeguard others.
It has been difficult to work for the betterment of the public’s health while being fearful of my own. Somehow, we are expected to have the most up to date knowledge on COVID incidence, required medicines and if a vaccine is right around the corner. But I am not on the frontlines facing the disease, nor am I at the backend figuring out the cure. I am at home, afraid, slightly paranoid, about what I will have to face and working at my makeshift home office. But having the privilege of working from home alongside staff that hold public health to the highest degree allows us to continue to make efforts towards mitigating the transmission of COVID. Those at the frontlines implementing our strategies to treat, screen and utilizing our training to stay safe while doing all of this make our efforts worthwhile and truly deserve all the gratitude we can offer.
So while putting up these tedious barriers for your own safety, know that I understand how easy it is to slip into fear and paranoia. But with more people understanding the necessity of these steps, it becomes easier to create your own safer new normal.