In my immunocompromised world, coronavirus is the monster under my bed. For me and those like me with lowered immunity, we’ve grown up knowing that colds, flus and viruses are more dangerous to us, and we’re more likely to catch them than those with strong immunity. While healthy people may be more worried about running out of toilet paper, I not only have to worry about myself, but every human I encounter.
Those potential virus-carriers include my husband and our 11-year-old daughter. I love them, but currently can’t help but see them as threats to my health and life. I try to ignore their eye-rolling when I run to the door as they enter, forcing them to wash their hands well with soap as I sing a variety of 20-second songs to oversee their efforts. I don’t want to annoy or scare them, but how else can I ensure they know how critical to my physical and mental well-being it is for them to disinfect their hands, lunchboxes, bags and clothing, and sneeze or cough into their elbows? I know I’m nagging, but I don’t care. My life is worth their irritation.
For my own peace of mind, I’ve had to stop kissing my husband. As a renovation contractor, he visits multiple stores and private homes daily. I can’t trust that he’s used an antibacterial rub each and every time he exits them, or after shaking the clients’ hands that I’ve asked him to stop touching. It’s not that he doesn’t care about me; humans are programmed to be social, and he’s just a friendly guy who didn’t grow up worrying that everything he did or touched could harm his health.
My daughter is the same. I don’t want her to feel I’ve withdrawn my love, but hugging and kissing her has temporarily lost all its joy for me. I silently wonder if each time I gingerly do it, am I sponging an illness off her that might not affect her own body, yet could leave her motherless? It sounds dramatic, I know. Yet, it’s also the harsh reality.
When coronavirus began showing up in China, something prickled my anxiety. I kept it hidden initially, but as covid-19 began to make its way around the globe, I became more vocal about my concerns, opening myself up to ridicule and accusations of overreacting or being paranoid. On the day the media announced an older couple in my own town had tested positive for covid-19, I had tickets to see a movie with my husband. As he parked at the theater, I began to cry. Entering the building full of people in proximity to me was too scary and I couldn’t do it. I’ve since decided I won’t eat in restaurants either.
My days have become a new routine of scouring global news reports, searching for either a nugget of hope that this nightmare is ending, or some new study proving people with my medical conditions don’t have such terrible odds of dying. I then use antibacterial wipes on doorknobs and other surfaces in my home my family might have touched. I work from home, thankfully, but I’ve also canceled any social plans and nonessential doctors’ appointments to avoid people who may be invisibly carrying coronavirus. I’ve stopped running errands and picking up groceries; my hands were becoming raw from the antibacterial I scrubbed with each time I left a public space or store, and the mental toll was even higher.
Multiple times a day, I have to talk myself off the anxiety cliff I climb with the reports of impending community spread. I try to reassure myself with the knowledge I didn’t develop SARS while living in Toronto and riding public transit during its outbreak, in addition to working in the same office as a man who did contract it and lost two family members from it. Sometimes it helps; most of the time I am forced to acknowledge I was younger and healthier back then, and SARS was a different beast.
I’m exhausted by the fear, anger and shame this situation has layered on my life. I’m not paranoid; I’m simply not ready to die or have long-term side effects from a virus that could permanently damage parts of my body that already have to work harder than normal because of my chronic medical problems. In my deepest moments of panic upon reading about how unbelievably ill-prepared our hospitals are, I’ve even researched the cost of buying my own ventilator.
I have a small community of people who are like me, and our support of one another helps, but doesn’t fix the problems. Despite my decision to avoid life outside my own home for now, logically I know I can’t hide in my house forever. But I’m still going to try, at least until this virus is tamed.