Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.Nelson Mandela
I was looking back over my diary from this time a couple of years ago. I had travelled to attend a very small group training with a business mentor. Participants were coming from around the world. It was a big investment of time, and of money, and I was looking forward to it.
On the very first day, one of the participants was celebrated for being ‘so sick with flu she was nearly dying’ and yet still managing to get on a plane and make the event.
You could see she was sick. Blood-shot eyes, hacking cough, fever. She was dosed up on flu meds. Everyone talked about what a champ she was, to have forced herself out of bed to make it to the event. That was true commitment. That was true entrepreneurial can-do attitude.
My heart sank. I’m immuno-compromised, and she had been placed right beside me. I managed to move seats, but still, we were going to be sitting in a small room together for four days. I always carry hand sanitiser, and I did my best to socially distance myself from her, but I didn’t have a mask, and neither did she. I contemplated leaving the event. Later, I wished that I had.
I came home from the conference, went down with the flu, became horribly ill with complications that affected my heart, and spent the next three months off work and bed-ridden. It took six months to regain the health that I’d lost.
All but two of the participants at that event became ill too. As people became sick, their attitudes began to change. They became angry and frustrated. Suddenly the person with the flu was seen as ‘selfish’ and ‘ignorant’.
I don’t think she was either. She was doing what the media promoted. What our productivity-focused Western culture upheld. Unless you’re completely dying, push on! Find a way! Drug up and tough it out! After all, the Codral Cold and Flu tablets message was (until very recently) about taking their drugs so you could ‘soldier on’ and still keep working with colds and flu.
Too bad about spreading those germs to others.
I don’t have a strong immune system. I have a complex multi-system illness, and it takes a massive regime of diet, supplements, specialists, therapists and physicians to keep me on my feet. No matter what I have done, and I’ve tried just about everything, I can’t easily clear bacterial or viral infections. When I go down, I go down hard. It’s a genetic thing that runs in my family. There’s no real fix, only cobbled-together treatments and me being proactive, careful, and vigilant when outside my own home.
There are so many people like me in the community. We look like anyone else, but we are immuno-compromised because of genetics, illness, cancer treatments, medications or injury. When we meet infection we have much less capacity to fight it off. What can be a simple sore throat or a sniffle for a healthy and strong person can potentially be catastrophic for us.
So, in this year of Pandemic, I am grateful for the increased awareness around spreading infection. I am grateful that the general public have more awareness of the need to stay home when sick, that washing your hands helps prevent infection spread, that we have been reminded to cough into our elbow, to wear a facemask, to socially distance.
I am grateful that we no longer want people to ‘soldier on’ when they are unwell.
There seems to be an assumption that it is only the very old or the seriously ill who are at risk from COVID, and that all of these people are already out of the public eye. That we are value-less. That we do not contribute to society. That we can easily be COVID fodder. Colateral damage while everyone else gets on with life.
But you would be wrong to think that. Being immuno-compromised is largely an invisible illness. You have so many people in your orbit who might be at risk, and you’ll never know unless they’ve told you. Your best friend’s diabetes puts them at higher risk. (And please don’t tell me that diabetes is a lifestyle choice – I have friends and family members who developed Type 1 diabetes after or because of an ongoing illness, through no fault of their own.) Who else? Your family member with the tooth infection. Your brother who lives with a heavy smoker. Your child with asthma. The barista who makes your coffee every day and who has had a kidney transplant. Your accountant who is on the trial drug for eczema. The university student on your bus with Crohn’s disease. Your friend who picked up a hospital superbug when they had surgery for a sporting injury. Your doctor with Graves disease. Your next-door-neighbour with rheumatoid athritis. And then there are all of the people who are parents or partners or carers of people with compromised immune systems.
You might have a genetic issue that makes YOU less able to fight off a virus, or that makes you more likely to develop complications from COVID, or to end up with post-viral syndrome and a life of chronic illness. And you’ll never know unless you get sick and THEN this issue comes to light. By then it will be too late. Don’t think it won’t happen to you. I didn’t think it could happen to me!
People like me, with chronic illnesses and dodgy immune systems often lead productive lives, even though we limp along a bit, or need to work within our limits, or curtail other areas in our lives (such as energy for a social life) in order to manage employment. We are everywhere out in the world, working beside you, holding down jobs or running our own businesses.
Older people? They’re at higher risk too. Think of all of the medical specialists, legal specialists, managers, specialists in so many fields who you rely on when you’ve got a major problem. They are specialists because of the experience that has come with age. Don’t write them off just because they are over fifty!
We all need to practice good health hygiene. Not just because of COVID, but because it is the responsibility of every individual to minimise actions that could bring harm to another.
I hope that this trend of greater health awareness and better hygiene practices around infection remains long after COVID is just a memory.
Please, stay safe, wash your hands, maintain good social distance and wear a mask if you must be in close contact with others. Stay at home if you are unwell. Get tested if you are sick. Let’s look after each other. So many lives depend upon it.
Much love, Nicole x