Note: I am not a medical doctor or an expert in this field. I am expressing my feelings surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak and how all these preventative measures are impacting me. Sources used in this article can be found at the end.
I remember hearing about COVID-19 for the first time during a training run. I usually watch ABC’s World News Tonight and some form of local news to help pass the time on the treadmill. (It’s one of the easiest programs to read the closed captioning on while running.) I remember thinking that this will blow over. They were comparing it to the flu and while it seemed serious, I really did think that it would pass. As more time went on, more cases emerged in other countries, and then the first US case was publicized. I live in one of the most rural states in the country, North Dakota, and despite all the panic buying of toilet paper, we were almost well into March without a confirmed case. Then the inevitable happened; North Dakota had its first case of the virus. When you’re watching the news, reading articles online, and hearing about COVID-19 from other sources, it’s easy to try to ignore it if it’s not in your backyard, and that’s exactly how I felt.
Even with the one case in North Dakota, my life had gone on like business as usual. I was, and still am, going to work, I was training for the Spring half marathon I was slated to run at my local gym, and I was eating out at restaurants with my boyfriend. Schools had yet to be cancelled, most people I knew outside of my own place of employment weren’t working from home yet, and ultimately it felt like North Dakota was unfazed. Slowly, but surely, things changed. Schools began closing, gyms started limiting access to people, and activities across the state began to be postponed or cancelled. Honestly, it wasn’t until this week that things began changing and North Dakota began mirroring the actions of other parts of the country. It still didn’t feel real though. I still didn’t need to feel the need to worry. Then the news broke on March 17 that the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was present in my county of residence, Cass County.
I am living with Type One Diabetes, a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Since being diagnosed, I have become all too familiar with the complications and impacts this disease can have on me. One of the biggest things my endocrinologist, the doctor who helps me manage my Type One Diabetes (T1D), has told me to be mindful about is my diabetes management when sick. This is because sometimes when you’re sick with things like the flu or a bacterial infections, your body releases stress hormones which can trigger the release of stored glucose from your liver meaning your body will need more insulin. This means that I need to be even more on top of monitoring my blood sugar and ketone levels. Since I live with a chronic condition that can be worsened when sick, getting sick makes me nervous. Coming down with more serious illnesses, like the flu, make me even more nervous. People with all types of diabetes, even those who are well managed, are at high risk of serious flu complications. According to the CDC, in recent flu seasons, 30% of adult flu hospitalizations have had diabetes. Sickness and diabetes isn’t something that should be taken lightly.
When people say things like ‘COVID-19 is just the flu, we shouldn’t be worried,’ it doesn’t make me, or any other people living with chronic conditions, less worried. (Whether or not those claims are real is a different story.) According to the CDC, people who are at a high risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 include older adults and people with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, lung, and heart disease. I don’t have the opportunity right now to work from home, but I’m doing other things in my power to ‘isolate’ myself. I’ve stopped going to my local gym. I’ve started cutting out unnecessary trips to stores, and I’ll be practicing more social distancing. This disease IS a real concern for me, and others around the world living with a chronic condition.
It’s been hard these past few weeks. It’s been hard to admit to myself that this virus poses a real threat to myself, hard to convince myself that it is in my best interest to limit outings. It’s been hard to try and explain to friends and co-workers what getting sick with this virus could mean for me. I realize that I am saying words like could, possibly, and maybe. I realize that people have their own opinions made in regards to COVID-19, and that what I say might not mean anything. What I can do is hope that now after reading a little bit about getting sick with a chronic illness, you understand why people are worried. Why people like myself are appreciative of the preventative measures being taken. Maybe the spread of COVID-19 in North Dakota will be slowed down. Maybe the amount of cases here won’t be as many as the amount in other places. As someone who is at a high risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, I’d rather look back at this and think, I’m glad people ‘overreacted’ than be in the hospital and have friends and family wish we took better action.