March 11 was the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then, I’ve been reflecting. I’ve learned a lot this year about myself and others.
The hardships we’ve all faced have shown many of us how resilient and adaptable we can be.
Many of us have gone a year without seeing friends and family, staying apart so that when we can gather again, no one will be missing. Hopefully, we are closer to one day being able to freely gather again, as vaccine rollouts accelerate throughout the U.S. and the world.
Last April, when the virus was still new, I wrote a column about what I thought would change after COVID-19. When we do arrive in a post-COVID-19 world, I believe it will look very different than life before the pandemic. In some ways, many of us grieve the life we once had, including the ability to freely do things such as hugging others or blowing out candles on a birthday cake.
For many, life will have changed dramatically when we emerge from the pandemic. For others, including those of us with a chronic illness, the pandemic has normalized our lives in some ways. Or, at the very least, it has helped others understand how rare disease patients feel, especially if they are immune-compromised.
Following are some of the ways COVID-19 has normalized life for rare disease patients.
Wearing a mask
When masks became mandatory early on in the pandemic, I would joke, “I wore a mask before it was cool.” This was because I started wearing masks in public places after I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in 2016.
In an effort to protect my lungs, I would wear masks in busy shopping centers, around people who had a cough, and on airplanes. Others used to look at me as though I was contagious and they could catch something from me. In a few awkward instances, I had to clarify to complete strangers that I had a lung disease and was trying to stay healthy, as opposed to being contagious.
Since the pandemic began, everyone seems to have realized that people wear masks to protect themselves and others. I no longer feel like I have to explain myself. It’s far more common to wear one; now the people who don’t wear masks are the ones who seem abnormal.
Obsessively washing my hands
How many of you are dealing with dry or cracked skin due to excessive hand-washing? This is likely true for many of us, especially those living in colder climates where everything is dry right now.
This isn’t new for me. Throughout the winter, which is typically cold and flu season, I always wash my hands to avoid getting sick — to the point that I need a special cream to help rehydrate my hands.
After this year, others likely can now relate to obsessively washing their hands in an effort to stop the spread of both regular viruses and the novel coronavirus. It’s now normal to see others carrying bottles of hand sanitizer and using it upon entering and leaving an environment. I feel a little less paranoid about being perceived as the person who obsessively washes her hands.
Before COVID-19, many friends and family would contact me to cancel our plans if they fell ill ahead of time. In addition to wearing a mask in public places and washing my hands, this helped me to avoid germs and stay as healthy as possible.
Unfortunately, simple viral infections can be detrimental to the lungs of an IPF patient, so it’s important to make every effort possible to avoid germs. Many more people now make these same efforts. Hopefully, they will continue to cancel plans and stay home from work if they’re ill post-pandemic.
Others have also implemented practices that were normal for me before the pandemic, such as ordering groceries online, or asking others to pick up my prescriptions and run other errands for me. While many people have adopted new habits, their efforts shed light on many of the things chronic illness patients were already doing. Rare aspects of my life have become somewhat normal.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.
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