Chronic Illness

Why Chronically Ill And Disabled People Are Furious About Coronavirus

As a person with an autoimmune disorder, you know what makes me angriest about COVID-19? The fact that the same accommodations society is making to contain the pandemic are the ones it refused to make for me all along.

After weeks of avoiding the problem, countries like America are finally starting to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously. But for people like me, COVID-19 has always been as serious as a heart attack. As someone with lupus, an autoimmune disorder, my immune system is severely weakened compared to healthy people even at the best of times. If I catch coronavirus, it is likely to kill me. 

That’s why I’m furious about the way the attitude and messaging that untold millions of people–from the President to randoms on the street–are putting forward about Coronavirus. For everyone trying to talk down the seriousness of the threat, the attitude seems to be “even if you get it, it’s only a big deal if you’re sick or elderly.” And then they keep on with their lives as normal, refusing to help flatten the curve by practicing social distancing.

The attitude that coronavirus doesn’t matter if you’re healthy is not just ableist bullshit–as if chronically ill and disabled people are simply diseased cattle, in wanting of being culled from the herd!–but also factually untrue: COVID-19 is a significant danger to the health and able-bodied as well. 

The attitude that coronavirus doesn’t matter if you’re healthy is not just ableist bullshit–as if chronically ill and disabled people are simply diseased cattle, in want of being culled from the herd!–but also factually untrue.

First, let’s address the idea that COVID-19 is only a “big deal” if you’re sick or elderly. While that makes us statistically more at risk of dying from COVID-19, even the CDC’s point person on coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledges that even young, healthy people are at risk of death. “There will be, as we’ve seen in influenza, an occasional person, who’s young and healthy, who winds up getting COVID-19, seriously ill and dies,” he said in an interview with JAMA.

Indeed, just search Twitter and you’ll find examples of people with no-known health issues currently on death’s door because of COVID-19. And that’s under ideal medical circumstances. Just look at Italy, where the country just recorded 3,590 new cases and 398 new deaths in one day from COVID-19. Do the math, and that’s an 11% mortality rate: three times the global average fatality rate. The reason for this is simple: with the Italian healthcare system now overrun and doctors in Italy now facing a warlike scenario where they simply don’t have the resources to treat everyone in intensive care. Then think of this: hospitals are so overwhelmed treating COVID-19 patients in Italy that they also don’t have as many resources to help people who come in from things like car crashes, heart attacks, etc, upping those mortality rates. 

I don’t care how “young and healthy” you are: if you can look at what’s happening in Italy and what is likely to happen in America think you personally aren’t at risk of dying from COVID-19, you’re delusional. But now imagine that you’re someone like me, someone most at risk of dying from COVID-19 even with ideal care. Can you imagine how terrified I must be? 

I don’t care how “young and healthy” you are: if you can look at what’s happening in Italy and what is likely to happen in America think you personally aren’t at risk of dying from COVID-19, you’re delusional.

But I’m also angry. Very, very angry. Angry at the dumb ableist memes and jokes that are coming out of this pandemic, mocking people wearing face masks (many immunocompromised people have to, even without a global pandemic to worry about) or treating people with sniffles and sneezes like people who have been bitten by a zombie (as an immunocompromised person, I get colds more easily than most, and I don’t need this to be yet another reason why I am shunned and other-ed by society.)

But mostly, I’m mad about the fact that after decades of being told that the accommodations I needed to be a productive member of society were unreasonable… all of a sudden, when able-bodied people need these same accommodations to work-from-home or study remotely during a global pandemic, it turns out they were possible all along. 

The reason I work as a freelance writer is because my illnesses prevent me from being able to go into an office for 40 hours a week. I’ve been looking for more permanent roles for a long time, but I’m always told that staff writer jobs can’t be remote. I failed my degree at university as my mental health was bad, but  I was told I couldn’t study from home. 

I can’t tell you the number of disabled people I know who have had the same experience. Who have spent untold years putting themselves through more pain and suffering to attend work and classes we’re told can’t be remote. And if we can’t put ourselves through that pain and suffering, we’re forced to go on government benefits to survive, where we’re labeled bums and moochers and fakers who refuse to get real jobs. Yet now, all of a sudden, when it affects not just disabled people but able-bodied people, it turns out that the accommodations we asked for all these years wasn’t impossible or unreasonable at all. In fact, it turns out that it’s so easy that many companies can make the transition for the majority of its employees in just a few days.

Yet now, all of a sudden, when it affects not just disabled people but able-bodied people, it turns out that the accommodations we asked for all these years wasn’t impossible or unreasonable at all.

In fact, it turns out that a lot of the day-to-day stigma that disabled and chronically ill people like me have been made to feel in our lives turns out to have been totally unnecessary. From antiseptic wipes to ordering food deliveries to using plastic straws, I can’t tell you the number of things I’ve gotten the stink eye from some able-bodied person for using that now society as a whole is embracing, because of coronavirus.

Big crises create big opportunities. When COVID-19 is under control, the world will be a different place, and society will hopefully take the lessons it has learned from this pandemic to restructure itself. When this is all over, I only pray that one of the lessons society has learned from all this is not just to view illness and disability more compassionately, but that a community is as only as healthy as the way it helps and cares for the people who need it most.