Being high risk amidst a pandemic has been one of the most isolating, stressful, and anxiety-inducing experiences that I have ever endured. It meant constantly calculating everything I did, learning from mistakes where I needed to be more careful, but most of all- it meant watching the world inside a glass bubble. It meant my family had to experience the same level of stress and pressure to be cautious so we did not spread COVID-19 throughout our household. My family has been selfless in making these changes to their lifestyles. It has meant feeling disposable as I see people say this pandemic is a hoax, that those that are high-risk and could pass from COVID will simply pass away then, and the lack of care for others in general.
It meant feeling isolated like I have never experienced before. I went to my apartment downtown for the fall semester, while spending a majority of my time at home due to being ill. I left campus in early November, with hopes to return. After discussions with my doctors and parents, I had to heartbreakingly decide to not go back. With the variants spreading and me needing to be strong for upcoming surgeries, I had to choose what is best for my health. I am proud of myself for making that challenging decision as it prioritized my health. It also meant pain like I had never experienced before. I dealt with so many mental health challenges my spring semester due to feeling so disconnected. I felt lost, as if I was not a student nor a friend. It was the most challenging experience ever. Living life inside a glass bubble. Over a year without being in a classroom, solely online. My only interaction in person was with my family, my sisters who truly kept me sane, and my medical team. Keeping myself safe meant keeping myself disconnected from the world I so desperately wanted to be in.
I will never forget jumping up and down in my room in the fall, crying and shouting with joy when I read we had successful vaccine reports. Hope. I felt hope again. The tears fell even harder when I read it was not a live vaccine, meaning I could get it despite being immunocompromised. I clinged onto that hope throughout the fall, winter, and spring. Help was finally coming. Hope had entered the world again.
In April, two days before I had surgery for removing my gallbladder which resulted in a week long hospital stay due to a postoperative ileus, I became fully vaccinated with my second shot of Moderna. Words cannot describe the relief. The heavy weight that was lifted off of my shoulders. I felt as if I could breathe again.
I am a participant in a research study at John Hopkins looking at the antibody response of patients with specific chronic illnesses. The beauty of this study is that I feel like I can finally help in some way in regards to getting through this pandemic. I will get my antibody levels checked up through a year out of being vaccinated.
I say all of this because the glass bubble that had coated my life now has an exit. I have had the proper antibody response so far, I have done two antibody level labs: the first done one day before my second dose of my vaccination, and the most recent a month after my second vaccination. Again, these will go on through a year out. My immune system created beautiful, precious, and treasured antibodies. I can finally know I have a level of safety. That glass bubble has a door, and I have been able to open it. I got to hug my best friends from college for the first time in 6 months since we lived in the same quarantine bubble in the fall when I was on campus. I got to hug my best friend Jenna for the first time in over a year since. I have been able to eat outside at restaurants, attend my sister’s high school graduation outside, and see the world again. The door I bolted shut now is able to be opened.
I am unsure what the future holds in regards to COVID-19 vaccinations. I am unsure if the blatant disregard for the disabled and chronically ill community will ever change. I am unsure if I will ever not feel disposable in a world where accessibility and compassion can often be forgotten. I have hope though, hope that things will change.
As I slowly re-enter the world, every “first” has been filled with overwhelming joy and fear. I think the incredibly serious concerns regarding COVID-19, and the new concerns of now seeing others which means having to worry about avoiding the common cold again (colds which always have intense consequences for my health) again, will always linger. It will always feel weird to remove my mask when outside. That will improve though, as our world slowly comes back to life again. I missed the world. I missed hugging those I love. Science is miraculous. Forever thankful and grateful to those who spent countless hours racing to create vaccinations. I thank them everyday.
I say all of this with an immense level of sensitivity and I feel, and know, it is important to recognize that having an immune response to this vaccination, and any vaccination in general, is a privilege. There are many who are high-risk for COVID, who have been isolated for over a year, that will continue to have to do so as they are unable to mount an immune response. They do not get this big sigh of relief, and they are dealing with an unimaginable amount of emotional pain right now as they see countless posts announcing people are vaccinated and being able to re-enter society. To those individuals: I see you, I stand with you, I am here for you, and I support you always. Please never ever shame, or judge, someone if you see them wearing a mask moving forward as many are now unable to wear them. People are fighting cancer, are immunosuppressed, have children at home who are unvaccinated, are not vaccinated yet, are battling an autoimmune disease, are protecting a high-risk family member/friend/loved one, may be wearing a mask due to a cold and are not wanting to spread it, and countless other possibilities. Please be kind. Please be compassionate. Not everyone has the privilege of good health, or a proper immune response to vaccinations. I also think of those who lost a loved one due to COVID-19. My heart shatters thinking of all those we lost, and the families and friends they left behind.
The least those of us that can get vaccinated can do is to get vaccinated in honor of those who are no longer with us.
I urge those who can get vaccinated, and have not yet done so yet, to please consider doing so. It is crucial. There are various websites out there to help you find a vaccination site, an example of one is vaccines.gov
I hope the accessibility that we have created will remain for the disabled and chronically ill community. The ability to do curbside pick-ups. To attend social gatherings online so those who cannot leave their house feel as if they are a part of the social world, everyone deserves that. To attend school virtually when one is too ill or is in the hospital. I hope we keep those things in mind. We have come too far to simply eliminate these improvements in accessibility. Accessibility and inclusivity are human rights. I highly recommend checking out the “My Dearest Friends Project” if you want to get further insight into this. They have a beautiful Instagram account, @mydearestfriendsproject , and a website at www.disartnow.org
This pandemic has opened my eyes to how others view those that are high risk. How others view having to make sacrifices for the greater good. How some defy public health orders, how some follow them. I have hope in humanity. While we can be so destructive to one another, we can also build up one another and love one another.