I Have a Preexisting Condition and I Can’t Keep Hearing that I’m Going to Die

survivor dictionary entry

I came into the world with health problems, the way I came into it with blue eyes and a propensity for disorganization (I would have misplaced my umbilical cord had it not been attached). For my entire life, a preexisting condition has been my normal. I don’t know what it’s like not to have one.

And perhaps that’s the reason it’s never made me particularly emotional. I’ve been cool and collected and worn the scars from my heart surgeries like badges of honor. But there is something about this – this Twilight Zone we’re living in – that’s flipped the switch.

I’m scared, but I’m also angry. I need to stop hearing that I’m going to die.

Just as I don’t know what it’s like to not have a preexisting condition, people without them don’t know what it’s like to have one. They might know people with heart problems or lung disease and understand to some degree, but humans are wired to never fully get it until they go through it themselves.

This makes some of the discussion surrounding Covid-19 worrisome for those whose health is already compromised.

Social media and the internet are stages for sidebar statements and layman speculation regarding this virus. It’s terrible in a normal body. It’d be almost impossible for someone with underlying issues to live through. If my neighbor with a heart condition gets this she’ll die.

While I understand the fear and the need to compel people into action, it’s not helpful for those with preexisting conditions to keep hearing this.

In other words: Please stop writing our obituaries.

When people without preexisting conditions or no medical understanding of those conditions speak for us, they are coming from a perspective that is not theirs to own. And this is problematic for different reasons.

First of all, some of us with heart problems, with lung problems, with kidney disease will get this virus. Even with the extra precautions, even with the social distancing, even with the homeschooling and sheltering-in-place, infection in this population is unavoidable. And the last thing we need to hear as we wage our battles is people telling us that we’re goners.

Another reason it’s problematic is because it invalidates the strength possessed by those who live, every day, with these challenges. Before you cast us off, keep in mind that this is not our first rodeo.

Many of us have been poked and prodded and cut open. We’ve been kept alive by medications or machines or the talents and compassion of wonderful doctors and nurses. We’ve faced statistics and beat odds. And we’ve walked away more bad ass than before because of it.

Yes, we are at higher risk. Yes, I am more frightened than the average young person would be. And, yes, our society needs to take extreme measures to protect not only those with health issues but also the elderly. Get off the beaches, stay inside, play with your dog, watch Netflix, teach your children how to cook (or, if you’re like me, teach your children how to microwave), pretend the streets are lava. Do everything you possibly can to shield the vulnerable.

But, along the way, remember that words matter. So many of us with preexisting conditions haven’t only learned to live with them, we’ve learned to thrive.

We are survivors.

Don’t be quick to count us out.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply