Sunday, March 8, 2020

Coronavirus, Multiple Sclerosis, Health Fears & Lessons

With the current coronavirus spreading, wellness is at the forefront of the news.  I live in Washington state where the first confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 (the coronavirus) in the United States occurred. My neurologist’s office is in Kirkland, the epicenter of the US outbreak. We have a confirmed case in my community, and others are pending test results.  

I’m writing this on March 8, 2020, and news updates are frequent.  By the time I hit publish on this post, the status of the virus will have changed.  The statistics change often, but the consistent message I hear is this: the virus is spreading; if it hasn’t reached your town yet, it will at some point. 

The dynamics feel a lot like living with Multiple Sclerosis in general.  I can stay as well as I can with nutrition, therapies, activity and good hygiene, but I don’t have complete control over my health. I will do my best by cleaning surfaces often, washing my hands, using hand sanitizer and most difficult of all for me, not touching my mouth and eyes. I’m searching the internet for reliable and MS-specific guidance, and I am happy to see some good resources that answered my specific questions. I need to do everything anyone else should do to avoid having the virus reach any point of entry into my body, and for now keep taking my disease modifying therapy. I will also weigh whether to modify my plans as the virus spreads.  I can do all these preventative measures, and just like I might have a relapse due to MS, I still might get infected with coronavirus. 

It’s interesting to me to see others (who presumably don’t live with a chronic illness) react to the health threat.  I hope they don’t get infected, and I hope they endure and recover well if they do get infected.  Their fear and concern for getting sick make me feel like they’re experiencing what I often experience living with MS. The uncertainty is stressful.  

If they do get infected, I hope they aren’t blamed for not doing enough to avoid getting sick.  I doubt they will, and I think some people would think it’s ridiculous to blame a patient.  But when I liken this outbreak to having MS, I feel compelled to comment on the judgments I hear.  In trying to compliment me on living well with my MS, sometimes people will compare me to someone they know with MS.  They’ll comment that their friend, relative or neighbor isn’t doing very well, but they don’t take care of themselves. These are extremely well-meaning people who care, but I think they’re off-base.  That person who isn’t doing well might not be able to take better care of themselves, BECAUSE they are having too many health challenges.  And if they did have different health habits, there is no guarantee that they would be in better health.  Sure, the odds increase, but there are no guarantees.

The community conversations surrounding preparing for the virus outbreak before it widely affects my community are heartening.  I see offers to shop for and deliver groceries and supplies to our vulnerable friends and neighbors.  I see people creating resources and networks available for anyone who wishes to avoid being exposed or who is sick and needs assistance.  

I hope to use this as a lesson for myself to accept help if needed.  I reluctantly admit I’m a bit independent and prideful, and I don’t often let those outside my close circle know when I could use some help.  I’d rather do without and get through it.  I know this frustrates my friends and prevents them from feeling of use.  As I see my community rising to the occasion with this virus outbreak, I’m choosing to see this as an opportunity of connection.  We’re in this together, and I will work on remembering that when the coronavirus threat is over but my MS is still with me.  

For more information, I found the following to be helpful: