Watching The World Pretend COVID-19 Is Over While Being High-Risk
As restaurants, stores, and more are beginning to open up in my province, many of my friends are taking this as a cue to party in large groups and disregard the safety precautions we followed so strictly a month ago. The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, yet their concern has dissipated. Mine has not. On top of my desire to continue isolating to prevent the virus from spreading further, I am also interested in staying alive.
I am young, but immune-compromised
Even though I’m 21 years old and appear healthy, I am immunocompromised because of the drug I take, Humira. It’s a biologic response modifier that allows me to function with an autoimmune disease called ankylosing spondylitis (AS). Humira suppresses my immune system which puts me at a higher risk for infection. So while most people my age are enjoying social gatherings, I’m worrying about what would happen to me if I were exposed to COVID. To break it down, it would result in one of two possible scenarios:
Scenario One: I would contract COVID, stop taking Humira, and die due to my body’s inability to fight the virus.
I really don’t want to die.
Scenario Two: I would contract COVID, stop taking Humira, and eventually recover, with possible lasting damage from COVID and reactivation of my disease that may no longer respond to treatment.
Hopefully, I would face Scenario Two, but there is no way of knowing. Even so, Scenario Two would be disastrous. After being forced to stop Humira, it would take several weeks for its effects to wear off and for my immune system to return to normal — A.K.A my immune system would return to attacking my spine at full force. The pain of fighting COVID would be combined with the pain of untreated AS. Then, after recovering from COVID, I would restart Humira — except it might not work.
My biologic working is essential
When someone stops biologic treatment, their body can form anti-drug antibodies. When treatment is restarted, the drug may be less effective1. The thought of my Humira treatment losing its effectiveness forever is terrifying, so stopping it would be an absolute last resort option. By reducing my risk of COVID exposure, I am also reducing my risk of living in intense pain for the rest of my life.
It’s a scary time for an immunocompromised person. I am caught between wanting to socialize and wanting to protect myself. It’s hard to watch everyone else going back to life as “normal” while the stakes of simply going over to a friend’s house are much higher for me. I also worry about future spikes of the virus due to people blatantly ignoring my province's guidelines for physical contact. The best interests of vulnerable populations, like the elderly and immunocompromised, seem to be the last priority.
If you’re reading this, please continue to take this virus seriously. Even though we can go to restaurants and malls again, we must continue to take precautions and limit physical contact. COVID is still very much real and the scenario of it taking my life still haunts me every day. The reopening of businesses is not a “go-ahead” to ignore social distancing rules and gather with 100 of your closest friends for a summer party. You may no longer feel “worried” about COVID, but I am still worried. I am still scared. And I don’t think our collective decision to party again is worth anyone’s life.
Other than back pain and fatigue, what is the most common symptom that AS patients experience?