An Immunocompromised Teacher in the COVID-19 Era

I am an ankylosing spondylitis patient. I am a teacher. And I am immunocompromised. Not the best time to be living in the COVID-19 Era. Yet, here we are!

My last day of school was March 13th. When I left for the weekend, I wished everyone a happy summer and that I would see them all in August. People laughed, at that time my state of Missouri only had one confirmed case, so thinking this would be the last day we would all be together was a bit far fetched.

I, of course, was right.

I saw how the virus was working its way east and west and I knew we wouldn’t be at just one case for much longer. School was called off later that evening. Our superintendent saw it coming too. Coincidentally, March 13th was also my last day out in public.

Until now.

A great concern

I was never really afraid of catching COVID. Being a professional patient I have never been all that worried about illness. It’s all part of my growing resume of chronic illnesses. What will be, will be.

However, being that I don’t have much of an immune system, and catching COVID might require more than bed rest, I wanted to do what I could to keep my exposure limited. I also wanted to do my part to stop the spread. If I don’t come in contact, I can’t pass it on. Simple kindergarten math.

So, I ordered all my groceries for pickup and wiped them all down before bringing them into my house. I took full advantage of an Amazon Prime account and sprayed down all the packages before bringing them into my house. I put a sign in my front window that says in big red letters.

IMMUNOCOMPROMISED PERSON LIVING HERE. LEAVE ALL DELIVERIES AT THE FRONT DOOR. WILL NOT OPEN THE DOOR FOR ANYONE!

(Still, people didn’t seem to understand this one.)

I did everything I could to stay safe.

Then, schools reopened…

Dipping myself back into the pool (of toxic waste)

Let me start by saying, there was nothing I wanted more than to return to school, face to face, five days a week.

That was the longest spring break of my life, and I was so ready to have a schedule and a reason to wake up in the morning.

I would have liked the numbers a little lower, of course. We closed with one case in the state. We opened with 5,338 in our county and 78,000 in the state, but whatever.

We had a plan of social distancing, not leaving classrooms, no PE or choir, and everyone masking up. We also split the numbers in half by doing a Monday/Tuesday, Thursday/Friday plan.

From HR I managed to add more accommodations onto my existing list of ADA accommodations including an acrylic face shield and a plexiglass divider.

Everyone around me is wearing a mask and washing their hands on a set schedule. I really can't think of anything better that will allow us to still have, albeit limited, contact with our students.

When we started on Monday I didn’t think we would make it to Thursday, now? I’m feeling a lot more comfortable.

And, therein lies the problem.

The false feeling of comfort

Like I said, I hadn’t been anywhere or really seen anyone since March. I did everything I could to keep healthy and keep the virus off of me.

Now...I guess I don’t have to do that anymore. I mean, I've been in a school building with people and kids who I don’t know where they have been, what they have touched, and if they aren’t asymptomatic and spreading the virus like wildfire!

If I have been in that kind of environment, I guess the Post Office can't be all that bad. And for that matter, I've been avoiding getting my bi-monthly blood tests, maybe I’ll be okay doing that now. If I can do all that, where do I draw the line now?

Should I just reside myself that if I catch it, I catch it, and life should just go on like it’s February?

The real answer is…I don’t know.

Open at my high risk

In May when states and stores started reopening despite the growing numbers, a few of us spoke out that reopening now will not only cause the virus to spread, but also force people like me and my immunocompromised community to go out into places and put ourselves in situations we know to be dangerous.

Well, big surprise, that happened!

The world opened, life went on, and I was forced to go out into the fog knowing I was at a higher risk. I didn’t have a choice. It was either that, or lose my insurance and a job that I love.

The world opened, and I might pay for it.

Stay safe

I know I am not the only one in this situation.

Several have been made to put themselves into places they know are not safe. The world goes marching on and we couldn’t afford to be left behind.

Very few knew, and even after being told, very few listened.

Everyone suffered in the COVID Era. The competing forces of necessity and well being affected too many lives.

In conclusion, don’t become complacent with this virus. Do what you have to do to keep yourself safe. Inform those around you about your intention to stay safe. And if you need to wear a full hazmat suit to do that, do just that!

The world marches on, but your life is the only one you have.

I'm going to keep doing my job with my mask, shield, and plexiglass barrier until the world closes down again or COVID finally runs its course.

I encourage all of you to do what you can to stay safe.

There is no shame in wearing a mask and keeping your distance. Even if you are the odd one out, stand strong.

We gotta stand strong!

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