Great news, everyone! I am fully recovered from H1N1!
Now Catherine, you might be thinking, why are you talking about H1N1? Don’t you mean COVID-19? H1N1 was 11 years ago! Wrong pandemic, girl.
No, I do not mean COVID-19. I mean H1N1. I am well aware that H1N1 was 11 years ago because I am well aware of when H1N1 changed the course of my life. (Why yes, yes I do have a complicated emotional history surrounding pandemics, thanks for asking.)
I’m “fully recovered” from it, though. I was unable to finish my university degree, I’m unable to work, I’m a part-time wheelchair user, I take a couple dozen prescription medications, I am fed and hydrated daily through an IV in my chest and three times a week I infuse plasma products under my skin.
But not to worry because you can’t catch H1N1 from me anymore, seeing as I’m fully recovered and all.
“Fully recovered,” actually, because I think the quotation marks are important here. Because I think it’s really important people realize that fully recovered does not always mean what they think it means.
Especially young people.
I got to be a young adult, once. For about two months. Until two months after I turned 18 I came down with a mild case of the flu that I never fully recovered from despite the fact that I “fully recovered” from it.
At first it was just post-viral fatigue syndrome. Which was the first thing I had never heard of that I was told I had. At six months it was post-viral gastroparesis, the second thing I had never heard of that I was told I had. I had also never heard of a virus being able to cause nerve damage. I was told it could take up to two years to recover but that I would recover.
Two years to recover from a virus?! Nerve damage from a virus?! Who knew??
The two-year mark came and went and I wasn’t better. By three years not only was I not getting better but I was actually getting worse. By four, five, six, seven years, the “post-viral” description had been downgraded from a diagnosis to a coincidence, just that thing that coincided with the start of all these health problems that no one could figure out.
Until the eight-year mark. When I ended up in the office of a doctor who said, “actually this IS because of that virus you had eight years ago. Yes, all of it. Yes, even that. And that.”
Do you know what else she said?
“I see it all the time.”
I was young and healthy but I had a predisposition to autoimmune disease and then I caught a virus and my whole life changed. And I know way too many people with the same story.
And I desperately don’t want it to be your story.
And so I desperately want you to stop and think before you act. Think about the consequences. Think about what you could lose.
The friends that you can’t keep apart from right now, the ones who you’re going with to large gatherings and parties? Are you prepared to lose them as friends? Not because they’re going to die of COVID-19, I mean they might though it’s unlikely, but because if you get sick and “fully recover” but don’t actually recover, well, they’re not all going to stick around. They’ll check in at first, but as weeks turn into months and months turn into years, they won’t be able to handle the discomfort of your reality and when you can no longer join them at the pub or at the beach, they will disappear.
What about that drink you want to go get with that group of people who are not in your official bubble? Do you think that’s worth the risk? Will you still feel that way when you can’t drink alcohol at all anymore because it interacts with many of the dozens of medications you are taking for all of the symptoms and conditions you are now managing after being “fully recovered” from COVID-19?
What about that dinner at that restaurant you want to go have with a group of people who are different than the group of people you met with for that drink? Do you think that’s worth it? Will you still think it’s worth it when you aren’t able to eat at restaurants anymore because of all the food restrictions you have now that your digestive system has never been the same since “fully recovering” from COVID-19? What about when you wake up after surgery too afraid to even look at the feeding tube that’s just been surgically placed in your abdomen because you can no longer eat enough on your own?
Will your vacation on which you ignore public health guidelines still be worth it if it ends up being the last vacation you ever get to take because you’re unable to travel anymore? Physically unable to travel, sure, but also financially unable because you “fully recovered” from COVID-19 in a way that left you too sick to hold a job so now you’re forced to live on $1200 per month disability payments. And if you’re trying to figure out how you’re supposed to survive on $1200 a month when your rent alone is twice that, well don’t worry because it ends up being irrelevant when you have to move back in with your parents because you’re too sick to take care of yourself.
Will you still be glad you pretended like there wasn’t a pandemic going on in order to make the most of your 20’s if it costs you the chance to become a parent one day? Will holding that gathering be worth it if it means never one day getting to hold your baby in your arms? Will that Instagrammable photo still matter when you can’t even stand to open Instagram up some days because the pain of seeing everyone with their babies is too much?
There is a whole spectrum of “fully recovered” between a COVID-19 death and an actual full recovery from COVID-19. Because COVID-19 is still so new, there are still so many unknowns, but life-changing post-viral illnesses are not a new thing. And it’s not hard to find reports of people still suffering debilitating symptoms months after coming down with COVID-19. Not just in the people who were hospitalized for severe illness, either, but in people with more mild illness, too. And many people will truly fully recover. But some won’t. And of those who don’t, many people will not end up like me. But some will.
And what you need to understand is that there is no good version of “fully recovered” there are just versions that are not as bad as others. But every version involves loss and heartbreak. As someone who has missed out on literally everything for the last decade, I get that it’s hard to miss out on things, but trust me when I say that you do not want to end up anywhere on that “fully recovered” spectrum.
I was young and healthy but I had a predisposition to autoimmune disease and then I caught a virus and my whole life changed. I’m “fully recovered” but there are some things and some losses I will never recover from. Not just physically, but emotionally, too.
I’m not telling you my story because I want your pity. I just desperately don’t want my story to be your story. Or your friend’s story. Or your friend’s relative’s story. Or your friend’s relative’s coworker’s daughter’s story.
I do not want my story to be anyone else’s story. There is good in my life but this is not a life I would wish on anyone.
And so I want you to be careful. I want you to think beyond the next hour or day or week. I want you to recognize that you are not invincible before life decides to prove it to you. I want you to think about other people. I want you to think about how your actions could ruin somebody else’s life. I want you to not be okay with that.
I really, really want you to not be okay with that. Please, do not be okay with that.
This is not forever, but it is for right now. And it could be your forever if you’re not careful now.
If you get COVID-19 you might fully recover.
Or you might “fully recover.” Like me.
I am “fully recovered” from H1N1.