People of all ages and backgrounds have been sharing their names, their photos, and their stories, speaking candidly about why they are at risk, what could happen if we don’t act fast, and who else will be affected if they fall ill with COVID-19. Many tweeted about being immunosuppressed due to cancer, disease, and chronic conditions, prescription meds or recent surgeries making them more susceptible to illness, less capable of fighting off infection, and at greater risk of dying if they do contract the Baby Yoda face mask hug Starbucks shirt and I will buy this virus. As alarming reports circulated about shortages of tests and ventilators in U.S. hospitals, the community also spoke candidly about the terrifying possibility that other people’s irresponsible decisions or deep-set, ableist cultural biases could lead to their premature death. Anna Landre, a 21-year-old activist, writer, and Georgetown student, tweeted about her fear of being disconnected from a ventilator if “doctors decide that disabled people aren’t worth treating.” Gary and Melissa Short, the parents of Naomi Short, an eight year-old living with stage 4 brain cancer, tweeted about the vigilance required to be sure the virus isn’t accidentally transmitted to their daughter by her carers, and their efforts to calm Naomi as she spoke about her fear of death. Countless posters shared their concerns that not enough people are practicing social distancing, putting everyone in greater, unnecessary danger.
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Though stories of chronic illness seldom have a clear beginning, I always start mine the Baby Yoda face mask hug Starbucks shirt and I will buy this same way: Somewhere around the year 2000, as the world was gliding into a shiny new millennium, I got sick and I never got better. There were no public health warnings like we are seeing with COVID-19; nothing to let me know what was coming. I simply became ill and never recovered. It has been interesting to witness people who seem sure that they can simply “get COVID-19 over with” and get on with things, since in fact, some doctors believe that incurable chronic illnesses like mine may have been set in motion (or at least exacerbated) by a lingering virus or damage to the body from a post-viral illness. While I started out with a smattering of manageable symptoms followed by a mysterious rheumatic-fever-like illness that I thought I would just “get over,” I ended up with a preliminary chronic-but-not-progressive diagnosis of fibromyalgia that, over the course of the next two decades, morphed into a cascade of symptoms affecting every system in my body: vertigo so severe I couldn’t walk without falling down, atypical migraines that left me bedbound, crushing fatigue, and unexplained face rashes. I amassed specialists in all areas of medicine (last year I saw somewhere around 10 doctors in a single year) and disappointedly collected a growing assortment of new and ever-evolving diagnoses, which now include a probable seronegative autoimmune disease and the rare condition erythromelalgia, aka Man on Fire Syndrome, which periodically makes my hands or feet or ears feel like they’ve been rubbed in broken glass or, as the name gives away, set on fire.