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Venturing Out During COVID-19 with Chronic Illness

In the time of coronavirus, time flies when you’re not having fun.

Earlier this week, I looked at the calendar on my phone and my heart sank. It was time for my biologic infusion appointment again. Geez, didn’t I *just* do this? Nope, it had already been two months since my last dose of Remicade to treat my rheumatoid arthritis. Ugh.

I didn’t want to go to my infusion. (I felt this way last time too.)  I didn’t even want to leave the house. Because of my health issues and the medications I take, I could be at increased risk for coronavirus complications. (Doctors are still studying how my disease and medications can be affected by COVID-19.)

I was more scared to show up for my treatment than the last time, frankly, when the global pandemic had just started and nobody knew which way was up.

But 60 whole days had gone by and it seemed like not much had changed from my first appointment. We still didn’t fully understand how and where people were getting COVID-19 or when there might be a cure or at least a safe, reliable drug to treat it.

Thankfully, there was a smidgen of good news in the interim. Studies have started to show that RA patients on common disease-modifying medications were not more likely to get COVID or be hospitalized than the general population. What’s more, some medications used to treat inflammatory arthritis are being studied to see if they might actually help people who get COVID-19.

A Reopening Dilemma

But I couldn’t shake this feeling that I felt less safe than last time. Between my last infusion and now, it seemed like almost everything, everywhere, was starting to open up again. In my state of California and in my town — which had originally been very cautious — restaurants, casinos, gyms, and hair salons were now open. There have been massive protests with giant groups of people in practically every city in America.

And no matter where you looked, there were too many selfish people loudly refusing to wear masks in public, even though research showed that their use in states requiring them in public has likely prevented hundreds of thousands of coronavirus cases.

Because so many people were taking fewer precautions, every step outside my house was starting to feel like a game of Russian roulette.

Yet like so many others, I’d grown mind-numbingly bored staying home 24/7. So I, too, started to venture out carefully to the pet store or the Krispy Kreme drive-thru. I took masked walks with a friend, the first time I’d seen a soul outside of my house socially. For the first time in three months, I actually went into my grocery store and wept with joy walking up and down the aisles. They had meat! And toilet paper! My favorite Method hand soap! I scored a real spray bottle of Clorox bleach and a generic tube of disinfecting wipes! They had flour: five beautiful, glorious pounds of flour!

But the very next day I saw in the local news that the nursing home a block away from my grocery store had 19 cases of coronavirus. Nineteen cases!

I went back to being a hermit again.

Better to Be Safe

But my biologic infusion wouldn’t allow me to be housebound for long. I had to go. Nearly every rheumatologist on the planet is advising that patients to continue their medications as prescribed (unless they contract coronavirus). Getting an RA flare would not only be painful, but could land me in the hospital for other reasons or require me to take corticosteroids, which are linked with increased coronavirus complications. I don’t want to be in a hospital right now, especially with COVID cases spiking again and ICU beds filling up rapidly, many around the country at close to full capacity.

So I went to my infusion.

Like last time, my doctor’s office was extremely cautious. I sat in my car until it was my turn and my temperature was checked at the door. It was great to see my masked and gloved-up doctor, who talked to me in a giant room from 15 feet away. He told me there were some studies that showed vitamin D deficiency could be dangerous if you got COVID-19. Like many RA patients, I have low levels of vitamin D, so he told me to start taking 2,000 IU per day stat.

I told him I’d read that certain blood types might be more susceptible to coronavirus and asked if my labs showed what type I was. Unfortunately it didn’t — and it would cost extra to request that on the lab report. I said forget it and would ask my mom. (Turns out she had no idea — does she even love me?)

I also asked my doc about how extreme I should be about being a shut-in and a clean freak. I had grown lazy about wiping down the most-touched surfaces in my house every day and was back to opening packages from The Gap and Goldbelly with reckless abandon.

Could I go get a pedicure? My toes looked like Raptor claws.

Could I go to a salon and stop cutting my own hair? My hairstyle had morphed from a Kim Jong Un-like buzzcut into a mullet (which by the way, the Wall Street Journal just deemed “in” again).

Other than telling me definitely do not go back to the gym yet (but keep moving somehow someway), he said I should just use my best judgment.

“Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry — or stupid,” he said. “I think some philosopher said that.”

I think he probably saw it on the side of a coffee mug, but I agreed with him. Great advice, doc.

I could do safe again. I did it religiously for the first two months of quarantine. Time to get serious again.

Here We Go Again

Which reminded me that I’d forgotten to bring my onion-chopping goggles to the appointment to protect my eyes from COVID. Oh well. If the nurses didn’t have goggles, I probably didn’t need them either.

My infusion was uneventful. My favorite nurse Arliz wasn’t there and I was bummed because I had mailed her a packet of Fleischmann’s yeast and I wanted to know if she received it. Her daughter wanted to make bread but they couldn’t find yeast anywhere. It was the least I could do to thank her. And I also needed validation and praise for being such a good patient. No, for being their favorite patient!

They only filled half the infusion chairs for social distancing so that was the new normal, but some things never change. By God, I watched Property Brothers on the communal TV for the 4,532nd time. I asked my nurse Selma if it drove her crazy day in and day out, watching these guys remake the same houses over and over and over in their too-tight clothes and she just laughed. Who wears a button down shirt to do demolition? C’mon.

When I went to the bathroom, I made sure to flush the toilet with a paper towel and run away as fast as I could because I’d read about another study that claimed flushing the toilet creates a large plume of COVID-ness — the turbulence could fling coronavirus particles from virus-laden feces all over the place. Neat.

So yeah, I ran like hell and hand-sanitized like a mad fool as soon as I got out of there.

Safe is better than stupid, right? Right!

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