In addition to waking up to cards, flowers, and loving messages from my kids on Mother’s Day, I also woke up with COVID.
As one of the thousands of New Yorkers to test positive in this recent wave of the pandemic, I had time to do some daydreaming and reflecting during the week of isolation.
Grateful. Having been sick for a week – head cold, headache, body ache, fever – I felt seriously yucky. But I never worried for my life. How different I would have felt two years ago. And this is as President Biden acknowledged the tragic milestone of 1 million COVID deaths in the United States. I am among the fortunate ones. I am fully up to date on my vaccinations and have no pre-existing conditions that put me at additional risk except for age.
Living with a Chronic Health Condition. As reported by the CDC, pre-existing medical conditions that put people at greater risk for poor outcomes from COVID are many and varied, including chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Many chronic health conditions are also associated with increased mental health risks. For example, people with diabetes are 2 to 3 times more likely to have depression than people without diabetes. Depression and cardiovascular disease are also linked. Having multiple serious health concerns increases stress. In the context of COVID, with ever-evolving, frequently incomplete, and contradictory data, making decisions about risk exposure and vaccination has been complicated for everyone, especially people with complex chronic conditions.
The Uneven Playing Field. Chronic health conditions are not evenly distributed. This truth has been brought into high relief with COVID. Consider, for example, that Black people in the United States are 60% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic White people. Our society runs on ideals of autonomy, independence, and rugged individualism. These values are reflected in our models of healthcare that focus on individual treatments and behavior change. But when we have entire segments of society disproportionately unwell, our focus needs to shift to address population health. Maybe you have a garden. If six out of ten basil plants in your herb garden die, you don’t focus on just one of the plants and ask, “what is wrong with this plant that it didn’t survive?” You ask, “what is wrong with the conditions of my garden that basil is not thriving here?”
Caring heals. Having friends, colleagues, and family reaching out and helping out made a real difference in how I felt, how I ate, and getting well. A text that said, “Hey, how are you?” A hot cup of tea placed outside my door. More than just nice. Social and emotional support promote health and healing through biological and behavioral pathways.
Possibility. It is breathtaking to acknowledge the resources mobilized to develop and disseminate effective vaccines for COVID. Many books will be written about all the things that countries, companies, and communities did wrong. They will be critical and correct in their analysis, but what has been achieved is historic at the end of the day. Many other global priorities, including mental health, could be more successfully addressed if the greater good trumped self-interest in all its various forms.
I am glad to be on the other side of testing positive and look forward to getting back to normal next week.