I wanted to write a post about what it’s like to have MS in the time of COVID-19. A pandemic that overwhelmingly affects people with underlying conditions, which MS is. Chronic disease is an underlying condition. Adding in an immunosuppressant DMT can increase the risk of not being able to fight COVID-19.
Does this mean I have an increased chance of dying from COVID-19 if I get it?
It’s not a simple “yes” or “no.” The answer is mostly, “I don’t know, but I can point to what the experts currently say on the matter.” Then I have to do what is right for me to stay safe.
MS and COVID-19
First things, first. I am not a healthcare worker. Nor am I in public health. My knowledge in this area is minimal. It starts and stops with the amount of research I am willing to do on the matter. Therefore, take what follows, not as a replacement for medical expert advice.
And that’s what I want to may a point of: do your research on your condition. What you find might bring small comfort.
When I sat down and researched my risk as someone with MS, who at one point in time was on an immunosuppressant DMT, I was shocked by what I found. For the current medical research out there, I am not at an increased risk of dying from COVID-19 if I got it. If I were older or had a comorbid condition, then I would be at a higher risk of contracting and struggling to fight the illness.
Outside of the MS, I am healthy. I have asthma, which is problematic. Still, my asthma is so well under control that you could make the argument that I don’t have it (diagnosed in childhood).
But if you have MS, your MS alone will not increase your chances of not being able to fight COVID-19. It’s everything surrounding the MS that might cause issues. That is why we, as people with chronic conditions, must be vigilant in how we approach this illness.
Listen to current guidance from reputable health organizations, like the CDC, WHO, or NHS. If you live in the United States, turn off the TV during the daily press briefings. Rarely will you get useful information on how to stay safe at this time, unless it is coming from the NIAID director. It is hard science and facts that will keep us safe and get us through this. Not intuition or feelings.
When I was a Statistic
I recognize that not everyone is as lucky as me with their MS or chronic illness. At the very beginning of this crisis hitting the United States, I genuinely believed I was going to die from COVID-19. I swore that my MS would be the cause of it or my DMT.
For a solid month, I believed I was the person the news referred to when they said “underlying conditions” and “immunocompromised.” I was immunocompromised while on Tecfidera. But given the side effects I experienced and the pandemic, I decided to drop the DMT. I will be speaking more to my decision, and to my neurologist, on what my next steps will be in a later post.
During this time, I was frightened. What I was most afraid of was not the illness itself, but leaving Jai and Ash. Jai would barely have memories of his mother, and I desperately wanted him to at least remember the love I have for him. Three is much too young to lose a parent, and my fear was for him rather than myself.
Believing I was a statistic brought on additional stress and frustration. It escalated my chances of an exacerbation (though I have yet to have one). It made my emotions run all over the place. I felt out of control, and I’ve talked about how problematic that is for me before. Grouping myself into the statistics was toxic for my mental health.
I had to reign it in for myself and my family. That’s where the research helped me have a realistic picture of my situation. It gave me the necessary tools to feel more in control and how I managed my MS moving forward. I needed to find ways to provide myself comfort.
I want to preface this section by saying I am incredibly privileged to be secure in my home, my work, my food, and my family situation. I know not everyone is as lucky as me.
So, where do I find comfort at this time?
For me, it’s staying up-to-date on the latest science. I make sure to get it from vetted, reputable sources, not opinion-based “news” sites. There is only one way to look at the pandemic, and that is through hard science. The beauty of science is that it is always evolving. It is ever-changing when it runs into a dead-end or a faulty hypothesis. It adapts and finds new answers that push everything forward.
It is through the science that I’ve found that I don’t need to live with the same level of fear I did a month ago. It is where I found my comfort.
But that said, the science is changing so much daily that it is sometimes best to give myself a day or two break from the latest news. Some days I only look at the information in the morning and don’t bother to interact with it for a day or two.
Instead, I’ve created schedules for myself and the family that I stick by as much as possible. I try to create some version of a routine for us to help with our mental health.
Other things I am doing that provide comfort:
- I minimalize our interaction with the public as much as possible. I’m getting us down to grocery shopping every other week.
- I made masks for the whole family. I wear the mask and gloves each time I have to go shopping (I properly dispose of the gloves, in my garbage at home).
- I social distance as much as possible on runs or walks.
- I wash my hands for 20 seconds and avoid touching my face for the day if I’ve been out in public.
The most important activity I do is to remind myself that this is temporary and will not be forever. I view all of this as a passing situation that I have to deal with for the next few months (or years), and will ultimately be a blip in what I hope will be a long life.
Yes, it hurts to be away from friends and running buddies. Yes, it hurts not to be able to go out in public spaces whenever I want. However, I am helping those on the frontlines of this fight by not putting myself in the hospital.
Ultimately, I do not know which way the wind will blow if I catch COVID-19. I could be asymptomatic, it could be like a bad flu. Or it could be so devastating that I do need to be put on a ventilator. I don’t know how my body will react to it if I get it. Therefore, I take this time not to be angry at the injustice of it all, and it is unjust, but to appreciate what I am getting out of it. I am getting time with my family, time to read, time to explore new hobbies, and time to learn more about myself.
I am grateful that I can write that last sentence. I know not everyone can.
We are in a difficult time, and living with MS makes it even more challenging. But the current science says that our MS alone will not increase our chances of getting and dying from COVID-19. The comorbid conditions impact that. I hope you find the same small comfort I did when I learned this information.
Remember, continue to follow the appropriate guidelines and keep yourself safe. We are in this together, and together we will get through it.
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