Thanks for the health, COVID!

As I look back over my (general) health over the last 18 months, I am struck by how healthy I have been. And, ironically, it’s all thanks to COVID19. Oh, yes: this deadly global pandemic has made me healthy(ish). Crazy, right?

To clarify, the actual virus is not the cause of my good health. Instead, it is the response that the collective global population took to prevent the spread of COVID. It is the social distancing, the masks, the lockdowns, and the move to remote working. And yes, also the vaccine, although that has had less impact on my daily health as it’s for preventing actual (serious) COVID rather than protecting my overall health. (But it’s a vital layer of protection that I am extremely grateful to have!) But I digress…

If you’ve been a regular reader, you will know that I spent much of the pandemic isolating at my rural cottage as I am “clinically extremely vulnerable” and on the “shielding list. This is because I have two major medical conditions and no spleen, meaning I am at greater risk for serious illness or death if I were to “catch” COVID19.

The first condition, a progressive, genetic kidney disease (Polycystic Kidney Disease or PKD), doesn’t really affect my day-to-day living at this point in my life. Although I know that it will lead to greater levels of complication (and kidney failure) as time goes on and it adds to my overall COVID19 complications risks.

The second condition (Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura or ITP) is a rare blood clotting disorder and can be a health roller-coaster ride leading to regular periods of “ill health” – either as a primary or secondary cause. There is an immune-system element to the disease and when I get a cold or other illness, my immune system goes into overdrive leading to dangerous (and potentially deadly) platelet levels.

On top of that, I had a splenectomy in 1996 as a treatment for the ITP. And that means that my body struggles to recover from illness. It also leaves me more likely to contract serious or life-threatening infections.

In “normal times”, I can expect to get a cold a couple/few times a year. These colds range from mildly annoying, with no real impact on my life, to a full-on cold that can lead to a severe platelet crash, bed rest, and maybe even a night or two in hospital. In general, at least one of those colds will lead to more than a month of downtime (between the cold and the full recovery). That means no running, no big adventures, and a generally sedative life whilst I recover*.

Side note: Part of the reason I am (mostly) isolating at home is because I realise that catching COVID19 might be far, far worse for my body than The Deadly Common Cold. And if a simple cold can send me to hospital for a couple of days, I dread to think about what COVID19 might do. Better safe than dead, right?

So yes, in “normal times”, The Common Cold** drags me down a couple of times each year. The last time it happened was in January 2020 and it took me down for about 4 weeks. And then it took a bit longer to rebuild my strength for running and hiking. But it was OK because I am accustomed to The Common Cold taking me down for weeks at a time, so I knew it was just a part of life. (And I recovered in time for a trip to Aberdeen at the end of February and a trip to London and Cambridge in March – just days before the lockdowns began.)

But we are no longer living in “normal times”, we are in COVID19 times. And I have been working at home from my rural cottage for more than a year and a half. And people have been isolating at home with the first sign of sniffles (whether by cold or COVID). And when they are not at home, people are socially distancing and wearing masks. That lack of regular human contact (with humans who insist on going into public when they’re sick) means that I haven’t had a cold or other illness since that last cold in January 2020.

But wait! There’s more!

Because I haven’t been “sick”, I have been able to maintain my activity levels. Indeed, working from home this whole time has meant that I have even been able to increase my activity levels. My running mileage has increased as have the number of walks and hikes I take in the Pentland Hills – and my daily step counts show it. And that all means that my blood pressure is even more stable (and low) than it would ordinarily be (always below 120/80), which is great for my kidneys.

But yes, I have experienced a little more loneliness and isolation than I would normally face. Although I have so much practice at being isolated that it hasn’t been that hard on me. I have also suffered from a bit of lockdown malaise, meaning that I am not as productive as I might ordinarily be, but that is getting better (more so now that I have the positive excitement of a new job to look forward to!).

Importantly, I have had more time to focus on my morning and evening routines to really work out how best to manage my time for running, mindfulness, contemplation (and journaling), daily planning, and my personal care routines. This has led to better sleeping patterns which lead to more energy during the day which helps to keep me going.

Add it all together, and it means that COVID19 has made me healthy(ish)!

And it’s not just me. I have spoken with other “chronically ill” people (and their carers) about this, too. It seems that many of us have had similar experiences. Even those who are out in The Real World more than I have found that they are healthier (no colds, flu, etc) because there are fewer people out in public with colds – and most people are wearing masks.

But it’s not just the “sickies” that are healthier – “normal” or otherwise healthy people have been a bit healthier, too, as instances of influenza and the common cold have decreased dramatically over the past year***. Yes, it seems the world has been experiencing historically low numbers of cold, flu, and other respiratory infections and the COVID19 precautions of social distancing, masks, and extra handwashing (in addition to a general increased awareness of how germs spread) are to thank for this.

And that leads me to hope for our collective future health!

Indeed, I have had several conversations with people since the start of the COVID19 pandemic about behavioural changes moving forward that might help keep those infection levels lower****. For the most part, these conversations have been about normalising wearing masks during cold and flu season but also normalising not going to work when you’re sick (and not expecting others to do so). To a lesser extent, these conversations have touched on our need for more flexibility for remote working, greater emphasis on mental and emotional health, and even access to health care and sick pay for the vast number of people (I’m looking at you, America!) who don’t necessarily have access to those basic human needs. But that is a different (albeit important) conversation, so I’ll move on.

The COVID19 pandemic has been horrible, and it’s not over yet. But I am hopeful that we are starting to see the light and I am even more hopeful that we can make some real changes to our approach to health (and healthy living) moving forward.

Although on a personal level, I am starting to prepare myself for a return of The Dreaded Common Cold. That’s because I will be starting my new job as a lecturer in a few short weeks and that will mean more interactions with The Real World. So, I’d best make use of this “good health” whilst it lasts.

How about you?
* Have you found that you have been “healthier” since COVID19 restrictions have come into place?
* Do you have a “wish list” for what our “new normal” will look like once we move beyond the stage of the virus?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

To close, a gentle reminder: Get vaccinated, wear a mask, stay safe, and keep the faith. We’ll be on the other side before we know it!

* This lack of physical activity means that I have to re-build my strength over and over again and if I get too many colds in a year, it can really impact my overall physical health and even my blood pressure (and weight). It’s a frustrating cycle!
** I am talking about colds, but they can be a range of other viral or bacterial illnesses. If it taxes my immune system, I might be down for the (platelet) count!
*** I am aware of the negative impacts that others have experienced related to mental health and/or delayed treatment for other conditions (and more). That, however, is not the focus of this post.
**** I have had similar conversations pre-COVID, too, mostly with other chronically ill people. But the hope is that more “healthy” people will join in on the conversation moving forward.

Join the conversation!