I Have An Underlying Health Condition & The World Is A Scary Place Right Now

Photographed by Poppy Thorpe
If you passed me on the street on a normal day, you wouldn’t know that anything is wrong. I don’t look sick and thanks to a lifesaving double lung transplant in April 2017, most of my life at present is pretty comparable to that of a regular thirtysomething. Normally I am able to work, socialise, exercise and do much more, without – from an outsider’s perspective at least – any more effort than anyone else.
According to government statistics, many of the 11 million people in the UK with a disability have an invisible illness. While not all of these individuals are at a higher risk from the new coronavirus (COVID-19), I can’t help feeling that we, as a group, are either being forgotten or portrayed as less valuable than the healthy, in relation to the spread of the disease. 
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If you passed me on the street on a normal day, you wouldn't know that anything is wrong.

Born with cystic fibrosis, I have spent my whole life in a category defined as 'more vulnerable'. After my double lung transplant a little under three years ago, I am on long-term immune suppressants and have recently been diagnosed with chronic rejection (which means that the function of my new lungs is suffering). I am probably the most vulnerable, health-wise, I have ever been. 
I may look totally fine but I’m not. 
Like so many others with compromised immune systems, I know that I am high up the list of people for whom coronavirus could be very harmful or even deadly – even if, on first sight, no one else knows it.
I have always been determined not to allow my illness to define me. It’s a characteristic that I know is common within the chronic illness community. But, on this occasion, I have been forced to accept that I need to protect myself. I have been self-distancing for a week and since Monday and the provisions of new advice and Government guidance for those at higher risk have been self isolating from our London flat. I will continue to monitor the situation as it changes over the following weeks and months.
Thankfully, I am lucky to have the support to do this but I know that many aren’t as fortunate and that for our efforts to be effective, we need others to help too. 

Like many others with compromised immune systems, I know that I am high up the list of people for whom coronavirus could be very harmful or even deadly – even if, on first sight, no one else knows it.

I am fortunate, I can work from home. So can my partner. He can go out and get the things I need if necessary while I stay at home and ride this out. We will be OK. Not everyone with an underlying health condition like mine has that to fall back on. 
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It is uplifting to see people rally together in their concern for the elderly in relation to this unprecedented pandemic. It’s a small silver lining to this very large cloud. It’s heartwarming to see images circulating on social media of hand sanitiser and supplies being brought out for elderly customers and to see shops opening at special hours for the older generation to visit. But please remember that there are so many others at high risk, too.
I, and those in a similar situation, might be harder to identify than an older person. Unlike the elderly, you can’t define us as 'at risk' simply by looking, yet the protection and support we need through this period might well be the same.
If you have an underlying health condition, listening to the casual remarks about who is statistically more likely to die from this virus, worrying as people appear to ignore symptoms and continue with their daily lives as normal, dealing with angry glances when picking up not one but two bottles of hand sanitiser and reading reports from other countries which have resorted to not treating the high risk in order to treat those most likely to survive, is all very hard to stomach. 
Combine all of that with the rhetoric – used by both the government and the public – that those who are healthy and without underlying health conditions are likely only to be impacted in the short term and statistically likely to recover from coronavirus, and it’s hard to feel as though our health is valued as much as others'. 
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I understand the government's desire not to cause a state of panic greater than that which already exists. Graphics flooding social media comparing coronavirus to other illnesses and statistics highlighting the high rates of survival in the healthy may have been created to be helpful and to reassure, but often they simply confuse the messages around the severity of this situation. 
The initial attempt to prevent chaos has meant that instead of acting decisively, many people in the UK have adopted a 'keep calm and carry on' attitude and gone about their lives as though nothing is wrong. I have seen it on social media – people joking about the 'end of the world' and drowning their sorrows as though nothing is happening. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. 

Whatever happens next, let's make sure we are looking after everyone as much as we can: every generation, those with underlying conditions and those who seem to be well.

But now, somewhat later than our European neighbours, the government has changed its tune. It's making it clear how serious this is and advising people to stay at home, to avoid offices, pubs, clubs and travelling. 
Whatever happens next, let’s make sure we are looking after everyone as much as we can: every generation, those with underlying conditions and those who seem to be well. Let’s ensure we aren’t being selfish, let’s act for the greater good even if it’s at personal inconvenience, let’s err on the side of caution in all of our actions and demonstrate the best of humanity, despite this frightening situation. 
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