Apr 29th, 2020, 05:01 PM

Corona Diaries: What It's Like to be High-Risk

By Adaeze Nwokolobia
State of mind. Credit: pexels.com
People with respiratory issues as well as underlying health conditions are considered high-risk for Coronavirus.

“You didn’t go outside today, did you?” 

My mother’s soft voice is heavy and a little accusatory over the phone. She calls me every day, an average of five times a day, with news on the crisis. I am 21.

According to her, I should be on double lockdown - no grocery store runs or walks outside of the house. Clearly, she is worried and she has reason to be.

I am a high-risk individual for COVID-19 due to asthma I contracted after suffering acute bronchitis as a child.  I have also chosen to remain in France, one of the places with a relatively high infection rate curve. Here's a short account of what it is like to live as a high-risk individual during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Everything is heightened. At the start of the crisis, using public transportation was a nightmare. I became overly conscious of my surroundings and people. I tried to avoid touching handlebars of escalators or standing close to people on the bus or the metro. If someone coughed continually on the bus, I drew my scarf-turned-balaclava closer and winced. 

Eventually, my hands started to peel and feel raw after constant washing and aggressive use of hand sanitizers. I even had a mini-breakdown - a frustrated outburst and self-pity monologue - at two out of seven pharmacies I visited both in the southern suburbs and central Paris. When I found out they had all run out of sanitizers and masks, and I lost it.

Although, on the way home, I did have a nice long laugh on the off chance that I was a little crazy, and I had probably scared the attendants. It all felt (and still feels) unreal, like a movie. An apocalyptic one.

So, when the lockdown was announced, it felt like the calm of my storm and I gladly retreated to my impenetrable fortress: home. 

As the crisis wore on, I had an asthma attack and I found out I needed a new inhaler prescription, so I visited a nearby clinic. The waiting area at the clinic seemed ghoulish. In my eyes, everything from the chairs to the air could possibly be infected. I remember internally drily remarking, "Girl, you might sooner die of worry at this rate than of the virus."

At the end of my consultation, the doctor reassured me that I would be fine and placed me on a much more permanent asthma treatment. Strangely, his canary-yellow corduroy pants seemed more comforting than his words. 

I live with a wonderful host family, and my host sister, 29, still goes out for grocery and bank runs.  So I'm constantly in a limbo of worry that she might come back contaminated. Of course, I have been to the grocery store and the bank, three times combined. 

Only, I remember using hand sanitizer on my debit card after asking the cashiers at the bank if I could do so with a wary thought that the sanitizer might destroy the chip. There’s so much I don’t know, however, the risk of cross-contamination is a reality I have had to come with terms with.

Recently, at the store, I got told to back up at the checkout counter by another customer. I didn’t realize the store was sectioned out to meet social distancing regulations, and I was standing too close to her. It was jarring, as for a moment I forgot this was not a normal grocery run and nothing was business as usual. However, it beat having to wait for an Amazon delivery.

Before the crisis, I had never really been fretful about my health. For me, hospital visits were rare, and my asthma was under control and mild at worst. On most days, I could best be described as care-free and dreamy, a floating balloon.

Then the crisis rolled, rather, steamrolled, by and, boom, I am suddenly a hypochondriac with worry warts for loved ones who constantly worry about me. However, it’s not all been gloom and doom.

There are litanies of sighs, but there are buckets of laughs as well. To keep fit, I still flunk at indoor yoga, and my muscles ache badly from afro-beat dance haphazard routines.  At the end of the day, I believe the combination of being conscientious and vibrant makes all the difference in these difficult times.

It's all in the Joie de vivre.