As I write this, Coronavirus has affected more than 199 countries; the USA leads with the highest number of infections, Italy has been the worst-hit country so far in terms of the number of deaths caused by this pandemic. I am not an expert, neither am I a prophet of doom, but these figures are expected to go higher in the coming days and weeks.
Closer home, we have recorded a few coronavirus deaths. It is surreal to think that we are having these conversations in our country. Just two months ago we watched from afar in awe as China was crippled and brought to its knees by this invisible killer. Now it is here with us, too close for comfort, the tension is real, the paranoia sickening.
The virus seems to give people a bad case of pneumonia. This spells bad news particularly for me as a disabled person with respiratory immunodeficiencies. A couple of times in the last six years that I have sat on this wheelchair, pneumonia has been the thing that has almost pushed me to the edge. I can handle nerve pain and urinary tract infections, but difficulty breathing is where I draw the line.
My spinal injury was quite severe, it greatly undermined my mobility and sense of independence but more crucially, affected how I breathe. Because I am so inactive, my lungs have grown weaker over the years. Deep breathing is a real challenge, coughing is an impossibility. It is hard to get the mucus out of my lungs because I have no muscles in my chest area. I require assisted coughing, which entails another person applying pressure to my abdomen so that I can achieve enough pressure to cough.
This year alone, I have caught pneumonia twice. The first time I slept in a dusty room and infected my lungs. The second time I stayed outside too long enjoying cold beer. In both times, I was so weak I couldn’t get out of bed, my head was always thumping because of constant coughing. My abdomen was sour and painful because of all the times my father had had to apply pressure on it. Spinal injury survivors avoid pneumonia like the plague. This is why we are always in heavy sweaters and thick scarfs. Pneumonia is the leading cause of death for spinal injury survivors.
Now coronavirus, I have seen videos from Brazil and China. Videos of people struggling to do the most natural thing in the world, breath. As much as it scares me to watch these videos, I can relate. In early January, I was in bed sleeping on my side, it had been the third day of heavy coughing and the discomforts of high temperature. Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe, the mucus had blocked something and now the air wasn’t reaching my lungs. I panicked, I unsuccessfully tried coughing. When that didn’t work, I tried making a distress noise to alert my parents. The seconds it took my mum to help me cough and clear my lungs felt like an eternity.
In the two weeks, it took to get better, I had lost weight and every part of my body ached with exhaustion. It was the toughest spell of pneumonia yet.
Spinal injury survivors and indeed all disabled people should take extra precaution with coronavirus. Wash your hands, wash your face, stay at home, do everything you need to do to protect yourself. We are high risk, that is for sure. I am not inciting fear, these are simply the facts.