'I hope nothing unexpected happens' during Covid lockdown: Anxiety for the chronically ill

03 April 2020 - 08:15 By Deepika Naidoo
Some people with long-term, pre-existing conditions are worried about their access to health care during the national shutdown and coronavirus outbreak.
Some people with long-term, pre-existing conditions are worried about their access to health care during the national shutdown and coronavirus outbreak.
Image: 123RF/everydayplus

As the health care sector shifts its focus to the novel coronavirus, many people with chronic illnesses find themselves worrying about their futures.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than half of the world’s disease is caused by chronic illness or diseases that last more than three months. WHO projects that by the end of this year, three quarters of deaths globally will be attributed to chronic disease. With Covid-19 patients taking preference over others in hospitals, this could negatively affect the lives of people with chronic, long-term illness.

Lucille Aalto, a Masters in English student at Rhodes University with endometriosis, has been feeling anxious about her health. Endometriosis is a reproductive disorder in which the uterine tissue grows outside the uterus, resulting in extreme pain.  

Aalto says that though she is privileged enough to have the means to go grocery shopping, stay entertained and work remotely, the shutdown has affected the way she accesses health care. She was soon hoping to receive laparoscopy surgery, a potentially risky surgery on the uterus that would help alleviate some of the pain she experiences.

It eats up your social life and relationships and sucks away your energy.
Anathi Gongotha

“I was hoping to get it done in the next couple of months, but that is unlikely to happen with the national shutdown. All I can do is hope that nothing serious or unexpected happens with my disease during the coming weeks,” said Aalto.

She is also concerned for her mental health. Missing her loved ones has become a large concern for her through the national shutdown and coronavirus outbreak.

“I am physically cut off from my family who live in Zululand, KZN. My grandfather, who lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, may have been exposed to Covid-19, as two of the care workers in his rest home have tested positive for the disease. These are scary times for my family. All of this adds up to general feelings of anxiety and depression, and a longing for this all to be over,” said Aalto.

it's a little scary to think that should I catch it, I could potentially not make it,
Adre Silver

According to the Council for Medical Schemes, there are 26 chronic diseases for which medical aids must cover costs for treatments, regardless of the medical aid plan. However, for Anathi Gongotha, a person without access to medical insurance, there isn’t a guarantee she will receive treatment.

Gongotha is a freelance filmmaker and photographer with endometriosis. She uses an intrauterine device (IUD) with hormones that have affected both her physical and mental health. However, this does not mean she is able to receive adequate treatment.

“One of my side effects is back pain. It has recently extended a little bit up on my back. I went to the emergency room and was told to come back once this epidemic is over. If you're a patient with no medical aid, then things won't be better on your side. I have something in me that sheds hormones every single day but have nothing to balance them.”

Gongotha finds the combination of the chronic diseases she has debilitating. As a university dropout making a living through freelancing, she faces challenges every day.

“It eats up your social life and relationships and sucks away your energy while you're feeling like a bedridden bag of emotions. You lose count of times you've answered the question 'are you better yet', and try your hardest to explain the battle,” said Gongotha.

According to the World Economic Forum, more than one in three adults suffer from two or more chronic diseases. This rings true with Adré Silver who suffers from fibromyalgia, polycystic ovarian syndrome and temporomandibular disorder. She recently dropped out of university and is unable to work due to the multiple illnesses she faces daily.

Silver is concerned about the future of her health in SA as an immunocompromised person.

“I've had to be extra cautious about who I surround myself with, just in case I contract the virus. I am immunocompromised, so it's a little scary to think that should I catch it, I could potentially not make it,” said Silver.

The shutdown has also caused a major setback, possibly affecting her physical illness.

“A really important surgery I was supposed to have has been pushed back even further than originally planned. Not being able to go to monthly check-ups has caused quite a strain on my body and mental health” said Silver.

The department of health has urged South Africans to stay home and away from hospitals unless there is an emergency.


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